The most prominent story of the recent NFL Draft circled not around the No. 1 pick, Joe Burrow, or the No. 2, Chase Young. It wasn’t the Dolphins taking Tua Tagovailoa. It was Green Bay going out of its way to select Utah State’s own Jordan Love. That two-fisted maneuver — the move up and the pick itself — created more buzz than any other personnel deal through the entire offseason, other than some quarterback moving from New England to Tampa Bay.
And it will go on stirring discussion for the foreseeable future because of the man Love’s drafting affects the most: Aaron Rodgers.
Talk about tugging on Superman’s cape — that’s precisely what the Packers did to their All-Pro quarterback.
At first, Rodgers was miffed and bothered by the decision, wanting help in the form of a receiver or some other weapon the Pack offense could use sooner rather than later, considering Green Bay lost in the conference championship game last time around.
“I’m not going to say that I was thrilled by the pick,” Rodgers said.
Since then, he seems to be playing nice, trying to be a good team leader, trying to act as though mentoring his replacement is no big thing.
“He’s not to blame at all,” Rodgers said of Love. “I’m excited to work with him. He seems like a good kid.”
That scenario has shined a brighter light on Love than he’s ever danced under heretofore. His success in Logan was impressive and all, especially his sophomore season, when he completed 64 percent of his passes and threw for 3,567 yards, including 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
He’s been the center of attention before. In the Cache Valley, everyone knew his name. But now, the entire NFL is talking about him, wondering about him, watching him, attaching his future to the future of one of the best QBs of this generation.
All of which means, he better produce under new pressure. He doesn’t have to do that in games, not for a while yet. Rodgers might have descended off the high peak of his mid-30s, but last season, he passed for 4,002 yards, throwing for 26 TDs and four picks. His passer rating was 95.4. His career number is102.4.
As Rodgers himself promised, he’s not dropping off a cliff anytime soon.
But in camp, in practice sessions to come, in workouts, Love has to demonstrate the benefits of that live arm of his. Poise and perfection at the moment aren’t as important as demonstrations of his potential, indications that the whispers of comparisons to Patrick Mahomes are not completely misguided. He has to prove to his coaches and to his teammates, more than anyone, that he was worth the trouble he’s caused, the intrusion into Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood.
There are hints from his time at Utah State that he might do exactly that. Firing the ball over the heads and down the throats of Wyoming and New Mexico is a little different than reading and beating complex NFL defenses.
But the people who worked with Love, the ones who helped develop not just his arm talent, but his harnessing of it, at Utah State always believed there was something beyond the ordinary in him.
One of the first people who brought that to my attention was former Aggie great Chuckie Keeton, the quarterback who steered Utah State out of its doldrums nine years ago.
Like Love, Keeton in his sophomore season (2012) blew the lid off of the expectations for USU football. That year, he completed just shy of 68 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,373 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. And he ran for 619 yards and eight scores, as well.
He was the one who said to keep a close eye on what Love could do.
“Just watch him,” said Keeton early in Love’s sophomore season, when the former quarterback was a graduate assistant at Utah State. “The biggest thing that contributes to Jordan’s production is the way he works, not just during the season, but in the offseason. He takes his job very seriously. That’s why, with the talent around him, his production is continuing to go to a high level.”
Keeton said when his parents first saw Love play, they thought — he wasn’t sure if they were joking — that their son, before knee injuries derailed his career, had been rejuvenated and was still playing.
“Jordan has a great arm, but it’s also the head on his shoulders that stood out to me,” he said. “I see myself in him a little bit, but it’s his show now. He’s doing positive things different from what I did. The way he runs the offense is a beautiful thing to see. He trusts his guys and he lets the ball fly. Plus, he’s really bonded with the guys around him in a leadership role.”
And finally, Keeton said: “Keep an eye on him moving forward and watch what he does, what he can do.”
Apparently, the Packers did exactly that, even through a junior season, his last before declaring for the draft, that saw both the talent around Love and his production drop.
It’s on him now to become what he can and to prove to Green Bay that it did not make a stupid mistake, straight into the face of its incumbent quarterback, a man intent on playing longer, one headed some day to a hall in Canton.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.