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NFL What Ifs: What if the 49ers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005?

  • In the latest of a series examining NFL hypotheticals, we assess what the league might have looked like had the 49ers drafted Aaron Rodgers.
Modified 09 Apr 2020, 16:30 IST
Alex Smith went 23 spots before Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft

Of all the quarterbacks to have endured a slide in the NFL Draft, Aaron Rodgers' fall from prospective number one pick to 24th overall selection is among the most infamous.

Rodgers entered the pros in 2005, when his boyhood team the San Francisco 49ers held the top selection in the draft.

It all seemed so perfect. The Northern California kid who grew up idolising the Niners and played his college ball with the California Golden Bears in nearby Berkeley would land with a San Francisco team in desperate need of a long-term answer at quarterback.

However, the 49ers threw a curveball and instead selected Utah quarterback Alex Smith first overall.

Smith endured many years of struggle with the Niners before finally helping them to the playoffs in 2011 under Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers made the Super Bowl a year later but Smith had to watch from the sideline after a concussion handed the job to Colin Kaepernick, who never gave it back to him.

By marked contrast, Rodgers was selected by the Green Bay Packers as the heir apparent to Brett Favre and led them to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season. A two-time MVP, Rodgers' legacy as one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time is secure.

But what if the 49ers had gone with Rodgers 15 years ago? Here we look at how Rodgers being drafted by San Francisco might have changed the landscape of the NFL.



Though the 49ers did not draft Rodgers, their offensive coordinator in 2005, Mike McCarthy, ended up being his head coach for the majority of his career in Green Bay.

McCarthy was hired by the Packers in 2006 and it was not until the second half of the 2018 season that Green Bay dispensed with his services

His appointment came despite an awful 2005 season for the 49ers, who finished 4-12 and ranked 30th in total offense. 

Smith was thrown in at the deep end with a team ill-equipped to compete and ravaged by injuries. However, the argument could be made that Rodgers would have fared much better had he been placed at the helm of the Niners offense.

In a scenario where Rodgers comes in and makes the Niners more competitive, perhaps McCarthy is more in demand and receives other offers more attractive than the approach from Green Bay.

There are few franchises with more appeal than the Packers but, if the Niners draft Rodgers, it is possible McCarthy never moves to Wisconsin to guide them to Super Bowl glory five seasons later.


Brett Favre retired in 2008, allowing Rodgers to ascend to the role of starting quarterback.

However, Favre later stated that he felt pressured into retiring by the Packers and filed for reinstatement to the league.

Talks with the Packers led to him being traded to the New York Jets. His one-year spell with Gang Green was followed by two years with the Packers' division rivals the Minnesota Vikings, turning him into a villain for many in Green Bay.

Had Favre's successor not been lying in wait, the great gunslinger may have been able to retire on his terms as a member of the Packers.

Without Rodgers being drafted by Green Bay, the bizarre image of Favre playing at Lambeau Field in Vikings colours might never have come to pass.

Favre and the Packers deserved a better ending to his time there. If Rodgers' name is first off the board in 2005, the odds are that Favre's send-off is more fitting.


The 49ers endured a long playoff drought after losing in the Divisional Round at the end of the 2002 season. They did not make it back to the postseason until the 2011 campaign, when Harbaugh authored a return to prominence.

Yet the signs the Niners had the talent to compete were there before Harbaugh's arrival. Smith showed promise in a 7-9 2006 season and a solid core, featuring the likes of Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, was gradually built.

In 2009, Mike Singletary oversaw the 49ers' first non-losing season since 2002 despite Smith and Shaun Hill alternating at quarterback.

With Rodgers at the helm, the likelihood is the Niners' resurgence would have come well before 2011 and taken them out of the race for Harbaugh's services.

The Miami Dolphins were the other franchise interested in Harbaugh, then head coach at Stanford University.

Success for San Francisco would have allowed the Dolphins a clear run at Harbaugh, who went on to lead the Niners to appearances in three NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh eventually left the 49ers in acrimony in 2015 but, given the success he enjoyed in his brief NFL head coaching career, the now-Michigan boss could have set the Dolphins as long-term challengers to the New England Patriots' superiority in the AFC East had the 2005 draft fallen in a different way.

Published 09 Apr 2020, 16:30 IST
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