Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy Part 2: Where Have All the 1st Rounders Gone?
In one of my previous articles (Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy: Taking A Closer Look), which compared the Green Bay Packers’ opening day roster to that of the San Francisco 49ers was, I found that there is a huge discrepancy in the drafting strategies between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.
A reader posed this very interesting question (Hats off to Ruppert, sorry it took so long for me to get around to posting about it):
“This also makes me wonder where, exactly, have all of our high draft picks gone? Or better yet, how good would we be if all our high picks would have turned out? I’m talking to you, Brian Brohm and Justin Harrell!”
My feeling was that this all stemmed from one moment in 2005 when the 49ers drafted quarterback Alex Smith 1st overall. While the 49ers offense is literally awash with 1st round draft picks, its not like the Packers have been whiffing the for the last 5 years either.
Simply put, all the Green Bay Packers’ 1st rounders are on the defense; what’s even more interesting is that if a player wasn’t drafted in the 1st round, then the chances are good that they weren’t drafted at all. Consider the opening day roster for the defense:
|OLB||Clay Matthews III||26|
The opening day roster consists of six 1st rounders, a 2nd and 3rd, followed by a 7th rounder and then 3 undrafted free agents (I’ve included the nickel back position as a starter since it basically is with the Packers).
This means 50% of the opening day starters were drafted in the 1st round, 33% were drafted in the 7th or not at all and only 17% were drafted anywhere outside that.
The average selection for the starters is 100, which is the beginning of the 4th round, which is right in the middle of the draft, which agrees with Thompson’s BPA drafting approach. More interestingly, the standard deviation of the opening day roster is a 109 picks, which is simply staggering. This means that the opening day roster is composed of a lot of very high picks and a lot of very low draft picks but not many middle round picks.
What does this all mean? Overall it means that Ted Thompson seems to do pretty well with defensive players in the high rounds (1st-2nd rounds); B.J. Raji is a solid NT, Clay Matthews III just missed out as the defensive MVP last season, and A.J. Hawk is a solid, but unspectacular LB. In the 2nd round, Nick Collins is a perennial Pro Bowler.
Moving on to 1st round free agent acquisitions, Charles Woodson was defensive MVP in 2009 and Ryan Pickett is also a solid DE. Since this is about the Packers drafting I won’t put too much weight into their effect, but it has to be said that Thompson really does like highly rated defensive players.
The only defensive player that could be considered a bust is DE Justin Harrell, but more because he was injured than actual ability (to which coaches claimed he was one of the best DLs when healthy). I’m reserving judgment on Mike Neal since he’s a rookie and spent a sizable amount of time last year on IR. Pat Lee might be joining Harrel as a bust, but he played pretty well after being called upon in the Super Bowl and might have a shot as a returner next year
Thus, it seems as if Thompson has trouble drafting defensive players in the middle rounds (3rd through 5th rounds), but then ends off with very good players in the 6th-7th rounds and undrafted players.
Tramon Williams (undrafted) was picked up from the Texans and went to the Pro Bowl this year (or at least he would have been if he wasn’t busy playing in the Super Bowl).
Sam Shields (undrafted) came from nowhere to secure the nickel back position and looks to follow in the footsteps of Williams.
The outside linebacker position across from Clay Matthews III has been manned by Brad Jones (7th round), and Frank Zombo (undrafted) and Erik Walden (6th round, via the Cowboys), all who have been solid starters, with Walden receiving NFC defensive player of the week honors in week 17 for his 3 sack, 17 tackle performance against the Bears.
With the injuries to starting ILB Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop (6th round) has filled in nicely and was given a sizable contract as well as being named a starter.
On the defensive line, DE Johnny Jolly (6th round) was a fantastic starter in 2009 until he was banned from playing this last year.
But what has happened in the middle rounds of 3-5?
|Last Name||First Name||Age||Pos||College||Round||Pick||Year|
|Underwood||Marviel||23||DB||San Diego State||4th||115||2005|
Ted Thompson has drafted 8 defensive players between the 3rd and the 5th rounds during his tenure and it doesn’t look good; I’ll also reserve judgment on Morgan Burnett as well since he was a rookie and also spent a sizable amount of time last year on IR.
Some notable names include:
SS Aaron Rouse (3rd round) was wildly inconsistent, often giving up big plays but then also picking off Peyton Manning for a 99 yard touchdown interception; he was cut mid-season forcing the Packers to sign Matt Giordano (who wasn’t very good either).
Will Blackmon (4th round) ended up being a good punt and kickoff returner, but never ended up developing much as a defensive back and was cut after two injury filled seasons.
Abdul Hodge, Marviel Underwood and Michael Hawkins didn’t manage to last more than 2 seasons with the Packers each and most have ended up as either journeymen or free agents.
The one exception might be Brady Poppinga, he’s the only player to be a starter and was decent at best, but was phased out when the Packers switched to the 3-4 and never seemed to be able to compete for a spot as a 3-4 OLB, though he seems to have been phased out on special teams as well, so his time with the Packers is probably numbered.
Needless to say there hasn’t been much success.
I’m not sure there is any specific reason behind this. Looking on the other side of the ball, the Packers have seemed to do pretty well in the middle rounds; Jermichael Finley (3rd) is a potential Pro Bowl player when he’s healthy, and James Jones (3rd) and Josh Sitton (4th) have that potential as well. T.J Lang (4th) might be a tackle or guard of the future, so players drafted in the mid rounds on offense are definitely in the mix.
On the upside, Thompson seems to draft well where it matters the most, namely the top two rounds. He also seems to have a good ability to find “diamonds in the rough” with undrafted rookie free agents, but seems to have trouble finding decent talent in the mid rounds.
Going back to my original article, the reasoning behind so many 1st round defensive players is pretty obvious: Aaron Rodgers was ready to quarterback the Green Bay Packers and Alex Smith was not. Quarterbacks can hide a variety of sins and Rodgers did exactly that. After his “rookie” year in 2008, he produced a great season in 2009 while his offensive line was trying to get him killed. This year he brought the Lombardi Trophy back home without a running game and while his wide receivers were dropping passes.
With Rodgers playing well and more importantly mitigating other positional deficiencies on the offense, GM Ted Thompson was able to draft for the other side of the ball, where there is no player that effects the defense like the quarterback does on offense. One of the biggest reasons why cornerbacks and safeties are traditionally not drafted that high is because teams could always just not throw towards them.
Plays can be run away from premier pass rushers, good run stopping teams can be thrown on and good pass stopping teams and be run on. In the NFL today nothing can offset a quarterback; the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers showed that 5 years ago when one pick sent the two teams in radically different directions.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.