The 49ers face Keyser Soze this Saturday night.
I'm not talking about the mythical villain from the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. I'm talking about Aaron Rodgers, the Packers' quarterback, the best quarterback in the NFL.
When he played at Cal, NFL scouts mistook him for Verbal Kint, Soze's diminutive, handicapped alter ego. Rodgers was unorthodox, he held the football next to his ear when he stood in the pocket, and he was relatively short and awkward for a quarterback.
Twenty-three teams passed on him in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft. He sat in the green room for hours and smiled sheepishly at cameras while TV analysts talked about how sorry they felt for him.
And then the Packers drafted him. Rodgers walked onto the stage, shook Paul Tagliabue's hand, held up a Packers jersey and left.
And like that, he was gone.
You could imagine him as Verbal Kint, limping off the stage, leaving the building and then all of a sudden losing the limp, lighting a cigarette and becoming Keyser Soze, the most feared man in the world.
But the world wouldn't realize Rodgers was Soze until 2008, the year he finally took Brett Favre's job. That season Rodgers threw 28 touchdowns and had a 93.8 passer rating. He wasn't tight and mechanical like he had been at Cal.
He didn't hold the ball next to his ear anymore. He held it low, down by his belt. He was relaxed and confident. He was running around and making throws no other quarterback was making. He was Keyser Soze.
It was obvious from the first game of that season. You could imagine the 23 general managers who passed on him in the draft simultaneously dropping their jaws and their coffee mugs as they realized they'd let Soze slip through their fingers.
Today, Rodgers is the most dangerous player in football. "Of the 32 teams in the NFL," one former NFL offensive coordinator said, "30 teams would kill to have Rodgers as their QB. The two teams that wouldn't kill for Rodgers — the Patriots and the Broncos — probably would still prefer Rodgers because he's younger than their quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning."
Rodgers has thrown 84 touchdowns the last two seasons. He won the Super Bowl in 2010 and was named MVP in 2011. Many analysts consider his 2011 season one of the greatest in the history of the quarterback position (4,643 yards, 45 touchdown passes, 122.5 rating).
Rodgers gets only the highest praise these days. On Tuesday, 49ers' defensive coordinator Vic Fangio described Rogers as "Dan Marino in the pocket with his quick, accurate release, and Steve Young out of the pocket." Could there be a better combination?
The former NFL offensive coordinator summed up Rodgers like this: "I think Rodgers is a very bright guy; an outstanding competitor; has a very good release and can throw from a variety of angles to get the ball out of his hands. He has more than enough arm to reach all parts of the field and, most importantly, he is extremely accurate."
Scott Tolzien, the 49ers third-string quarterback, is especially impressed by Rodgers' demeanor on the field. "Being on the sideline and seeing how he operates the show," Tolzien said, "there's just a calmness about him. It almost looks too easy for him. I was impressed by that. The game looked like it was just so slow in his head. He was super, super confident. He was so relaxed. Drew Brees bounces around. Rodgers, to me, is almost bored out there."