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Finding Brett Favre’s Heir: A Look Back in Time

Aaron Rodgers was the final decision after three years of quarterback draft rumors in the early 2000s. Who were the other options?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Although hard to believe, It’s been 12 years since the Green Bay Packers chose Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft. Imagining life with another quarterback under center for the Green and Gold is wild, but for several years it was a real possibility.

Going back in time to 2002, rumors started spreading rapidly that Brett Favre was pondering retirement following a couple of network interviews. The Packers were in a position to select a number of different quarterbacks to be Favre’s eventual successor in the ensuing years before they selected the quarterback from California.

It’s fair to say Green Bay will forever be happy with the one they settled on, pun intended, but who were the other quarterbacks available? Here is a list of players that were tied to the Packers back then.

2003: Kyle Boller, California

Picking 29th in the first round, Green Bay never had the chance to draft Boller, who went pick 19 to the Baltimore Ravens. Playing for four teams before retiring in 2012, Boller never quite lived up to the first round hype.

Turnover-prone, Boller threw almost as many touchdowns as interceptions with Baltimore (45:44) and had a career marred by significant nagging injuries over the course of his five years with the Ravens. Steve McNair was named the starter prior to the 2006 season and while Boller had spot starting duties in the next two years, he ultimately became the bridge between McNair and future first round pick Joe Flacco. After bouncing around the league, he retired in 2012.

2003: Rex Grossman, Florida

Along with Boller, Grossman was another buzz name for the Packers prior to the 2003 draft. He would end up getting drafted 22nd by the Chicago Bears and play six seasons in the Windy City.

Over his first three seasons, Grossman started sparingly, getting a few starts late in his rookie season with the Bears out of contention. He then began the following season as the starter before a knee injury sidelined him after just three games. Then it was a broken ankle in preseason that kept Grossman out most of the 2005 season before helping the Bears reach the playoffs in a late-season push.

Grossman’s claim to fame was the promise he showed in the 2006 season, in which he started all 16 games and led the Bears to the Super Bowl, the only time he started more than seven games in a single season. But interceptions, which would add up more than touchdowns during Grossman’s career, derailed him the next few seasons and he was a journeyman for the remainder of his career with longer stints in Houston and Washington before being released for the last time in 2015.

2004: Philip Rivers, NC State

With the Packers owning the 25th pick, it was possible but unlikely Rivers would make it to Green Bay in a draft packed with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. However, Rivers was a late riser in the month leading up to the selections and was picked fourth by the New York Giants before immediately being shipped to the San Diego Chargers for Eli Manning.

There’s little doubt that Rivers is the best option Green Bay could have realistically had from the players on this list. A six-time Pro Bowler, Rivers’ career started slowly as Drew Brees put up a career season in 2004. However, Brees’ shoulder injury in 2005 gave Rivers an opportunity to showcase his talent. When Brees left as a free agent that offseason, Rivers assumed the starting role and didn’t look back, leading the Chargers to four division championships, several playoff appearances, and a ticket to the 2007 AFC Championship Game. A true gamer and motivator with multiple comeback victories, Rivers has had an excellent career and may have a spot in Canton when his career is finished.

2004: J.P. Losman, Tulane

Losman was another quarterback supposedly on the Packers’ radar in 2004 before the Buffalo Bills traded up ahead of Green Bay and selected J.P. with the 22nd pick. Like most of the quarterbacks on this list, Losman’s career was defined by injuries and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in the NFL.

A broken fibula during his rookie training camp delayed Losman’s progress, and inconsistencies as a starter the following season led to his benching for Kelly Holcomb. Although Losman began to show the tools that had made him a first round pick during his 16-game 2006 season, a knee sprain in 2007 gave way to rookie Trent Edwards. As both quarterbacks suffered injuries, Losman and Edwards would split time as starters over the course of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Allowed to walk as a free agent after 2008, Losman signed with the United Football League (UFL) in 2009 and bounced around the NFL the next three seasons.

2005: Alex Smith, Utah

Going into the 2005 NFL Draft, it was a question of whether it would be Rodgers or Smith that heard their name called with the first pick. But it was Smith that the San Francisco 49ers chose, and the rest is history. While the “what-ifs” will always be present for missing on a future Hall-of-Famer, the 49ers could have wound up with much worse with their top pick. Theoretically, Smith could have been a good fit in Green Bay at pick 25 if the script had been flipped and Rodgers was taken first overall.

In the end, Smith gave San Francisco seven generally solid but unspectacular seasons, including an NFC Championship Game appearance in 2011. Assessing Smith’s development in San Francisco is tricky because he played with new offensive coordinators five times in his first five seasons. Ultimately, his concussion injury in 2011 gave starting opportunities to second round pick Colin Kaepernick and spelled the end of Smith’s time in San Francisco. After being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, Smith earned his first of two Pro Bowl nods. Still a consistent quarterback who avoids mistakes, Smith should have a few more seasons in Kansas City before first round pick Patrick Mahomes II is ready for the starting role.

2005: Jason Campbell, Auburn

Just as Smith will be remembered for being the quarterback the 49ers selected over Rodgers, Campbell will be the one remembered for being taken the pick immediately after Rodgers.

Picked by Washington, Campbell did not play his rookie season after the Redskins moved up in the draft to select him, but was named the starter in 2006. Despite being a first round pick and playing in all 16 games the next two seasons, Campbell always seemed to be on the hot seat in Washington. After over a year of trade speculation, the Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb and sent Campbell to Oakland for a fourth round pick. Campbell never resurrected his career in Oakland after initially being named the starter and ventured around the NFL for a number of seasons before retiring in 2015.