The name of the game in player evaluation is identifying traits and skills that will translate to the pros; in this case, the NFL. When we watch quarterbacks, we talk about arm strength, field vision, pocket management and, of course, accuracy.
Those skills translate into prototypes: toolsy quarterbacks with big arms and fearless throws, point-guard passers with pop-gun arms or scramble-first QBs who only win outside of structure. And those prototypes fit into scheme fits, where offensive systems can take imperfect quarterbacks and maximize their strengths, hide their deficiencies and generate success.
We've talked about how good Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Jordan Love, and Jacob Eason are. Now, we have to reorient the conversation, not just on what they do well, but how what they do well fits into what they'll be asked to do at the next level.
Next up in these examinations of team fits for top quarterbacks using the information offered by The Draft Network’s Contextualized Quarterbacking portfolios, we'll look at how Love fits with his new team, the Packers.
Examining The Scheme
Green Bay’s offense is in its second year captained by Matt LaFleur, one of the first offshoots of the young Sean McVay coaching tree. LaFleur's offense in Tennessee during his one-year stint as offensive coordinator reflected that background: He put quarterback Marcus Mariota under center on deep play-action drops and three wide receivers into intermediate/deep concepts. Things were solid for the Titans’ offense when everyone was healthy, and as such, he got the Packers’ job.
LaFleur opened 2019 with much the same schematic approach, but he quickly ran into the inflexible Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers didn't like putting his back to the defense on deep play-action or taking snaps from under center, and LaFleur gave up ground there. The Packers were just above average in their snaps taken from under center last season, and the long-developing play-action rollouts were replaced with quicker play-action looks in the short game, which worked to Rodgers' release speed and pre-snap processing.
The route concepts were still inherently West Coast, the runs were still of a zone scheme and McVay's influence in pre-snap motion was still prevalent; but this offense was more a distant cousin of what LaFleur ran in Tennessee, not a direct relative.
We are then forced to ask what a scheme would look like if Love were the starting quarterback, not Rodgers. Love played exclusively out of the pistol and gun at Utah State, never took a deep drop and his most advanced play-action ideas were post-snap key reads on run-pass options (RPO). Love rarely had deep routes crossing in front of middle-of-the-field safeties or breaking outside of the numbers. If scheme continuity is a driving force behind drafting Love then we should expect the LaFleur-led offense to continue mutating into a West Coast offense with more horizontal spread ideas than reduced splits and heavy personnel.
But we could read into the Love selection from a different perspective. If it was Rodgers' notorious stubbornness that led to LaFleur changing his offense, then Rodgers’ replacement could both present a passer with no bargaining power, who would be forced to play in LaFleur's desired system, and serve as a looming reminder to Rodgers that, if he doesn't learn how to play by LaFleur's offensive philosophy then he could lose his job.
These are dark web conspiracy theories more than anything else at this moment, but they underline the point that the future scheme in Green Bay is rather unknown, in terms of what specifically it’ll ask from Rodgers in the short-term and Love in the long-term. Necessity could have mothered development last year or an inherited roster could have forced a tenuous compromise. Time will tell.
Examining The Weapons
So the scheme isn't necessarily locked in place, and that's okay — the good news is the Packers did not draft a wide receiver this year.
Green Bay’s offensive weapons were lamentably entering the 2020 NFL Draft, and famously, it didn't exactly add the firepower people were expecting. With Day 2 picks in running back A.J. Dillon and tight end Josiah Deguara, it seems LaFleur wanted to recapture some of his Tennessee personnel with a war hammer back like Derrick Henry and move H-back like Jonnu Smith. These acquisitions, both of which likely could have been made later with equivalent, if not the same players, were made in lieu of adding a traditional receiver to a thin group.
Last year, the Packers' WR2 was Geronimo Allison, who they let walk in free agency to the division-rival Lions; there, he signed a whopping one-year, veteran-minimum deal. Rising into his role is Allen Lazard, a 2018 undrafted free agent who was out-snapping Allison by the end of the year. Lazard brings a tight end-like frame, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, no-nonsense route running and vacuums for hands; but he isn’t a separator or creator.
Lazard is the king of the hill in a receiver room riddled with similar body types. The Packers added Devin Funchess (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) to a room with Lazard, Jake Kumerow (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and Equanimeous St. Brown (6-foot-5, 215 pounds), and while they have to be pleased with the return on investment with Lazard, it's difficult to get all of these skyscrapers on the field at the same time. Valdes-Scantling has failed to become the field-stretcher the Packers hoped for, St. Brown was on season-ending injured reserve (IR) last year and Kumerow is a special team player.
Davante Adams remains one of the most underrated players in the league and excels as the short-area separator with whom Rodgers loves to work in the quick game. But his skill alone is not enough to elevate this group to even league-average; they'll once again enter the year short-handed at receiver.
With the addition of Deguara to the tight end room, the Packers have now spent back-to-back third-round selections on the position with Texas A&M product Jace Sternberger starting the year on IR and never truly getting his sea legs under him. As such, this room has investment, but no production to this point and figures to feature Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan as much as Sternberger and Deguara in the early going, especially if the offseason is shortened and the playbook continues to evolve.
It's worth mentioning, as we transition to Green Bay's delightful backfield, that Deguara projects to take some snaps not only as an H-back and even as a fullback leading the way for Aaron Jones or popping out of the backfield for a route, in the mold of 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk. It remains to be seen what percentage of the snaps truly falls into this unique role for Deguara, but with Danny Vitale walking in free agency, there are 174 vacated fullback snaps for the taking.
The backfield is now one of the most exciting in the NFL. Jones is a quality top-10 rusher, Jamaal Williams is better suited for a backup role than a feature role with his well-rounded game and Dillon brings a distinct skill set with his speed at his size. There is proven production here, a ton of versatility and the potential for varied two-back sets that could prove a nightmare to match, especially if Dillon clears the bar as an average receiving threat out of the backfield.
It is worth remembering that Love's 2018 season at Utah State — the season that really ignited his NFL interest — had him throwing to three NFL-caliber players: receiver Ron'Quavion Tarver, who won in similar ways to Lazard; tight end Dax Raymond, an H-back/flex TE in the mold of Sternberger or Deguara and running back Darwin Thompson, a scatback who is most analogous to Jones in terms of his receiving ability. If the Packers are able to use multi-back sets and multi-tight end sets in spread formations — not the typical condensed, under-center looks of the McVay offense — they can create quick-game RPO wins and isolated man coverage for players like Lazard and Adams; that would be about as close to that 2018 Utah State offense as they could get.
Examining The Fit
It is a far cry from a perfect fit for Love. He's a developmental prospect behind an infamously crotchety quarterback. He's a spread quarterback on a team trying to figure out just how much spread they want to integrate. And he doesn't have great receivers. The only redeeming factor of Love's fit in Green Bay is exactly why they took him: He's the quarterback of the future, not the quarterback of the present. He doesn't need to be a great fit now; he just needs to grow and be a good fit later.
The Love pick will be heavily scrutinized and debated forever, serving either as a cautionary tale of over-eager QB chasing or shining exemplar of forward-thinking team-building. For now, we have a young and yet unknown head coach, a young and volatile quarterback and one of the most talented and dramatic veteran quarterbacks in NFL history. Strap in and enjoy the ride.