A rookie quarterback’s transition to the NFL is already a difficult task. Having to do so without a preseason, specifically for quarterbacks expected to sit in waiting behind an established starter, only adds to the challenges. However, for the Green Bay Packers and Jordan Love, there could be a few benefits to their union in this specific offseason despite the negatives of a COVID-impacted football landscape. And perhaps those advantages help further justify his selection in the first round.
There is little doubt the Packers were in on Love as a prospect for quite some time. Not only did Green Bay trade up for the Utah State product, whom they felt was the best player available on the board, it did so knowing the likelihood he would not take the field immediately. The team seems keen on being able to develop Love over time and if the sport of football does indeed have setbacks in kicking off the season, time is what they certainly will have.
Slowing down the mental side of the game
Without on-field instruction being available this past spring after the draft, it is possible that Love had increased opportunity via the virtual platforms for one-on-one interaction not usually afforded to individual players. That kind of attention helps in building relationships with coaches for sure, but it also helps in slowing down the learning curve that is usually at a fever pitch for rookies as they study the playbook and terminology of the offense. While building chemistry with the offensive unit is an important part of playing quarterback at any level as well, the expectation heading into the 2020 season is that Love will sit as a rookie unless there are dire circumstances. There is much less pressure on his quickness to develop in that capacity as there is within the system itself.
What did not change in the virtual element of the offseason was film study and that focus almost assuredly benefited Love while on a workout delay. Draft pundits criticized Love for his movement through progressions and consistency anticipating what defenders will do both pre- and post-snap. Too often those two traits led to decision-making blunders as evidenced by Love’s interception total and ill-advised throws downfield as a senior.
That nuances of the game can be improved through NFL coaching, but they take time and understanding. Fortunately, even if the Packers cannot play in 2020 as a worst-case scenario, they can begin this ongoing process with Love and start correcting those bad habits. In fact, not stepping foot on the field could help alleviate some of those habits in itself — an underrated advantage that a lot of quarterbacks in Love’s shoes do not often get the luxury of having.
At some point soon, the Packers were going to have to consider drafting an heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers. In hindsight, by doing so in 2020, Green Bay was proactive in its development of a young signal caller while also taking advantage of circumstances.
There is no guarantee of a full season. But in the event there is one, the Packers hope to be a contender once again. In upcoming seasons, it should prove challenging to find as high-ceiling, physically-gifted of a quarterback when picking in the mid-20 range as Love was this past year. It is also unclear what the draft order would be after the season if the 2020 campaign was canceled. However, it probably would not favor Green Bay with the team coming off of an NFC Championship Game appearance.
Then, one must factor in the quarterbacks available to be drafted. While the Packers were able to land Love and groom him already this season, regardless of the COVID situation, next year’s crop of talent may be more difficult to assess. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields figure to be high-end choices that will be selected well outside of the Packers’ grasp. From there, the speculation of a postponed or cancelled college football season paints a scary scenario. Even if the Packers waited another season to draft a quarterback, that pick would continue to lie in waiting behind Rodgers. In a canceled college football season, any drafted prospect would lose a season of on-field development and then another season or more in Green Bay.
In addition to the concern of a lost season for those individuals, there is less game film for the Packers to evaluate in order to make a sound draft choice. That is especially true for players with only two years of college experience to this point. Examples abound of previous college quarterbacks who have entered their final seasons with top-five buzz only to lose their luster with more exposure. Matt Barkley and Brian Brohm are a couple of particular names that come to mind. Green Bay would run that same risk heading into the 2021 NFL Draft without a fuller, clearer picture of the strengths and potential flaws of the available prospects.
A final consideration that might benefit the Packers in selecting Jordan Love this past year is the mental toll placed on current college quarterbacks by COVID. The continuous ebb and flow of “will there be a season” chatter, possible disruption of final seasons on campus, and potential uncertainty in the draft training process could be a lot to overcome for individuals between the ages of 20 to 22. For many student-athletes, that stress will not easily evaporate once they reach the NFL. Surely, the pre-draft build-up this past spring, including pro days, was still heavily influenced by the virus. But Love will have arrived to Green Bay without a lot of the same angst felt by current college athletes pondering their futures.
There is no doubt that losing field experience as a rookie is a negative side effect of the coronavirus on a newly-drafted quarterback like Jordan Love. But General Manager Brian Gutekunst admitted there is “some rawness to him” and Love could perhaps prosper from improving the mental side of the game at a more user-friendly rate. At the same time, the Packers could stand to benefit themselves by developing Love now as football maintains a period of unknowns at both the college and professional levels.