NFL draft’s most intriguing first-round picks: Packers’ selection of QB Jordan Love raises eyebrows

The NFL draft kicked off on Thursday night, bringing a much-needed reprieve to a sports world that remains largely on pause amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Joe Burrow went first overall to the Bengals as expected, and in the next several selections, teams continued to follow the chalk: Chase Young to Washington, Jeff Okudah to Detroit. Offensive tackle Andrew Thomas went to the Giants, followed by quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert to the Dolphins and Chargers, respectively.

But the intrigue ensued as the first round continued.

Here’s a look at some the most interesting selections and patterns of the Day 1 of the NFL draft:

Packers repeating history?

In one of the most intriguing moves of the draft, the Green Bay Packers moved up from the 30th pick after a trade with the Miami Dolphins, and they used it to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love at No. 26. 

Many projections foresaw the Packers using their first-round pick to give Aaron Rodgers more weapons — not draft his successor, who might not see the field for three or four years. 

But if this sounds familiar, that’s because this is exactly what the Packers did 15 years ago when they shocked a 35-year-old Brett Favre and the rest of the NFL by drafting Rodgers at No. 24 overall. Rodgers wound up sitting and learning behind Favre for three seasons before taking over as the starter in 2008.

Love certainly has great ability and upside. He had some analysts describing him as a poor man’s Patrick Mahomes because he has a big arm and great athleticism. However, he certainly needs some refinement in his fundamentals and further development as a decision-maker. 

At 36, Rodgers is coming off yet another 4,000-yard season and still seemingly has plenty of left in the tank. So the Packers are under no pressure to rush Love onto the field. So, maybe five years from now, this will look like a brilliant move. 

Drafting, stashing and developing a quarterback behind a future Hall of Famer worked back then, so why not try it again, right?

But here’s the thing: Green Bay returned to the playoffs last season after first-year head coach Matt LaFleur infused the franchise and offense with life. However, it was evident that the unit would greatly benefit from another offensive game-changer.

That’s why a first-round wideout or tight end would have made sense.

The Packers obviously won’t find out just how smart of a move this Love selection was until several years from now. But this move does put more pressure on team brass for the remainder of this draft. 

It’s of utmost importance that Green Bay finds good value at the wide receiver and tight end positions in the remaining rounds to help compensate for passing on a Day 1 starter in the first round.

Tackles a plenty

Leading up to the draft, NFL talent evaluators declared this a deep offensive tackle draft, and that certainly seems to be the case as six players at that position went in the first round. After Thomas came Alabama's Jedrick Wills (Cleveland, No. 10), Louisville's Mekhi Becton (Jets, No. 11), Iowa's Tristan Wirfs (Buccaneers, No. 13), USC's Austin Jackson (Dolphins, No. 18) and Georgia's Isaiah Wilson (29, Titans).

Teams are placing a high priority on ensuring the safety of their quarterbacks. For some, the moves should help make life a little easier for young quarterbacks. For others, these selections are designed to keep veterans upright. Quarterback and edge rusher are viewed as the two most important positions on the field, but left tackle ranks right up there as well.

Raiders reach?

The Raiders had two first-round picks, and their first made a lot of sense. Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III gives Jon Gruden and the offense a much-needed home run threat. But their second selection, Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette at No. 19 overall, came as a bit of a surprise. 

Arnette certainly is talented, and he has great pedigree as the son of Hall of Famer Cris Carter. However, he was regarded as more of a second-round pick because, although he plays physically and with good instincts, he tends to struggle against some of the elite speed receivers. 

But as we saw last year, Mike Mayock and Gruden often value players differently than many others do, and they don’t care what outsiders view as reaches. If they’re high on a player, they’ll go get him. Now, we watch and wait to see how their roster building methods play out over the next several seasons.

49ers fill two needs

San Francisco had a smart first-round strategy. The 49ers had decisions to make this offseason as free agency kicked off, and they knew they couldn’t pay all of their key contributors. 

So they traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 13th overall pick. On Thursday night, after moving back a spot, they drafted South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw, who they should be able to plug right in as a younger, cheaper replacement for Buckner. 

Later in the round, they met a pressing need at wide receiver, drafting Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk, who has great speed and nice versatility. 

Patriots trade back

People wondered if the Patriots would try to trade up to land their quarterback of the future. But instead, they traded out of the first round, swapping the 23rd pick for the Chargers' selections at No. 37 and 71. That means the Patriots have a second-rounder, four third-rounders, two fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder, four sixth-rounders and a seventh.

The Patriots no doubt had several players similarly rated to those remaining on the board in the first round, and they saw the benefits of stockpiling picks to ensure greater flexibility in the final two days of the draft. They have many needs after losing numerous defensive players to free agency, and they remain thin at wide receiver and tight end.

Look for Bill Belichick to fill those needs. 

And, of course, we’ll be watching to see if quarterback ranks among their coveted positions. Intriguing options at this position: Washington's Jacob Eason, Georgia's Jake Fromm, and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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