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Draft day was well worth wait for Rodgers, Packers

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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LAS COLINAS, Texas -- You see Aaron Rodgers now. You see the expressive smile. The belt-buckling confidence. The pure skill that puts him on the same level with some of the greats in football today. It's all there.

Yet there was a time it wasn't. Do you remember? Do you remember the Green Room?

Considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in the weeks before the 2005 draft, Aaron Rodgers waited until 24th. (Getty Images)  
Considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in the weeks before the 2005 draft, Aaron Rodgers waited until 24th. (Getty Images)  
It was April 2005 and Rodgers was a smiling kid out of Cal expected to go high in the draft. On that big day, he sported a dark pinstripe suit and perfectly knotted tie. He was ready for his moment. Rodgers took a seat in the draft Green Room with cameras filming his every grin and fidget. There, he sat. And sat. And sat some more.

Two hours later. Still sitting.

Three hours later. Still sitting.

Four hours later. Still sitting.

The Packers picked Rodgers 4 hours, 35 minutes later with the 24th pick. It was one of the more embarrassing Green Room waits in draft history.

"I was starving," Rodgers joked this week.

It's stunning the list of players taken ahead of Rodgers, who is now one of the best pure throwers in football. Quarterback Alex Smith, the pseudo bust in San Francisco, was picked ahead of Rodgers.

So were names like Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson, Carlos Rodgers, and Matt Jones.

"When it comes to Aaron the NFL mostly got it wrong," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said.

The question is why?

How did the league get it so horribly sideways with Rodgers?

"The only thing I care about is that we got him," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said.

Rodgers might not be the only quarterback in this Super Bowl who should have gone earlier in the draft. Pittsburgh Steelers two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger was selected 11th overall in 2004. His Green Room experience was better than that of Rodgers but he still might have gone slightly low considering the amount of winning he has done as a pro.

That draft had Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger, which is one of the best quarterback classes of all time (the 1983 class of Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and John Elway remains the gold standard).

Teams like Cleveland had a chance to snag Roethlisberger earlier but the Browns picked tight end Kellen Winslow instead.

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It is definitely Rodgers who remains one of the prime examples in league history of just how badly the quarterback evaluation process can be ruined. There are three main theories on why someone of Rodgers' capabilities slipped through the league's talent nets.

The Jeff Tedford Theory: The California coach is considered an offensive genius by many but at the time there were some scouts and personnel executives who were skeptical. They thought his system was gimmicky and the gaudy numbers put up by Rodgers were more a product of that system.

One general manager, who requested anonymity, remembered just such a conversation about Rodgers during several draft meetings. "There was some debate about how much of what Rodgers was doing was the system and how much was Rodgers," the general manager said.

There was a similar conversation across the league about Smith, who was taken first overall. The irony is that Smith turned out to be the system quarterback in college -- not Rodgers.

The Bad Athlete Theory: Think about that for a second. Rodgers is probably the most athletic quarterback in football not named Vick, still NFL coaches and executives thought he was too stiff and non-athletic to be successful in the pros.

This is the funny part. The current Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, was the offensive coordinator on the 49ers staff that decided to go with Smith. McCarthy, too, at the time believed Rodgers wasn't athletic enough to be a top player.

"He has since apologized about not thinking I was athletic enough," said Rodgers, likely only half joking. "I'll be honest with you, that's one part of my game that I've always felt like I can add to an offense, and when I started hearing I wasn't athletic, I take that personal."

The NFL-Teams-Always-Screw-Up-Quarterbacks Theory: Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Todd Marinovich, Rick Mirer, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Tim Couch, Andre Ware, Cade McNown and a cast of thousands. So many busts, so little time.

Teams do deserve somewhat of a break. The position is almost impossible to predict. If a team's lucky to get a Rodgers and not a Leaf they count their blessings and move on.

But the fact Rodgers once sat in the draft day Green Room -- humiliated, teams passing him by -- and now he's at the Super Bowl, says a lot about Rodgers and perhaps more about the at-times highly flawed evaluation system.

"He is still growing, still getting better," Thompson said. "I think we'll be able to write all the history about him 10, 12 or 15 years from now."

That's about how long it must have felt for Rodgers that day ... waiting.

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