By now, most NFL fans have heard All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers’ openly supportive comments regarding the Jacksonville Jaguars public decision to keep QB Blake Bortles on the bench for his rookie season. Bortles, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, immediately inherited the title of “franchise QB” in Jacksonville. Thus, it was a bit shocking when Jags head coach Gus Bradley openly stated the team’s intention to start veteran QB Chad Henne this year instead of the young man from Central Florida.
The Jaguars fanbase seemingly has mixed emotions over their team’s long-term plans for Bortles. Some realize the merit in allowing him to grow and learn for a year before anointing him the starter. Others, however, feel that their top-5 QB should be ready now — especially given the lack of talent elsewhere at the position.
Certainly everyone has different thoughts about Bortles and his situation. One of the more intriguing public statements, however, came recently from a certain starting QB of the Green Bay Packers. In an interview with Dan Pompei writing for SportsOnEarth.com, Aaron Rodgers gave his opinion of Bortles’ situation in Jacksonville and applauded the organization’s choice not to throw him to the wolves. During the interview, Rodgers pointed to his own experience entering the league, stating he was far more prepared after being a backup.
Rodgers had famously fallen out of the top-10 during his draft day experience. Inevitably, he was bypassed by his favorite childhood team – the San Francisco 49ers– in favor of Alex Smith. Surely Rodgers now appreciates the hideous footage of himself from that day, which is played over and over by the NFL Network each draft season. He now represents a realistic example of what can happen to potential prospects at draft time.
That now-infamous footage clearly shows Rodgers trying to keep his composure for hours on end, as national television cameras tracked his every movement. He understandably looked absolutely miserable, almost as if someone had just run over his dog. While Rodgers tried to remain stoic, his pain seeped through frame after frame.
Eventually the former Cal standout was selected by the Packers near the end of the first round. While Green Bay temporarily ended Rodgers’ public embarrassment, he would soon realize that future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre was still firmly entrenched as the starter. With Favre being arguably the most popular player in franchise history, Rodgers was forced to learn patience and humility.
It took three long years before Rodgers became the starter in Green Bay, and even then it took Favre’s first retirement (of many) for him to get the opportunity. To his credit, Rodgers immediately lit the NFL on fire with his technical consistency, accuracy and ability to anticipate open receivers. His play then gave credibility to the idea that QBs should be allowed a chance to develop and learn before taking on a starting role.
Yet, does anyone remember how miserable Rodgers was during his time as a backup? No. If he had been asked prior to his rookie year whether he thought sitting on the bench would be more beneficial for his development than playing a full season, Rodgers probably would have laughed outright.
After all, no QB gets drafted in the first-round wanting to sit on the bench. Sure, it could help, but so can real game experience. Obviously no one will doubt the fact that Rodgers is one of the NFL’s greatest, but is it really because of his time spent developing behind a Hall-of-Famer who was notoriously unwilling to share practice reps? Probably not.
The truth is, for every Aaron Rodgers that comes through the NFL, there are just as many players like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson to help disprove the theory behind waiting. Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that nobody can accurately predict the development of an NFL QB. It is hands down the single most difficult position in professional sports to evaluate.
Therefore, it would seem that the decision of when to start a young QB should probably be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the appropriate team personnel. Not by random NFL superstars who lie about the greatness of being benched and happen to have a penchant for beach-friendly girlfriends, funny insurance commercials and/or the occasional porn-star mustache. No offense to Mr. Discount Double-Check.