Jordan Love now under the spotlight
With Aaron Rodgers all but officially off the Packers' roster, Jordan Love now finds himself taking center stage in Green Bay.
Rather than continue to autopsy the end of the Aaron Rodgers-Green Bay Packers union, today's edition of The Leap will focus on his successor: Jordan Love. The 2020 first-round pick has become one of the most fascinating figures entering the upcoming season yet has just 83 NFL pass attempts to his name. With so much unknown about the Packers' future starting quarterback, we tried to provide some context and set reasonable expectations.
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With Rodgers all but officially departed, what are reasonable expectations for Jordan Love in 2023?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Before diving into this question, no one should grade Jordan Love's play based on the Packers' record in 2023. Win-loss results often fail to reflect the performance of the quarterback, and that holds true whether the team finishes well below the .500 mark (e.g. Aaron Rodgers' first season as a starter) or racks up double-digit wins (pick pretty much any healthy Jimmy Garoppolo season).
Love hasn't served as a full-time NFL starter before, but he also has three years of high-level training within the same offensive system. Even if Love shouldn't draw direct comparisons to Rodgers as Packers head coach Matt LaFleur implored last week, the team should expect him to perform well above the caliber of a rookie.
Put simply, the Packers need Love to:
Operate comfortably within the structure of the offense
Create enough plays outside of that structure and better avoid disaster
Love's current, limited NFL résumé doesn't provide proof of concept on either. Notably, he struggled on both fronts during his first preseason run in 2021 (the NFL did not have any exhibition games during Love's rookie year due to COVID). Even so, the former first-round pick has flashed in those areas at times.
In terms of playing within structure and on time, Love seemed completely at home running one of the Packers' staple concepts while filling in for Rodgers against the Philadelphia Eagles:
When Love confidently and quickly operates, these types of moments become the expectation. Most of Love's run against the Eagles showcased this sort of approach, though the sample size remains small.
As for working outside of structure and avoiding disaster, Love has fewer positive examples to highlight. During his lone career start, the quarterback did manage to turn a broken play into a positive gain, though that comes with important caveats.
While a modest gain, a more experienced signal-caller would have identified the pressure sooner and thrown the ball into the ground near AJ Dillon's feet and live for another down. This play could have gone so much worse, and the reward doesn't outweigh the risk despite the outcome.
So given what Love has shown thus far, what can the Packers realistically expect? He needs to deliver plays from category No. 1 on most drives. His supporting cast features a quality offensive line and multiple quality receivers (with more help likely arriving between now and training camp). Love has no excuse not to thrive in this area.
As for the second category, Green Bay should expect more struggles from Love, but he should demonstrate some progress from his previous years. Whereas those moments came multiple times per appearance outside of the Eagles game, Love needs to limit those to one or fewer per outing in 2023.
Ultimately, the Packers benefit most long term if Love either performs exceptionally well or proves to be a disaster. Middle-of-the-road play only complicates their outlook heading into next offseason when they have to, in effect, determine whether to move forward with him or pivot to someone else.
Peter Bukowski: The Packers are moving on from Aaron Rodgers because they believe they can win with Jordan Love. Let’s start there. Whether or not you think that’s reasonable is a separate question, but the team appears to support Love. That means the baseline is for him to perform like a starting-caliber quarterback.
If we look back at the 2022 Green Bay quarterback play, Rodgers didn’t exactly wrap himself in glory with his productivity. The other players he beat out by metrics like EPA/play are rookies, journeymen, and draft busts. He finished 21st in EPA/play. That’s bad quarterbacking.
Love finishing at least in that range would be reasonable assuming some moderate improvements at the skill position whether that’s internal, external, or some combination. What’s more, in the NFC, if Love is something like the sixth-best quarterback in the conference, the Packers will have a real shot at being a playoff team next year. That seems reasonable given the list of guys potentially ahead of him.
I can’t end this blurb though without acknowledging it’s also eminently reasonable that Love can’t elevate an uninspiring pass-catching group, some of his turnover issues from college pop up and the offense sputters. There’s a wide band of outcomes here for Love.
What realistic personnel addition would most benefit Love in his first season as a starter?
JBH: The Packers should add a quality tight end and probably two before the start of training camp. Obviously, with the departure of Robert Tonyan Jr. and the likely exodus of Marcedes Lewis this offseason, the team has plenty of snaps to fill at the position. But beyond just backfilling, providing Love with a playmaker who can work the seems and the intermediate areas of the field would make a tremendous difference.
Though a veteran addition could still occur, the more likely scenario involves the Packers investing meaningful assets at tight end during the draft. The incoming rookie class features more enticing prospects at the position than the draft has produced in multiple years. If the reported trade package for Rodgers comes to fruition, Green Bay appears well positioned to pounce on multiple players.
PB: Let me go off the board here a bit and say Matt Ryan. To be sure, adding skill talent would help Love. The offense would benefit from a new pass-catcher or two in the mix in addition to Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. But you know what else would be great? An extra set of eyes on Love at all times … but not in a coach way.
A player like Ryan, who has played for LaFleur, won an MVP playing in this system and would come to the Packers with a chance to be primarily an example for Love would be a terrific help to a young quarterback. Backup QBs provide a sounding board for the starter and an alternative voice to the coach.
In this case, Ryan would be a coach with his experience and knowledge of the system, but from the perspective of a player instead of the coach. There’s helping a young quarterback by giving up weapons on the field, and then there’s helping him by providing support for that guy mentally on and off the field.
In terms of helping Love, which player entering Year 2 do the Packers most need to take … **unapologetic brand voice** … The Leap?
JBH: Even if the Packers make a significant addition to the receiving corps and even if Romeo Doubs has the "Davante Adams-type movement skills" about which LaFleur boasted this past week, Christian Watson seems like the answer here. In terms of offensive weaponry, nothing could help Love more than a go-to option that can win his assignment even when the defense expects the quarterback to look his way. Watson has the best chance of developing into such a player and, at least presently, doesn't have an injury halting his progress like last year.
Even as a rookie, Watson demonstrated No. 1 traits during his breakout in November and early December. His productivity fell off during the final stretch of the campaign when defenses better accounted for his presence and Rodgers seemingly struggled to see the field. Even after Watson arrived as a playmaker, he still made rookie mistakes such as failing to adjust to Rodgers' pre-snap signal deep in the red zone against the Los Angeles Rams.
Watson can fix those mistakes while adding meaningfully to his release and route repertoire. While far from a guarantee, Watson could establish himself as one of the league's premier receivers this season should those things occur.
PB: It’s the guy Matt LaFleur compared to Davante Adams last week when he did the Ricky Bobby “with all due respect,” only the opposite. Let’s temper expectations, but here’s a comparison to a future Hall of Fame player.
Romeo Doubs may not turn into the player Rodgers told us he could last summer when he compared the Nevada rookie to the best receivers Rodgers has played with in his Packers career (I’m not sure if you’ve looked recently at that list but uhhh … pretty good). But he has terrific movement skills, deep speed, and a far better contested-catch game than his frame would suggest.
With Watson breaking out and profiling as a true WR1, Doubs just needs to become a bit more consistent in identifying coverages and seeing the game the way the quarterback sees it. Get a little stronger to stay on the intended route path and Doubs’ agility with his release suddenly looks deadly.
There’s so much upside for this rising sophomore duo to become a game-breaking pair, but as of right now, that requires more of Doubs than it does Watson in terms of elevating their game.
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