The Reasons Behind The 2013 Packers Draft: First Impressions
I actually got my first shot writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com when Al allowed me to post my draft rationale on his site and 3 years later I’m continuing the tradition. As before I’m not going to be assigning draft grades or projections, I agree with the idea that grading picks now is something akin to being graded on a test you haven’t taken. In this article I want to point out some more broad observations I noticed during the draft
Aaron Rodgers dictated the Packers 2013 draft: And Clay Matthews III to some extent as well. Simply put the Packers are now in a mini-rebuilding year, not due to a lack of talent but due to a lack of money. While Rodgers’ $110 million and Matthews’ $66 million contracts were both necessary and in my opinion great deals for the Packers, let’s not kid ourselves and think that the Packers are going to be awash with saved money over the next couple years, Rodgers and Matthews are still two of the highest paid players in the NFL and that will have financial ramifications down the road; maybe not as bad as Joe Flacco and DeMarcus Ware bad, but Ted Thompson probably isn’t going to be able to keep everyone he wants. This is why I think this is the start of a mini-rebuild; teams typically trade down and stockpile draft picks in order to stock the team with young, cheap players who can be the foundation long term and perhaps become stars.
Thompson used this approach when he was hired in 2005 to fix the salary cap mess left by Mike Sherman and he’s doing it again to proactively protect the Packers from the next couple years. The notable players who are set to become free agents in the next two years are Morgan Burnett, Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, CJ Wilson, Mike Neal, Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Tramon Williams and Bryan Bulaga. The next two years are perhaps the toughest because they also are when Rodgers’ and Matthews’ cap hits are the highest. Furthermore veterans who occupy a niche, like John Kuhn and Jarrett Bush are probably on the bubble now. Needless to say, Thompson is going to have to be very judicial when it comes to keeping his own players, therefore this draft (and probably the next one) are looking to build the foundation of the team for the next 5 years, not just “put the cherry on the top” for the team now. Thompson can now do this is that Rodger’s contract gives him a window where he can expect the team to be competitive; Rodgers probably has at least another 5 good years left in his career and now it’s important to have talent around him throughout all 5 years and not just right now.
Best Play Available works in funny ways: I do think it’s a little ironic that Packers fans bemoan the fact that Thompson’s BPA approach often has left the team short in recent history. Thompson didn’t draft enough linemen in 2008-2009, didn’t draft enough pass rush in 2011 and so forth and so forth. But perhaps the most notable position where Thompson has not drafted is running back, where the Packers have used only 3 picks since Thompson was hired in 2005. This year however, the Packers landed not one but two running backs. Consensus by the fans and media seem to think that this is an active directive to become “tough” team but in my opinion this is just “best player available” working in it’s own strange ways.
Like the phrase goes “when it rains it pours”, for 8 years the draft has unfolded where running back has never really been of great value when Thompson was picking but in the 2013 draft, Thompson not only had one great value in Eddie Lacy but another in Johnathan Franklin. But when you get down to it, I don’t think the Packers really got all that much “tougher”; Johnathan Franklin fits in the running back mold of what the Packers typically have liked since Ted Thompson has hired and David Bakhtiari and JC Tretter are both smaller, more agile ZBS linemen that the Packers have been drafting for years, so outside of Lacy it feels to me like business as usual for the Packers. Again, while it might be misleading since Lacy is a bigger power back, I feel that Thompson was looking at too much value not to draft Lacy, even with the medical concerns as well as not entirely fitting what the Packers typically like to do with running backs.
Same thing can be said about Johnathan Franklin, many fans and media predicted Franklin would be drafted by the Packers in the 2nd round, but in the end the Packers traded up back to the bottom of the 4th round to select him; again the Packers probably didn’t have that high a grade on him, but at that point in the draft, you would be doing a disservice to all the time you spent scouting him not to trade up to get him. Finally, a lot has been brought up about Lacy’s injuries (notably being dropped from the Steeler’s board), but I think it’s important to note that as a low 2nd round pick, the risk is minimal; if Lacy’s injuries don’t let him get to a second contract, I still think it will be worth it. Running back careers are short anyways and with so much great running back talent coming into the league every year career length really isn’t an issue when drafting running backs.
Become a tougher team: Fans seem to be fixated on McCarthy’s comments that the Packers want to become a tougher team and assume that this specifically applies to what the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens did to get to the Super Bowl this year. Furthermore, from McCarthy’s comments many fans have assumed that this means a more bigger linemen and bigger running backs, which as I mentioned above outside Eddie Lacy does not appear to be correct. It should also be noted that the 49ers and Ravens boast two of the better passing attacks in the league as well, so it’s not like the old “ground and pound” team philosophy is making a comeback, the league is still a passing team and the team with the better passing attack will win more games that it will lose. Realistically, teams don’t draft to stop players nor do they draft to stop specific teams, they draft to fit their own philosophies. Finally, given recent history, it shouldn’t be assumed that either Baltimore, San Francisco or even Green Bay will even make the playoffs this year, as typically there is a about a 20% turnover of playoff teams. Basically, the Green Bay Packers are going to worry about what they can control and not worry about stuff they can’t control, like the 49ers, the Giants, or any other team for that matter.
53 man roster cuts are going to be brutal: The Packers are a pretty loaded team with good starting talent and decent depth right now, so having to potentially cut 20% of the 2012 team to make room for the new draft class is going to be hard. Obviously, high and mid round draft choices are locks to make the team (Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari, JC Tretter and Johnathan Franklin), as the highest pick to ever not make the 53 under Thompson was 2009 4th round pick Jamon Meredith. Nate Palmer is almost a lock to make it considering there are only 3 legitimate outside linebackers on the team at the moment and at least one of the wide receivers is probably going to make it to cover for losing Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. No matter how the 53 man roster ultimately ends up, you could see almost the entire 8 man practice squad being occupied by Packers draft picks (assuming they aren’t signed away) as presumably BJ Coleman and Andrew Datko will remain on the practice squad.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.