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NFL fans know Aaron Rodgers as arguably the best quarterback in the game right now, but his career in Lambeau didn't get off to such a rosy start. How bad was it? The Packers considered drafting Vince Young or Brady Quinn to replace Rodgers' as the heir apparent to Brett Favre.
Aaron Rodgers in spring 2005 possessed most of the traits scouts look for in a franchise quarterback: intelligence, arm strength, mechanics, awareness, agility, mental resilience, etc. Sure, Rodgers had just average size at 6'2", 200 pounds, but the moxie, toughness and competitive fire he displayed during his two years as quarterback for the University of California should have been more than enough to secure him a top five selection in the NFL Draft that spring.
They weren't enough, however, and Rodgers slid all the way down to the 24th pick, held by the Green Bay Packers.
Seven years later, we all know Rodgers' story well: cocky, talented kid from Northern California is chosen to be the heir apparent to legendary quarterback Brett Favre. Favre and the Packers are downright terrible the first two years Rodgers is in town, playing the role of eager understudy. Talk of Rodgers replacing Favre heats up during summer 2007, and then Favre turns around and takes Green Bay to a 13-3 record and home appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Favre then retires. Rodgers is anointed the Packers' starting quarterback, but then Favre decides he wants his job back. Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson essentially tells Favre to eff off, and Rodgers proceeds to do the Packers proud by leading them to a 6-10 record that season. Things get exponentially better for Rodgers after that, as he leads the Pack to a Wild Card appearance against the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, and takes Green Bay all the way to a Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. Rodgers follows up his Super Bowl MVP performance by earning league MVP honors the next season.
And now he's doing Pizza Hut commercials. This guy is a g**damn rock star.
But while Rodgers' game really has it all--Joe Namath's swagger and cool, Roger Staubach's mobility, Joe Montana's brain and Dan Marino's arm strength and accuracy--it's important to remember that there was a time when the Packers organization wasn't so hot to trot about Rodgers.
According to Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel writer Bob McGinn, the Packers at one point were so down on Rodgers' ability to be a starting quarterback, they literally considered drafting a quarterback in the '06 and '07 drafts.
(Yes, that would be the Packers replacing Aaron Rodgers with Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler or Brady Quinn. If this article was an airplane, oxygen masks would drop from the overhead compartment right about ... now.)
"As the 2006 draft drew near, Rodgers told NFL Network that he had heard the rumors of the Packers possibly selecting a quarterback with the No. 5 selection in a move that would likely end his career in Green Bay. Ted Thompson, the general manager who had drafted Rodgers with the No. 24 pick the year before, didn't rule it out," McGinn writes. "A month before the draft, a panel of 18 personnel men were asked to compare Rodgers against that year's quarterback pool led by Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Jay Cutler. Not only didn't Rodgers draw any first-place votes, he had only one second and three thirds. Eleven scouts put him fourth, and three others even had him behind Brodie Croyle and Charlie Whitehurst."
If ever there was a sentence capable of dropping a football fan dead in their tracks, it's that last one. The fact that several NFL personnel thought Rodgers was inferior to Leinart, Young and Cutler is bad enough, but Brodie Croyle and Charlie Whitehurst? Are you kidding me? Were these personnel guys also breathing through a nitrous mask (ala Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet) at the time?
It actually gets worse, too. McGinn writes, "'You don't want to be critical of the kid because he's in a new system,' an AFC personnel director said at the time. 'But it looks like it will be awhile, if ever, if he develops.' Last week, that same scout said, 'After his second preseason, if they had released him, I don't know that anybody would have been shocked. I mean, he wasn't a very good player. He couldn't make a play.'
"Once again, Thompson said he wouldn't rule out drafting a quarterback. In April 2007, 12 of 18 scouts said Brady Quinn was a better prospect than Rodgers."
Brady Quinn? Did Josh McDaniels account for 12 of those votes?
Then again, consider this:
"As a rookie, Rodgers' six substantial outings included a scrimmage against Buffalo, four exhibition games and the fourth quarter of a December night game in Baltimore. He was brutal every time out," McGinn writes. "In each of the exhibition games, Brett Favre started before turning it over to Rodgers. Until his 20th and final series, when the Packers scored a touchdown in Tennessee with the aid of a 33-yard penalty for pass interference, Rodgers had not generated a point. Sixteen possessions ended with punts, two on interceptions and one on a fumble."
Oh boy! Imagine if Ryan Tannehill had posted those kinds of numbers in his first preseason. Dolphins fans would've hung a great big, neon-lit "bust" sign on their rookie quarterback before ripping him to shreds like they were one of the arena tigers in Gladiator.
So when did everything turn around for Rodgers? Well, it started with a mental adjustment, and grew exponentially by way of several mechanical changes.
"According to many personnel people, Rodgers didn't have much feel in the pocket. Either he would bolt prematurely or he would hold the ball too long. His timing was off, his running was rather ineffective and his accuracy was disappointing, too," McGinn wrote. He also kept fumbling the ball, seven times (four lost) in his first three exhibition seasons ... During his recovery from foot surgery, Rodgers went home to California not only an injured man but also a humbled man. In August, he told NBC's Phil Simms that 'I think I had doubts whether I had what it took to be a successful starter.' At the same time, Rodgers decided that he would just try to play more naturally when he returned for his third season ... he cut weight and body fat while adding bulk strength to better absorb hits. He threw tighter spirals. He made fewer impulsive mistakes. He stayed in the pocket longer. He stopped blaming others, quit being so defensive and let teammates see the positive side of him.
"The results were remarkable. At Pittsburgh in the exhibition opener, Rodgers led drives of 75, 71 and 57 yards. His confidence grew. Across the league, evaluators saw a major difference."
Well, there you have it. Aaron Rodgers, at one point, was thought to be a borderline dud by the Packers organization. And then he developed into the best quarterback in football today by choosing to grow up, refine his technique and trust his coaches. Ryan Tannehill's in a similar position to what Rodgers went through early on in his career, and he'll need commitment from his coaches and front office, as well as time, to develop into the quarterback many fans (myself included) believe he can become.
And it's about time a Dolphins quarterback appear in Pizza Hut commercials, no?
You can read McGinn's full article here.