Battle to back up Aaron Rodgers

Last year when Aaron Rodgers went down, the Green Bay Packers went on a tailspin that resulted in them going from 4-1 to 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. After Rodgers broke his collarbone at US Bank Stadium in October, the Packers let Brett Hundley run the show, and the former UCLA Bruin did not improve his trade market.

When Rodgers went down, Green Bay was hoping that Hundley would do well, and that a team would trade a draft pick for him. Well, he did the opposite. Hundley completed 61 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a quarterback rating of just 70.6. It was even worse in his home stadium, as he completed just 56 percent of his passes at Lambeau, without throwing a touchdown pass and having seven interceptions.

All in all, the 24-year-old went 3-7 in his 10 starts, with the lone wins coming against teams that finished with a combined record of 10-38. Because of that, new general manager Brian Gutekunst went out and traded its best defensive back, Damarious Randall, to Cleveland in exchange for quarterback DeShone Kizer.

A former Notre Dame product, Kizer was taken in the second round last year by the Browns, and will battle Hundley to back up Rodgers. Kizer, who started 15 games last year for the winless Browns, completed just 54 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and a league-leading 22 interceptions. His quarterback rating was just 60.5, which was the worst in the league. Even with those poor statistics, the Packers thought highly enough to trade its best defensive back for him this offseason.

Last year during the draft, Green Bay was interested in the former Notre Dame signal caller, and thought about drafting him at the top of round two. Many, including myself, thought it was a terrible smokescreen, but their interest turned out to be genuine. Then-General Manager Ted Thompson would take Washington cornerback Kevin King with pick No. 33, but the organization would get Kizer a year later. Even with the down year with the Browns, Gutekunst was convinced Mike McCarthy and his staff could turn Kizer around, so they traded for him.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kizer was the 37th ranked quarterback in the NFL with a rating of just 50.8. That was even significantly worse than Hundley’s PFF rating of 72.8, which ranked 31st. That should not be too surprising since Hundley has been in the league two more years. He should have been better suited to take over the starting job when Rodgers was hurt. When it comes to the second-year signal caller, most scouts and even Kizer’s former college coach Brian Kelly said he needed more time to develop, so his struggles come as no surprise.

He does have the talent to be a successful starting quarterback in the league. Kizer made some nice throws in his first season, but just not enough of them. Being more consistent is one area where McCarthy and new Quarterbacks Coach Frank Cignetti, Jr. will have have to work on with the young quarterback. Hopefully he shows a little more accuracy as well. He threw 26 touchdows and only nine interceptions as a junior with the Fighting Irish, but only had a 59 percent completion percentage. As a sophomore, he completed a much more respectable 63 percent to help him have a quarterback rating of 150.1.

As a rookie, Kizer was put in an uncomfortable position. The former Golden Domer was the third youngest quarterback in NFL history to start week one, only behind Drew Bledsoe and Matthew Stafford. After a solid opening week against Pittsburgh, it was obvious he was overmatched and not ready to be an NFL starting quarterback. But he was fighting against a pair of second-year players, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler, to be the starter under center.

Now, Kizer gets a chance to take a deep breath and watch and learn from the sidelines behind one of the best quarterbacks in this generation. He knows he is backing up Rodgers, so he won’t be thrown to the wolves right away like he was for the Browns. Kizer will not only be playing behind a future Hall of Fame signal caller, but will also be coached by one of the best quarterback coaches in the NFL in McCarthy. It is a perfect spot for him to take a step back and learn for a bit before getting another chance to be a starter.

It will be an uphill battle for Hundley, as the Packers traded a starting cornerback to land Kizer. There is no way the 2017 second round pick is released this season since they traded a significant amount for him, so it will all depend on how Hundley does in camp and in the preseason whether he is on the Packers this season. If both perform well this August, there is a chance Gutekunst trades the former UCLA standout for whatever he can get before the regular season begins. I think this trade for Kizer was done in the hopes of developing him into a good backup, so they can trade him for a good amount near the end of his contact like New England did with Jimmy Garoppolo moreso than developing him to be the heir apparent.

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Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42

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