- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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NEW YORK -- After being molded and groomed by college's best quarterback developer, Jeff Tedford, Aaron Rodgers was alone as he sat in the green room of Saturday's NFL draft in New York City.
The sight was painful.
ESPN's cameras kept showing Rodgers sitting by his cell phone as 23 selections passed and his name wasn't called. Rodgers, known for his quick release and strong arm from his three-step drop, was trapped in a pocket he couldn't escape. Matt Jones, an Arkansas quarterback being drafted as a receiver, went three choices before the Packers selected Rodgers with the 24th pick in the first round. If the Packers hadn't taken Rodgers, nobody knows how long he would have waited. The Redskins -- one of the teams targeting a QB -- had Auburn's Jason Campbell rated higher and selected him with the 25th pick.
Why the drop? The abundance of good, young quarterbacks who have come into the league since 1998 has put fewer teams in the market for quarterbacks on draft day. Next season, the NFL will have 15 first-rounders slated as starters. So, when the 49ers favored Alex Smith over Rodgers, there weren't many options remaining for the California QB. Cleveland and Washington seemed like possible destinations, but Joe Gibbs traded for the 25th pick to get Campbell.
Like a true warrior, Rodgers gutted through what certainly was an embarrassing situation. Maybe he ended up the lucky one, much like Ben Roethlisberger a year ago. Roethlisberger won 15 games as a rookie starter in a season he was supposed to sit. Nothing will be expected from Rodgers as a rookie, because he was drafted by a team that has Brett Favre.
"It wasn't easy," Rodgers said of the experience. "You know, not a lot of teams, I think, needed quarterbacks. After you got to a certain number ... we knew after 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 ... it was probably not going to happen. That was the toughest part, just the wait, but good things happen to those who wait."
Maybe it's fitting Rodgers ended up going to Green Bay, where he will join Favre. Remember that Favre was a second-round choice, even though a lot of people thought he was the best quarterback in the 1991 draft. Dan McGwire and Browning Nagle went ahead of him. Even though Favre had to go through the embarrassment of being traded in his second season by Atlanta, Favre ended up having a Hall of Fame career.
"The Lord has been teaching me a lot of humility and patience," Rodgers said. "He kind of threw both of those in my face today."
Rodgers comes into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder and he's not afraid to admit it. Favre made the NFL pay for slighting him. Once Favre retires, Rodgers will have a chance to do the same.
The only weird part about the Smith-Rodgers debate is that it's the complete opposite of a year ago. Normally, the smaller college quarterback takes the back seat. Roethlisberger had to fight the stigma of playing for a mid-major while Eli Manning and Philip Rivers benefited from being from big colleges. Rodgers had a great career at Cal, but he ended up going 23 picks behind a prospect from the smaller Utah, who played in a shotgun offense.
NFL scouts, like coaches, are copycats. They've watched the mid-major quarterbacks from the funky offenses become first-year NFL stars. In 2003, Byron Leftwich, from Marshall, was the best rookie quarterback. Roethlisberger fell to the Steelers and ended up having the greatest rookie season ever.
The benefit of falling is that a better team gets to surround its quarterback with supporting talent and nurture his growth. Quarterbacks at the top of the draft face more pressure. They are expected to turn around a team that is at the bottom of the food chain as far as talent.
"There's not a lot of pressure on me coming in," Rodgers said. "At the same time, I'm going to be surrounded by probably a better supporting cast than some of the guys at the top."
Manning struggled once he took the starting job with the Giants. Kurt Warner got off to a 5-2 start with New York, then lost two games and eventually a starting job. Manning couldn't turn around the Giants. It took him until the final couple of games last season to give Giants fans some hope. His receivers were painfully slow getting into the routes. There were limited yards after catches.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was surrounded by such good talent at receiver and running back, he was only asked to make about 14 or 15 completions a game.
Maybe Rodgers is putting a good face on a bad situation, but he thinks he ended up the winner in what looks like a losing situation. He says he thinks he's the luckiest player in the draft.
"I really do," Rodgers said. "I mean, being able to be in a situation where I can go to a team that has a good supporting cast, a great running back, storied franchise, and not having to be throwing right in the fire right away.
"I think the big knock on me as being a Tedford product and a lot of those guys have been in situations where they were not around a good supporting cast. I'm going to have the opportunity when my time comes -- be it next year, two years, whatever -- to have a good supporting cast in place."
The Tedford product label needs to be overcome by somebody. Tedford does amazing things with college quarterbacks. He makes them mechanically sound. He quickens their release. He molded Akili Smith, Trent Dilfer, Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington and others. All, except for Dilfer in his later years, have struggled after they left Tedford.
That stigma ended Rodgers' chances to be drafted by Cleveland. Phil Savage was involved in drafting Boller in Baltimore, but that was a concession to coach Brian Billick, who believed in Boller. The scouting staff preferred Byron Leftwich.
Boller has struggled, even though he plays on a good team. There was no way Savage was going to take a chance on a Tedford product in his first year as general manager. And Rodgers paid the price.
"I don't think that was a factor," Rodgers said. "The 49ers were obviously the spot we thought we would go, and they chose Alex. After that, it was just need. Like I said, we were hoping that the value of me as I fell would override some of those team's needs. When it came down to it, Cleveland backed out and said they didn't want a quarterback a couple of weeks ago. Thursday, I got a call from Jon Gruden, thinking maybe it was going to be Tampa. We found out yesterday and this morning that that wasn't going to be the case. We were just hoping somebody would take me because of my high value."
The Packers did. Now, he faces another tough question. Who can follow Favre? Rodgers laughed at the pressure he's going to face in the future.
"Definitely, there are a lot of expectations," Rodgers said. "They are used to winning out there. They are going to expect me to step right in and not miss a beat. God forbid something happened to Brett next year. They are going to expect me to come in and probably be successful and I have no problem with that."
The worst is over. Rodgers is a Packer. Despite his tough entry into the league, Rodgers will have extra motivation to succeed. He has doubters. Now, he must try to prove them wrong.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.