Our NFL draft analyst, Ryan Wood, talks with Pete Dougherty about the Green Bay Packers' needs at quarterback and the top players available in the 2015 NFL draft. (April 24, 2015)
Jon Gruden remembers when the Green Bay Packers consistently kept their depth chart full of developmental quarterbacks.
From 1992-99, former Packers general manager Ron Wolf drafted seven quarterbacks in eight years. None were taken before the fourth round. More than sheer quantity, the Packers had an uncommon knack for identifying late-round bloomers who could become NFL starters.
"We used to do that, I think, every year in Green Bay," said Gruden, who was a Packers assistant coach for three seasons in the 1990s. "Years ago, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf would bring in a quarterback at some point in the draft."
Ty Detmer, drafted in 1992, started 25 games for four teams in his career after serving two seasons as Brett Favre's backup. Mark Brunell, drafted in 1993, played in three Pro Bowls for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matt Hasselbeck, drafted in 1998, also played in three Pro Bowls and led the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl XL. Aaron Brooks, drafted in 1999, was a five-year starter with the New Orleans Saints.
Drafting the NFL's next blossoming quarterback was an almost annual tradition in Green Bay. In the past decade, the trend slowed considerably.
Since Ted Thompson became general manager in 2005, the Packers have drafted five quarterbacks in 10 years. It hasn't hurt the Packers' growth as a franchise, obviously. Aaron Rodgers was Thompson's first pick as the Packers' general manager, and he's won two league MVP awards.
When Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone in 2013, backup Matt Flynn — a seventh-round pick in 2008 — helped lead the Packers to the playoffs with a 2-2 record in four starts.
Still, the Packers have drafted just one quarterback since 2008 — B.J. Coleman in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. Now seems like the right time to draft another. Former University of Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien appears poised to be Rodgers' backup this season with Flynn no longer in Green Bay. Former UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard was signed this offseason to add depth, but a fourth training camp quarterback could be found late in the draft.
How will Thompson identify late-round value at the most invaluable position? Gruden, a quarterback specialist, ran through his checklist earlier this week.
"You're looking for a young man who has arm talent, No. 1," Gruden said. "Can he throw the football? Can he make the throws that you're going to ask him to make? Does he have athleticism to create some plays? Does he have body quickness? How quick is his release? Is he sharp mentally? Does he love football? Does he have a passion for it? Is he a leader?
"Can he survive on very few reps? A lot of quarterbacks can stand back there and watch the starter, and they can get better by just watching. That's what you're looking for."
The draft is stocked at the top with quarterback prospects, as it is almost every year. What the 2015 quarterback class has in star power — two Heisman Trophy winners in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — it lacks in depth. As a whole, personnel evaluators consider the class to be very weak.
Maybe that dissuades the Packers from drafting a quarterback in the late rounds. With coach Mike McCarthy's track record of developing quarterbacks, the Packers could simply look harder to find their guy.
The Packers reportedly hosted Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty on a visit this month. The visit was surprising only because of Petty's expected place in the draft. He will be either the third or fourth quarterback drafted, interchangeable with UCLA's Brett Hundley. That means Petty could go as high as the second round.
"I think the guy who is just a beautiful, natural thrower of the football is Petty," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "Do I have a whole bunch of questions about him — pocket awareness? Absolutely, but if you were just going to stand there and play catch in the back yard or play a seven-on-seven, that's my guy. He throws a beautiful football."
With significant defensive needs and a backup in place, it's hard to imagine the Packers would select a quarterback in the first five rounds, let alone the first two.
A handful of potential candidates linger near the end of the draft, all of them projects. When it comes to raw, physical talent, South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge may be the most intriguing late-round prospect. Bridge, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, has garnered comparisons to Colin Kaepernick because of his lengthy frame. He also has one of the strongest arms in the draft, though many of his skills need refinement.
"He's got major-league arm strength," former Cleveland Browns general manager and current Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said, "but he's got to do a better job of controlling ball speeds and playing within himself. He can throw it. He's got some 'wow' passes in him, but he's also got some that will leave you shaking your head. He's a project, there's no two ways about it."
Mayock isn't concerned with Bridge's arm strength. There is plenty of velocity behind his passes, he said. It's the rest of his game that is severely underdeveloped.
"He's a tall drink of water with a whip," Mayock said of Bridge. "He's got not much of a clue about footwork, he gets out of position a lot, his accuracy is all over the place, but he's the type of guy that you'd like to work with."
Compared to Bridge, East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden offers a different developmental profile. A four-year starter and 2014 AAC Offensive Player of the Year, Carden has a natural feel for the position. He is savvy in the pocket with good awareness downfield, able to dissect defenses.
What Carden lacks may be the most important trait for a developmental quarterback — an elite arm.
"He's sort of on the other end of the spectrum from Bridge — very instinctive, not a huge arm, a bit of a three-quarter release, played in a spread-type system," Savage said. "He's from the Houston, Texas, area, so he kind of grew up playing that kind of (spread offense) football. I think there's going to be some learning curve as he adjusts to more of a pro-style system."
There's no guarantee Carden or Bridge will be drafted. Both easily could slip out of the draft and become a priority free agent signing. But if a team wants to ensure Carden or Bridge will be in their camp, both could receive a phone call during the draft's final two rounds.
"If you had to go out and play today, you'd probably say Carden over Bridge," Savage said. "But long term, Bridge certainly has a bigger upside, I would say."
Colorado State's Garrett Grayson isn't typically mentioned in the same group as UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty, but he has an outside chance of becoming the third quarterback drafted.
It may seem strange to consider Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's stock as "falling" when he's almost guaranteed to be drafted in the top 10 picks. But if the board falls a certain way, last year's Heisman Trophy winner could slip to the middle of the first round.
South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge needs a lot of refinement if he's ever to become a starting NFL quarterback, but the physical tools are there for him to be an intriguing late-round prospect.
Top 10 quarterbacks
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Height: 6-4. Weight: 231. Class: Sophomore. Stats: 3,907 yards, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 65.3 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.97. Projection: Top two picks.
» Despite significant character concerns, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner remains the top quarterback and presumptive No. 1 overall pick.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Height: 6-4. Weight: 222. Class: Junior. Stats: 4,454 yards, 42 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 68.3 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.52. Projection: Top 10.
» After winning the Heisman Trophy last season, Mariota must prove his success was more than the byproduct of a quarterback-friendly spread offense.
3. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Height: 6-3. Weight: 226. Class: Junior. Stats: 3,155 yards, 22 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 69.1 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.63. Projection: Round 2.
» Hundley has an impressive set of physical tools, but the position's nuances like pocket presence and secondary reads need development.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor
Height: 6-3. Weight: 230. Class: Senior. Stats: 3,855 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 63.1 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.87. Projection: Rounds 2-3.
» Petty may be the most accurate passer in this draft, but the rest of his game needs a lot of work.
5. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 213. Class: Senior. Stats: 4,006 yards, 32 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 64.3 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.75. Projection: Rounds 3-4.
» Grayson has the arm to become a starting quarterback in the NFL if he develops, but he'll have to work on several things from throwing mechanics to operating complex, NFL offenses.
6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Height: 6-6. Weight: 229. Class: Senior. Stats: 3,164 yards, 15 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 62.3 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 5.14. Projection: Rounds 4-5.
» Mannion has exceptional size for a quarterback prospect, but he lacks mobility and an elite arm that can make all the throws.
7. Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
Height: 6-4. Weight: 229. Class: Senior. Stats: 1,927 yards, 15 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 52.1 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.72. Projection: Rounds 6-7.
» Bridge's length frame draws Colin Kaepernick comparisons from personnel evaluators, and he's capable of making some 'wow' throws, but he's a substantial project for any team that drafts him.
8. Shane Carden, East Carolina
Height: 6-2. Weight: 218. Class: Senior. Stats: 4,736 yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 63.5 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.94. Projection: Rounds 6-7.
» The ACC Offensive Player of the Year has some mobility and great instincts in the pocket, but Carden does not possess an above average arm and will have to transition to a pro style offenses after playing in spread systems his entire career.
9. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Height: 6-1. Weight: 223. Class: Senior. Stats: 2,498 yards, 18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 59 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.63. Projection: Rounds 6-7.
» Fajardo has good athleticism for the position and above average arm strength, but accuracy has been an issue.
10. Connor Halliday, Washington State
Height: 6-3. Weight: 204. Class: Senior. Stats: 3,873 yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 67.3 completion percentage. 40-yard dash: 4.85. Projection: Round 7.
» Halliday put up big numbers in Washington State coach Mike Leach's pass-happy offense, but he took almost all his snaps out of shotgun and will have a difficult transition to a more traditional, NFL system.