So it’s not exactly a busy week in the world of the NFL (try as they might to might to make it a year long sport), and there isn’t really anything going on until the draft; the Combine and Pro Days are essentially over, free agency has definitely hit that point where teams are now waiting to see what pieces they manage to pick up in the draft before signing anyone new and basically the headlines are now composed of DeSean Jackson missing the Redskins voluntary training camp (i.e. not all that voluntary after all so it would seem) and Aldon Smith trying his best to impersonate a terrorist at an airport. Needless to say the media dull Packers are even more boring, apparently Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are going to the Kentucky Derby…which is great and all but in all honesty I don’t really care.
There is however something going on that you should care about…if only a little. That event is the annual tradition of pre-draft visits. Essentially, every NFL team is allowed to invite 30 players from the college ranks to their facilities for whatever reason; sometimes potentially draftee’s are just going to get a medical update on an recent injury, some go through positional drills or even chalk board stuff (made famous by Jay Gruden’s QB camp series on ESPN) or even just a more in depth interview for the front office/coaching staff to really get to know a player. Frankly, the Packers rarely make the news with their visits, as opposed to the Cleveland Browns, who essentially ignored the QB workouts and are instead inviting all big QB prospects for pre-draft visits instead (which is brilliant and idiotic all at the same time, got to love the Brown’s MO).
So who exactly do the Packers invite for visits and does this mean anything in regards to the draft as a whole? Below is a list of every confirmed report of a pre-draft visit I could find going back 3 years (I chose 3 years because that’s all the data I could find, deal with it). Also listed is each player’s alma mater, their ultimate draft pick and which NFL team initially signed them. Two players, Jakar Hamiliton and Brandon Hardin (listed in italics) were both undrafted rookie free agents that initially signed with other teams but were released and then signed with the Packers. I would wager that the Packers do indeed use their full allotment of 30 players, but some of these visits will never be reported (especially if they are unknown players with unknown agents), so keep in mind that this list is almost certainly incomplete.
The first thing that shows up immediately is that the vast majority of players invited to pre-draft visits by the Packers ultimately are late round draft picks or are ultimately undrafted. The average draft pick of players who had a pre-draft visit with the Packers over the last 3 years was 215, which is typically at the bottom of the 6th round (depending on compensatory picks). The two notable names on the list are Bobby Wagner and Brooks Reed, but other than that most of these players never made a name for themselves in the NFL. That average is even worse when looking at player that ultimately signed with the Packers, which at pick 233 is the middle of the 7th round. Also interesting to note is that the majority of invitees come from smaller, less well known colleges; Texas A&M center Patrick Lewis is the only player on the list who attended a SEC school, while several players heralded from schools that most fans would be surprised even had a football team (anyone watch the Colorado School Of Mines Orediggers?).
However, the interesting note is that of the 39 confirmed players who visited the Packers over the last 3 years years, about a third of them ultimately ending up with the Packers with 5 players out of 13 actually being drafted. However none of these picks were all that high, Jerron McMillian leads the group being picked with selection 133, followed by Nate Palmer at 193, Charles Johnson at 216, Ryan Taylor at 218 and Kevin Dorsey at 224. Interestingly, none of these players has made much of an impact, Jerron McMillian obviously had the best shot (and also was the biggest bust), while Charles Johnson was injured waived, leaving question marks with Kevin Dorsey (who was also injured) and Nate Palmer (who at least survived his rookie season). Ryan Taylor is definitely the best of the bunch, but again that’s not saying all that much since he’s been a career special teamer even with the injuries to Jermichael Finley.
In conclusion, pre-draft visits are something that should be noticed, but just not all that much. On one hand, the Packers will likely never select a player in the premium first 3 rounds who they previously invited to visit Lambeau Field (Thompson likes to hide his intentions too much for that to ever happen). On the other hand, if you want to make a good guess on who the Packers are going to select in rounds 6 or 7, or who they are going to sign as undrafted free agents, then combing pre-visit news would be a good idea. However, on the third hand (should you happen to have a third hand), it doesn’t appear like Ted Thompson’s acumen for finding diamonds in the rough is that linked with pre-draft visits with no real notable names showing up in the pre-draft visits from the last 3 years. It doesn’t look like Ted Thompson is much different from the rest of his GM colleagues, of the nearly 500 announced pre-draft visits last year, only 6.7% of players actually were drafted by a team who invited them for a visit, with 13 teams not drafting a single player they had invited. I think the important thing to really consider is the ultimate goal of a pre-draft visit; which is to essentially gather more information on a player when no other source or opportunity is good enough. What exactly will the Browns gain by inviting Johnny Manziel over? It’s not like they haven’t been scrutinizing his every move since he graduated high school for the last 6 months. Add to that Manziel will have been coached by his agent to speak and act in a positive way and you start to wonder if there’s any point at all. On the other hand, if you think a unknown prospect at a small school has a shot in the NFL, why not bring him in and take a better look? In the NFL world of due diligence, there’s making sure what you know is what you know (the Browns’ method) and making sure you know what you didn’t know before (the Packers’ method), I’d argue that only one team is doing it right, and it isn’t the Browns.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.