PACKERS FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Draft Theory

In what would seem to be the ultimate show of arrogance, I’m going to try and tell you how to watch the NFL Draft.  I’m not going to describe to you the ultimate draft party or even the ultimate guide to watching the draft (though I know what that is, and it’s right here at CheeseheadTV).  I just want to introduce you to three ways of thinking about that draft that you might not already use when your ass hits the couch and the first cold beverage is opened on draft weekend.

In the first round especially, pay attention to the number of players that should go before Green Bay picks that are not at positions of need.  I post mock drafts that I put together at Fanspeak from time to time.  The app uses big boards from various experts around the internet and cross references them with the draft order and pre-determined team needs.  One of the main criticisms of my (and other Fanspeakers) is “that guy won’t be there”.

I always say that first of all, you have to draft what’s on the board, and second of all, you just don’t know.  The best way to look at things, especially in the first round, is to make a smaller big board.  I’ll explain:

In the first round, the Packers really have no need for a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback or safety.  There are also a few players that aren’t going to make it to the Packers pick, no matter what.  I don’t mean Darron Lee, I mean Jalen Ramsey.  Most of us were convinced that HaHa Clinton-Dix wouldn’t fall to Green Bay two drafts ago, but he sure did.

Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Jalen Ramsey, Laremy Tunsil, Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Ronnie Stanley won’t make it until Green Bay’s pick, I can tell you that right now.  These might be the elite players in the draft, they might not.  What they are are players that aren’t going to play for Green Bay unless the Packers trade up.  That takes six players off the board and leaves 20 slots before the Packers pick.  What you have to hope for, then, is that players the Packers don’t need go as possibly before pick 27.

Let’s go from the top, I’m guessing that one non-Wentz/Goff QB will be chosen before the Packers pick.  I’m not sure whether it will be Lynch, Cook or Hackenberg and I don’t care.  That moves the number down to 19.  Ezekiel Elliot is going to be drafted before Green Bay picks as well.  18.  Doctson, Treadwell and probably Coleman will go in front of where Green Bay picks as well.  That makes 15.  Cornerbacks Mack Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves and William Jackson (Eli Apple might, too) will almost certainly be selected before 27.  Now we’re down to 12.  Let’s say safeties Von Bell and Karl Joseph are selected before Green Bay picks, that means Green Bay’s “big board” has 10 players left.

If your round one wish list includes Jack Conklin, Myles Jack, Leonard Floyd, Sheldon Rankins, Darron Lee, Shaq Lawson, Noah Spence, Reggie Ragland, Andrew Billings, Kevin Dodd, Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, guess what? At least two of them are gonna be on the board! If a team goes all Tyson Alualu and drafts someone from left field ahead of 27 (and someone will), there will be more.  You never actually know who’s gonna be on the board, but every time another team takes a player the Packers don’t need, do a little fist pump.

It’s not always about need.  It’s not even always about “best player available”. Sometimes it’s about positional class quality.  I mean hell, just look at this group of tight ends.  Ted Thompson took one look at it and forced himself to undergo whatever shock treatment it requires for him to sign a free agent.  Good players at the top of bad classes get drafted early.  Sometimes, that means it’s earlier than they should go.

The safety class is thin, the tight end class is thin, and the edge class is thin.  Wide receiver and defensive line are particularly deep.  As I study the off-the-ball linebacker class and become more enamored with prospects like Deion Jones, BJ Goodson and even Jatavis Brown, I think that class might be deep as well.

What ends up happening is that teams have to get while the getting is still good.  That’s why I think both Bell and Joseph go in the top 25.  Teams have needs at safety and it gets ugly quick.  The same thing will apply at edge.  The tight end class might be so thin that it might not matter.

The depth in this defensive line class is the reason why I am leaning away from defensive line in the first round, though many mock drafts would tell you otherwise.  I lean that way because of both “best player available” and what I specifically think about the linebacker class.  I think there’s a precipitous drop-off at linebacker after Darron Lee, Myles Jack and Reggie Ragland.

I also think that if the Packers can secure a quality edge defender that should be a priority before just taking the best defensive lineman because BJ Raji retired.  The Packers play with two defensive linemen over 65% of the time, and much of that time will be spent with Julius Peppers and Datone Jones playing defensive tackle.

Good teams can draft at the end of the draft, because they usually have the prime positions already on the squad.  There is certainly a reason that Ted Thompson has the Packers consistently at the top of the league, despite picking at the bottom of the draft for the better part of a decade.  The short answer is Aaron Rodgers, and that’s actually a good start for my final point of discussion.

In this NFL the premier position is passer.  The next three, in no real particular order are pass blocker, pass rusher and pass defender.  When you look at the first 10 or 12 picks each season you’ll notice a lot of quarterbacks, offensive tackles, cornerbacks and edge defenders.  Those are the premium positions on every team, and bad teams don’t have them, at least not all of them.

The Packers do, and they have for a long time, even before it was cool to focus on those four positions.  Thompson and McCarthy have always had either Favre or Rodgers, so passer has been taken care of.  Thompson has kept corner stocked as well, signing Charles Woodson and mining UDFA for players like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.  He also invested highly in the position, drafting Patrick Lee, Casey Hayward and Quentin Rollins in round two, and even Damarious Randall in round one.

Pass blocker hasn’t been a real issue for Thompson either, because when healthy, Chad Clifton and David Bakhtiari have basically taken care of the last 15 years of the left tackle position.  Pass rusher was taken care of in 2009 with Clay Matthews, though it seems like the first two rounds of the draft have often been a constant effort to supplement Matthews’ rush.

The point, though it has taken me a while to get to it, is that the Packers have the premium positions largely taken care of, and they have for the better part of the last decade.  It is much easier to select good players at non-premium positions when they are players near the top of their class because other teams are taking players at different positions ahead of them.  Positions where they haven’t needed players.

So take my advice, and think about the draft a little differently, or don’t.  Just enjoy it, it’s the one event of the year where the winners and losers are all up for debate, and I think that’s why it might be the sports second most popular event.

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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  • Our World In Depth

    thank you for the thought-provoking piece. if i am reading between the lines/interpreting your theory correctly, i think you are suggesting that the Packers are in a good position to wait for a defensive lineman (or two) in the draft and, instead find a player in one of the thinner position groups earlier in the draft. btw, i have heard other draftniks say that the safety position in this draft is also well stocked.