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On Jordan Love, Aaron Rodgers, and the Jeff Tedford-style quarterback

Why most Hall-Of-Famers are virtuosos, Aaron Rodgers is the greatest non-virtuoso ever, and Jordan Love is neither.

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

I have a lot to say about the Green Bay Packers’ 2020 draft class, but I’ll save the process-related criticism for a different post focusing on the second day of the draft. Drafting a quarterback in the first round is rarely a bad idea in a vacuum. Even if they don’t work out, a good quarterback is so much more valuable than any other position that the gamble is worth it. If I am going to be wrong in my criticism of this draft, Love will be the reason. Of that I am sure. I hope I am wrong.

If the Packers are right, we can all enjoy another decade of NFC North dominance, and I’m happy to eat crow should that happen. I even have a case built up in the back of my head on how I could very well be wrong, and perhaps I will write about that in the near future. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that the entire draft was a franchise-altering catastrophe, and that, if nothing else, the obvious errors could have been avoided by a half-competent general manager. It is in the subtle scouting of quarterbacks where I believe the biggest issue lies.

Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love

I think it’s well past the time where we need to acknowledge that Aaron Rodgers is, well, a weird quarterback, and to take a closer look at some of his perceived issues from way back in 2005 when he was drafted. Rodgers is regarded by many as the greatest ever, and others (many of whom are comfortable in R, or at least Excel) as a bit of a disappointment in the latter half of his career. I think I figured out why this is.

Rodgers is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks ever, capable of making every thrown on the field with incredible accuracy. Jordan Love is in many ways similar. His arm is the equal of Rodgers’ in college, and his mobility is eerily similar as well. When you’re watching tape, it’s easy to see 12 in the highlights:

On tape, Love is easy to fall in love (ugh) with. If you’re Green Bay, he’s everything you’ve seen for the past twelve years, but shiny and new. I’ve watched a ton of tape on Love this weekend, and I’ve tried to keep an open mind about him. He did, after all, come in 2nd (and really, first) in QBOPS in 2018 which always endears me to a prospect, and I’m completely open to a prospect showing his ceiling while suffering in other seasons due to circumstances beyond his control. Many will attempt to convince you that Love’s disastrous 2019 season is exactly that, due to the coaching change to former Wisconsin frontman Gary Andersen and the losses of several talented linemen and essentially his entire receiving corps. These are all legitimate excuses, but I’d like you to take a look at his 2019 interceptions for a minute.

This is not here because we should judge Love by the sheer number of picks. I want you to look at what kind of pick they are, and reflect on what type of quarterback throws these kinds of interceptions.

Almost all of them are scripted. You can knock Love for delivering the ball late on a few of them, and you can knock his receivers for failing to battle back to the ball on a few others, but for the most part these throws were not Love’s decisions. The picks were a triumph of scouting the opposing game plan, and reacting accordingly. He made his read, and he did what he was supposed to do. It reminded me of the quarterbacks under one of the greatest college quarterback coaches ever.

The Tedford Curse

I will always find it interesting that Jeff Tedford coached Trent Dilfer and that Dilfer managed to win himself a Super Bowl essentially by being disciplined, doing what his coaches told him, and making good, mechanically sound, accurate throws. Tedford quarterbacks had a terrible reputation in the NFL until Rodgers came along because they all played this style, except that Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller just weren’t accurate enough (all sub-60%, or in Boller’s case, sub-50% passers). Accuracy was the big thing Rodgers had in his favor, and while his mechanics weren’t great coming out of college, Mike McCarthy’s QB school whipped those into shape.

Tedford was phenomenal at getting the most out of his players, and many college offensive coordinators would make his (and Mike Leach’s) philosophy gospel in short order, taking the decision-making out of the QBs hands and relying on them to simply execute a simple game plan where receivers were schemed open and would appear consistently open on set plays. This is process management, or Six Sigma-style planning in action, and anyone who has ever worked for a large corporation or a consulting company will recognize it as such. The problem is that this top-down management can stifle creativity and innovation, and the quarterbacks in the NFL are at such a high level that simply executing isn’t enough. These are your innovators, artists, inventors, and geniuses, and here we get to Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers versus the “usual” Hall of Famer.

Aaron’s Supporting Cast, Drew Brees, and Jordan Love’s Incredible Failure

The 2008 Packers featured Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, a rookie Jordy Nelson, and a young Jermichael Finley. It was a stellar group of pass-catchers that would add Randall Cobb in 2011 and maintained several of these players through 2014 when they also added Davante Adams.

Once Rodgers started winning MVP awards and a Super Bowl we started ignoring the Tedford Curse and considered it broken, but what if the Packers were simply the perfect landing spot for a Tedford quarterback? Rodgers was the most accurate Tedford quarterback by far, but the insane talent of the 2008-2013 receiving corps in Green Bay ensured that reading the defense wasn’t as difficult as usual.

This may sound harsh to Rodgers, but think about what it looked like once he started to decline after Nelson’s torn ACL in 2015. He held the ball too long, as a quarterback unaccustomed to making quick and difficult reads would. Unlike in college, it’s much more difficult to scheme receivers open routinely in the NFL, and without an All-Pro cast Rodgers would wait out the opposing secondary until someone came wide open. An uncharacteristically fantastic offensive line allowed him to prosper briefly under these conditions, but once the line regressed to “merely good” and the receiving corps was neglected, Rodgers became ordinary, and injured, quickly.

Rodgers was, unlike some of his peers, unable to elevate an entire offense. He abhorred interceptions but he was unable to make up for intensely conservative decision-making because he was only coached to throw to excellent, open, all-star receivers, and to avoid picks. Without the talent around him he took sacks and threw the ball away. He followed the process to a fault.

Rodgers is going to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but his career is going to be odd. He had an incredible peak, but he’s been more of an accumulator in his latter years, relying on the lack of interceptions for modern relevance. While Brady, Brees, Manning, and even Brett Favre had strong seasons near the end of their careers, Rodgers is still waiting on his. The truly great ones are more virtuoso performers than process executors, and can adjust to the realities of age and philosophical change.

You may balk at the idea that Rodgers is more of a system QB than Brady, but Tom Brady has excelled as a deep-ball bomber with Randy Moss, as the greatest short passer ever with Wes Welker, and everything in between. Peyton Manning literally called his own plays, and frequently excelled despite an incompetent coaching staff and front office. Drew Brees is one of the greatest deep throwers ever who morphed into a check-down game manager in his later years to great effect. Rodgers plays exactly the same game he did in 2010, just with worse personnel. He executes, as he’s always executed, based on what he sees on the field, in the most Tedfordian way possible.

And now comes Jordan Love, out of Utah State in the Mountain West. On tape, you can see “it” meaning Rodgers, but that is perhaps not the comp you should be going for. Here are the facts:

While Love did rule QBOPS in 2018, he still posted a lackluster completion percentage. This is typical of quarterbacks who fool scouts through mediocre deep passing and plenty of YAC from receivers. He’s much closer statistically to Trace McSorley or Mason Rudolph than to the elites of his class. I am immediately skeptical of any first round prospect with a sub-.400 QBOBP (about 68% completion percentage). His CPOE, the best predictor of NFL success, is also quite lackluster.

And you may blame his 17 picks during his final season on Gary Andersen and on losing some good protectors on the line, but they look to me like we have a quarterback obeying instead of reading, but not very well. Aaron Rodgers has proven that this type of quarterback can work, but not without further development in accuracy and not without significant help on offense. Accuracy doesn’t typically improve that much; it’s one of those skills that’s baked into muscle memory and mental acuity.

Love strikes me as a one or two-read quarterback who will struggle to make his one or two-read throws at the next level in tighter windows. I see why people see some Rodgers in his game, but I’m not sure they take the right lesson from the tape, and I think Love’s college career might tell us more about Rodgers than about Love himself.

A Small Note on Flawed Process

Compounding all of this, Love will sit, barring injury, for at least two years and maybe more. Rodgers’ contract makes him immovable before 2022 and as a result the Packers are incapable of reaping the windfall that comes with a rookie quarterback salary for at least two seasons. Most first round quarterbacks, if they are not terrible, play right away and the old adage about “the worst time to be looking for a quarterback is when you need one” is simply false. If the Packers drafted an heir apparent next season, he would sit a year. If they waited even one more, they would have their option of Rodgers or the rookie, and if neither worked out, they could then spend a likely top-5 pick on the position. The absolute worst way to acquire a new quarterback, without question, it to trade up into the low twenties of the first round, where quarterbacks almost always fail, while losing two cost-controlled years of that quarterback and not helping your current quarterback at all.

Make no mistake, this was a disastrous draft for Green Bay. Their only chance at saving it rests in a deeply flawed quarterback prospect who failed to dominate a weak conference, appears to have accuracy issues, and bears meaningful but incredibly troubling similarity to the man he is destined to replace.