Green Bay Packers

What Are Reasonable Expectations For Sean Clifford?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers had to add a quarterback in the draft. After trading Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets, they only had Jordan Love and Danny Etling on the 90-man roster, so it was reasonable to expect they’d use a Day 3 pick at the position. Green Bay’s choice was surprising, though. They made Penn State’s Sean Clifford the 149th-overall pick, well ahead of his position on the consensus big board: 423rd. The Packers are comfortable with what they got, though, given their expectations for him.

“We really liked what he brings to the table,” Packers general manager Gutekunst said after the draft. “Started a lot of games in the Big Ten. Has a lot of experience. Really good athlete. Liked his arm talent. We brought him in for a pre-draft visit, and we really liked the makeup of the person.”

The Packers didn’t select Clifford because they expected a potential starter or wanted to challenge Jordan Love. If that was the idea, they could have easily taken Hendon Hooker in the second round. He ended up going to the Detroit Lions in the third. As I mentioned before, their idea was to find a backup, and that’s what they expect Clifford to be. With that in mind, it makes sense to take an older player – Clifford is older than Love — but with more college experience.

It’s the Brock Purdy effect that Sports Illustrated’s Connor Orr wrote about.

“Sean is a guy who is really intelligent,” head coach Matt LaFleur highlighted. “He’s played a lot of games. He’s got some athleticism. He’s a natural thrower. All the things we look for in quarterbacks, he possesses. We had him up here on a 30 visit and went through the meetings with him and were impressed by his football acumen and overall intelligence. Looking forward to working with him coming rookie minicamp.”

Clifford’s college career was full of ups and downs. But even though Clifford was inconsistent, his ability made Penn State choose him over Will Levis two years in a row. That’s why Levis transferred to Kentucky and excelled. The Tennessee Titans chose Levis in the second round, three rounds before the Packers took a chance on Clifford. After the Packers chose him, Clifford wants to show what he’s capable of and maybe free up Green Bay’s front office from the necessity of adding a veteran quarterback. That’s what he started to do during rookie minicamp.

“For all of us – not only myself but the other guys in the class – just being able to really come in and show the staff and the front office and the NFL what we did in college and how we’re going to get better in the NFL,” Clifford mentioned. “I don’t look at it as pressure. I’m trying to focus on what I can do first and how I can help others. I really don’t look at it as I’m trying to win this, win that. I’m just trying to get better every single day.”

According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Clifford has the talent to extend plays and throw on the move, which fits well with LaFleur’s offensive philosophy. However, it is occasionally counterproductive when he does it unnecessarily. The footwork is also questionable, leading to bad timing for some passes. That’s why Zierlein saw him as a priority undrafted free agent, not a fifth-round pick.

Clifford still has to develop technical aspects of his game to make an impact in the NFL. However, the idea behind the pick was to get a player able to process the game as fast as possible for a rookie. Moreover, Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich highly praised Clifford’s character, illustrating what the Packers saw.

Sean has had some great moments throughout the course of the year. The one thing that sticks out most obvious to me is at Purdue he threw an interception in a critical part of the game. Then he comes right back and leads us down to victory in the two-minute drill. And that really epitomizes Sean and his toughness. What he brings to our team is invaluable to everything he does from a leadership standpoint, from a toughness standpoint. Those are important things for the overall offense to be successful.

Expectations are important to analyze what the Packers will get from Sean Clifford, and what they want from him. The goal was never to get a future starter, and this would be unrealistic. But Clifford has the potential to be a decent backup, and an inexpensive and smart backup under contract for four years is a reasonable strategy.

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