NFL Draft Stories: The Fall of Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft
In 2005, NFL scouts and analysts were taking turns stating their case as to which quarterback would be drafted first overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. On one side, the University of California's Aaron Rodgers and Utah's Alex Smith on the other. The 2005 NFL Draft started with analysts arguing who'd go number one but the story quickly became, "How far will Aaron fall?"
In two seasons as the starter for the California Golden Bears, Rodgers threw for nearly 5,500 yards, 43 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions with a 150.27 quarterback rating. The prevailing thought was that Rodgers would be selected early in the 2005 NFL Draft given his success, 24 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions in his final college season, and his impressive arm talent.
Smith put up impressive stats of his own while playing under center for the Utah Utes football team. In his final season at Utah, Smith threw for nearly 3,000 yards along with 32 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His impressive stat line put him in the Heisman conversation where he finished fourth in voting for the award.
The San Francisco 49ers had the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and were ready to pick their franchise quarterback. But just as fans and analysts argued their cases for both players, so too did 49ers coaches and staff members.
"You're making a very close decision. It wasn't a clear-cut like picking Andrew Luck. There was no clear-cut. That decision was as hard as it was. Both evenly matched players." - Jim Hostler, ex-49ers quarterbacks coach (via ESPN)
Both players impressed in the buildup to the draft. Mike McCarthy, then the 49ers offensive coordinator was raving about Rodgers following the former Cal quarterback's workouts.
"We went to [Rodgers'] workout. It's the best live workout that I've still seen. I was really impressed by him that day because I didn't have that feeling on film. [Cal coach] Jeff [Tedford] does such a great job offensively; they're very detailed and structured. They're prolific. They easily could've won the national championship. But the way he moved around and threw the ball that day at Cal-Berkeley was extremely impressive. (via ESPN)
The fit seemed perfect on paper. Rodgers, the California kid who grew up a 49ers fan leading the charge for one of the NFL's most heralded franchises. Rodgers felt confident that his name would be the first one called. He reportedly joked that the other rookies attending the NFL Draft to make a bet to see who would be the last to leave the waiting room.
As Rodgers' draft day turned into a nightmare, the joke suddenly lost all its humor.
The drama started with the first overall pick as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the 49ers pick. Alex Smith, quarterback from the University of Utah.
Even ESPN NFL Draft analysts were left shocked by the choice.
"Two to three weeks before the draft, I was on TV with Chris Mortensen, and Mort was talking about what he was hearing. The scuttlebutt from the league at that point was that Aaron Rodgers was going to go No. 1 to San Francisco. Then that flipped to Alex Smith. It was a case where nobody really knew." - Mel Kiper (via ESPN)
More and more names were read as the draft continued on. Four hours after having his dreams of playing for the 49ers crushed, Rodgers was still in the waiting room. Team after team continued to pass on Rodgers, even teams that gave Rodgers favorable feedback and impressions like, "If you're there when we pick, we're going with you."
Like Jon Gruden who was the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time. Gruden called it one of his "greatest regrets." (via ESPN)
The fall of Rodgers down the draft played out like a cruel episode of reality TV for everyone at home. Rodgers seemingly becoming more and more irritated with each pick. The catering crew reportedly gave Rodgers and his family "the stink eye", irked that they still had to wait for him to be picked to clean up and go home. As draft picks moved into the teens, the cleanup crew began stacking chairs and cleaning around the anguished Rodgers and his family.
Team after team continued to draft players not named Aaron Rodgers. As the draft continued on, the Green Bay Packers saw the unthinkable happening; their top guy falling into their laps.
It was a pipe dream for the Packers who still had NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre under center. Getting arguably the best quarterback in the draft at pick No. 24? Unthinkable.
But as more and more time passed, Packers general manager Ted Thompson started to think it might be a possibility.
"I got on this idea of maybe taking Aaron late, maybe 10 days before the draft, and I spent an inordinate amount of those 10 days watching tape and doing the study over and over because sometimes you have these names up there that you're not really paying attention to because you don't feel like you're going to go that way. In this case, it started looking more and more possible but it also looked completely out of the realm of possibility because there were two quarterbacks in the draft and we're talking about pick No. 24. I said, 'There's only two: how is either of them going to get to us? And the one we want, how is he going to get to us?'" - Ted Thompson (via ESPN)
Just as the top name on their draft board was falling into their laps, the Packers front office still took a moment to survey the landscape. The team decided to use up all of their allotted time, seeing if any teams were interested in trading up to pick Rodgers.
But the phone didn't ring and the Packers eventually selected Aaron Rodgers, quarterback from the University of California.
Rodgers' nightmare was finally over. Well, at least so he thought.
The pick of Rodgers was met with considerable criticism from Packers fans. After all, the team had arguably the most durable quarterback in NFL history still playing at a top-level and there were other needs the team could've addressed. Thompson and the front office had essentially picked a glorified clipboard holder with No. 4 still in town in the eyes of some Packers fans.
It would take a few years, but Rodgers proved all of the doubters wrong by becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. A Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP combined with two NFL Most Valuable Player awards, 8 Pro Bowls and countless other accolades all but erased any doubt as to the Packers making the right call in the 2005 NFL Draft.