It’s easy to fall in love with the allure and potential of the NFL Draft. The endless scenarios of what players a team may end up with after seven rounds of drafting, with trades and undrafted free agents just adding to the fun. But how immediately does a rookie class contribute to a Super Bowl winner?
Usually, only one rookie ends up making a difference on the teams that win it all. The draft can only do so much to help a Green Bay Packers roster bring home the Lombardi Trophy that will largely be the same as last year’s. Let’s dive into that recent history and look at the impact rookies had on the last five Super Bowl champions and what the Packers might be able to learn from each of those picks.
2020: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers walked away from the last year’s draft with an anchor on their offensive line for the next decade and a dynamic playmaker who has already proven to be a huge attribute in the secondary. Tampa Bay certainly got a bit lucky in having Tristan Wirfs slide all the way to No. 13, but he’s already established himself as an elite tackle and pretty much showed that from Day 1. Similarly, Antoine Winfield Jr. is a player who many had prognosticated to go in the first round, yet who somehow fell all the way to the Bucs at No. 45.
Packers takeaway: It’s hard to see a franchise left tackle sliding all the way to the Packers’ first selection, but it could certainly be worth moving up for the right guy. Outside of that, finding a defensive back who can make an impact either as a starter or in a sub-package (nickel, perhaps?) is something that Green Bay can absolutely find within the first two rounds.
2019: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The most impactful pick for the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs team two years ago was their first selection, which actually came in the second round. Mecole Hardman finished his rookie campaign with 26 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns, good for 20.7 yards per reception. That would have led the league had Hardman not fallen just four receptions short of qualifying for that statistic.
But his biggest impact was on special teams, and the league took notice. He was named to the Pro Bowl as a returner as a rookie.
Packers takeaway: When is the last time Green Bay had a game-breaker like Hardman? Randall Cobb was used in several different ways and was certainly a weapon, but not quite like Hardman. Add someone with speed to burn as a WR4 within the Packers offense and imagine the opportunities that would present. Tyler Ervin and Darrius Shepherd have been okay. But if general manager Brian Gutekunst finds an impact special teams player in the draft, it will give Green Bay a dynamic element it has been missing.
2018: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Bill Belichick’s track record in the NFL Draft is notoriously poor, but selecting Sony Michel in the first round in 2018 proved to be an important pick. He wound up toting the rock 18 times for 94 yards and a Super Bowl in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, scoring the only touchdown of the game and helping New England control the time of possession. He wound up with 931 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the year, which are certainly pretty good numbers for a rookie.
Should the Patriots have taken Lamar Jackson, who went one pick later, or Nick Chubb, who has proven to be a better back overall? Sure, but there’s no denying that Michel was integral in helping New England win that season.
Packers takeaway: Fans might riot if Gutekunst takes a running back in the first round, given the re-signing of Aaron Jones and the selection of AJ Dillon in the second round a season ago. The takeaway here would be that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a selection that will help Green Bay forever, but rather someone ready to contribute now.
2017: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Eagles were such a weird champion following the 2017 season that it’s not a big surprise that there weren’t any real standout rookies from that season’s draft class. Derek Barnett was the first pick for Philly that season. He wound up making the All-Rookie team but was much more of a situational or rotational player than a true stud. Barnett was in the right place at the right time to recover a fumble in the Super Bowl, which was arguably the biggest play of that game.
Packers takeaway: Gutekunst has to be hoping for more than just a rotational player with his first-round pick, but if that’s what the player ends up being in his rookie season, is that the end of the world? Let’s say it’s an edge rusher who can hold his own but ends up boosting the overall value of a guy like Rashan Gary or Preston Smith. There’s inherent value in that.
2016: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
This might be the most cut-and-dry example of what a Super Bowl champion needs. Joe Thuney was a third-team All-American lineman coming out of North Carolina State, going about where he should have in the third round. However, he won the starting left guard spot and held it down all season long, playing every offensive snap in the Super Bowl as New England came from behind to beat the Atlanta Falcons. Nothing flashy, just solid, unquestioned production.
Packers takeaway: This would be a dream third-round selection for Green Bay. The offensive line is far from settled, and being able to help do that at a value mid-round pick would be nothing short of a home run for Gutekunst.
No two Super Bowl winners are made the same way, but a common thread is that they don’t whiff in the draft, especially with their first few selections. The idea of being “one piece away” is a sentiment that is familiar to Packers fans, but what that piece looks like varies wildly depending on who you ask.
A player in the mold of Tristan Wirfs is unlikely, but maybe the Green Bay front office is willing to push more chips into the middle of the table to move up. This draft will be essential to find a value pick like Joe Thuney or a game-breaker like Mecole Hardman if the Packers want to mirror what recent champions have done to get over that final hump.