Commentary

A bit mechanical, but Rodgers impressed before '05 draft

Although somewhat mechanical at times, Mel Kiper was extremely impressed with Aaron Rodgers heading into the 2005 NFL draft.

Originally Published: February 20, 2008
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN.com

Editor's Note: Below is the excerpt on Aaron Rodgers from Mel Kiper Jr.'s 2005 "Draft Report."

A highly regarded prospect, Rodgers has the skills throwing the football the NFL is looking for, and was at his best against top competition in the Pac-10. In his final two high school seasons, he threw for a combined 4,419 yards. He set school single-game records for touchdowns (6) and all-purpose yards (440).

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Don RyanHe had the same grade as No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, but Aaron Rodgers went 24th in the 2005 NFL draft.

Before coming to Berkeley, Rodgers spent one season at Butte JC. In 2002, he earned juco All-America honors after completing 61.9 percent of his passes, for 2,408 yards, 28 TDs and only four interceptions. He transferred up to Cal and the Pac-10 for the 2003 season, and was a backup until Week 5 at Illinois. After that, he was Cal's field general, throwing for 2,903 yards and 19 TDs, while completing 61.6 percent of his passes and being intercepted just five times. His five interceptions in 349 pass attempts set a school record for efficiency, as he opened his Bears' career with 98 straight passes without a pick, and then went another 105 throws later in the season. Rodgers had five 300-yard games as a sophomore for Jeff Tedford: at UCLA (28-41, 322 yards, TD, INT), at Arizona State (17-22, 307 yards, 3 TDs), against Washington (20-33, 348 yards, 3 TDs), at Stanford (26-37, 359 yards, 3 TDs, INT) and against Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl (27-35, 394 yards, 2 TDs). While not statistically as impressive as those other games, he led Cal to an upset win over USC, completing 18-of-25 for 217 yards, two scores and two interceptions. He would have very good success in the two meetings with the back-to-back national champions, outperforming USC's All-American Matt Leinart both times.

In 2004, Rodgers started every game for the Bears and completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,546 yards and 24 TDs, while being picked off just eight times. He was a first team All-Pac 10 performer after leading the conference in passing efficiency. He tied an NCAA record for consecutive completions in a single game, connecting on 23 straight against USC, finishing the game with 267 yards and a touchdown on 29-for-34 passing. He had 260 yards and four TDs vs. UCLA (19-for-29), and had a season-high 275 yards and three TDs against Oregon (21-for-32).

Accurate, smart and athletic, Rodgers is a better prospect than former Cal standout and current Ravens starter Kyle Boller. He has above average arm strength, but he can be a bit mechanical in his throws. To speed up his release, head coach Jeff Tedford had Rodgers hold the ball up at his shoulder, but that made his movements too mechanical. I'd like to see him be more natural and fluid in his delivery, while still maintaining that quick release.

There is no questioning the fact that Rodgers put up eye-catching numbers during his two seasons at Cal, especially in both of his performances against USC, where in my opinion, he was better than Heisman winner Matt Leinart of USC who would have been the No. 1 overall pick had he decided to come out early.

* There is a great deal to get excited about when projecting Rodgers to the next level. First of all, he turned out to be at least an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than I anticipated. I'm also told that during the interview process with the top NFL brass, Rodgers definitely "wowed" everyone over with his poise, communication skills and knowledge of the game. As for being mechanical, Rodgers told me point blank that holding the ball with both hands at shoulder level allows him to get the ball out quicker and also provides more overall fluidity when he's delivering the football. Keep in mind, the tweaking took place after he left Butte Junior College and came to Cal. This was a Jeff Tedford production and one that allowed Rodgers to enjoy tremendous success with the Golden Bears. Some will argue that the QBs Tedford worked with over the years, such as Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller won't be mistaken for future NFL Hall of Famers. While that's true, Dilfer, who I was on coming out of Fresno State, was a Pro Bowler at Tampa Bay and led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. The jury is still out on Harrington in Detroit, and Boller is too young to have any final evaluation with the Ravens.

Getting back to Rodgers. I don't have a problem with the perception that he's mechanical, as long as he's winning football games and his individual performances are at a high level. What I have noticed is that by holding the ball at shoulder level, he loses a little quickness and escape ability when things break down in the pocket. He's also not at his best when flushed and forced to throw on the move. However, if the offensive line does its job, this young man can light up a defense, make no mistake about that. You also have to like his demeanor. Rodgers is tough, confident, incredibly poised and, most importantly, very few of his passes hit the ground.

In the end, I gave the slightest of edges to [Alex] Smith, on basically a gut feeling, but in reality, this is basically a 1 and 1-A situation. You are splitting hairs when trying to decide between Smith and Rodgers. While you could argue that they have been elevated to the top of the board because of the lack of super blue-chip prospects in this draft, after all is said and done, I expect both QBs to enjoy solid, winning careers in the NFL.

*Combine Note: Ran a 4.77, didn't lift, and had a 34½-inch vertical jump.

Click here to send a question to Mel Kiper for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst

ALSO SEE