Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy Part 2: Where Have All the 1st Rounders Gone? All Green Bay Packers All the Time

In one of my previous articles (Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy: Taking A Closer Look),  which compared the Green Bay Packers’ opening day roster to that of the San Francisco 49ers was, I found that there is a huge discrepancy in the drafting strategies between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.

A reader posed this very interesting question (Hats off to Ruppert, sorry it took so long for me to get around to posting about it):

“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!”

Ruppert December 6, 2010 at 10:32 PM

My feeling was that this all stemmed from one moment in 2005 when the 49ers drafted quarterback Alex Smith 1st overall.  While the 49ers offense is literally awash with 1st round draft picks, its not like the Packers have been whiffing the for the last 5 years either.

Simply put, all the Green Bay Packers’ 1st rounders are on the defense; what’s even more interesting is that if a player wasn’t drafted in the 1st round, then the chances are good that they weren’t drafted at all.  Consider the opening day roster for the defense:

Position Name Selection
DE Cullen Jenkins 256
NT B.J. Raji 9
DE Ryan Pickett 29
OLB Clay Matthews III 26
ILB Nick Barnett 29
ILB A.J. Hawk 5
OLB Brad Jones 218
CB Charles Woodson 4
FS Nick Collins 51
SS Morgan Burnett 71
CB Tramon Williams 256
*CB Sam Shields 256

The opening day roster consists of six 1st rounders, a 2nd and 3rd, followed by a 7th rounder and then 3 undrafted free agents (I’ve included the nickel back position as a starter since it basically is with the Packers).

This means 50% of the opening day starters were drafted in the 1st round, 33% were drafted in the 7th or not at all and only 17% were drafted anywhere outside that.

The average selection for the starters is 100, which is the beginning of the 4th round, which is right in the middle of the draft, which agrees with Thompson’s BPA drafting approach.  More interestingly, the standard deviation of the opening day roster is a 109 picks, which is simply staggering.  This means that the opening day roster is composed of a lot of very high picks and a lot of very low draft picks but not many middle round picks.

What does this all mean?  Overall it means that Ted Thompson seems to do pretty well with defensive players in the high rounds (1st-2nd rounds); B.J. Raji is a solid NT, Clay Matthews III just missed out as the defensive MVP last season, and A.J. Hawk is a solid, but unspectacular LB.  In the 2nd round, Nick Collins is a perennial Pro Bowler.

Moving on to 1st round free agent acquisitions, Charles Woodson was defensive MVP in 2009 and Ryan Pickett is also a solid DE.  Since this is about the Packers drafting I won’t put too much weight into their effect, but it has to be said that Thompson really does like highly rated defensive players.

The only defensive player that could be considered a bust is DE Justin Harrell, but more because he was injured than actual ability (to which coaches claimed he was one of the best DLs when healthy).  I’m reserving judgment on Mike Neal since he’s a rookie and spent a sizable amount of time last year on IR.  Pat Lee might be joining Harrel as a bust, but he played pretty well after being called upon in the Super Bowl and might have a shot as a returner next year

Thus, it seems as if Thompson has trouble drafting defensive players in the middle rounds (3rd through 5th rounds), but then ends off with very good players in the 6th-7th rounds and undrafted players.

Tramon Williams (undrafted) was picked up from the Texans and went to the Pro Bowl this year (or at least he would have been if he wasn’t busy playing in the Super Bowl).

Sam Shields (undrafted) came from nowhere to secure the nickel back position and looks to follow in the footsteps of Williams.

The outside linebacker position across from Clay Matthews III has been manned by Brad Jones (7th round), and Frank Zombo (undrafted) and Erik Walden (6th round, via the Cowboys), all who have been solid starters, with Walden receiving NFC defensive player of the week honors in week 17 for his 3 sack, 17 tackle performance against the Bears.

With the injuries to starting ILB Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop (6th round) has filled in nicely and was given a sizable contract as well as being named a starter.

On the defensive line, DE Johnny Jolly (6th round) was a fantastic starter in 2009 until he was banned from playing this last year.

But what has happened in the middle rounds of 3-5?

Last Name First Name Age Pos College Round Pick Year
Hodge Abdul 24 LB Iowa 3rd 67 2006
Burnett Morgan 21 SS Georgia Tech 3rd 71 2010
Rouse Aaron 25 SS Virginia Tech 3rd 89 2007
Thompson Jeremy 24 DE Wake Forest 4th 102 2008
Blackmon Will 25 DB Boston College 4th 115 2006
Underwood Marviel 23 DB San Diego State 4th 115 2005
Poppinga Brady 31 LB BYU 4th 125 2005
Hawkins Michael 22 DB Oklahoma 5th 167 2005

Ted Thompson has drafted 8 defensive players between the 3rd and the 5th rounds during his tenure and it doesn’t look good; I’ll also reserve judgment on Morgan Burnett as well since he was a rookie and also spent a sizable amount of time last year on IR.

Some notable names include:

SS Aaron Rouse (3rd round) was wildly inconsistent, often giving up big plays but then also picking off Peyton Manning for a 99 yard touchdown interception; he was cut mid-season forcing the Packers to sign Matt Giordano (who wasn’t very good either).

Will Blackmon (4th round) ended up being a good punt and kickoff returner, but never ended up developing much as a defensive back and was cut after two injury filled seasons.

Abdul Hodge, Marviel Underwood and Michael Hawkins didn’t manage to last more than 2 seasons with the Packers each and most have ended up as either journeymen or free agents.

The one exception might be Brady Poppinga, he’s the only player to be a starter and was decent at best, but was phased out when the Packers switched to the 3-4 and never seemed to be able to compete for a spot as a 3-4 OLB, though he seems to have been phased out on special teams as well, so his time with the Packers is probably numbered.

Needless to say there hasn’t been much success.

I’m not sure there is any specific reason behind this. Looking on the other side of the ball, the Packers have seemed to do pretty well in the middle rounds; Jermichael Finley (3rd) is a potential Pro Bowl player when he’s healthy, and James Jones (3rd) and Josh Sitton (4th) have that potential as well.  T.J Lang (4th) might be a tackle or guard of the future, so players drafted in the mid rounds on offense are definitely in the mix.

On the upside, Thompson seems to draft well where it matters the most, namely the top two rounds.  He also seems to have a good ability to find “diamonds in the rough” with undrafted rookie free agents, but seems to have trouble finding decent talent in the mid rounds.

Going back to my original article, the reasoning behind so many 1st round defensive players is pretty obvious: Aaron Rodgers was ready to quarterback the Green Bay Packers and Alex Smith was not.  Quarterbacks can hide a variety of sins and Rodgers did exactly that.  After his “rookie” year in 2008, he produced a great season in 2009 while his offensive line was trying to get him killed.  This year he brought the Lombardi Trophy back home without a running game and while his wide receivers were dropping passes.

With Rodgers playing well and more importantly mitigating other positional deficiencies on the offense, GM Ted Thompson was able to draft for the other side of the ball, where there is no player that effects the defense like the quarterback does on offense.  One of the biggest reasons why cornerbacks and safeties are traditionally  not drafted that high is because teams could always just not throw towards them.

Plays can be run away from premier pass rushers, good run stopping teams can be thrown on and good pass stopping teams and be run on.  In the NFL today nothing can offset a quarterback; the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers showed that 5 years ago when one pick sent the two teams in radically different directions.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


15 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers Draft Strategy Part 2: Where Have All the 1st Rounders Gone?

  1. A very intersting article an would explain why some/most would assume TT drafts badly in the middle rounds if hadn’t already.So here it comes as it should at all times the BUT.

    During these draft years as noted,could we not factor in that we were a 4-3 defense and while not provable but possible,the middle round picks were more of a mixed bag of hope of finding players to hold a somewhat decent play in a 4-3 while getting the 1st two correct for the already conceived 3-4 switch.When we look at how seemingly fast and easy a switch it was,somebody(ahem like TT) might be able to justify saying they knew they were players of short term design to allow deeper search to fullfill the objective.
    Adding to that would be what attracted Capers to come in and creat a dominant 3-4 two years faster than any expert said it could be done.
    Just saying and asking.

    1. I think one thing that people haven’t really considered is that Ted Thompson managed to hit on 2 star defensive players without ever having drafted for 3-4 players. If the Steelers had managed to draft Raji and Matthews in one year that would have been considered a huge success, but Thompson managed to do it without knowing what kind of players he really wanted; I’m sure he had an idea, but ideology and reality are often far apart.

  2. A standard deviation of 109 means that 68.2% of the picks are within 109 on either side of the “mean average” which is 100. This means most picks (68%) are between -9 and 209. This doesn’t make sense…so I’ll check the work.

    1. The work is correct…so what that means is the Packers have a very wide range for their starters. Another interpretation says not much can be predicted for an actual round. TT is not predictable. Maybe that’s part of his success? Here the average of 100 and standard deviation don’t tell as much as simply looking at the mode round…1st round or undrafted.

    2. The numbers don’t match up perfectly probably because I assigned undrafted players a number of 256, because the draft usually ends around 255 (though that changes every year depending on the amount of compensatory picks assigned)

      1. I’m not being negative, just saying the stat analysis is still interesting because of the lack of sense. Yes, a larger sample size would be good, like maybe taking a look at how many of his picks started games compared to possible games.

  3. What the statistical analysis means is…

    Not very much, you see, much like real life, size matters in statistics. Sample size that is…

    1. Well what can you do? Either I can take the 5 years that Thompson has produced or I can not write an article at all. I have no idea if the n size is big enough, but whiffing on 8 “mid rounders” if not statistically significant is at least pretty interesting in my opinion.

  4. Okay, so :
    1st rounders are reserved for defensive players, baring an elite offensive player falling to our pick.
    2nd rounders are a mix.
    3rd rounders and forward should be spended on offensive players at all costs, unless a potential 2nd rounder falls (hope it’s the case with Burnett)
    And we should target defensive rookie FAs early and often, as well as past 1st rounder defensive FAs.

    1. I bet all GMs wish it was that easy. The thing to consider is that Ted Thompson isn’t following a set of rules per say, but if he actually is going by BPA, then this trend sort of results. Does this mean that BPA is overrated for defensive players in the middle rounds? It would be interesting to see how other 3-4 teams do with GMs who use the BPA approach.

      1. I wouldn’t say that BPA is overrated for defensive players in the middle rounds. I think it says instead that since middle round players are likely less talented (or maybe have more flaws) than 1st and second rounders, middle round players may have a harder time adapting to a new system. After all 7 of those players were drafted in the middle round were drafted before we actually switched to a 3-4.

      2. I wasn’t oversimplifying, as much as I was having fun with it.

        You can’t take conclusions regarding draft philosophy out of results, not with so many variables and such little sample.

        It’s amuzing, and it’s a great work that nobody has done before, but you can’t state anything more than coincidence, I believe.

        The one trend I have spotted with Thompson is that, while he’s as true a BPA guy as there is out there, he uses future needs as a sort of tiebreaker.

        QB was a future need with Rodgers (Favre).
        LB was a future need (as well as a present need) with Hawk (I think it was Diggs).
        DT was a fuure need with Harrell (Corey Williams).
        WR a future need with Nelson (Driver).
        2009 was more due to change of defense, but one can make the case that NT (Pickett) and OLB (Kampman) were future needs (but I don’t believe that was a reason for the picks).
        T was a future need with Bulaga (Clifton, Tauscher).

        Going by that reasoning, we can look at T (Clifton), CB (Woodson), WR (Jones and Driver) and possibly RB (Grant), if the brass decides backfield by committee is the way to go.

        1. Heck, one can say that actually every sinlge draft pick TT makes is based on future immediate needs. Seldomly TT has brought in guys in current position of need, but more than often when a future need presented itself, we already had a guy ready to step up.

          It’s no coincidence we are where we are. While most of the others are crawling, TT is sprinting regarding the draft. Not only he has it figured out, but he has assembled one of the best scouting department in the league.

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