Packers Go Value Over Need With Rodgers

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If Green Bay Packers fans didn't have a clear enough picture of Ted Thompson's draft philosophy heading into the selection weekend, the general manager brought it all into focus with just one pick.

By taking California quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall selection, the Packers did just what Thompson said they would do in the weeks leading up to the draft: looked past current needs in the name of overall talent and value.

In Rodgers the Packers don't have a player who can help fill holes in their defensive secondary or offensive line. And with Brett Favre returning for his 15th season in Green Bay, Rodgers isn't a player who is likely to make an impact next season, or for however long the Packers' ironman stays in the game.

But in Rodgers the Packers do get a player who completed 66.1 percent of his passes last season for 2,566 yards and 24 touchdowns, and who as little as a month ago was predicted to be perhaps the first overall pick of the 70th NFL Draft. Saturday, Utah's Alex Smith was the only quarterback to go ahead of Rodgers, to the San Francisco 49ers with the first overall selection.

In short, Rodgers gave the Packers a value that was too good to ignore.

"It sounds silly to keep repeating myself," Thompson said from the media auditorium at Lambeau Field, just minutes after the selection of Rodgers. "We really and truly wanted to take the best football player on the board, and we felt like he was the best football player on the board."

Exactly how high Rodgers rated on the Packers' draft board, Thompson wouldn't reveal. However, he did note that the Packers wouldn't have taken a quarterback at the 24th spot had Rodgers, and presumably Smith, been off the board by the time Green Bay was on the clock.

"He was up pretty high, pretty close to the ceiling there," Thompson said. "You kind of let the draft and the board just work. If things fall a certain way, then you have a decision to make. In this particular case it fell a certain way where the decision was really pretty easy."

In fact, the Packers think so much of Rodgers that until a few weeks ago Thompson thought there was no way he would be available at pick 24. It wasn't until the 49ers leaned toward Smith and several mock drafts suggested that Rodgers might fall out of the top 10 that Thompson saw a sliver of hope.

"Did we think he was going to be there when we were watching tape? No," Thompson said. "Over the course of the last week or so, there were a couple of Web sites that said maybe he might get (to pick 24), so I went back and gave him another look just to make sure. But I feel very comfortable that this kid warranted getting picked where we were at."

The Packers' interest in Rodgers is by no means a recent fad. Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley attended Rodgers' individual workout at Cal and the 21-year-old was one of the 60 players the Packers personally interviewed at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Speaking on a conference call from draft headquarters in New York, Rodgers said the interest from player and team was mutual from the very start, even if the likelihood of a match seemed low.

"I think we both thought that there wasn't a good chance that I would slide down to 24," Rodgers said. "But at the same time I remember telling them, 'Trade up, I'd love to play for you guys.'"

As it happens, the Packers didn't have to trade up at all. To hear the draft 'experts' at ESPN describe it, Rodgers' slide down the draft board is related to his rather unorthodox carrying of the ball in the pocket: up high, near the ear, a trademark of players coached by quarterbacks guru Jeff Tedford that emphasizes a quick and accurate delivery of short to mid-range passes over long downfield bombs.

But quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell said he's confident that Rodgers can run the Packers' offense, a West Coast attack similar to the one employed at Cal, noting that he was only a "little" concerned about the quarterback's mechanics.

"We'll kind of feel it out when he gets here," Bevell said. "I know that (holding the ball high) is something that he's coached to do with Coach Tedford, and they practice it every single day and work on it. So I'll have conversations with him and we'll go from there.

"I usually don't like to change a lot, but I think possibly if we're not working on it every day (Rodgers' holding of the football) may drop down on its own a little bit. If it doesn't, we may make a change."

The benefit for Rodgers and the Packers is that both have time to work on that change. Other Tedford pupils like Baltimore's Kyle Boller, Houston's David Carr, Detroit's Joey Harrington and Tampa Bay's Akili Smith haven't found in the pros the kind of success they had in college, but none of those players had the pleasure of learning behind a three-time NFL MVP for at least a season, and maybe more.

When Favre does retire, Thompson doesn't expect Rodgers to fill the massive void left by the legend, but he does think Rodgers can take Favre's place behind center.

"I think he'll have to be the quarterback that plays after Brett Favre. There won't be a Brett Favre heir-apparent," Thompson said. "I don't think we need to paint this kid like he has to be Brett Favre. We'll see how Aaron does. We're very excited about his prospects as an NFL player."

Prospects, after all, that were just too good to ignore.

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