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Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints

It’s always smart to draft quarterbacks, so the Jordan Love pick was a good one

Quarterbacks are extremely valuable, and teams do not draft enough of them.

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

On draft night I did not care for the Green Bay Packers’ pick of Jordan Love and there are some things I still don’t like about it. I hate trading up for players, and I don’t really care for Love as a prospect but, as a proponent of taking relative positional value seriously, my criticism of the pick has been bothering me. I also didn’t care for the AJ Dillon pick because running backs, even good ones, just aren’t that valuable, and so it’s hard to square criticizing a quarterback selection while also criticizing the running back pick.

After poking around with some data, I think it’s pretty clear that most teams don’t spend enough resources on quarterbacks, to their detriment. It crystalized for me when it came to light that Carson Wentz had an issue with the Eagles drafting Jalen Hurts. The way we talk about “franchise” quarterbacks is weird. No other position is protected from competition like quarterbacks, where any investment of a high pick is automatically seen as a challenge to the starter. It’s fine to challenge players and to have competition! “Franchise” quarterbacks should not be wilting flowers who go to pieces upon the slightest challenge, and the fact that Wentz was such a flower speaks volumes about whether he should be in the league at all. Aaron Rodgers, to his credit, seems completely above (and perhaps positively motivated) by Love’s selection, as he should be.

We as fans and analysts should not treat the position of quarterback like this either. The most important factor to winning in the NFL is having a good quarterback. It’s far more valuable than any other single component and it’s usually a necessary component to sustained success. In the Super Bowl era, 63 quarterbacks have made a Super Bowl appearance as a starter. Of those 63, 20 have made multiple appearances in the Super Bowl, while 9 have one appearance and are still active. Of the 108 potential starting spots (2 per Super Bowl for 54 Super Bowls), 65 slots are filled by repeat performers, led by Tom Brady’s 9. Here’s a look at those QBs, along with a subjective grade on that player’s quality on a five-point scale (1 is bad, 2 is below average, 3 is average, 4 is good, 5 is elite).

QBs by SB Appearance

Name Appearances Grade
Name Appearances Grade
Tom Brady 9 5
Joe Montana* 4 5
Peyton Manning‡ 4 5
Roger Staubach 4 5
Fran Tarkenton* 3 5
Kurt Warner* 3 5
Bart Starr 2 5
Brett Favre* 2 5
Russell Wilson 2 5
Aaron Rodgers 1 5
Dan Marino* 1 5
Drew Brees 1 5
Johnny Unitas* 1 5
Patrick Mahomes 1 5
Steve Young 1 5
John Elway* 5 4
Jim Kelly* 4 4
Ben Roethlisberger 3 4
Troy Aikman* 3 4
Len Dawson* 2 4
Steve McNair 1 4
Terry Bradshaw 4 3
Bob Griese* 3 3
Craig Morton 2 3
Jim Plunkett 2 3
Joe Theismann 2 3
Billy Kilmer 1 3
Boomer Esiason 1 3
Cam Newton 1 3
Colin Kaepernick‡ 1 2
Daryle Lamonica 1 3
Donovan McNabb 1 3
Doug Williams 1 3
Drew Bledsoe 1 3
Earl Morrall 1 3
Jim McMahon 1 3
Ken Anderson 1 3
Ken Stabler* 1 3
Matt Hasselbeck‡ 1 3
Matt Ryan 1 3
Phil Simms 1 3
Rich Gannon 1 3
Eli Manning 2 2
Brad Johnson 1 2
Chris Chandler 1 2
Jared Goff 1 2
Jimmy Garoppolo 1 2
Joe Flacco 1 2
Joe Namath 1 2
Kerry Collins 1 2
Mark Rypien 1 2
Ron Jaworski 1 2
Stan Humphries 1 2
David Woodley 1 1
Jake Delhomme 1 1
Jeff Hostetler 1 1
Joe Kapp 1 1
Neil O'Donnell 1 1
Nick Foles 1 1
Rex Grossman 1 1
Tony Eason 1 1
Trent Dilfer 1 1
Vince Ferragamo 1 1

Almost everyone who played in multiple Super Bowls is an all time great, or at least very good. The worst is probably Eli Manning. You can make a Super Bowl with a subpar quarterback like Jake Delhomme or Neil O’Donnell or Rex Grossman or Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer, but you probably won’t make another one. If you have a great one, you will usually see multiple Super Bowls.

Jordan Love makes $2.25 million this season. That is, in the grand scheme of things, diddlysquat. Consider that Aaron Rodgers makes about ten times that amount and is still underpaid relative to the value he provides. Love probably won’t turn into Rodgers, but the small salary required due to the rookie wage scale makes any young quarterback an attractive lottery ticket. If Love doesn’t pan out, it’s really not a big deal. A lot of draft picks never pan out. If he does, he will be worth far more than he will ever be paid. He will provide the Packers with an additional decade of dominance in the North. That possibility is worth a first round pick. Maybe more than one. The Packers have been real contenders for almost 30 years because they’ve linked up Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and that should be the goal of every franchise.

It may sound hard, or like something you have to luck into, but it’s worth remembering that under both Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson, the Packers dipped into the quarterback pool frequently and with great success. Acquiring Brett Favre took draft picks, but Wolf also drafted Ty Detmer a year before Favre’s tenure began and spent a 5th on Mark Brunell and Jay Barker shortly thereafter. He used a 6th on Matt Hasselbeck in 1998 and a 4th on Aaron Brooks in 1999. Thompson took over for the 2005 draft and, with Favre still playing well, he nabbed Rodgers with his first draft selection and the rest is history. But Thompson continued to draft quarterbacks in the waning days of Favre’s tenure, not content to trust in Rodgers’ development. In 2006 he used a 5th on Ingle Martin IV and in 2008 he selected two quarterbacks, nabbing Brian Brohm in the 2nd and Matt Flynn in the 7th. Thompson capped off his quarterback drafting with the selection of Brett Hundley in the 5th in 2015. Love was selected by Brian Gutekunst, but remember that one of Gute’s first moves was trading for former second rounder DeShone Kizer.

Wolf and Thompson always kept a train of prospects running through Green Bay, and while they generally didn’t spend high picks during the primes of their incumbent Hall of Famers, as they got older the picks started to move up. The Packers didn’t so much luck into Rodgers as acquire him due to a set organizational philosophy that continues to this day. Not every team was willing to gamble on Rodgers for a variety of reasons, and even the Packers hedged their bet later on with Brian Brohm, who was well-regarded as a prospect a few years later. It worked out because they gave themselves a lot of chances for it to work out.

I hope that in a few years (or whenever a good prospect falls into their laps) they go back to this well again. Most bad teams will blame the difficulty of getting a franchise quarterback for their struggles, but the fact is that most teams only have themselves to blame. The Bears are the quintessential poor performer at quarterback, and they have occasionally spent high picks such as when they moved up for Mitch Trubisky, in selecting Rex Grossman, and in picking Cade McNown. Unfortunately in doing so, they assumed their picks would work and missed out on other, better opportunities that came after, including Aaron Rodgers. This is not unique to the Bears, and often, running backs are to blame.

When running backs backfire

The best quarterback in Jacksonville history is the aforementioned Mark Brunell. With no offense intended to Mark, who was a perfectly solid NFL quarterback, that is not good. Since 2014, they have used one high pick, on “The Good Place” joke Blake Bortles, but they also could have selected Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater or Dak Prescott or Lamar Jackson. Their most egregious maneuver was in selecting running back Leonard Fournette ahead of Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in 2017. The only incumbent they were protecting was Bortles.

Carolina likewise passed on Mahomes and Watson for running back Christian McCaffrey. They now have Bridgewater, who is capable if unexciting, but they are a go-nowhere franchise that could have easily drafted a generational talent at the most important position.

No one thinks much of New York’s Daniel Jones, and near the end of his career, everyone knew Eli Manning was washed up, but despite Eli’s clear decline, the Giants used a high pick in Saquon Barkley, missing out on Lamar Jackson (and Sam Darnold, if you subscribe to the belief that he would be good on a better, smarter team). In 2012, every team missed on Russell Wilson multiple times and the Giants were one of them, having selected running back David Wilson with Russell on the board. In fact, six teams selected running backs with Russell Wilson available. I mention this because, while it’s clear in retrospect that Wilson is among the best in the game now and he should have gone higher, it should have been obvious at the time that picking any running back over Wilson was silly. Instead, Cleveland drafted Brandon Weeden after first nabbing Trent Richardson. Denver, just having acquired Peyton Manning, chose Ronnie Hillman (and Brock Osweiler). The 49ers, with Alex Smith and having recently also drafted Colin Kaepernick, took LaMichael James. The Bengals, in the capable hands of Andy Dalton, grabbed Isaiah Pead. And Tampa Bay, secure in the play of Josh Freeman, went with Doug Martin.

All of these teams could have had Wilson with the simple and correct calculus that QB > RB, but instead, most lingered in QB purgatory for quite a long time. Some still aren’t out of it. It’s easy to make excuses for all of these teams as well, as by their own internal logic, they had just spent resources on quarterback in various ways, including in this draft (Weeden and Osweiler). But it’s also worth remembering that Washington actually took two quarterbacks in this draft, using a first on RG3 and a fourth on Kirk Cousins. You are allowed to do things like that.

Even the generally intelligent and venerable New England Patriots could have had Lamar Jackson if they hadn’t taken disappointing running back Sony Michel one pick earlier. Six running backs were chosen before Dak Prescott (including Ezekiel Elliott), and nearly every team that did so would have seen an immediate upgrade from him. Houston’s incumbent at the time was Brock Osweiler. They instead selected current Packer hybrid threat Tyler Ervin.

Running Backs Over Quarterbacks

QB Year RB taken instead Team QB At The Time
QB Year RB taken instead Team QB At The Time
Aaron Rodgers 2005 Ronnie Brown Miami Gus Frerotte
Cedric Benson Chicago Kyle Orton
Cadillac Williams Tampa Bay Chris Simms, Brian Griese
Joe Flacco 2008 Jonathan Stewart Carolina Jake Delhomme
Darren McFadden Oakland Jamarcus Russell
Ryan Tannehill 2012 Trent Richardson Cleveland Brandon Weeden
Russell Wilson 2012 Trent Richardson Cleveland Brandon Weeden
Ronnie Hillman Denver Peyton Manning (And Brock Osweiler)
LaMichael James San Francisco Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith
Isaiah Pead Cincinnati Andy Dalton
David Wilson New York Giants Eli Manning
Doug Martin Tampa Bay Josh Freeman
Kirk Cousins 2012 Trent Richardson Cleveland Brandon Weeden
Ronnie Hillman Denver Peyton Manning (And Brock Osweiler)
LaMichael James San Francisco Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith
Isaiah Pead Cincinnati Andy Dalton
David Wilson New York Giants Eli Manning
Doug Martin Tampa Bay Josh Freeman
Lamar Miller Miami Ryan Tannehill
Bernard Pierce Baltimore Joe Flacco
Jimmy Garoppolo 2014 Carlos Hyde San Francisco Colin Kaepernick
Jeremy Hill Cincinnati Andy Dalton
Bishop Sankey Tennessee Whitehurst/Mettenberger/Locker
Dak Prescott 2016 Kenneth Dixon Baltimore Joe Flacco
Tyler Ervin Houston Brock Osweiler
CJ Prosise Seattle Russell Wilson
Derrick Henry Tennessee Marcus Mariota
Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Dak Prescott
Kenan Drake Miami Ryan Tannehill
Patrick Mahomes 2017 Leonard Fournette Jacksonville Blake Bortles
Christian McCaffrey Carolina Cam Newton
Deshaun Watson 2017 Leonard Fournette Jacksonville Blake Bortles
Christian McCaffrey Carolina Cam Newton
Sam Darnold 2018 Saquon Barkley New York Giants Eli Manning
Lamar Jackson 2018 Saquon Barkley New York Giants Eli Manning
Sony Michel New England Tom Brady
Rashard Penny Seattle Russell Wilson
Josh Allen 2018 Saquon Barkley New York Giants Eli Manning

Back in 2005, three teams selected running backs before Aaron Rodgers was drafted. The Bears used a ridiculously high pick on Cedric Benson, while Miami, then helmed by Gus Frerotte, went with Ronnie Brown. The Buccaneers opted for his Auburn backfield mate Cadillac Williams. They were splitting time between Brian Griese and Chris Simms at the time. Thank goodness Rodgers fell.

Draft more quarterbacks!

NFL dynasties require good quarterbacks and while it’s possible to luck into a run of good quarterbacking, actually making it happen with some degree of certainty takes resources. It may seem silly to invest in Love with Rodgers still around and with the potential for several additional MVP caliber years still in front of him. That’s not the right way to think about it. The right way to think about it is to understand that they have something like four or five years left of Rodgers in which to set up the dynasty for another run. Love is not the “heir apparent” in that process. He is the next step in acquiring and vetting a potential pool of candidates that may be capable of such a thing. We don’t think much of Brian Brohm these days, but he is important to the story of the Packers. They used the 56th pick on him in the 2008 draft, and he was the third quarterback taken after Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. They clearly meant to give him a serious look along with Rodgers and, after he showed some promise, Matt Flynn. That is how you turn over a dynasty. You bring in candidates, you vet them, you bring in more.

I hope the Packers take a few more quarterbacks before Aaron Rodgers moves on either into retirement or to another team. New quarterbacks do not and should not mean that the current quarterback’s time is at an end. They mean that the team is planning for that eventuality. I hope Rodgers plays out his career for the Packers and that Love becomes some other team’s Mark Brunell, but it’s unquestionably good that the team continues to have Mark Brunells on the roster. Having Mark Brunells on the roster is how you get Aaron Rodgers.

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