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Pre-draft picture: Jordan Love ready to take control of Packers' offense

Backup QB position still TBD, with draft likely to add to mix

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2023 NFL Draft. The series begins with the quarterbacks.

GREEN BAY – The trade everyone is waiting for hasn't happened yet.

But at this point sending Aaron Rodgers to the Jets remains a question of when, not if.

So when Rodgers is officially off to New York, a deal both clubs and the four-time MVP quarterback himself have publicly expressed strong interest in executing, the Packers will be down to just two QBs on their roster heading into the draft.

The first, of course, is Jordan Love, to whom the Packers are turning over their offense in his fourth NFL season – the same timeline followed by Rodgers succeeding Brett Favre 15 years ago.

A first-round draft pick in 2020 out of Utah State, Love has watched, learned and absorbed all he could from Rodgers the last three years while getting a scant few snippets of meaningful playing time.

In 2021, Love got his first NFL start at Kansas City (when Rodgers went on the Covid list) and played the second half of the regular-season finale at Detroit (when the top-seeded Packers were resting many regulars for the playoffs). Both outings were uneven, with more downs than ups, as Love went a combined 29-for-51 for 324 yards with two TDs and three INTs, and Green Bay lost both games.

Love's most notable outing in 2022 also came in a loss, but the brief stint left everyone feeling very different about his play and his future. Taking over in the fourth quarter of a Monday night game at Philadelphia, with the Packers trailing by two touchdowns and Rodgers sidelined by a rib injury, Love (6-4, 219) directed two scoring drives for 10 points.

He hit receiver Christian Watson on a crossing route that the rookie turned into a 63-yard TD, and then Love connected with Watson for 15 yards and Allen Lazard for 17 yards – sandwiched around a nearly spectacular sideline completion to Aaron Jones – to set up a short field goal. In total on the two drives, he was 6-of-9 for 113 yards.

Green Bay left Philly with a 40-33 defeat to the eventual NFC champions, but the Packers had seen the type of play from Love that gives them confidence now is the time for him to take the reins. If General Manager Brian Gutekunst has said it once this offseason, he's said it 100 times, Love is "ready to play."

The upcoming offseason program will actually be Love's third in a row taking the majority of the first-team snaps on offense during OTAs, making the first major on-field shift coming in training camp, when he'll be front and center with the No. 1 unit.

Who will be No. 2 at that point remains an open question. Former LSU starter Danny Etling, a seventh-round pick by New England in 2018, is the only other quarterback currently on the roster, but he has yet to see any NFL regular-season action.

Over the past five years, Etling (6-3, 220) has spent time on the practice squads of the Patriots, Falcons, Seahawks, Broncos, Jaguars and Packers. He also had brief offseason stints with the Vikings and in the Canadian Football League.

Etling has remained in Green Bay since arriving in December of 2021, and he appeared in all three preseason games for the Packers last summer, completing 17-of-22 for 220 yards and one TD.

The Packers are certain to add another quarterback (or two) to create a competition for the backup spot behind Love, but the team's tight salary-cap situation could make it difficult to sign an available veteran – a list of possibilities that isn't very long to begin with.

Adding to the position group in the draft is practically a given, but it isn't clear how soon Gutekunst will invest a draft pick on a quarterback when the priority is to build around Love. Back when Rodgers took over at QB in 2008, then-GM Ted Thompson drafted two quarterbacks, Brian Brohm in the second round and Matt Flynn in the seventh, with Flynn eventually winning the backup job.

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