The Packers’ 2021 Draft May Tip-Off Their Future Plans at QB

A Defense-Heavy Draft Could Actually Mean Rodgers is Staying in Titletown for Awhile

Aaron Rodgers (All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

To be clear, absolutely no one knows the Green Bay Packers’ plans when it comes to the future.

The greatest looming question regarding that future is whether the franchise will publicly recommit to Aaron Rodgers for another handful of years, or begin the transition to the potential Jordan Love era. Remember, Rodgers is firmly under contract through the 2023 season.

Despite that, we believe the 2021 NFL Draft could go a long way in management tipping their hand on the direction they’re looking to go following the 2021 season. General Manager Brian Gutekunst is a lot like his predecessor Ted Thompson in the fact that no one knows what he’s thinking.

The upcoming draft may serve as the best glimpse we’ll get inside his mind. At least, that’s our interpretation of the situation. There are decisions to be made at various positions that will potentially show which way ‘Gute’ is leaning in regard to Rodgers and Love.

Before we explain how we’re thinking about this draft, let’s first get a few future scenarios out of the way:

Best case scenario 1: Aaron Rodgers is a career Packer and continues to play at an elite level well into his 40s. Love is eventually traded for an asset after showing some flashes of talent. Green Bay then drafts another quarterback to groom in a few seasons, once again, on their own schedule.

Best case scenario 2: The Packers move on from Aaron Rodgers after 2021 or 2022 and Jordan Love takes over as a quality starter; the team is set up at quarterback for the next decade-plus. Rodgers doesn’t go on to dominate the league with his new team as that would take some of the shine off of this ‘best case’ scenario.

Worst case scenario 1: The Packers commit to Aaron Rodgers long term and trade Jordan Love for an asset, but Rodgers’ play falls off a cliff in the next year or two. This scenario gets even worse if Love becomes a quality starter for another team. This scenario could cost Brian Gutekunst his position as general manager. Disclaimer: we don’t see an impending cliff.

Worst case scenario 2: Aaron Rodgers is traded away and goes on to win another MVP or Super Bowl with a new team and Jordan Love doesn’t live up to the hype. The Packers are left with virtually nothing at quarterback, doomed and forced to draft a quarterback high in the draft in the coming years (the same way the New York Jets and other cellar-dwelling franchises routinely have to). This scenario would definitely cost ‘Gute’ his job as we enter a dark period of Packers football.

Yikes.

There are a few neutral scenarios, of course, that are possible — perhaps even likely. But why focus on the boring when these extreme scenarios are very much on the table?

These are the four scenarios that people will talk about for decades and are the four most dramatic ways this whole ‘saga’ can play out.

Much like with the Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers transition, there are many moving parts. But as most know, this situation is far different from the summer of 2008. Rodgers is playing at a much higher level than Favre was at this point. It is still nuts to be in a somewhat similar situation nearly 15 years later though. In our minds, the 2021 Draft is the first of those intricately moving parts.

This draft may just set into motion the crux of the team’s plans at the quarterback position.

With Rodgers coming off an MVP year it’s crazy that we’re even discussing this, but this franchise has remained successful by always looking to the future (without sentiment). There may be no ‘transition’ at all. We’ll know more once the draft has concluded.

So… Let’s Dive Into the 2021 Draft

The Future Can Wait:

If the Green Bay Packers plan to recommit to Aaron Rodgers long term (whatever that can mean for a 37 year old quarterback; let’s call it another 3-5 years) the draft may look something like this:

Lots of defense.

If making Rodgers a career Packer (or at least a Packer into his 40s) is indeed their plan, the draft will be D heavy.

A top ten defense in 2020 couldn’t quite get the Packers over the top. So, look for a run stopper early, a quality cornerback and, perhaps, even an edge rusher that is high risk but high reward. ‘Gute’ will even trade up to get one of the defensive players he’s targeted (he’s shown us that).

A big body in the middle of the defense to compliment Kenny Clark seems like the piece that can take this team to the next level… which is the Super Bowl, of course. In the same way dominant edge rushers help cornerbacks, dominant defensive tackles help the inside linebackers.

What’s funny is that, despite how much we like Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin, inside linebacker could also be an early selection if the Packers are sticking with Rodgers for a few more years. Safety is also another position that could be targeted by the Packers early in the draft.

The reason why the Packers would focus almost solely on the defensive side of the ball is because they have the reigning MVP at quarterback and, if they’re sticking with him, they’re also counting on him playing at that level for a few years.

Therefore the offense obviously doesn’t need as much help. They have elite players at quarterback, tackle, guard, wide receiver and running back — it’s the defense that needs the help!

Plus, this is essentially what the Packers have done for years, refusing to spend first round picks on offensive skill players (because they don’t need to).

Even if the Packers go all defense in the draft’s ‘money rounds’ (rounds 1-3), they will still have to go offense at some point. In rounds 4-7 we could see them grabbing a tackle or two, a center and maybe even another back. Running back or a true fullback? That’s the question; I guess if they don’t then we’d get the hint that Josiah Deguara really is the long term answer in that hybrid h-back spot.

And yes, don’t be surprised if they take a receiver or two. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that they take a chance on a wide receiver or two in the later rounds if they don’t invest early. This franchise always replenishes the depth every few years. Of course, we only see them investing in a receiver early if Rodgers isn’t in their long term plans.

Remember, this team has 10 draft picks heading into the draft. ‘Gute’ isn’t afraid to make last second trades and he knows his mandate is to win now. Don’t be surprised if he trades up to get his man. He has proven any pick can become the Packers’ pick, especially when he has this much draft capital to work with.

Whether Rodgers is their long term plan or this is his last year in Green Bay, the plan is to win now. The goal is to become the 2021 Super Bowl Champions.

As a rule, we only really focus on the first three rounds when ‘mocking’ which positions the Packers may target in the draft. Because after that, it’s all purely guesswork. I mean, it’s really all guesswork, but what are you going to do?

If Gutekunst and the Packers go defensive tackle or cornerback specifically in the first and second round we would see those moves as bolstering Green Bay’s defense for the next 3-4 years. The same can be said about an edge rusher. Like we mentioned, it’s a high risk, high reward move, but imagine if they get another player that can harass quarterbacks?

Some wouldn’t consider edge a ‘need’ but by next season it very well could be.

If the Packers are looking to bolster their defense for another 3-4 years it would be because they know Rodgers and Matt LaFleur will have the offense humming no matter who they draft, no matter who is lining up on the offensive side of the ball. This plan would give them their best chance at a Super Bowl in the coming seasons with Rodgers.

At some point in this scenario, Love could potentially be traded for some assets. Some would consider him a wasted first round pick if that happens, but management is always smart to look to the future. It’s ‘The Packer Way’ after all.

Could this be the draft class that gets the Aaron Rodgers Era it’s coveted second title?

The national narrative, as bland as it is, is that Rodgers needs/wants a wide receiver drafted early in this draft. Well, that was the story last year. The Packers didn’t draft one and had the best offense in the league. Don’t be surprised if it plays out like that again. Oddly, we see drafting a wide receiver early as a sign that Rodgers’ time is coming to an end in Green Bay — despite the national experts inevitably saying, “Rodgers finally gets his wide receiver!”

So what if the Packers don’t go heavy defense in the first two to three rounds?

Well that means…

The Future Is Now:

If the Green bay Packers plan to commit to Jordan Love long term, as soon as the 2022 season, the draft may look something like this…

Offense, offense, offense.

The 2021 draft class will be built around protecting Jordan Love and giving him weapons that will aid in his development. But it will also, potentially, help Rodgers get one last kick at the can.

Let us explain…

With 10 draft picks, and the understanding that the future is now, the Packers will target their ideal players and then go get them via trade(s).

Getting one or two stars that can contribute in a meaningful way right away on the offensive side of the ball will help Rodgers in his last year as a Packer and set the team up going forward. It pains us to think this way, but it is a potential scenario (as sad as it is to consider).

If the Packers do go wide receiver early in the draft or get an elite offensive tackle it would seem to only help Rodgers get this offense back to its dominant 2020 level (or possibly even better). But still, this dominance could be short-lived if we are right in our assessment that offense early in the draft means Rodgers’ time is coming to an end.

The other facet of the team thinking about moving on from Rodgers is this:

What would they get in return for trading their MVP quarterback?

If an otherwise contending team–hopefully in the AFC–needs a quarterback, they may make quite a large pitch to the Packers. A package for Rodgers would certainly include multiple first round draft picks, other picks and probably a player.

This would allow the Pack to rebuild on the fly and still benefit from a young quarterback’s lower cap number for a couple seasons. All while keeping the team together and, unlike other teams that have or are moving on from their star quarterback, Green Bay would not have to use one of their (multiple) #1 picks on a quarterback.

Could the thought be this? Build the offense now and use the picks they get for Rodgers to build the defense later?

Talk about building immediate depth, making the roster younger and, potentially, more skilled. Imagine doing that just as a talented third year quarterback takes over. That’s what dreams are made of. Although the better dream is probably Rodgers winning another ring with the Packers before retiring.

It’s a win-win. Or, potentially a lose-lose, like we laid out at the top of this piece. Good thing Gutekunst has the signature guts that both Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson displayed.

Having those extra first round draft picks to fill some holes, and get the best players available, would get the Packers’ roster in position to win with Love early in his tenure as the starting quarterback.

If the Packers are in fact looking at the route of handing over the reigns to Jordan Love in 2022, then they’d be smart to set everything in motion in the 2021 NFL Draft. They could get ahead of the curve on getting both protection and weapons for the young quarterback.

Therefore, if Green Bay drafts an offensive tackle or wide receiver in the first round, it could be a sign that they’re preparing the roster to be built around Love. I mean, what team wouldn’t want to get their young quarterback a stronger offensive line and a young, explosive receiver to grow chemistry with?

It’s an interesting thing to ponder.

Again, drafting offense early in 2021 would help both Rodgers (in his final season in Green Bay) and Love moving forward. There are few win-wins in this league, but this could be an example of a rare one.

The 2021 Draft Class

As pointed out by many, and written about by Zach Kruse at PackersWire.com, the 2021 draft class potentially presents an interesting decision for the Packers.

This draft class is specifically strong at wide receiver and cornerback. Both are positions that many would consider ‘needs’ and both are positions that could immediately begin to test our hypothesis.

The fact that this draft class so perfectly mirrors the greater decision at play for Brian Gutekunst and Packers’ management is, well, funny. And it may lead to quite ironic opinions from the talking heads once the Packers make their 2021 first round pick.

And it should be mentioned that the Packers do need to look to the future at wide receiver, regardless of what they do in the first couple rounds of the 2021 draft. None of their receivers are under contract for 2022.

That said, they’ll bring back Davante Adams (obviously) and likely other receivers that step up in 2021.

So, if these two positions have so much talent, what’s it going to be in the first round? Will it be wide receiver or cornerback? Neither? Offense or defense? ‘Help’ for Rodgers specifically or defensive help for the team (and Rodgers, of course, against the national narrative) in an attempt win him another ring on the strength of the defense?

The Great Irony of This Situation:

The unmistakable irony here is that the ‘experts’ are saying the Packers need to recommit to Rodgers by extending his contract and definitely drafting a high-profile wide receiver.

But if the Packers commit to the defensive side of the ball early in the draft, and possibly sign a defensive free agent, that is how to truly recommit to Rodgers.

In our minds it’s completely flipped; national media be damned.

If the Packers draft a wide receiver in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft the national media’s narrative will undoubtedly be, “The Packers finally got Rodgers his first round wide receiver; the Packers finally got him the weapon he’s been wanting!”

All while, if our hypothesis is correct, this first round wide receiver will actually be for his potential successor Jordan Love. And Rodgers will only get one season of throwing to a Green Bay drafted first round chosen wide receiver.

Absolutely hilarious! …Once you get past the monotonous, overblown pain of it all.

When the national narrative says, “This is the moment the Packers have recommitted to Rodgers by getting him this wide receiver,” it will actually mean (again, in our perspective) that Rodgers’ time in Green Bay may be coming to an end.

And if the Packers go defense in round one it’ll be, “Once again the Packers don’t get Rodgers the help he needs” from national pundits. But in our eyes, it would actually mean the team is investing in more years with Rodgers at the helm.

Wild.

Will It Play Out Like This?

Of course all of this is just speculation by the two co-founders and writers at PackersHistory.com, Daniel and David.

But you can bet that we’ll be watching this draft to see if either of these ideas on the draft actually play out. We do see one or the other likely playing out though. Either all defense in the first couple rounds (meaning Rodgers is the team’s quarterback for a multiple more seasons) or all offense in the first couple rounds (meaning Love is the team’s quarterback, perhaps, as soon as the 2022 season).

The Packers had the best offense in the NFL in 2020 and brought back almost every starter. We are certainly hoping to see defensive players selected early in the 2021 draft.

And that also means, if we are correct in our hypothesis, that Rodgers will be around in Green Bay far beyond 2021. And make no mistake, he is this team’s best option at quarterback for the next 3-4 years no matter how good Love ends up being.

That said, transitioning to Love, if the mental portion of his game eventually catches up to his obvious talent, could mean the Packers’ dominance at quarterback could be extended to 40 consecutive years.

Unreal.

So to reiterate, if the Packers go defense early in the draft = Rodgers is their man, potentially through 2025. If the Packers go offense early in the draft = Love is their man, potentially as early as 2022.

I mean, that’s how we see this situation and the consequential decisions that will have to be made along the way.

However there is one position that throws a bit of a wrench in the gears of this idea…

The Enigma of Center:

The center position is the outlier in this interpretation of the Packers’ upcoming 2021 draft. The Packers may be tempted to move their future First Team All-Pro guard Elgton Jenkins to center as soon as 2021. But then they’d have an elite-sized hole at guard. So, drafting a center high in the 2021 draft could mean the Packers are looking to the future for Love (as chemistry between center and quarterback is always important).

But drafting a center high could also mean they want to give Rodgers a reliable talent at center for the next few years. If an interior lineman is drafted high in the NFL draft, it’s because he has the talent to play immediately.

Center is the one position that, if drafted in the first two or three rounds, doesn’t exactly tip the Packers’ hand at what they believe the future holds. They need one either way, whether they’re prepping for Love to take over or they’re looking to reload the roster for Rodgers to work with into his 40s.

Moving on from Corey Linsley, currently the best center in football and one of the most inquisitive and sincere Packers in recent history, hurts. No doubt. But the business side of football always makes itself known to contenders looking to continue contending.

The Packers are currently in the process of being a contender looking to contend for, potentially, another few seasons, while also setting itself up to continuing to contend for another decade after that. It’s a unique position. It’s a position most NFL franchises would kill to be in.

As fans, we should enjoy the process.

More on Jordan Love:

It was Jordan Love’s sophomore season that got Packers management’s attention. In 2018 he put up 32 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He paired those impressive numbers with a completion percentage of 64.0 and seven rushing touchdowns.

Love is a situational runner, if you’d even call him that, that doesn’t depend on his legs to move the ball downfield. He’s got a particularly big arm (in a league where most quarterbacks have big arms) and all indications are that he’s putting in the proper work to be the next quarterback in Titletown, USA — if he gets the chance.

His college career wasn’t all roses though.

In 2019, Utah State brought in one of the less heralded coaches in college football — Gary Andersen. Wisconsin Badgers fans will remember the nightmare that he was patrolling the sidelines in Madison. So, I don’t think anyone should blame Love for his, and his team’s, struggles with Anderson at the helm. His numbers in 2019 were, to simply put it, poor.

Love of course went pro after his subpar Junior season and then spent the 2020 season as the Packers’ third quarterback. The Packers had a plan and saw the opportunity to get him and famously, or infamously depending on who you ask, moved up to get him.

The 2021 season will be more fun for Love as he is now firmly the ‘next man up’ after Rodgers. Love will be one injury to Rodgers from being the man in Green Bay.

Will we get a ‘Rodgers against the Cowboys in 2007’ moment from Love in 2021? We hope not, but then again, it would certainly be entertaining.

His delivery, from the rare glimpses we’ve gotten, seems to be improved from his college days and he’s done a good job keeping the spotlight off of himself. He may really be the worthy successor, but we won’t know until the offense is his for a few seasons — if he gets the opportunity.

It’s an exciting time to be a Packers fans, no matter which quarterback you’d like to see under center in 2022-2025 and no matter which guy is taking those snaps. As we’ve stated, the 2021 NFL Draft may offer our first look into who will be the starting quarterback in those crucial years.

We simply cannot wait. And for the record, we hope the Packers go defense heavy in the early part of this draft.

Go Pack Go!

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We seek to bring more context to, and share interesting stores about, the history of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL as a whole. Clickbait be damned. "We" are Daniel and David Zillmer; hit the about or contact to learn more.

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