From that you can expound the idea that teams with many high draft picks should be in theory be better than teams that don’t. With that in mind, ponder for a moment: who would you choose?
- An offense made up almost entirely of high draft picks featuring a dual threat perennial 1000+ yard running back, a receiving corps featuring perhaps the most physically gifted tight end playing the game, a massive offensive line that can physically dominate a game and a 1st round quarterback that is considered incredibly smart and physically gifted.
- An offense made of mostly mid to low round draft picks featuring an undrafted running back, a receiving corps which had lost its identity, an offensive line that allowed far too many sacks and can’t seem to run block and a quarterback who was considered too short and too slow in the draft.
Surprise! If you chose the first option, you just picked the opening day roster of the San Francisco 49ers over the Green Bay Packers. Opening day rosters are usually a better indication of a team than the rosters coming into week 12 since the starters are typically the ones who played the best in the offseason as opposed to the ones left standing (as the Packers can attest to this year). I will admit that I probably stacked the wording in order to make a point, so below are some statistics to consider:
|San Francisco 49ers||Green Bay Packers|
|QB||Alex Smith||1||Aaron Rodgers||24|
|HB||Frank Gore||65||Ryan Grant||256|
|FB||Moran Norris||125||Korey Hall||191|
|WR||Micheal Crabtree||10||Greg Jennings||52|
|WR||Josh Morgan||174||Donald Driver||213|
|TE||Vernon Davis||6||Jermichael Finley||91|
|LT||Joe Staley||28||Chad Clifton||44|
|LG||Mike Iupati||17||Daryn Colledge||47|
|C||David Baas||33||Scott Wells||251|
|RG||Chilo Rachal||39||Josh Sitton||135|
|RT||Anthony Davis||11||Mark Tauscher||224|
The differences in drafting strategies is staggering; the average draft selection of the offense is the middle of the 2nd round while the Packers’ is the middle of the 5th round, a full 3 rounds lower.
Out of the 49ers starting lineup, there are only two positions, the second wide receiver and the fullback that were not drafted in the “premium” 1st-3rd rounds, with a astounding six 1st round players (with 3 on the offensive line alone), and two 2nd round players.
In comparison to the Packers, the offense only has one player in the 1st round, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and three players in the 2nd round. No Packer player was drafted higher than his 49er counterpart.
So what lead to such a drastic difference in drafting strategy? Schematics for one; the 49ers are now built as a power running team, and as such they require a dominant offensive line and a powerful running back, unfortunately, dominant offensive lineman are hard to come by hence why the 49ers have been emphasizing their offensive line for the past couple years, most notably this year where they drafted both Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in the 1st round.
On the other hand, the Packers are a rhythm west coast passing team, which utilizes smaller, less powerful but more agile offensive lineman. Since these types of offensive lineman can be found later in the draft the Packers don’t have to spend high draft picks on offensive lineman in order to get quality players that fit into their scheme which then allows them to spend them elsewhere (typically on the defense in Ted Thompson’s case).
But then comes the question, why are the 49ers a power running team? Tradition would seem to insist that the 49ers be a “west coast” offense, after all “west coast” comes from San Francisco.
The answer is the quarterback. No position magnifies a team’s character like a quarterback. A good quarterback can boost a mediocre team by hiding many inconsistencies in the running game and pass protection, much like Peyton Manning does with the Colts.
On the other hand, a mediocre quarterback can bring down a good team, such as in the case before St. Louis drafted Sam Bradford. Aaron Rodgers has shown that he can single handedly be the offense, last year he did it without a decent offensive line and this year without a decent running game.
Alex Smith on the other hand didn’t even get a chance to prove that he was the right choice as the 1st overall draft pick yesterday because he was benched in favor of Troy Smith, who if anything figures to be more of a stop gap than a franchise quarterback.
This of course alters the decisions of the draft. The 49ers recognized that Alex Smith wasn’t going to be able to take control of the offense and as a response the team decided to “limit the damage” by moving to a power running game that only asks its quarterbacks to throw when absolutely necessary, this of course means you need a dominant run blocking offensive line, which then requires you to spend high draft picks on offensive lineman.
Were the 49ers reaching? Probably, many projections had Anthony Davis actually going to the Packers based on draft position and Mike Iupati was also a bottom 1st – top 2nd round talent as well. This of course then leads to Alex Smith not really having the amount of playmakers as there isn’t much depth behind Frank Gore (as was shown yesterday), Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree (and I still don’t think he is an elite wide receiver). Less playmakers around Smith results in less plays, which forces the team to be even more conservative in their drafting, hence the effect snowballs itself. Add in injuries and some poor play by Alex Smith and the result is the game yesterday.
From a pure economical standpoint, Alex Smith didn’t just cost the 49ers a 1st round draft pick, it may have cost them many more high round draft selections as they attempted to compensate for the lack of quarterback play by most notably drafting high in the offensive line.
On the other hand, the Packers did not feel a need to use 1st and 2nd round picks to compensate for Rodger’s play and instead were able to draft high in other positions, most notably in the linebackers and instead draft for value in the mid rounds to give Rodgers more playmakers.
So while the 2005 draft may always be remembered as when the 49ers mistakenly picked Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers, the pick had more significant ramifications than just quarterback play, in fact one pick resulted in a complete reversal of a teams playing philosophy.
Thomas Hobbes is a contributing author for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.