The 2017 Packer Draft Breakdown
Ted Thompson takes far too much criticism for being one of the better draft runners in modern NFL history. The Packers have a process that is second to none, and when they do make a mistake it is almost always on an individual level, not a process level, and it is almost always rooted in a fundamentally good idea. What do I mean by a good process?
The Packers tend not to focus in individuals during the draft (with rare exceptions like Clay Matthews), and instead have tiers of players ranked together. On Thursday, it’s clear both from their actions and comments made by Thompson that trading out of the first round would still leave available players from their highest remaining tier. Many focused on the fact that they passed on TJ Watt, a player I like very much, but in doing so they got a player they felt was his equal (in this case the extremely gifted Kevin King, who has one of the best athletic profiles I’ve seen in a corner), and picked up Watt’s Badger teammate Vince Biegel for free. I know several analysts that preferred Biegel to Watt, and landing him in the 4th round while sacrificing nothing is the type of coup that Thompson regularly pulls off.
If you’re looking for a dysfunctional process look no further than the Chicago Bears and their General Manager Ryan Pace. Pace traded the Bears 1st, 3rd, and 4th round picks to San Francisco to move up from the 3rd overall pick to the 2nd overall pick to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. It’s possible Trubisky develops into one of the NFL’s elite, but the trade the secured him was both unnecessary and nonsensical. By almost all accounts the 49ers intended to take Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, which they did with the 3rd overall pick, and if they were a threat to steal Trubisky, they probably would not have traded their pick knowing what the Bears would do. The Bears could have gotten their player and held on to 2 additional picks by doing nothing. They remain the most poorly run team in the North.
I cannot tell you with any certainty if the players in the Packer draft will pan out, but Thompson was a master at getting value for his pieces, increasing the team’s speed and athleticism, and plugging holes. The Packers struggled defensively last season and Thompson spent his first 4 picks on defense. He built depth at running back with late selections, and added some prospects at receiver knowing Davante Adams will shortly enter free agency, and Jordy Nelson is getting up there. Thompson covered all of his bases with aplomb.
2nd Round, 33rd Overall
King is a project in terms of technique, but he dominated college ball on athleticism alone, and frankly, this is the type of player the Packers should target more frequently as Secondary Coach Joe Whitt, Jr., has been one of the NFL’s best at converting raw prospects (like Sam Shields) into excellent NFL players. Despite enormous size for a corner at 6-3, 200 pounds, King dominated agility drills at the combine in addition to showing off blazing straight-line speed. If King proves to be coachable the sky’s the limit as he is on the short list for most athletic player on the team. While the Packer secondary was ravaged by injuries last season and found itself with almost no depth, the addition of Davon House in the offseason completely reverses this problem, and the team take its time as needed, though with players of King’s skillset, that time often comes sooner than you might think.
Safety, NC State,
2nd Round, 61st Overall
With the 2nd of their second round picks the Packers also looked to bolster the secondary, this time at the safety spot. Morgan Burnett will be a free agent at the end of 2017 and the addition of Jones gives them flexibility if they decide to move on. Whether they do or not, Josh Jones will probably find his way onto the field. While slightly shorter than King, Jones tips the scales at 220 pounds, and like King, he showed of elite athleticism posting a 4.41 40 at the combine. At his size it’s likely Jones will first find himself in the hybrid Micah Hyde role, playing both coverage and run support. Jones has some polish to his game and I expect he will see the field early and often once the season starts, especially given the fact that Nickel defense is essentially now the true base defense for the Packers, and the NFL as a whole. The Packers value versatility, and with Jones it is what they expect.
Defensive Tackle, Auburn,
3rd Round, 93rd Overall
This was the most controversial early pick as most analysts expected the Packers to focus on edge rushers at the top of the draft. Up front the team has a solid base with the all-world Mike Daniels and promising rookie Kenny Clark. If they lack anything it’s another big body like Letroy Guion. Adams is not< that, but he is another very athletic, powerful addition to the roster. Adams is especially heavy low, he’s explosive, and is often the first off the ball. He wan an elite (for his size) 40 yard dash at the combine (4.87) and if he can develop better technique he can hold his own as a 3-4 end, or, if he shed some weight, maybe outside. On the negative side, his closest athletic comparables are familiar - former Packer washouts Justin Harrell and Khyri Thornton. Ted certainly has a type.
4th Round, 108th Overall
Biegel gets a raw deal from some analysts who label him as a simple try-hard guy inferior to TJ Watt. In reality, Biegel was a 4-star recruit and an excellent get for the University of Wisconsin, who bested Watt in some key measureable at the combine (including the 40-yard dash), and was generally his equal on the field. Biegel isn’t great in space or pass coverage, but as a pure pass rusher there were few better in the draft, and Biegel should see time in the Julius Peppers role from day one. Biegel showed surprising agility in the 3-cone drill (6.92 seconds), and it’s possible he could one day develop into an above average all-purpose outside linebacker, but getting a situational pass rusher is nothing to sneeze at. On his list of closes comparables, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is near the top.
Running Back, BYU,
4th Round, 134th Overall
I am personally not a huge fan of this pick, but I am a huge fan of Williams, who put a ton of college safeties on their backs and was suspended by his uber-conservative university for all of 2015 for the sin of having a woman in his room. Williams is a power runner with some attitude who won’t blow anyone away on the speed and agility front, but will make them pay the old fashioned way. He hasn’t shown much as a receiver and looks like an early-down, short-yardage back that the Packers use only sparingly, but as a special teamer with a niche role on offense, you could do worse.
Wide Receiver, Purdue,
5th Round, 175th Overall
I love prospects like Yancey, a 6-2 receiver who was amazingly productive for a for a guy who played with nothing but terrible quarterbacks and supporting casts at Purdue. Badger fans may recall Yancey dropping 155 yards and 2 touchdowns on Wisconsin in November of last year. Many scouting reports don’t care for him, but in my eyes almost all of his issues, from a subpar catch rate, to a lack of commitment to his routes, are far more about his teammates. In truth Yancey is strong at the catch point while displaying a very good catch radius, almost a necessity at Purdue. There is some upside here, and even if he just turns into James Jones, who appears on his comparable list, the Packers have done well.
Running Back, UTEP,
5th Round, 182nd Overall
The Packers lacked depth at running back entering the draft. Now a player like Christine Michael may be hard pressed to make the team. The lightning to Jamaal Williams’ (and possibly Devante Mays’) thunder, the only knock on Aaron Jones is his height. At just 5-9 he is one of the smaller backs out there, but in every other measureable he is above average - sometimes well above average. Jones ran an 3-cone drill in the 86th percentile of running backs and bolstered that lofty score with above average 20 and 60-yard shuttles. Jones may lack elite breakaway speed, but he’s one of the shiftiest backs in the class, an asset in the passing game both blocking and receiving, and a better prospect than a lot of backs that went several round earlier.
The Saints took Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara early in the 3rd round, and some analysts had him rated as a first round talent. Based on his measurables, Kamara is Aaron Jones’ closest comparable.
One of my favorite Packer backs, Brandon Jackson also makes an appearance on that list.
Offensive Tackle, South Florida,
6th Round, 212th Overall
I would be lying if I told you I had a wealth of information about the South Florida tackle. I know He will provide the occasional eye-popping workout for scouts, but a bad knee made for some questionable game tape. What I also know is that Ted Thompson loves turning tackles into guards, and that Amichia will likely find himself kicked inside as a developmental project, and because the Packers could use some depth, Amichia may have a chance to make an impact.
Running Back, Utah State,
7th Round, 238th Overall
Speed Score is a metric that tells you if a running back is fast for his weight. A 190 pound running a 4.5 40-yard dash is less impressive than a 220 pounder. Devante Mays is an intriguing prospect in this regard. An absolute truck at 5-10, 230 pounds, Mays put on quite the show at his Pro Day with a 4.52 40-yard dash and a 40.5 inch vertical. The top speed score in this class belonged to Leonard Fournette, a high first round draft pick, at 116. Mays’ speed score (which is slightly apples and oranges as it is based off a pro day time, and not a combine time) would be 110, the 3rd highest in the class, and just a tick behind Fournette. Mays fell off radars partially due to an injury-prone career and partially due to a demonstrated lack of instincts on tape. He can be tentative and doesn’t always hit holes hard. Usually 7th round picks are decent technicians with borderline athleticism. It is rare so find a specimen like Mays, even with his flaws.
Wide Receiver, LSU,
7th Round, 247th Overall
Last and debatably least we have Malachi Dupre. Dupre is a bigger receiver with decent speed, and that’s about it. As a straight line deep threat he may have something to offer, but his lack agility and poor route running limit his ability to do much of anything else. Dupre will go out and get you a bomb against college DBs. In the NFL, it’s hard to see how he is going to make a team.
With the exception of Dupre, every player here has a compelling case for himself. While we won’t be able to judge this draft for several years, as is the case in Green Bay, the front office did a bang-up job of stealing an extra pick and making the most of every other selection. In the Thompson era the Packers have now made 120 picks, and on average the quality of those picks has been an early 4th rounder. The next highest number in the NFC North is the Vikings with 107, and their picks have, on average, been slightly less valuable. The Bears have made just 93 and they get less per pick than any other team in the division. No one maximizes quantity and quality like Thompson, and he has done it once again.