Quarterbacks are drafted in the first round of the NFL draft to play immediately, not to stand on the sideline. Look at the Miami Dolphins. They’re so anxious to get Tua Tagovailoa — the fifth overall pick of the draft — onto the field that they are benching Ryan Fitzpatrick this weekend to make it happen.
All Fitzpatrick has done is throw for 1,535 yards and 10 touchdowns while helping the downtrodden Dolphins win three of their first six games, including the last two.
Tagovailoa will become the third of four quarterbacks picked in the first round of the 2020 draft to be named the starter.
The other quarterback is Jordan Love.
Remember him? He is the Utah State quarterback who was drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers in what was the most heavily criticized draft decision in memory. Love is listed as the No. 3 QB on the depth chart behind superstar Aaron Rodgers and Tim Boyle, a three-year veteran from Eastern Kentucky who made the team as an undrafted free agent.
The Packers essentially bought a high-end, very expensive Lamborghini and parked it in the garage and threw a tarp over it.
Thirty-two quarterbacks have been selected in the first round of the draft in the last decade. Thirty of them became starters as rookies, and that includes Paxton Lynch, E.J. Manuel, Johnny Manziel and Josh Rosen, who didn’t exactly set the league afire. None of them lasted long. Even two second-round picks became rookie starters — Drew Lock and Derek Carr. Aside from Love, the only first-round pick who wasn’t promoted to the starting role is Patrick Mahomes. Actually, he started one game as a rookie, but only because starter Alex Smith was injured. A year later Smith was traded away and Mahomes became a starter and a star.
If his only receivers were Donald Trump (lined up wide right) and Joe Biden (lined up wide left), Rodgers would still throw touchdown passes; that’s how well he’s playing.
The drafting of Love makes no sense. Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer and the highest rated passer in NFL history. At 36 he’s playing as well as ever in an era when quarterbacks are playing into their 40s. He took the team to within one game of the Super Bowl last season even with his only real receiver weapon, Davante Adams, sidelined for four games with an injury.
Why not get Rodgers more help, everyone wondered, instead of drafting a replacement who won’t be needed for years?
The Packers not only drafted Love in the first round, they traded the Nos. 30 and 136 picks of the draft to move up to No. 26 to get him. It wasn’t as if there was another team that would’ve taken him anywhere in the first round.
Rex Ryan, the former NFL coach, called the selection of Love “the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in the 50 years I’ve watched the draft.”
It might have been at least a little more understandable if Love were a can’t-miss prospect, but, after a fine sophomore season, his performance tailed off considerably at Utah State. The year after throwing 32 touchdown passes and six interceptions, he threw 20 TDs and 17 interceptions and averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt.
If the drafting of Love was a way to motivate Rodgers, it worked. He threw four touchdown passes in the season opener. His 113.4 passer rating is his best since 2011. He has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He’s doing it with a no-name collection of receivers, two of whom scored their first NFL touchdowns Sunday (Adams has already missed two games). If his only receivers were Donald Trump (lined up wide right) and Joe Biden (lined up wide left), Rodgers would still throw touchdown passes; that’s how well he’s playing.
Rodgers, who is under contract through 2023 as part of a $134 million deal, made no secret of his dismay at the Packers’ decision to draft Love. He has said he believes the team eventually will play Love and he expects to finish his career somewhere else. “Just look at the facts,” he said on a podcast with Kyle Brandt. “They traded up, they drafted him. I would say they like him. They want to play him.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur says he expects Rodgers to be with the Packers “for a very long time.” But how long can the Packers keep Love on the sideline?
The irony is that the Packers and Rodgers have been here before and it worked out well, to say the least. The Packers drafted Rodgers with the 24th pick of the 2005 draft, when they had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at quarterback. Rodgers sat for three seasons behind Favre and then the Packers shipped Favre to the New York Jets and made Rodgers their starter. Favre was 36 and had been with the Packers 16 years; Rodgers is 36 and has been with the Packers 16 years.
The difference, as Rodgers has noted, is that the Packers weren’t nearly the contenders then that they are now.
Love has done nothing to persuade anyone that he will be capable of replacing Rodgers. He struggled in camp — it didn’t help that the off-season OTAs (organized team activities) and exhibition games were canceled. LaFleur has tried to sound upbeat about Love, but also said in August, “There’s a lot to clean up right now.” He said that Love was the best available player but nobody has bought that one — what about running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire or receivers Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, Laviska Shenault, or Michael Pittman (after all, the Packers need receivers)?
While the other first-round picks are starting at quarterback — Joe Burrow, Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert — Love sits and waits.
“I would say that this is a really good situation to be in, not being thrown out there,” Love told reporters. “I’m behind one of the great quarterbacks in the league. So just being able to sit behind him and learn, what’s better than that?”
On the “Pat McAfee Show,” Rodgers summed it up this way: “No matter who you bring in, they’re not going to be able to beat me out anytime soon.”