As we approach the start of the NFL draft, every media outlet is posting their mock drafts and putting up their big boards. A lot will be made of the Packers and what they need and who they draft (seemingly most having them drafting TJ Watt).
One that stuck out to me was Ryan Woods’ column about 1st round picks being spent on the defensive side of the ball and not seeing a positive result. While it’s hard to argue otherwise seeing the defense last year, it only scratches the surface of the real problem. The issue is primarily where the Packers have been drafting more than who they have been. I look at the last 10 years of 1st round picks, average out each pick’s PFF rating (and in some cases, estimating) and determine how having a ‘1st round pick’ isn’t really what it’s cracked up to be.
A Brief Explanation of My Methodology
I went into each players PFF rating and, based on their rating, graded each 1-6, 6 being the highest. 6 represents an Elite Player, 5 a High Quality Player, 4 an Above Average Player, 3 Average, 2, Below Average, 1 is Poor. This simplified the process when it came down to unknowns in PFF, because of ‘early’ retirement or other reasons for a lack of rating. When I reached the 2009 draft, I dropped each player’s lowest grade to account for injuries and outliers. I dropped 2 for players drafted in 2007. For players who either didn’t have PFF ratings or needed a slight bump based on past performance (ex. JJ Watt and Darrelle Revis) I gave grades based on similar performers at that position. After that, it was all averages and pivot tables on my master spreadsheet.
General Success in the 1st Round
As Packers fans, we have grown accustomed to a winning culture, given who we’ve had at the helm year after year. While it’s easy to say any year that doesn’t end in the Super Bowl is a disappointment, it’s never really that simple. Every team, even the reigning champion New England Patriots, have holes in their team that they need to address in the draft. For teams like the Packers, it’s difficult to address needs when you are constantly picking toward the back end of the draft. In fact, the Packers have regularly been drafting, on average, at pick 23 or later, the highest in the league since 2007 (Yes, higher, on average, than the Patriot). It stands to reason that the farther you are away from a top pick, the less likely you are to find an impact player. The problem is just HOW less likely you are to find that kind of player.
The drop off from 15 to 20 is substantial. Picks 1-10, according to PFF, you are almost guaranteed to find a starting caliber player or better. What’s interesting, over the last 10 years, picks 11-21 have had a similar success rate, with players grading out within fractions of each other. Once you enter the 20’s, where playoff teams primarily reside, you go down almost an entire grade according to PFF (2.87 vs 2.35). The problem is, to suggest like Ryan Woods did, that the Packers have “failed” to find players on defense in the first round doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, they have used their last five 1st round picks on the defense, but what are those picks actually worth?
According to Walter Football, based on where the Packers have drafted the last 3 years (27 or later) there is a negligible value difference between the 27th pick and the 33rd pick (the first pick in the 2nd round). So while they’ve been addressing defense in the 1st round, it’s consistently fringe players who likely should be drafted in the 2nd round, based on where their pick is and their needs. Expecting every single one of them to be a hit is unrealistic. The funny part is, the Packers, despite consistently drafting later than everyone, are in the middle of the pack for PFF ratings of their first round picks, ranking 19th in average PFF rating. Considering where the are drafting and who is at the helm, that’s pretty respectable. Looking at the chart above, only 2 teams have drafted better, on average, picking later than 20. So while there will be some to say “but the Patriots…” let’s not forget that they have fewer 1st round picks than most because of trading out and certain…legal issues, making their success more amplified in the data.
Packers 1st Round Return on Investment
Looking at the ten 1st round picks the Packers have had since 2007, only 2 jump off the page as clear whiffs (Sherrod & Harrell). The jury is still out on Randall, and seeing as he still has 2 years remaining on his rookie deal, I’m not ready accept his rating as poor just yet. Jones is the only other performer that stands out. Seeing as the 2013 draft was a quagmire, I can’t really blame the Packers for missing here. According to PFF, the average rating of 1st round picks has been a 2.72. Even granting that those 4 picks were complete misses, the Packers still have had a 60% hit rate of average starter-or better success rate in the 1st round, and going 3 of 5 in the last five years. In this, we are also GROSSLY undervaluing the contributions of Bryan Bulaga as merely an ‘average’ right tackle. While Perry needs to build off his success and Clark needs to show consistency, it’s hard to say that the Packers whiffed when they acquired players at positions of need that are not only serviceable, but add value to your team.
Since 2007, the number of below-average or worse players in the first round has been anywhere from 9 to 18. The fact that the Packers have only had a few speed bumps in the crap-shoot that is the draft is remarkable. So, while the Packers haven’t nabbed world beating talent, they have had a fine return on their first round investments.
Green Bay does not need a top 5 defense to win a Super Bowl. Hell, they don’t even need a top 10 defense to win it all. They need a defense that isn’t a liability and gives the ball back to its super human quarterback. That being said, bounce back campaigns by Rollins and Randall, progress from guys like Clark and Martinez, and another solid draft will bring this team close enough to the ultimate prize. On Thursday, just sit back, maybe grab a drink and just let the draft board fall. The Packers aren’t far off. One player could not only move the needle, but entirely alter the trajectory of this current team’s legacy.