The Green Bay Packers won’t be passing the baton from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love without adding one rookie quarterback to the mix for 2023.
On Saturday’s final day of the 2023 NFL draft, the Packers used their first of two fifth-round picks (No. 149) to draft Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, adding a four-year starter to the room to compete with Danny Etling for the backup job next season. The move is reminiscent of the Packers’ decision to draft Brett Hundley (No. 147 overall) in the 2015 draft after losing their previous backup, Matt Flynn, in free agency that year.
Clifford started all 13 games for Penn State in 2022, completing 64.4% of his passes (226 of 351) while throwing 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions and helping lead the Nittany Lions to a Rose Bowl victory over Utah to close out his collegiate career. He was one of two quarterbacks to take an official top 30 visit with the Packers during the pre-draft process. The other was Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, whom the Lions selected at No. 68 overall in the third round to compete with veteran starter Jared Goff.
Clifford is only the second quarterback that current general manager Brian Gutekunst has drafted during his six-draft tenure. It is also similar to what his predecessor, Ted Thompson, did when passing the torch from Brett Favre to Rodgers in 2008, drafting a pair of quarterbacks — Brian Brohm and Flynn — to compete with his new starter.
Sean Clifford Has Tools to Win Packers’ Backup Job
In Clifford, the Packers are gaining an unpolished young passer with questionable arm strength and some good mobility in his game. They are also adding a new frontrunner to serve as Love’s primary backup for his maiden voyage as their starting quarterback.
As things stand now, the Packers are set to have Clifford and Etling duking it out during training camp in the summer. Etling looked solid in the 2022 preseason, completing 22 of his 27 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown over his three games of action. He also broke off seven runs for 73 yards, including one that went for a long touchdown. Clifford, however, can match that mobility and may gain the edge for his upside.
Clifford averaged just 2.6 yards per carry during his final season at Penn State, but he did show a willingness to take off and run with 69 total carries, five of which ended with him running into the end zone. While his 4.57-second clocking in the 40-yard dash was slower than what Etling ran at his 2018 pro day (4.46 seconds), he still has some wheels that could fit nicely with the Packers’ run- and play-action-heavy offense in 2023.
The real question is whether the Packers will also add a veteran to the room. Love has spent three years waiting in the wings behind Rodgers and has gotten numerous votes of confidence from the Packers’ front office, but having two inexperienced passers backing him up might be seen as a bad build, whereas a veteran can offer more security. If Green Bay does add a veteran quarterback, expect the Clifford and Etling battle to be over before it starts with Clifford getting the preference as a 2023 fifth-round pick.