Green Bay Packers: Should they draft an heir to aging Rodgers?

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb #18 during the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb #18 during the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Aaron Rodgers is 35 years old and getting older by the day. Is this the year that Brian Gutekunst and the Green Bay Packers look for his eventual replacement in the draft?

After an ugly 6-9-1 season, the Green Bay Packers have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. There are clear needs for an edge rusher, safety, and offensive linemen. These positions are crucial to the success of the team next year. Yet, there is another position that has been equally inept these past few years and needs to be addressed soon. Backup quarterbacks in Green Bay have been very underwhelming since the departure of Matt Flynn.

Ever since 1992, when Brett Favre took over the starting quarterback responsibilities, the Green Bay Packers haven’t had much need for backup quarterbacks. For most of the last 26 years the Packers have had two Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks that have made almost every start. But now, with Rodgers aging and seemingly becoming more fragile, the backup situation has been put under the microscope more and more.

When Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in 2017, Brett Hundley struggled to a 3-6 record while only recording an average of 166.9 passing yards per game and a total QBR of 44.2.

In 2018, former second-round pick of the Browns, Deshone Kizer did not fare much better in his limited time on the field.  He turned the ball over twice in just nine dropbacks against the Bears, and in the season finale embarrassment against the Lions he completed just 16-35 passes for 132 yards and one interception.

Kizer time was ugly in 2018 and while he is only 23 years old and it may not be time to give up on him yet, it very well may be time to get him some real competition in camp other than undrafted guys like Joe Callahan and Tim Boyle.

How Early could they look for a quarterback?

The first question is how early in the draft could the Green Bay Packers get a quarterback and at a good value?

This year they do have two first-round picks which gives them some flexibility. An edge rusher has been the consensus pick at 12 and the 30th pick will likely be used to fill another need at either offensive line, tight end, or even safety, though they could very well address the hole at safety in free agency.

The highest I can see the Green Bay Packers taking a quarterback is the second round. The last time they took a quarterback was 11 years ago in 2008 with the extremely underwhelming Brian Brohm, who was eventually beaten out in camp by 7th round pick Matt Flynn.

While this still may leave a sour taste in Packer fans’ mouths, it shouldn’t deter Gutekunst from at least exploring the possibility of using a high draft pick to prepare for life after Aaron Rodgers. Tight end is not an immediate need with Jimmy Graham still in Green Bay and safety can be addressed in free agency, so if edge rusher and o-line are the Packers picks in the first round, then it would not be unthinkable to look at a quarterback prospect in round two.

That being said, there are a lot of holes in this roster and a second round pick could be valuable to filling one, so a third-round pick may be the most probable. A third rounder is most likely because it is still a high enough pick to get a good prospect while also not throwing away a pick that could be a difference maker. However, drafting a quarterback is tough. Even in the first round it really is a shot in the dark, but once you get into later rounds, you’re searching for a diamond in the roughest of roughs.

Who are the best candidates for this pick?

If the Packers use a high draft pick on a quarterback instead of filling a need, it better be a worthy heir to the Green Bay quarterback throne. We’ll discuss four quarterbacks that could be taken at different times in the draft.

Will Grier

College: West Virginia

Projected round: 1-5

2018 Stats:  3864 yards, 37 Touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 67.0 completion percentage

Will Grier is an exceptionally talented quarterback that has some consistency issues. This is well illustrated by his sizable fluctuation in draft stock. Realistically he is a rounds two through four prospect, but a few draft extremists have put him in their first or fifth rounds.

Grier certainly draws the most parallels to Rodgers in his playstlye. Chief among these similarities is the rare ability to throw the ball down the field with both feet in the air, which he does on this clutch dot against Texas before scampering in for the two-point conversion to win the game.

There have been questions about his arm strength and unorthodox mechanics. His delivery is certainly not a compact one and the extra fraction of a second could cost him in the NFL against faster pass rushers. Aaron Rodgers also had mechanics questions coming out of college and while it is a different issue, Grier’s certainly seem to be fixable under Rodgers’ tutelage.

Grier skipped his senior year bowl game with West Virginia in favor of NFL Draft preparation. This is not uncommon among top recruits, and their coaching staff did not seem to have an issue with it. This shouldn’t raise many concerns, but not being committed to a team that doesn’t have much to offer him in terms of his professional career could mean he would not be happy in a situation where he will be the backup for a few years.

Ryan Finley

College: North Carolina State

Projected round: 2-3

2018 Stats: 3928 yards, 25 Touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 67.4 completion percentage

Ryan Finley is definitely the most polished-looking of anyone on this list. He had the highest senior year completion percentage, most yards, and as a three-year starter at NC State after two years at Boise State, he has plenty of experience to be successful.

Finley can navigate the pocket with poise, extend a play, and deliver precise passes. Like Grier, he does have arm strength concerns, and throwing the ball across the field can be a struggle for him. Still, his experience and poise make him a strong candidate to be groomed by Rodgers, as Rodgers likes his players to have a deep knowledge of the game and their offensive system.

While he prefers to stay in the pocket and pick apart defenses with his precision passing, he does have playmaking ability, and has made some Rodgers-like plays outside of the pocket including some not-so-typical ways of getting the ball to the receiver. Both of these styles are shown very well in this video.

Finley might be my favorite pick for a new Packers quarterback. Packers backups have not been good in recent years and in the scenario of another Rodgers injury, I believe that Finley is equipped to step in and perform well. He also has the potential, once he is taught by Rodgers for a few years, to be the next Packers star quarterback.

Clayton Thorson

College: Northwestern

Projected round: 2-3

2018 Stats: 3183 yards, 17 Touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 61.1 completion percentage

If you like experienced quarterbacks, Ryan Finley is good, but Clayton Thorson is even better, with four years of starting experience under his belt at Northwestern. He had growing pains early on but his completion percentage increased every season. He left a huge mark on the Northwestern program and is their all-time leader in yards, completions, and touchdowns.

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When given time, Thorson is lethal, with the ability to throw to anywhere on the field. When pressure comes through up the middle he does have a tendency to panic and throw off of his back foot causing him to underthrow receivers. When he is blitzed off of the edge he has the ability to get outside of the pocket and throw accurately on the run.  He can also tuck it and run as evidenced by his 27 rushing touchdowns in college.

Thorson isn’t the most attractive pick to lead a team in the pass-heavy NFL, because he comes from the Big Ten where ground and pound is king. There is a reason that no Big Ten quarterbacks have been taken in the first round since 1995 and the only one picked last year was Tanner Lee from Nebraska in the sixth round. Most Big Ten quarterbacks are there to hand the ball off to stud running backs and pass in third-and-long situations to extend drives.

There have been successful Big Ten products in the NFL. The first to come to mind are Super Bowl winners Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Drew Brees. Kirk Cousins and Brian Griese are also examples of Big Ten quarterbacks having success. They are few and far between, but when one hits it can be a huge value pick. Thorson has the potential to be a big hit once he learns from Rodgers.

Kyle Shurmur

College: Vanderbilt

Projected round: 4-6

2018 Stats: 3130 yards, 24 Touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 62.6 completion percentage

Kyle Shurmer is the lowest projected quarterback on this list for a reason. He is not the most polished, he struggles under pressure, and he doesn’t have elite arm strength. However, he is also on this list for a reason. He can make rhythm throws in a west coast offense and at 6’4″ 225 pounds he has the size to play quarterback in this league.

Shurmer definitely progressed well in college. Each year he increased his completion percentage, passing yards, and yards per attempt. While he doesn’t always have the best look of an NFL quarterback, he does have some useful traits.

When he is under pressure he tends to vacate the pocket early and not be able to stand tall and make a throw. What ensues is anyone’s guess. Sometimes it results in a bad decision for an interception, but once in a while it ends with a dart to an open receiver. His strength is certainly rhythm throwing. He has great timing with his receivers on hook and slant routes which is highly valued in Green Bay. While he does not have great accuracy down the field, he can deliver the ball into tight windows in the short and intermediate distances.

If the Green Bay Packers do not want to use a high pick in a year with many holes, this could be their guy. He is the least polished and for sure a big project, but maybe what the Packers need is a guy who needs even more years than the higher picks to get ready. Rodgers could very well play five more years, and if Shurmur shows some promise early, he could be rewarded after a long wait.

Final Thoughts

The NFL draft is not by any means an exact science. This is only amplified in the quarterback position because it is the most notable and easily seen by the casual fan. Many young and inexperienced quarterbacks that are thrown into the fire right away struggle and are quickly out of the league, but many that have a few years under a great quarterback have better rates of success. Any of these quarterbacks have the potential to be a complete dud or a big hit with the ability to continue as the Green Bay Packers quarterback once Rodgers hangs it up.

Next. Recent Packers' mock draft passes on edge rusher. dark

Feel free to comment below or on Twitter at @DairylandXpress on whether you think the Packers should begin the grooming process on a rookie now, when they should take one, and who you would like to see take over the reins for Rodgers in a few years.