The once-in-forever Aaron Rodgers pick

Ted Thompson’s stroke of genius

Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson stands next to the team's NFL draft first-round pick, California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, during a news conference Sunday, April 24, 2005, in Green Bay, Wis.

Let's just say for the sake of this story that Aaron Rodgers plays five more seasons until he's 42 years old and becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years later.

That would put him in Canton in 2030.

That also would be the 94th year of the NFL Draft and as things stand now, Ted Thompson would make history, as well. He'd be the first general manager – coach or whatever – to have drafted a Hall of Fame quarterback while he had a future Hall of Fame quarterback older than 30 on his roster. Brett Favre was 35 at the time.

Others have tried. Remember the name Jim Druckenmiller, San Francisco's first-round selection in 1997 when Steve Young was 35? Or Denver jumping on Tommy Maddox when John Elway was 31? Or Vince Lombardi picking Don Horn as his quarterback of the future in 1967 when Bart Starr was 33?

The misses have been many. But as sure as a Rodgers' bullseye into the soft hands of Davante Adams, Thompson's pick of Rodgers was a once-in-forever gambit.

That's why it's my contention it was the best selection in the history of the NFL Draft. Granted, some will argue that New England taking Tom Brady with the 199th choice in the sixth round of the 2000 draft tops it. My counter would be: That had been done before. Starr was selected with the 200th choice in the 17th round in 1956.

For the record, there needs to be some clarification here.

When the San Diego Chargers selected Dan Fouts in the third round of the 1973 draft, it was just days after they had purchased 39-year-old Johnny Unitas from the Baltimore Colts. Both would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But, obviously, those were entirely different circumstances when you consider Unitas had yet to play for the Chargers and then would appear in only five games for them.

Perhaps two other sets of circumstances also should be addressed.

If by chance, Andrew Luck gets into the Hall, he wouldn't fall into the same category, either. Peyton Manning was just shy of his 36th birthday when he was released by Indianapolis on March 7, 2012, and signed by Denver 13 days later. But that was more than a month before the Colts selected Luck with the No. 1 pick. In other words, the Colts drafted Luck to replace Manning, not to be his heir apparent at some unknown date. As good as Luck was, he's also a longshot, at best, to be inducted. He played only six seasons and missed more than half the games in one.

The Drew Brees to Philip Rivers transition in San Diego wouldn't qualify, either. Brees was only 25 when the Chargers obtained Rivers in a draft-day trade for Eli Manning.

So back to the Rodgers pick.

Through the lens of history, it becomes more unfathomable with almost every game he plays how fortunate the Packers were to land him.

First and foremost, it was a direct result of Thompson's foresight and boldness. Neither his coach, Mike Sherman, nor his quarterback, Favre, were happy about the choice. At the same time, opposing NFL scouts would freely admit back then that they were counting the days until Favre retired, certain the Packers would immediately tank when he did. No way, they were convinced, would Green Bay find an adequate successor, maybe for decades.

Then there were the teams that passed on Rodgers after San Francisco took the other top-rated quarterback, Alex Smith, No. 1.

The Chicago Bears hadn't had an Associated Press All-Pro quarterback since 1950, the NFL's first year of permanent, unlimited substitution and the start of wholesale, two-platoon football. Detroit hadn't had one since 1956. The Arizona Cardinals had never had one in 55 seasons dating to the rule change and their days in Chicago.

Miami owned the second pick and was coming off a season with A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler as its quarterbacks and heading into another where Gus Frerotte would replace them. The Bears had started four different quarterbacks in 2004 with Chad Hutchinson and Craig Krenzel getting the most starts. The season before, Dallas had started 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde; Cleveland, 34-year-old Jeff Garcia; and Washington, 34-year-old Mark Brunell. Frerotte, handpicked to be the Dolphins' starter by first-year coach Nick Saban, who also had final say on the draft, also was 34.

Then there were the choices teams blew.

Minnesota, which had two of the top 18 picks, drafted wide receiver Troy Williamson and defensive end Erasmus James. The two started a combined 34 games in their brief careers with the Vikings. The Bears, who owned the fourth choice, grabbed running back Cedric Benson, who lasted three years and rushed for 1,593 yards before they waived him. Detroit's pick, at No. 10, was wide receiver Mike Williams, who lasted two years and caught 37 passes. Cincinnati drafted linebacker David Pollock and he, too, lasted just two seasons.

Here, 15 years later, is a look at the 23 teams that passed on Rodgers, their quarterbacks in the previous season and how long it had been since they had an AP All-Pro quarterback dating to 1950, only two years before Pittsburgh became the last team to abandon the single-wing offense and employ a T quarterback.

1.San Francisco: Alex Smith, QB, Utah – Played seven years for the 49ers. Compiled a 38-36-1 record as a starter. Passed for 14,280 yards. Playing 14th season with third different team in 2020. Named to three Pro Bowls, all with Kansas City.
Starting QBs 2004: Tim Rattay (9 games), Ken Dorsey (7)
Last AP All-Pro: Steve Young, 1994, 1993, 1992; Others: Joe Montana, 1990, 1989, 1987; John Brodie, 1970; Y.A. Tittle, 1957

2. Miami: Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn – Played six years for the Dolphins. Rushed for 4,815 yards, eclipsing 1,000 yards only in his second season. Named to one Pro Bowl.
Starting QBs 2004: A.J. Feeley (8 games), Jay Fiedler (7), Sage Rosenfels (1)
Last AP All-Pro: Dan Marino, 1986, 1985, 1984; Others: Bob Griese, 1977, 1971; Earl Morrall, 1972

3. Cleveland: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan – Played four seasons, part of a fifth for Browns. Caught 238 passes. Named to one Pro Bowl.
Starting QBs 2004: Jeff Garcia (10), Luke McCown (4), Kelly Holcomb (2)
Last AP All-Pro: Brian Sipe, 1980; Others: Otto Graham, 1955, 1954, 1953, 1951

4. Chicago: Cedric Benson, RB, Texas – Played three years for the Bears. Made 11 starts. Rushed for 1,593 yards.
Starting QBs 2004: Chad Hutchinson (5), Craig Krenzel (5), Jonathan Quinn (3), Rex Grossman (3)
Last AP All-Pro: Johnny Lujack, 1950

5. Tampa Bay: Cadillac Williams, RB, Auburn – Played six years for the Buccaneers. AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005. Rushed for 3,677 yards, topping 1,000 yards only as a rookie.
Starting QBs 2004: Brian Griese (10), Brad Johnson (4), Chris Simms (2)
Last AP All-Pro: None since entering NFL in 1976

6. Tennessee: Adam "Pacman" Jones, DB, West Virginia – Played two seasons with the Titans and was suspended before his third for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Played 10 seasons in all, including eight with Cincinnati. Intercepted 17 career passes, averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns, 25.9 on kickoff returns. Named to one Pro Bowl.
Starting QBs 2004: Billy Volek (8), Steve McNair (8)
Last AP All-Pro: George Blanda (AFL), 1961
Note: Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon played 1984-93; Steve McNair (2003) was AP second team

7. Minnesota (from Oakland): Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina – Played three seasons with the Vikings. Made 22 starts. Caught 79 passes.
Starting QB 2004: Daunte Culpepper
Last AP All-Pro: Randall Cunningham, 1998; Others: Fran Tarkenton, 1975

8. Arizona: Antrel Rolle, DB, Miami – Played five seasons with the Cardinals, 11 in all. Intercepted 26 career passes. Named to three Pro Bowls, only one with the Cardinals.
Starting QBs 2004: Josh McCown (13), Shaun King (2), John Navarre (1)
Last AP All-Pro: None since 1950
Note: Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner played 2005-09; Carson Palmer (2015), Jim Hart (1974) were AP second team

9. Washington: Carlos Rogers, DB, Auburn – Played six seasons with Washington, 10 in all. Intercepted 17 career passes. Named to one Pro Bowl with San Francisco.
Starting QBs 2004: Mark Brunell (9), Patrick Ramsey (7)
Last AP All-Pro: Joe Theismann, 1983
Note: Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen played 1964-74

10. Detroit: Mike Williams, WR, Southern Cal – Played two seasons with the Lions. Made six starts. Caught 37 passes.
Starting QB 2004: Joey Harrington
Last AP All-Pro: Bobby Layne, 1956, 1952, *1958 (played four games before being traded)

11. Dallas: Demarcus Ware, DE, Troy – Played nine years with Cowboys. Registered 117 sacks; career total was 138½. Named to seven Pro Bowls with Cowboys, two more with Denver.
Starting QBs 2004: Vinny Testaverde (15), Drew Henson (1)
Last AP All-Pro: None since entering NFL in 1960
Note: Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman played 1989-2000; Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach played 1969-79; Tony Romo (2014), Danny White (1982), Don Meredith (1966) were AP second team

12. San Diego (from NY Giants): Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland – Played six years with the Chargers. Registered 43½ sacks. Named to three Pro Bowls, all in his first three seasons, before a knee injury short-circuited his career.
Starting QBs 2004: Drew Brees (15), Doug Flutie (1)
Last AP All-Pro: Dan Fouts, 1982, 1979; Others: Tobin Rote (AFL), 1963

13. New Orleans (from Houston): Jammal Brown, T, Oklahoma – Played four years with the Saints. Started 58 games. Named to two Pro Bowls.
Starting QB 2004: Aaron Brooks
Last AP All-Pro: Drew Brees, 2006

14. Carolina: Thomas Davis, DB, Georgia – Moved to linebacker, played 13 years with Carolina. Active this season with Washington. Named to three Pro Bowls.
Starting QB 2004: Jake Delhomme
Last AP All-Pro: Cam Newton, 2015

15. Kansas City: Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas – Played 13 years with the Chiefs. Named to four Pro Bowls.
Starting QB 2004: Trent Green
Last AP All-Pro: Patrick Mahomes, 2018; Others: Len Dawson (AFL), 1966, 1962

16. Houston (from New Orleans): Travis Johnson, DE, Florida St. – Played four years with the Texans. Started 38 games. Registered three sacks.
Starting QB 2004: David Carr
Last AP All-Pro: None since entering NFL in 2002

17. Cincinnati: David Pollack, LB, Georgia – Played two seasons. Started six games. Registered 4½ sacks.
Starting QBs 2004: Carson Palmer (13), Jon Kitna (3)
Last AP All-Pro: Boomer Esiason, 1988; Others: Ken Anderson, 1981

18. Minnesota: Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin – Played three years with the Vikings. Started 12 games. Registered five sacks.
(See pick No. 7)

19. St. Louis Rams: Alex Barron, T, Florida St. – Played five years with the Rams. Started 74 games.
Starting QBs 2004: Marc Bulger (14), Chris Chandler (2)
Last AP All-Pro: Kurt Warner, 2001, 1999; Others: John Hadl, 1973; Roman Gabriel, 1969
Note: Hall of Fame QB Norm Van Brocklin played 1949-57; Hall of Fame QB Bob Waterfield played 1945-52

20. Dallas (from Buffalo): Marcus Spears, DE, Louisiana St. – Played eight years with the Cowboys. Started 89 games. Registered 10 sacks.
(See pick No. 11)

21. Jacksonville: Matt Jones, WR, Arkansas – Played four years with the Jaguars. Started 15 games. Caught 166 passes.
Starting QBs 2004: Byron Leftwich (14), David Garrard (2)
Last AP All-Pro: None since entering NFL in 1995

22. Baltimore: Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma – Played five years with the Ravens. Started 59 games. Caught 234 passes.
Starting QB 2004: Kyle Boller
Last AP All-Pro: Lamar Jackson, 2019

23. Oakland (from Seattle): Fabian Washington, DB, Nebraska – Played three years with the Raiders. Started 28 games. Intercepted five passes.
Starting QBs 2004: Kerry Collins (13), Rich Gannon (3)
Last AP All-Pro: Rich Gannon, 2002, 2000; Others: Ken Stabler, 1974; Daryle Lamonica (AFL), 1969, 1967

24. Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, QB, California – Playing in 16th season with the Packers. Named NFL's MVP by AP in 2011 and 2014. Ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating. Eleventh player in NFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards. Named to eight Pro Bowls.
Starting QB 2004: Brett Favre
Last AP All-Pro: Rodgers, 2014, 2011; Others: Favre, 1997, 1996, 1995; Bart Starr, 1966


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