In 1998 the question was Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. In 2012 it was Andrew Luck or RG3. In between the two drafts, in 2005, the big question heading into the draft was Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers. Most pundits hotly debated the issue and extolled the virtues of why the San Francisco 49ers would select one of them over the other.
Smith was an accurate passer, intelligent, and an excellent leader. He read coverage well, was a hard worker and very mature. He was a tall, athletic quarterback who could run the ball well and he was also quite young with a lot of upside. There were concerns that he didn’t have a strong arm and put up huge numbers due to Urban Meyer’s gimmicky offense at Utah, and faced inferior competition, but those concerns were mostly overlooked following a great Pro Day running a scripted set of plays. By draft day, many had Smith slightly ahead of Rodgers.
Rodgers was very accurate, had great arm strength, and was more pro-ready, coming out of Cal’s pro-style offense. The knocks on Rodgers were that he was a little shorter (than Smith), was not as mobile a quarterback (seriously), and had to spend his first year in JuCo since he was unrecruited out of high school. But the biggest hurdle Rodgers faced was the failure of Kyle Boller. Both were Cal quarterbacks, and there were legitimate concerns that Jeff Tedford’s quarterbacks just didn’t transition well to the NFL.
2005 Draft Day
Good arguments had been made for both quarterbacks heading up to the draft, and ultimately Smith won over the new 49ers coaching staff. The only question remaining was whether Rodgers would go at #2 overall, or possibly later in the top ten.
Miami had the second pick, and were seen as a logical landing spot for Rodgers. They had an aging Gus Frerotte at quarterback and had not had a quality starter since Dan Marino retired half a decade earlier. In fact, Marino was the last legitimate quarterback they had drafted, and that was back in 1983. Clearly the Dolphins would select Rodgers, right? Miami drafted Ronnie Brown.
Another team with an aging quarterback, Dilfer was in his last year with Cleveland, and the Browns seemed like another ideal team to target Rodgers. The Browns passed on Rodgers, opting for Braylon Edwards, who some viewed as the top overall player in the draft. They did select quarterback Charlie Frye in round 3.
A fourth straight team desperate for a quarterback, obviously the Bears would thank the Dolphins and Browns as they raced to the podium to select Rodgers, right? Not exactly. Despite being in dire need of a quarterback, the Bears drafted Cedric Benson. Like the Browns, the Bears selected a quarterback a few rounds later when they chose Kyle Orton.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers #5
The Buccaneers were yet another team who could use an upgrade at quarterback. Jon Gruden wanted another option instead of Brian Griese, but opted to avoid drafting a quarterback, placing his future in his ability to turn Chris Simms into an NFL starter. That flopped.
Again, the Titans were another team rumored to be in the quarterback market on draft day. They had the good, although aging, Steve McNair at quarterback, who had just come off an injury plagued seasons, suffering one of his worst years as the Titans quarterback. The Titans defied expectations, by avoiding the quarterback position altogether, despite holding 11 draft picks. They attempted to string along McNair for one more season before succumbing to the selection of Vince Young the following year. Oops.
Again, the Vikings were yet one more team that would have been likely to be looking for a quarterback. They had a deteriorating 37 year old Brad Johnson at quarterback, and were in need of an upgrade. Ultimately the Vikings passed on the quarterback position, and drafted Troy Williamson. Brutal.
The Cardinals had just signed a 34-year-old Kurt Warner, who was four years removed from his glory days, spending more time injured than on the field. They too, seemed like a team who could look for a Warner backup to groom into a starter. But they too, defied the expectations, and passed on Rodgers.
Mark Brunell had one good year left in him, and many felt the Redskins would draft a quarterback. They did, but not at pick #9. After selecting Carlos Rogers, they traded back into the end of round one, choosing Jason Campbell one pick after the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers.
Basically, every team in the top nine picks was seen as being in need of a quarterback. And the multitude of draft pundits fully expected both Smith and Rodgers to go in those first nine picks, and likely in the first few picks. But the 2005 draft defied all expectations as Rodgers fell all the way from a likely #2 pick to #24 where the Packers, who already had Brett Favre, selected him.
Is 2016 another 2005?
Again, the draft is top loaded with teams who could be looking for a quarterback. The Rams and Eagles traded up, so it seems obvious they both want a quarterback. And, the Browns, Cowboys and 49ers could all be in the quarterback market, too. Though, since the Browns swapped with the Eagles, and now have the eighth-overall pick, who knows what they'll do.
And just like 2005, there are two prospects seen as the top two, with the experts mixed regarding which one to draft. And like in 2005, the top pick will be one of those two quarterbacks, and assumingly, the second pick will be the other.
So, seeing Carson Wentz drop all the way to the Bengals, who don't even need a quarterback, seems unlikely. Perhaps as unlikely as the Rebellion's plan to destroy the Death Star by dropping a proton torpedo down a thermal exhaust shaft. But as Grand Moff Tarkin learned, never over-estimate the chances of something happening, no matter how unlikely it seems.
The Bengals, just like the Packers of 2005, hold the #24 overall pick. The Rams seem to be leaning towards Goff as their choice at #1, and the rumors are the Rams will be taking Wentz with the #2 selection. So, it's unlikely, but could Wentz make an Aaron Rodgers type of fall?
We look back and laugh at those 23 teams who passed on Rodgers. Would it be just as foolish for the Bengals to pass on Wentz if he made an equally improbable slide?