Jordan Love now takes the reins at quarterback from the outgoing future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. And, with that change, there was plenty of pre-NFL Draft talk about the need to add a strong backup at the position, just in case.
The Packers may or may not have done that in the fifth round of the draft (149th overall) by selecting Penn State’s Sean Clifford.
Clifford, despite being picked so low in the draft, has a high quarterback profile due to his four-year starter status at Penn State and the success he had there. He leaves college as Penn State’s all-time leader in completion percentage (61.2%), passing yardage (10,382), and passing touchdowns (84).
Sean Clifford, The Strengths
The intangibles on Clifford are through the roof. He’s a well-regarded field leader and a four-time team captain (one of only two in school history) with a fearless streak and all-around confidence in his game. He’ll also be 25 by the beginning of the season and will bring a level of maturity to his role.
On the field, Clifford is an accurate, poised passer with a quick release who operates best within short to mid-range. Gifted with plus athleticism, he’s good at scrambling for yardage. His ability to turn a busted play into a gain makes him a multi-tool asset in keeping with the current talent profile of young NFL quarterbacks. He’s also proven himself to be a durable presence, playing in 51 of 59 games in five seasons, not counting his 2017 redshirt season.
Sean Clifford, The Weaknesses
On the downside, scouts are almost unanimous in their assessment that Clifford lacks NFL starter-level arm strength and long-range accuracy. His ability to read pass defenses and get the ball into receivers’ hands for big play opportunities has also come into question. The consensus seems to be that much of his statistical success in college can be credited to Penn State’s use of quick screens. Overall, the feeling is that Clifford is not elite NFL talent and that, at best, he’ll settle into the role of solid, competent backup.
Realistically, the Packers were not expecting a superstar quarterback with their 5th round selection. They were looking for a solid, competent backup who could serve as a stopgap if Love crashes and burns. If anything, drafting a super backup as opposed to a projected star shows the team’s confidence in (and commitment to) Jordan Love. The Packers appear to be “all in” on Love.
However, in Clifford, there’s the possibility of something more than a “competent backup.” His leadership ability, character, toughness, and willingness to learn open up the possibility of him being a quarterback with a higher ceiling than the nuts and bolts scouting reports have indicated.
Worst case scenario, the Packers have a solid backup to Jordan Love who gels with team chemistry. Best case scenario, they’ve picked a diamond in the rough.