Green Bay Packers

There’s A Reason For the Packers’ Third-Round Draft Woes

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers have been one of the worst teams in the NFL at drafting in the third round under Brian Gutekunst. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. From Jace Sternberger to Amari Rodgers, Green Bay’s third-round gaffes have resulted from a combination of bad decision-making and poor luck at levels unmatched by the rest of the league.

As Bill Huber astutely points out, the Packers have been the second-worst team in the league at drafting in the third round under Gutekunst when accounting for weighted career approximate value (wAV), a stat that attempts to put a single number on the values of a player at any position from any season.

Instead of wAV, I’d like to look at Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), because Gutekunst and his staff has shown an affinity for them. RAS compiles six size and athletic testing metrics into one nice number. Five is average and eight and above is the top 20th percentile. In five drafts, Gutekunst and his staff haven’t taken a player in the first or second round who didn’t score at least an 8. However, in the third round, the front office appears to abandon this strategy, which could be a strong reason why so many third-round picks have failed.

Notable examples include Jace Sternberger (RAS of 5.18), Josiah Deguara (6.66), and Amari Rodgers (5.37). These picks become magnified because of the players taken around them Green Bay could have selected.

In Sternberger’s case, he was taken one spot ahead of Terry McLaurin (9.57 RAS) in 2019 and 21 spots ahead of Dawson Knox (9.23 RAS). Sternberger had such a poor RAS score that it’s clear the front office overvalued his ridiculous production in his final season at Texas A&M. Sternberger had 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior transfer who had only played two games at Kansas and was named first-team All-SEC.

However, college production for a TE might not be strong indicator of future NFL success when compared to RAS. George Kittle (9.49), Travis Kelce (9.27), David Njoku (9.3), Kyle Pitts (9.64), T.J. Hockenson (9.18), Darren Waller (8.87), Dallas Goedert (9.48), Mark Andrews (7.26), and Dalton Schultz (7.11) all have a RAS higher than seven. Some of these players caught as few as 22 passes in their final seasons in college. And in Kelce, Kittle, Waller, and Schultz’s case, all were drafted in the third round or later.

The front office failed to learn from this mistake and doubled down on another poor athlete at tight end in the third round of the next draft. Josiah Deguara was a curious selection in 2020 not only because of his RAS but for his presumed role in Matt LaFleur’s offense. H-backs do not hold a lot of value, especially in the third round. Ironically, it might have been LaFleur pushing for this selection. LaFleur admitted to showing college tape of Deguara to his team in 2019, praising his “hustle” and “grit.” While Deguara is still on the roster, he’s shown little in his NFL career to suggest being worthy of a third-round pick. In hindsight, the Packers were better off trading out of this round. Few players outside of Jonah Jackson (Detroit Lions) and Devin Duvernay (Baltimore Ravens) have found success in the NFL.

Amari Rodgers (5.37 RAS) is another example of a bad decision compounded by more bad decisions. He was neither athletic nor a strong fit for LaFleur’s offense, which overwhelmingly favors tall wide receivers. Rodgers, 5’9”, was the shortest wide receiver the team had taken in 16 drafts. Even more bizarre, Gutekunst traded up to select Rodgers, which might be the biggest indictment of all. Furthermore, Rodgers’ own quarterback blocked his path to playing time after he strong-armed the front office into bringing back aging veteran Randall Cobb.

It’s more than fair to assume the front office pressured the coaching staff to play Rodgers at punt returner — a position he did not have much success at in college. If there’s a clearer example of a sunk cost fallacy in football, I can’t find one. To play the what-if game, Gutekunst could have not traded any picks and taken Amon-Ra St. Brown (7.14 RAS).

Beyond these three players, Green Bay has whiffed on nearly every third-round selection since Jermichael Finley in 2008. That list includes Ted Thompson selections in Alex Green (2011), Khyri Thornton (2014), Richard Rodgers (2014), Ty Montgomery (2015), Kyler Fackrell (2016), Montravius Adams (2017), and one Gutekunst selection in Oren Burks (2018). It should be noted that Burks had an elite RAS of 9.73. Each of these can be explained away by poor selection and injury.

Ty Montgomery never had a true position, was oddly used in Mike McCarthy’s offense, and is presumed to have had an attitude problem after disobeying coach’s orders in 2018 game against the Los Angeles Rams. Kyler Fackrell tested poorly coming out of college and became an online punching bag for this play. Alex Green, Khyri Thornton, Montravius Adams, and Oren Burks all suffered serious injuries early in their careers that significantly hampered their development. So it goes. Every team gets unlucky with draft picks, and it’s unfair to blame a team for drafting a player who gets injured. Still, the Packers don’t put themselves in the best position to succeed in the third round even when players stay healthy.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the most consistent franchises in the NFL, have gotten 220 starts and 148 starts, respectively, from their third-round picks since 2018. The Lions have gotten 135 starts and one Pro Bowler in Jonah Jackson. The Bears have gotten 44 and the Vikings 31. The Packers have gotten 14.

As bad as the Packers have been in the third round, the Vikings have the dubious distinction of cutting three third-round selections from their 2021 draft. Now that’s bad. If the Packers want to avoid cycling through third-round picks like they Vikings, they should stick to their first- and second-round strategies of targeting elite athletes. It might actually be that simple.

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