There is a long line of quarterbacks who were taken in the first round of the NFL draft who proved to be busts. Vince Young. JaMarcus Russell. Ryan Leaf. Josh Rosen. Dwayne Haskins. Etc., etc. And yet there’s only been one of them in the last 20 years who failed to make the active roster and didn’t play in at least one game.
The former Utah State star was the controversial 26th overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. He not only didn’t win the starting job — and no one expected this, playing behind the great Aaron Rodgers — he didn’t win the backup job, either. That job went to Tim Boyle, an undrafted free agent. He was beaten out for the No. 2 spot by a guy nobody thought was worth drafting.
Asked this spring about the progress of Love, coach Matt LaFleur told ESPN, among other things, “… he’s still got a lot to learn. I think he can tell you that, but he’s going to take it one day at a time. He goes out there with purpose. I like his mindset right now.”
A month ago, general manager Brian Gutekunst said Love “had a long way to go.”
This doesn’t sound like progress, not if the best thing they can say is that they like his “mindset” and he is taking it one day at a time.
If the Green Bay Packers regret using a first-round pick (and trading up to get it), they aren’t saying — but don’t they have to be second-guessing themselves?
Quarterbacks taken in the first round in this era are supposed to be ready to play, or close to it. They’re not projects. There have been exceptions — Rodgers himself sat on the sideline for a few seasons, waiting for Hall of Famer Brett Favre to retire, but he did win the backup job and played in three games as a rookie.
Paxton Lynch, the 26th overall pick of the 2016 draft (same as Love in 2020), was a bust by any measure but even he started two games as a rookie and two more as a sophomore before being demoted and then released during his third season. That’s a hard fall for a first-round pick.
Russell, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft, lasted only three years in the league but he played in four games as a rookie, starting one, and won the starting job his second season.
Johnny Manziel, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft, was out of the league after just two seasons, but he played in five games as a rookie and nine the following year, starting eight of them.
Tim Tebow, the 25th overall pick of the 2010 draft, lasted only three seasons in the league, but he played in nine games as a rookie and 14 games a year later, starting 14 of them.
Of the 60 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 2000 to 2020, Love was the only one who didn’t see the field or make the active roster as a rookie. Some of them played only one game — Patrick Mahomes, Chad Pennington and Brady Quinn — but they did see action as rookies and earned the backup job.
Of the four quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2020 draft — Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Love — all but Love won starting jobs as rookies. So did Jalen Hurts, who was drafted in the second round.
The Packers were widely criticized for using a first-round pick on Love when they had Rodgers at the top of his prime and taking the team to within one win of the Super Bowl. Why not get him some help, another wide receiver, critics wondered. Love’s development has become all the more critical now that Rodgers is demanding to be traded. If that happens, the Packers won’t have the luxury to bring him along gradually as they did when they had Rodgers and Favre on the same roster.
With Rodgers as the starter, the Packers have a win-loss record of 126-63-1; they are 6-11-1 in games in which he didn’t play.
There was a lot of uncertainty about Love before he was drafted; that is still the case heading into his second season. LaFleur assessed Love for NFL.com this way recently: “It’s tough to tell; there were no preseason games last year so he’s had limited exposure. We’re all interested to see where he’s at.”
Doug Robinson is a columnist for the Deseret News.