The Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love after trading up to the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. It was an unorthodox selection, one that surprised fans and media members alike, but general manager Brian Gutekunst seems very happy with the selection, as well as the trade up to move a few spots to get him.
As for Love the player, Gutekunst is of course a fan — he would not have drafted him if he weren’t. Gutekunst called Love a “natural thrower with a strong arm,” which comes through clearly on the tape. But Love threw 17 interceptions in 2019, a huge jump from just six the year before. While that is a concern, the pick appears to be a focus on what Love can do, not what he cannot. What Love can do is “make all the throws,” as Gutekunst put it, something that is certainly visible from his tape.
That natural ability, that pure throwing talent, got Love into trouble in 2019. As a junior, Love’s interceptions spiked as his yards per attempt and touchdowns dropped. Following his selection, Love explained why: “I was just trying to force balls and do too much,” he said. “(I was) forcing a lot of bad throws, bad decisions, and forced balls into tight windows.”
Part of the reason for Love’s questionable decision-making was the changes that took place around him in Logan, Utah. Between his sophomore year in 2018 and his junior season, Love saw a change at head coach, plus the departure of nine starters on offense — including his top three receivers. In fact, Love’s top three receivers in terms of receptions and top five in receiving yards left before 2019. That left him throwing to unproven players who had trouble separating from coverage.
As one scout put it, Love is “the only quarterback I ever scouted who will throw into bigger windows as a pro than he did in college.”
Of course, Love will be sitting behind an NFL MVP at quarterback for a while, much like that player did in his early years. Aaron Rodgers is in a very different position than Brett Favre was when Rodgers entered the league, however; while Favre was waffling about retirement around age 35, Rodgers — aged 36 — has said he wants to play into his 40s.
Gutekunst made it clear that he did not speak to the franchise quarterback about the draft selection. “I haven’t connected with Aaron yet, but obviously he’s been through this and he’s a pro and it’s something that’s a long-term decision,” he said. “the way the board fell, this was just the best decision for the Packers. Aaron has been around a long time, and he understands what we’re playing for.”
As for the draft board, it became clear the Love was the last first-round value that the Packers felt was available on the draft board. “We go through the same process every year ... we build our board and try to stay true to the board and take the best player available,” Gutekunst told the media. “The way the board fell this year, he was the best player left and we’re excited to get him.”
The GM added that he saw Love play against Utah State early in 2019 season. The Aggies lost 42-6 in Death Valley on the first Saturday in October — which is hardly an insult, given that the loss was at the hands of the eventual national champions — but Gutekunst saw qualities there that helped him pull the trigger on Thursday. “He’s a very good athlete. He has the size we look for. There’s some rawness to him but he’s got everything in front of him. He’s willing to work and he kind of fits with our culture.”
The Packers, of course, passed up on players who might have made a more significant impact in 2020 — if the upcoming football season is even played, something that is still in question due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, there are players on both sides of the football who would be more likely to contribute in 2020 than a quarterback who will play out the season as a backup, if all goes well. “I don’t believe in that,” Gutekunst said about the idea that the team could be one player away from contending for a Super Bowl. However, he added that “if there was a game changer type player we obviously would have considered that,” suggesting that the Packers did not see that player still on the board late in the 20s.
With a head coach entering his second year, a new quarterback could pose an issue for the offense. Still, it sounds like Matt LaFleur is on board with the selection, as Gutekunst said that “Matt is on with me throughout the draft.” He even added that “I certainly wasn’t giving him a player he didn’t want,” suggesting that LaFleur is a Love fan as well.
Ultimately, Gutekunst summed up the pick with the following: “It really wasn’t about this year. There was a guy we liked (who) fell to us.”
Keep it here at APC throughout the weekend for full coverage of days two and three of the 2020 NFL Draft.