Patiently, our party of three waited; we had been told the show needed to be off the air by 10, but after getting permission we were able to go a bit further. Thankfully, that decision would be rewarded shortly after, when the Minnesota Vikings traded pick number 25 in the 2020 NFL Draft with San Francisco and the 49ers subsequently picked wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, an offensive-special teams dual threat that had been a popular pre-draft selection for the Green Bay Packers at pick number 30 should he fall that far.
In this moment, myself, John Pappadopoulos and Mitchell Speltz all realized that at 30th overall, Green Bay could be in a situation to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, signaling that head coach Matt LaFleur had a decided to focus long term with his team in planning for the next 10 to 15 years of Packer football. Funny thing about the draft though, and any live event for that matter: we all know that anything can happen at any time, and the unexpected usually happens exactly then, when it’s least expected.
Almost as quickly as Aiyuk was off the board, Packer reporters were indicating that Green Bay had begun frantically phoning in to Miami GM Chris Grier looking to trade up. All night, the discussion had been about whether or, not Brian Gutekunst would trade DOWN should their top wideout targets fall off the board, so this garnered immediate interest. We only had a few minutes to discuss on-air about the move, but in that time it seemed to be a consensus opinion that Gutekunst wanted to strike while the iron was hot and grab the best player available, keeping in line with drafts of the last few years.
As far as what player could make the Packers quickly jump up the board with just four spots between their 30th pick and Aiyuk, we narrowed it down to three possible names, and a fourth wildcard option. The first name was LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who could immediately compete with both Christian Kirksey and Oren Burks for a starting job. The second was Michael Pittman Jr, a USC wideout that would not go to Green Bay, but who rather fell right into Indianapolis Colt GM Chris Ballard’s lap. (Ballard also snagged Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor at pick number 41. Indy had quite the early draft haul and with Phillip Rivers could be very interesting to watch next year.) Finally, we floated Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins out there, although John was thoroughly convinced, he was not a good fit for the Green Bay offense. As for our wildcard option, we briefly considered names such as tackle Ross Blacklock or wideout Denzel Mims, players who are no doubt very talented but were not expected to necessitate a trade up the board.
That brings us to Jordan Love. And to the draft pick which has the potential to define the legacy of Matt LaFleur’s Green Bay tenure.
Prior to draft night, it seemed a foregone conclusion that wideout was the ONLY viable option in the first round for Green Bay, and any other position picked would be blasphemous to the needs of the team. Pundits state and nationwide, relishing in the chance to talk about anything other than the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent overarching shutdown we find ourselves in, spared no expense in describing the lack of skilled position players on offense for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to work with over the last few years. Hell, on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers himself said in no uncertain terms that while he would welcome whoever the team picked with open arms, there was a notable lack of wide receiver and running back selections given to help bolster his offense in the first round of drafts almost all the way back to when he first took over from Favre. While many in retrospect have said they knew all along that what ultimately transpired would happen, at the time it certainly didn’t sound that way to me.
I mean, sure if someone like a Tua or Justin Herbert, maybe even Jalen Hurts, falls into your lap at 30, you MAY consider it. (For what it’s worth, while the first two were gone within the first ten picks, Hurts would fall all the way to Philadelphia at 53). But very few people were loudly praising the game of Love, a Utah State junior who in his last season with the Aggies had a less than stellar year despite a lack of talent around him. After the fact film sessions reveal a multi-faceted player who under the tutelage of former Badger head coach Gary Anderson set three Aggie passing records and shows a penchant for throwing the deep ball. But they also reveal iffy decision making; 30 interceptions cost Jameis Winston his starting job in Tampa Bay, but that’s how many turnovers, INT’s and fumbles combined, Love had in his junior year.
As someone who has been torn away from the sports world over the last eight weeks to instead primarily focus on local coverage of the pandemic, I don’t believe I am in a position to tell you the exact why’s or what’s related to the decision to draft Love. But what I can share is my opinion on the psychology behind the decision. For many, including myself, I had assumed going into the draft that Green Bay was in win-now mode after last year. Despite hearing more naysaying than I think has ever been “nay-said” during a 13-3 season, it appeared in January that the window of opportunity to win a title was now, with Rodgers leading the way under center. Making this move has me wondering if that’s the case to the front office. While I DO believe that the team can still be in that mode while trying hard to plan for the future (unlike the current New England scenario), with no clear-cut successor to a Hall of Fame quarterback, the optics of the move don’t appear to indicate that’s the thought process.
It's still very early in the regime of Gutekunst/LaFleur to know if this is the right call, and anyone claiming to know for sure one way or the other is just trying to sell a bill of goods and get on the “I was right about this sports take train” from day one. What is particularly frustrating to see are all the usual videos of fans crying crocodile tears over a draft pick when he has literally never played a down of NFL football. It reminds me very much of last year’s reaction to Daniel Jones going to New York; while I do agree the two situations are very different, the mentality of fans’ reactions is nearly identical. Top NFL analysts have no way to know for sure whether or not a prospect will pan out at the professional, but of course, who am I to argue with “Joe Fan” who knows better than all the experts and GMs and proudly parades their imaginary sports management experience for anyone who will listen.
I’ll keep my thoughts plainly and frustratingly down the middle. Jordan Love is a 21 year old quarterback prospect who has glaring issues to his game which will need to be addressed and which will keep Aaron Rodgers firmly in the drivers’ seat, under, center for as long as he is at the level we’ve come to expect. At the same time, LaFleur clearly wants to be ready for the future of Packer football, while also hoping to avoid what transpired in 2013 and 2017, when no clear cut quarterback depth doomed the team once Rodgers went down with his collarbone injuries (need I remind you of the “illustrious” tenures of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, DeShone Kizer, and Brett Hundley).
Just remember, like I mentioned before, in live events anything and everything can happen, usually when least expected. At least with this pick, the organization appears to be trying to rectify its mistakes from the seasons above. It’s been said that the selection took stones, big stones for that matter, from Gutey and LaFleur to do what they did. Let’s just hope that by trying to avoid the errors of 2013 and ‘17, they also avoided repeating what occurred from 2005 to 2007, when a certain late first-round quarterback was selected while a certain Hall of Fame gunslinger was still a few years away from departure. Interesting times are ahead, for sure.