There's no question that Graham Harrell listened to Mike McCarthy a great deal during quarterback school in April. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman, and Nick Hill: one of these three players will be the backup quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers this season. Harrell has the most experience, but Coleman and Hill are talented developmental projects. Will either one perform well enough to unseat Harrell as the #2?
The short answer is no.
Yes, Coleman is highly regarded for his arm strength. However, his mechanics need some serious work, and he will need to make a big transition from FCS (formerly D1-AA) football to the complex pro offense that McCarthy runs. Sure, Hill looked good in the Arena league. He has to deal with some questions about his arm strength though; like Coleman, he also has a lot of work to do before he'll be ready to run an NFL offense. Neither player will be more ready to step into the offense at any point this season than Harrell.
A popular comparison is being made between Coleman and Matt Flynn, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2008 and immediately won the Packers' backup job from Brian Brohm as a rookie. This extends to Harrell, who is seen as Brohm's present-day counterpart. However, Flynn's and Coleman's draft position is the only major similarity between these two situations. I'll explain why this comparison makes little sense after the jump.
Flynn went to a major college in LSU, and won a national championship (and MVP of the championship game) as their starting quarterback. B.J. Coleman played at Tennessee-Chattanooga against FCS competition for three years after getting minimal playing time at Tennessee. The level of competition in the SEC is unquestionably stronger than that of the Southern Conference, and the complexity of Les Miles' offense is almost certainly greater than that of Russ Huesman's scheme at Chattanooga.
The second problem with the Flynn/Coleman comparison is their competition. Brian Brohm and Graham Harrell have few similarities at this point. Brohm, part of the same 2008 rookie class as Flynn, was bigger and stronger and a higher draft pick than Flynn. He never developed as expected, though, in part because his decision-making was too slow and he never really grasped the offense. Harrell, on the other hand, has improved his arm strength in two seasons on the practice squad (with brief stints on the active roster). He missed out on coach Mike McCarthy's quarterback school in his first two years due to signing late in 2010 and the lockout last season, but finally was able to attend this April. The coach has been very complimentary of him, saying before the draft that "I think mentally he's finally getting to the point to where he understands the offense inside and out...I think he's definitely got room for development in front of him, and he's got a great opportunity ahead of him. . . . But I'm excited about him."
If the Packers didn't think that Graham Harrell had the ability or potential to be the primary backup quarterback, they would not have signed him to the active roster in December of this past season when the Buffalo Bills tried to sign him. The coaching staff has confidence in Harrell to do the job, while the other young candidates need work on their mechanics and on the playbook.
Graham Harrell is the Packers #2 quarterback. Coleman and Hill are fighting for the 3rd spot.