Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy: Taking A Closer Look All Green Bay Packers All the Time

The NFL draft is predicated on a pretty simple premise; players with more talent or potential will be drafted earlier in the draft as opposed to less talented players.

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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
Name Selection Name Selection
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
Average 46.27273 138.9091

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



Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


25 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy: Taking A Closer Look

  1. I found it interesting that Billick was talking about Vernon Davis during the game and said, “If you want to get a guy with that kind of talent, you have to take him early.” I chuckled.

    1. Billick has wisdom…:) He does say some silly stuff at times, but when he gets down to the football nitty-gritty, I actually like him.

  2. Well Billick was certainly not on his game yesterday, he screwed up a bunch of his analysis (Vernon Davis plays for the niners btw), and was getting his reputation manhandled by Thom Brennaman

  3. This is one of your best posts that I’ve come across. Very tight and comprehensive. Great writing, Al.

    1. Well, I’d love to take credit, but this one was written by Thomas Hobbes, a contributing author on the site. And I agree, it’s an excellent post!

    1. Well, it’s easy to say they should have taken Davis now. Obviously, Hawk has not reached the same level as Davis, but it’s not like he’s been a total (cough, cough, Justin Harrell, cough, cough) bust

    2. Well picking a tight end that high is highly unusual, obviously Vernon Davis ended up warranting such a high draft pick, but I can see why the Packers chose Hawk over Davis. I wouldn’t say that Hawk is a terrible player, just not warranting the 5th overall draft pick

  4. Hobbes, what a great idea. What ever made you think of this? Have you done this thing with any other teams?

    This also makes me wonder where, exactly, have all of our high draft picks gone? Or better yet, how good would we be if all our high picks would have turned out? I’m talking to you, Brian Brohm and Justin Harrell!

    1. I would say that most of our 1st round picks are on the defense instead of the offense, we do have three 1st round picks at linebacker alone. Last year we did something like SF did this year and selected two 1st round draft picks, only on the defensive front seven instead of the offensive front five. Also keep in mind that Ted Thompson does like to trade down a lot, since technically the middle of the second round is theoretically the most value.

  5. The difference between Hawk being selected over Davis was IMO based solely on the scheme of the Packer defense and the TE situation of the Packers(LEE)didn’t warrant needing one then.Now five years later,Hawk seems to be better used in the 3-4 and we have Finley(sadly IR’ed)a much more dominant TE than Davis so in essence we earned a win win there.

    Overall,many dislike TT and his drafting but all GM’s have busts but TT is closer to the top of that ladder with the fewest.His flaw is holding on to them too long.

    I have no validation of this but I would venture that it would be a very high percentage of 1st rd’ers are actual busts when their output is compared to their expectancy and the long term hurt imposed on a team financially and lost of future picks to not get what they hoped for.

    TT will move down in the draft and many call for his head while Belichik moves down and he is a genius.Both do the same thing just in different volume.

    Teams that draft big and make the move to get into the first round are IMO changing the TEAM to suit the pick,where drafting middle rounds,your drafting re trainable players to suit and enhance(depth)where you are and plan to go.

    1. I wouldn’t say that Finley is a more dominant player than Davis, in terms of ability I still think that Davis is a much better tight end, only he has no one to throw him the ball. Overall Davis is a much more complete tight end while Finley is more of a tight end/wide reciever hybrid. I would say that overall, the Packers seem to do a good job 1st rounders, with no real “busts” (we can argue about Harrell, I will admit that he was injury prone coming in, but I do also think he got really really unlucky).

  6. not sure why ryan grant is even included in the article considering we didn’t draft him, we picked him up in a trade with the giants.

    1. Ryan Grant was included since he was the starting running back on the opening day roster. I put a selection of 256 on him since the draft only has 255 selections and he was an undrafted free agent. For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t matter who drafted a player, just when. It actually might prove my point even more, I believe all the 49ers starters were drafted by the 49ers, while the Packers somehow managed to find a 1000+ yard back in the “scrap heap” of practice squad members and undrafted free agents.

  7. What a great analysis Thomas. (BTW, that your real name?)

    Had never thought about it that way. Was very aware of the problems of missing on a QB, as the next years you try to give him a chance by not replacing him with a high draft pick, and you keep on having QB problems, but the snow ball effect of trying to compensate his play by reaching for players is a great way to look at it.

  8. Nice article, but I don’t totally buy the power running game argument (at least I haven’t seen this argument anywhere but here). The 49ers have rushed the ball 313 times for the year; the Packers 305 times. That’s a difference of less than one carry per game. I don’t believe it’s so much scheme than I do that the Packers draft better than the 49ers. Thompson is one of the very best in the NFL at drafting and developing talent. He proves it pretty much every year and seems to be getting better at it over time. It looks like he went 7 for 7 in the 2010 draft and also brought in 3 very productive UDFA (Shields, McDonald, Zombo).

    Grant was acquired for a 6th round draft pick and so his slot should be based on this pick.

      1. I think that ‘power’ refers to the types of play used rather than the number of plays; a power running game requires larger, more physical linemen (hence the requirement for them to be “dominating”) to each be able to drive back their target in the opponent’s front seven.

        In contrast, the zone blocking scheme (used by the Pack) requires smaller, more nimble linemen to double-team initially and then move on to make further blocks in the secondary. This means that they can be smaller and less outstanding physical specimen than those used in a ‘power’ run game and hence picked up in later rounds of the draft. In essence, SF have gone for linemen at the very top of the distribution curve with high draft picks, and GB have gone for linemen lower down the distribution curve with lower draft picks (with the exception of Bulaga I suppose).

        As you say though, it’s hard not be impressed by Ted’s drafting and especially the UDFA acquisitions. It’s funny to think that GB were criticized for not taking a CB in the draft (Kyle Wilson anyone?) and now Shields is third on the depth chart and looking like he could be a future starter.

        1. Well everyone needs a stud left tackle, regardless of blocking scheme. Chad Clifton was picked high as well, so its not something unusual for the Packers. I would say Shields is essentially a starter already, with the amount of nickel the Packers play and the amount of times he’s actually out wide since Woodson is busy doing his thing of being everywhere on the field.

      2. New England did a good job this year too, and I think any time you get mentioned with New England its usually a good thing

    1. The 49ers are a power running team, only they aren’t very good at it. I think the easiest way to tell is look at the offensive line; the Jets are a power running team and they have a huge offensive line with many high draft picks. A power running team must have a very dominant offensive line that can control an defense, for example you usually won’t see teams select interior lineman that often in the 1st round without being a power running team. The Jets had two (Nick Manigold and Alan Fanacea, who they released during the draft) and the 49ers have basically have all 3 from the 1st round (1st pick 2nd round, close enough) The funny thing is that while they are built to be a power running team, they aren’t very good at it.

      Keep in mind that a power running game has to be paired with a good defense (SF only has an OK defense); the reason I say that is because the power running game doesn’t score many points, but it does give you control of the clock. If the offense is playing catch up more times than not then they will have to abandon the power run and start throwing. Take for example Sunday’s game, the Packers with the lead ended up giving the ball to James starks 18 times, which is tied for the most carries this season, on the other hand the 49ers ended up lobbing the ball all of the second half in an attempt to catch up. So your comment about the number of runs is less an indictment on their scheme and more on their ability.

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