What do the Packers actually have in Jordan Love?

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As the situation between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers continues to deteriorate — Rodgers’ recent comments to ESPN’s Kenny Mayne on Mayne’s farewell SportsCenter show were rather pointed about his relationship with the front office — we’re looking at an increasing possibility that the reigning NFL MVP won’t play another down for his only NFL team without a serious paradigm shift in that front office. Rodgers has made it clear that quarterback Jordan Love, who the Packers moved up to take with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft, is not the specific problem. Most likely, the problem is that the Packers didn’t give Rodgers another offensive weapon with that pick, and that Rodgers wasn’t told by the team that there was a succession plan. Which, when you move up to take a quarterback in the first round, there clearly is.

If we move the ball forward in a hypothetical sense and assume that Jordan Love is the Packers’ starting quarterback when Green Bay takes the field against the Saints on Sunday, September 12, the dropoff in performance will be obvious. That’s no slight on Love; simply an acknowledgement that Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and you don’t generally replace that as easily as… well, as the Packers did when they replaced Brett Favre with Rodgers as their starting quarterback in 2008.

Rodgers was a work in progress when the Packers took him with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft, and he had three full seasons as a backup to work out the kinks. It’s probable that the Packers thought they’d have a similar ramp-up speed to get Love ready, but if they don’t, we’re left with one unclear NFL season in which Love didn’t take a single snap, and his potential based on his college performance. Love didn’t even have any preseason opportunities in 2020 because the 2020 preseason was cancelled due to COVID, so he will very much be hitting the ground in fifth gear.

Jan 21, 2020; Mobile, Alabama, USA; North quarterback Jordan Love of Utah State (5) throws during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. (Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)

Moreover, there’s the precipitous decline in Love’s stats from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, he was the belle of the ball, completing 64.0% of his passes for 3,567 yards, 32 touchdowns, and six interceptions. In 2019, he completed just 61.9% of his passes for 3,402 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Love’s yards per attempt dropped from 8.6 to 7.2, his Adjusted Passing Yards per attempt dropped from 9.4 to 6.4, and his passer rating dropped from 158.3 to 129.1.

We can point to the fact that Love lost his coaching staff and a lot of his weapons after the 2018 season — the Aggies were very much a team in transition in 2019. But when analyzing quarterbacks for the NFL, there’s only so far that takes you. Eventually, you have to do your best to drop the surrounding story, isolate your view of the quarterback as much as possible, and try to get a clear picture of how the quarterback projects situationally and from a traits perspective.

What the stats say

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Beyond what the standard stats tell us about Love's 2019 decline, there are issues reflected in Love's overall efficiency both in 2018 and 2019. In his final collegiate season, when he was pressured, Love completed 42 of 109 passes on 145 dropbacks for 619 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. In 2018, when pressured, Love completed 23 of 76 passes on 88 dropbacks for 576 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. His deep-ball stats from 2019 indeed indicate that he can be a boom-or-bust guy -- Love completed 30 of 85 attempts of 20 or more air yards for 995 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions. That was a decline in explosive efficiency from his 2018 season, when he completed 26 of 76 deep passes for 862 yards, 15 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Even play-action, with which Love was just about automatic in 2018 (nine touchdowns and no interceptions) was a problem in 2019 -- with play-action, Love completed 74 of 123 passes for 868 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions. Again, we can point to the circumstances around Love as a negative factor overall, but as play-action tends to be a cheat code for most quarterbacks (hello, Jared Goff), you would like to see better numbers in this case.

The scouting report

(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

From our own Mark Schofield, when we ranked Love as the 50th overall player in the 2020 draft class: Strengths: Love, even in some of the games Utah State lost last season, puts some of the best throws on film of any quarterback in this class. A prime example is Utah State’s loss at LSU last season, which saw the Aggie QB complete just 15 of 30 passes for 130 yards and three interceptions. But early in that game, Love threw an absolute dime to a receiver in the red zone, which was dropped: https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1217136172662693893 Love actually displayed decent processing speed last season, most notably on quicker route concepts that you would expect to see in a West Coast playbook. On route designs such as Tosser (double slant), Ohio (go/flat) or Omaha (double outs) he showed quick reads and got the ball out on time and in rhythm to his targets. The Utah State playbook also incorporated some Air Raid staples such as Mesh into the design, and he showed good awareness and the ability to work through progression reads on those plays. Love also has an NFL-ready arm, with the ability to generate velocity to all levels of the field. His arm strength makes him a fit in any offense, and there will be no limitations on him challenging any window in the NFL. He also shows better touch than most collegiate passers who have dominant arm strength, which puts him in a position to attack the middle of the field and between levels of the field when he reaches the NFL. Weaknesses: The drop in production from 2018 to 2019 is a concern. Yes, there was a coaching change and he lost some of his offensive weapons, but it is something to watch. It also seemed like Love attempted to take on too much last year, trying to throw the Aggies back into games rather than just taking what the defense was giving him. The LSU game was one such example, when he was forcing throws in hopes of generating a comeback with one big play rather than just taking what was available. Mechanically, there are some inconsistencies that will need to be cleaned up. Generally, mechanics are not an issue when evaluating passers unless they lead to misses on throws, and that is what we see with Love. There are times when the arm is what he relies on, and he fails to properly involve the lower body in the throwing motion, and passes dip and trail off as a result. There are other moments when his mechanics are sloppy, and he will miss on throws that he should hit easily. That is often compounded when he hesitates in the pocket. As a result, he tries to artificially speed things up by accelerating his throwing motion, and that results in sloppy mechanics and misfires.

The little things

(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)

It's abundantly clear that Love has the arm to make any throw you want him to make -- and all the ones you really would rather he did. In my tape study of Love, I wanted to focus on the nuances required at the NFL level, and how the lack of such nuances could trip him up if he has to start sooner than later. This completion against Wake Forest in Week 1 of the 2019 season is pretty similar to what you'd see in a Packers playbook -- crossing route to the front side to create an opening, boot the quarterback out to create extra time and space, and hit the open man on the run. Love can do that all day.

Where Love struggled at the college level was with timing and rhythm -- he would hit his schemed-open targets pretty reliably, but he was by no means a tight-window thrower, and there were times when he did have a schemed opening, and he lacked the anticipation and accuracy to get the ball where it needed to be -- not just for yards after catch, but for the ability to catch the ball at all. When you have a 61.9% completion rate over a full season in the Mountain West Conference, this is generally why.

To put it bluntly, you want to see a quarterback be able to time a short pass with a throw across his body so that it arrives with the right location and velocity, but there's too much of this on Love's resume. A few plays later, there's this ultimately botched swing pass that's based off a nice design where the two-receiver in-cut to the back side leaves everything open for a good after-catch gain. But Love starts by faking to his front side, and then... well, if you're replacing one of the greatest second-reaction throwers in NFL history with this, there are going to be some serious growing pains.

Sadly, as shown against LSU, this cross-body stuff -- no matter how simple the target -- is not an outlier.

And while Love is pretty good with open targets, he tends to "waste" pitches when his targets are covered, and the imperative is to zing the ball in there with expert timing. More often than not, you'll see him throw the ball to a place where nobody can catch it. This might be a management device to limit his turnovers, but it doesn't project well when you're a quarterback transitioning from college to the NFL, where the open windows go from seconds to milliseconds, and from feet to inches. As Love led the FBS in interceptions on tight-window throws in 2019, per PFF... well, that's not a plus. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur can scheme his receivers open with the best of them, but if the Packers lose Aaron Rodgers' deep-ball brilliance, they're going to want more than this.

Can the Packers survive this transition?

(Mark Hoffman-Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Quarterback dynasties are exceedingly rare. The Packers transitioned straight from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, and they've known nothing else since 1991, when Mike Tomczak and Don Majkowski competed to see who could win at Scrabble. The 49ers went straight from Joe Montana to Steve Young, and they're been trying to get back there throughout the new millennium. Perhaps Trey Lance is the answer there. The Colts went from Peyton Manning straight to Andrew Luck, were completely gobsmacked by Luck's retirement, and have been scrambling to figure it out ever since. There was Jacoby Brissett, there was Philip Rivers' Last Dance, and now, there is the Carson Wentz Alleged Redemption. When you can stay more than relevant at the game's most important position, and put yourself in Super Bowl contention as a result, you should probably hang onto the guy who keeps you there as long as you can. For whatever reasons, the Packers seem to be on the precipice of losing that before they should, and unless Jordan Love has undergone some kind of magical transformation in an NFL season in which he never faced a single snap against an enemy defense, the dropoff for the Packers is going to be severe. Not that this is a global indictment of Love -- any quarterback looking to follow Rodgers is going to be up against it. But the high bar Rodgers has set, combined with Love's developmental issues, have the Packers in an interesting pickle. Which Rodgers surely understands.

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