Turning to the Draft
by Mike Conklin
March 17, 2013
Whether fans of the Packers like it or not, Ted Thompson and the Packers chose their usual course of action and remained on the sideline during the first few days of the annual free agency frenzy. They are upfront and clear about their vision for the organization. They are a draft-and-develop team through and through, and appear uninterested in deviating from that course.
So perhaps it would be beneficial to step back from all that is happening in free agency (and the instant gratification it offers fans), and try to look at the type of impact player the Packers may be able to add during next month's draft.
There is no denying the fact that there is a large degree of uncertainty around the draft, particularly when a team picks late in each round as the Packers have done the past several years. And while we would not presume to know which specific players may or may not be available by the time the Packers are on the clock when the 26th pick in the first round, by looking at recent history we can start to get an idea of the general quality of player that could be added to the roster.
The following is a list of each player taken with the 26th through 30th picks each of the past five years. With these players, we have the benefit of being able to see how they have already performed in the NFL, and it can give us some kind of general idea of the talent pool that may be available for the Packers in their draft range. For what it's worth, we also included where the player was ranked among his peers by Pro Football Focus:
26. Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans (Ranked 29th of 34 OLB's in 2012 by Pro Football Focus)
27. Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals (Ranked 12th of 81 G's)
28. Nick Perry, OLB, Green Bay Packers (Not ranked)
29. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings (Ranked 19th of 88 S's)
30. A.J. Jenkins, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Not ranked)
26. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (Ranked 79th of 105 WR's)
27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens (Ranked 112th of 113 CB's)
28. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints (Ranked 32nd of 59 RB's)
29. Gabe Carimi, T, Chicago Bears (Ranked 73rd of 80 T's)
30. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets (Ranked 2nd of 34 3-4 DE's)
26. Dan Williams, DT, Arizona Cardinals (Ranked 19th of 85 DT's)
27. Devin McCourty, CB, New England Patriots (Ranked 8th of 113 CB's)
28. Jared Odrick, DE, Miami Dolphins (Ranked 59th of 62 4-3 DE's)
29. Kyle Wilson, CB, New York Jets (Ranked 73rd of 113 CB's)
30. Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions (Not ranked)
26. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers (Ranked 2nd of 34 OLB's)
27. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (Ranked 45th of 59 RB's)
28. Eric Wood, C, Buffalo Bills (Ranked 25th of 36 C's)
29. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (Ranked 20th of 105 WR's)
30. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans (Ranked 98th of 105 WR's)
26. Duane Brown, T, Houston Texans (Ranked 2nd of 80 T's)
27. Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego Chargers (Ranked 108th of 113 CB's)
28. Lawrence Jackson, DE, Seattle Seahawks (Ranked 39th of 62 4-3 DE's)
29. Kentwan Balmer, DE, San Francisco 49ers (Not ranked)
30. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets (Ranked 36th of 62 TE's)
What does all this tell us? Perhaps not much. But it is revealing just how few of these picks have become true impact players for their teams. Of the 25 players listed above, only four of them are ranked among the top ten at their position. And for every Clay Matthews or Duane Brown selected late in the first round, there are two players not even ranked due to injury or ineffectiveness.
Add to the discussion the fact that because these Pro Football Focus rankings are highly subjective, there is plenty of room for disagreement. For example, even though Hakeem Nicks is not even rated among the top 20 percent of wide receivers, how many teams would jump at the chance of acquiring him?
If nothing else, this is an exercise that will allow us to begin thinking about what type of contributions that players selected in the later portion of the first round may or may not offer their new teams.
While nobody wins anything in March, it can be argued that other teams in the division may be getting better. Considering the contributing players the Packers are losing this offseason (Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson), coupled with the fact that they have injury concerns from recent high draft picks (Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry, and Jerel Worthy) and core players (Desmond Bishop and Bryan Bulaga), they will likely need this year's rookie class to make a strong impact.
The draft is important every year, but with the current state of the team it may be even more so this time around. With mega-deals to Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and possibly B.J. Raji looming on the horizon, the Packers very well could have fewer chances to re-sign other solid contributors over the next few years. That makes the ability to reload the roster via the draft even more important. And while it is way too early to form any lasting judgements, the jury is definitely still out on each of their last two first round picks.
The Packers would be well served to buck the trend illustrated above, and select a player in the first round that becomes one of the top players at his position. After all, there is no reason to think that any big time free agents will be added to the roster any time soon.
Photo Credit: Green Bay Press-Gazette