Utah State quarterback Jordan Love goes to Green Bay Packers in first round of NFL draft

If the Green Bay Packers drafting Utah State quarterback Jordan Love on Thursday night as the potential heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers feels like a familiar scenario, that’s because it is.

When Brett Favre was sixth months shy of his 36th birthday, the Packers used the 24th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft to select Rodgers. Favre started all 48 games over the next three seasons before leaving the franchise, giving way to Rodgers, who has been the full-time starter ever since.

On Thursday, with third-year, first-time general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur at the controls, the Packers took the 30th overall pick and a fourth-round pick, sent them to the Miami Dolphins and received the 26th overall pick in return. The Packers then used that 26th overall pick to select Love.

“Jordan’s got a lot to learn, so really, the plan is just going to be for him to come in and learn Matt’s system the best he can,” Gutekunst said on a conference call with reporters late Thursday night. “Obviously, we took him, so we think a lot of him. I think that down the road, he certainly has all the ability to be a difference-maker at the position, but these things take time.”

As late Thursday night gave way to early Friday morning, Love had not yet had a chance to speak with Rodgers.

“I already know I’ll be able to learn a lot from Aaron Rodgers,” Love said. “He’s one of the greats of the game. He knows what he’s doing, knows a lot, has a lot of knowledge and I’ll be able to sit behind him, pick his brain, grow as a player and develop my game.”

Love was the fourth quarterback off the board and is the fifth Aggie ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, but the first since 1970. As the No. 26 pick, Love will sign a four-year contract worth a total of $12.38 million, $6.57 million of which will come via signing bonus. Those figures are according to the NFL’s rookie salary sliding scale.

Love going to Green Bay offers big intrigue because, while Favre was no longer at the very top of his game 15 years ago, Rodgers still appears to be.

Rodgers turned 36 during the 2019 season, but went to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time after throwing for 4,002 yards and 26 touchdowns against just four interceptions. The Packers won the NFC North by three games, received a first-round bye and advanced to the NFC championship game where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

Rodgers’ play remaining at a high level may make Love’s selection a curious one, but so too does Rodgers’ monster contract.

On Aug. 29, 2018, Rodgers and the Packers agreed to a four-year extension worth $134 million, with over $100 million guaranteed.

Rodgers can hit the open market in 2022 and given the structure of the contract, it would be hard for the Packers to cut ties with him before then. Rodgers has a dead-cap figure in 2020 of $39.74 million and $31.56 million in 2021. A dead-cap figure is a part of the salary cap for that season that goes towards a player no longer on the team.

With all of those numbers in play, unless Rodgers is hurt, it stands to reason Love is going to have to wait his turn for at least a couple of seasons, just as Rodgers had to 15 years ago.

“He's obviously been through this, he's a pro,” Gutekunst said. “This is certainly something that is a long-term decision. When you go through the way things went tonight, you weigh short-term and long-term. It was the best decision for the Packers.”

At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, with a big arm and elite measurables, Love was one of, if not the most-polarizing prospects in this draft.

As a redshirt junior in 2018, Love generated first-round hype by throwing for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions as Utah State went 11-2. Those numbers came under offensive-minded head coach Matt Wells, a former Aggies quarterback in the mid-1990s, and offensive coordinator David Yost, who was a semifinalist for the 2018 Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Wells accepted the head-coaching position at Texas Tech that season before the New Mexico Bowl and he took Yost with him. In came Gary Andersen for a second stint in Logan. Andersen hired 37-year-old former Western Kentucky head coach Mike Sanford Jr. as his offensive coordinator.

In a new scheme, Love struggled in 2019, throwing for 3,402 yards and 20 touchdowns, but also an FBS-high 17 interceptions as the Aggies went 7-6.

The only University of Utah player looking at a possible first-round selection was Jaylon Johnson, but the All-American cornerback was not picked.

Johnson, who was bidding to become the ninth Ute to be picked in the first round, and the fourth in the Kyle Whittingham era, is expected to be picked during Friday’s second round.

Johnson played most of 2019 with a torn right labrum, a revelation that came to light on Feb. 24. He was named All-Pac-12 first team for the second time, not to mention an All-American with that bad shoulder, his 39-yard pick-six at Washington standing as arguably the biggest play of Utah’s 11-3 season.

Despite the shoulder, Johnson went through the full gamut of NFL scouting combine activities, including a 4.5 40-yard dash, then had surgery to repair that torn right labrum on March 4. The timetable on Johnson’s shoulder remains on time at 4 to 5 months, meaning he should be healthy in time for his first NFL training camp. Thanks to COVID-19, whether or not training camps open on time in late July is one of an abundance of question marks.

Friday will also include the third round as numerous Utah players will be in the mix. Aside from Johnson, defensive back Terrell Burgess, running back Zack Moss and defensive end Bradlee Anae all have pre-draft projections between the second and third rounds.

All told, the single-draft program record of eight selections is expected to be threatened. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds will be conducted on Saturday afternoon.