Packers put finishing touches on first post-Aaron Rodgers draft class
The Packers bolstered new starter Jordan Love's supporting cast while adding potential field-tilting players on defense.
The Green Bay Packers had a busier draft week than most. In addition to officially pulling the cord on the Aaron Rodgers era, the team entered the 2023 NFL Draft armed with three top-50 picks. Accordingly, few franchises had more at stake when the festivities kicked off Thursday evening.
And those premium picks proved to be just the beginning. After a slew of trades, the Packers ultimately made 13 picks, nine of which came on the draft's final day. The sheer volume of selections will take a while to digest. Today's edition of The Leap begins that process by examining which values stood out the most, both positively and negatively.
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Which of the Packers' selections did you like the most relative to the draft slot?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: The Packers entered the draft with arguably bigger needs to fill than tight end. However, with Jordan Love taking the reins under center for the first time, how the front office bolstered the supporting cast around him understandably drew extra attention.
After making Thursday about boosting the defense, Green Bay made Friday about helping Love as he ascends the throne. General manager Brian Gutekunst invested all three of his Day 2 picks on pass catchers, each with their own risk-reward profile. But the last of those, South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft, looks like the best raw value of the bunch.
Kraft doesn't arrive in NFL as pedigreed as Luke Musgrave, the tight end the Packers took one round earlier. However, both possess extremely promising size and athleticism for the position and would have merited consideration any time on Day 2. And while Musgrave comes from a larger program, both will likely need considerable time before contributing on a consistent basis. With Kraft coming at the lower price and both entering with similar flaws -- drops and refinement as route runners -- that makes him the better value even if the consensus ranks Musgrave as the superior prospect.
And as a strategy, doubling up at a position of need tends to deliver results. Because of the lottery-ticket nature of all draft picks, the Packers will miss on a fair number of guys like every team. By adding Kraft late on Day 2 after landing Musgrave earlier, they have decreased the chances of needing to dive back into the draft for a tight end in the near future.
Perhaps some could quibble with the selection of Kraft over another tight end, Georgia's Darnell Washington, who entered the week as a favorite of the online draft community. Though Washington has clear strengths that would offer more skill-set diversity at the position, particularly his stellar blocking. However, given the entire league passed on Washington -- most did so multiple times -- it seems reasonable to wonder whether the Packers even had him on their final draft board. If so, that doesn't necessarily make them right, but they have demonstrated a strong track record of knowing when to avoid or ignore red flags.
Peter Bukowski: Call me a hipster if you want — please, don’t actually do that. I like regular coffee and will not bore you with my adoration for IPAs — but my favorite pick in this draft for the Packers was Charlotte’s Grant DuBose.
As I went through Packers types pre-draft, his name caught my attention at receiver, a small-school kid who still checked the boxes. I went to watch him and fell in football love. He’s a natural, with terrific feel, body control, tracking ability, and swagger.
He just looks and plays like an NFL receiver.
I don’t know how the adjustment will be with the jump in the level of competition. But he was one of my favorite players to watch in the pre-draft process, and although I expected him to be a late-Day 3 pick, the combination of his tape and his Packers-y-ness made me really excited to see if Green Bay would take him.
When he’s cooking preseason fourth-quarter cornerbacks, remember I said this.
And which of the Packers' picks raised the most concern for you relative to the draft slot?
JBH: Based on a cursory reading of social media, it seems that most would choose Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford as the Packers' most concerning pick from this class. But while Clifford graded as an undrafted free agent on the consensus big board and the public consensus has no worse a track record than NFL teams, remember the context. Green Bay took him in the fifth round as part of a 13-player class. Given that the draft effectively lasts only four rounds and Gutekunst and Co. had no shortage of selections, a spare dart throw on a signal-caller with a surprisingly strong athletic profile won't matter if it misses.
Conversely, the Packers made a much bigger bet when they invested the No. 50 overall pick on Michigan State wideout Jayden Reed. While Reed offers some tantalizing strengths as a prospect -- a refined route-runner by college standards, good acceleration/top-end speed, and return ability -- he measured at or below Green Bay's traditional thresholds for size at 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds.
Those thresholds exist for a reason. When the Packers have missed on wideouts, they have done so far more often when the player doesn't hit those marks. Amari Rodgers offers the most recent example. For all the genuinely strong leadership qualities and college production with which he entered the NFL, he could barely get snaps on offense. And, of course, he proved to be a disaster on special teams.
Reed has more juice and height than Rodgers, and that should help. Still, the Michigan State product falls short in some critical predictive metrics. Acme Packing Company's Paul Noonan developed WORPS (Wide Receiver On-base Plus Slugging) and combined it with RAS (Relative Athletic Score) to make WRAPS. You can learn more about them here. By those measures, Reed ranks among the most concerning receiver prospects in the 2023 rookie class.
Focusing on just Reed's RAS doesn't undercut those concerns either. While his speed scores look good to great, his explosion numbers came in worrying low for a receiver of his size. The lack of a three-cone time -- Reed chose not to run the drill at the NFL Scouting Combine and Michigan State's pro day -- should raise a few eyebrows given the importance of change of direction to the position.
Of course, that doesn't mean anyone should write off the pick. Reed said during his post-selection conference call that he currently weighs 195 pounds, more or less the same weight at which Greg Jennings played during his career. If one adjusts Reed's RAS accordingly, it makes a noticeable difference even if doing so requires the potentially flawed assumption that the wideout would still produce the other scores.
Even so, the Packers' decision to take Reed in the second round stands in stark contrast to how they've traditionally approached the position. That doesn't make it wrong, but it does present more risk than Green Bay usually accepts at that stage of the draft.
PB: I’m going to take this question in a slightly different direction because it didn’t raise the most concern but was the biggest risk. I’ll explain why in a second. My answer is Luke Musgrave.
For his career, Musgrave posted 47 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns. That’s less production than in each of the last two seasons for Michael Mayer who went a few spots ahead of Musgrave to the Raiders. He just hasn’t played or produced very much. His one “big” season, and those are heavy scare quotes, was in 2021 when he had 22 catches in 10 games for 304 yards.
A knee injury cut Musgrave’s 2022 season short after just two games and a whopping 15 targets, but we have no proof of concept Musgrave can be the TE1 of a pass-heavy collegiate offense much less an NFL offense. He was taken at pick No. 42; that unknown creates enormous risk.
Now, the reason the pick doesn’t concern me is it also brings with it the promise of elite reward. He’s an unbelievable athlete at the position, posting an RAS of 9.78 with the best 10-yard split in the class. In fact, his 10-yard split of 1.54 seconds is nearly 99th percentile all time among draft-eligible tight ends. His explosiveness is S-tier, and that’s one of the key predictors of future success for tight ends.
(Credit: Kevin Cole/Unexpected Points)
The only players on his athletic level in the 10-yard split are Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle. His play style evinces similarities to Mike Gesicki. There are incredible physical gifts with him and that’s the correct bet at tight end.
But that doesn’t mean it comes without risks. Players like Pitts and Andrews in particular produced at a high level in college while Kittle went in the fifth round. A pick in the top 50 that is almost all projection based on athletic ability at a key position of need that will have to become a focal point of the offense carries with it the potential for going sideways in a hurry.
With the draft now completed, what is the biggest remaining need on the Packers' roster?
JBH: While the Packers did select Iowa State defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. in the seventh round, safety remains their most glaring need exiting the draft. At present, Darnell Savage appears positioned to start despite the coaching staff benching him last year and subsequently deploying him primarily as a box defender and in the slot late in the season. Rudy Ford will probably enter training camp with the inside track to start at the other safety spot with Tarvarius Moore and/or Johnson providing the primary competition.
All of which explains why Gutekunst didn't dismiss the possibility of Adrian Amos, the Packers' starting safety over the past four seasons, making a return to Green Bay.
"We're not going to close the door on that," Gutekunst said Saturday following the draft. "Obviously, Adrian's done such a nice job for us over the last four years, and we've been in communication with him along the way. So, we'll see where that goes."
If the Packers always planned to bring back Amos, they presumably would have hammered out a deal before the start of the new league year. Because that didn't happen, the veteran will count nearly $8 million against the team's salary cap no matter what subsequently transpires. That Gutekunst seems open to bringing back Amos at this point underscores the dearth of talent at safety.
PB: My bit here has been that the answer is safety and Green Bay should go sign ex-Rams and Browns safety John Johnson III, but I’m going a different direction here. This team needs a veteran receiver.
During NFL owners meetings, Matt LaFleur emphasized the need to add to the receiver room and while he said they want to “add bodies,” he meant guys who have actually been around.
“Well, I think some veteran leadership would be nice,” LaFleur said in early April.
“Although I think guys like Allen (Lazard) and Randall (Cobb) did such a great job last year kind of taking those [rookie receivers] under their wing and showing them the ropes and the expectations and the practice habits that you need to have to go out there and play at a high level. But there’s going to be a lot of growth with those two guys, certainly Romeo (Doubs) and Christian (Watson). And then you’ve got Samori Toure and we’ve got a small glimpse of Bo Melton last year.”
Corey Davis always made sense as that guy when it looked like he’d either be cut or a part of the Rodgers trade. When that didn’t work out, perhaps Green Bay pivoted to an all-youth movement at the position. But given LaFleur’s insistence just a month ago for some veteran leadership, it appears likely they’ll try to add at least one receiver with more NFL experience than just a rookie season … because right now, they don’t have literally anyone on the roster for whom that is true.
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