Critical lessons for the Packers to follow during the 2023 NFL Draft
The NFL draft is more art than science. Teams surely get into trouble putting more faith in the je ne sais quoi of a player than what’s on tape or what’s in the box score, but that’s not to say data can’t and shouldn’t play a role in the NFL draft. Those who don’t learn the rules of history … you know the rest. And history has plenty of lessons to offer that can help make us smarter about how we -- or in this case, NFL teams -- approach the draft.
Below is a list of rules historically supported by data that can help us think about what we’re watching starting Thursday night and how it can allow us to evaluate the Green Bay Packers’ draft after the fact based on their process.
1. Knowing the mainstream perception can help a team manage risk
This is importantly different from never taking a risk or never going outside the wisdom of the crowd, but it’s important to understand that doing so elevates the risk of missing on a pick based on the history of the NFL draft. In short, the further a team strays from the conventional wisdom of the crowds (public draft boards, etc.), the more likely they are to miss on the pick relative. This, of course, is relative to their chances of hitting on the pick in any case, which is already not much better than a coin flip in most cases.
And in a twist worthy of an HBO limited series, the public isn’t any worse than teams at predicting these things, according to a Pro Football Focus study. In other words, the public data is pretty good!
This is relevant to some of the past handful of drafts for the Packers where Gutekunst has reached in relation to consensus on Quay Walker, Eric Stokes, and Jordan Love. He may end up being right about all of them, but history says that’s highly unlikely.
2. Understand where positional sweets spots are
History matters. When the NFL has traditionally been bad at sorting positions and the hit rates aren’t meaningfully different across rounds, try to avoid them. Pro Football Focus did an extensive study on historical hit rates and found positions like off-ball linebacker, tight end, and interior offensive line are not traditionally well understood by NFL teams.
In other words, we aren’t very good at deciding what makes a good player at those positions. It’s best to avoid them early, especially linebacker and interior offensive line because their value even in the best of circumstances isn’t high.
Luckily, the league has been much better about finding premium position players early on but that also means if you want a starting-caliber pass rusher, offensive tackle, or quarterback, you better get him in the first round. And while the value of first-round receivers is there, PFF concluded the sweet spot is likely in Round 2, where the Packers have historically crushed the rest of the league finding value.