We’re fast approaching the 2022 NFL Draft, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s a big one for the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, each draft has massive repercussions for the immediate and long-term future. But with the return of the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers still have a few years of an open Super Bowl window before the future Hall of Famer hangs up his boots. The team also lost their best skill position player in Davante Adams, and they have to stock their wide receiver closet. Finally, Green Bay, despite having great cap ninjitsu, doesn’t have enough money to spend on free agents, so the team needs good, cheap talent. It’s a triple threat that only the project can solve.
However, to get the most out of their draft selections, Brian Gutekunst may need to deviate from the standard Packers cutoffs. After two years of global pandemic, this class of draft has a lot of outliers. There are more older leads than usual and the measurables are everywhere.
Gutekunst has been in power long enough for us to know he has the same scouting preferences as his mentor, Ted Thompson. Gutey likes good-sized elite athletes in top positions, and he prefers young prospects.
Almost all of his draft selections are exceptionally good athletically. Although the Packers probably don’t use relative athletic scores, the vast majority of Gutekunst’s picks have scores above 8.0 out of 10. Exceptions like Jace Sternberger didn’t work well.
Size matters for the Packers reconnaissance staff. Alexander Jaire was slightly small by their CB standards, and they considered Amari Rodgers as a weapon rather than a traditional wide receiver. But the Packers have mostly met the same size thresholds over the past two decades.
Gutekunst (and Thompson) have generally offered their first players to be younger as well. Eric Stokes is Gutekunst’s oldest debut player at the geriatric age of 22. Kenny Clark has dominated offensive linemen for years, and he’s not much older than some first-rounders projected in 2022.
The project will test all of these measures later this month. The legacy of the pandemic on college football plays out this year. The NCAA has offered players an extra year of eligibility to make up for the shortened 2020 season, meaning there are prospects with up to six years of NCAA experience. Many chose to transfer schools or stay with their teams longer to make up for the lack of experience and create more gang. That means there are a lot more older leads than in most drafts.
Packer’s report Ross Uglem used his big board to look at realistic targets for Green Bay in the first two rounds. Between his 10th and 62nd ranked players (realistic goals for the Packers with their current top four picks), 11 players would be immediately disqualified solely because of their age (23 or older).
Removing those 11 players and those player positions Green Bay wouldn’t normally target early suddenly leaves a very small list of options, and that’s before measurable metrics come into play.
It’s been said many times: The Packers need to stock up on wide receivers (what’s the 2022 equivalent of a broken record? A failed podcast?). The thing is, many of the popular options at the top of the draft are either too short, too slow, or too small for the Packers.
IF Bill Huber reviewed the 2022 Receiver Pool through Green Bay’s historic thresholds and immediately found 13 Suddenly Disqualified Receivers, including popular options like Skyy Moore and George Pickens.
The offensive tackle is another interesting case. Based on long term plans for Elton Jenkins, the right tackle could be a massive need for the Green Bay offensive line. But many of the best prospects, including Bernard RaimanTrevor Penning and abraham lucasfall outside their age range or meet traditional measurable thresholds such as arm length.
Edge is an interesting case, as Joe Barry has been successful with smaller rushers in his previous saves. Mike Pettine and Mike Smith loved their big guys on the edge. Dom Capers too. Barry’s influence can change what the Packers want in their pass-rushers, opening the doors to previously overlooked options like Nik Bonitto.
If there’s one other thing we know about Gutekunst, he’s unpredictable, even with his favorite traits. He’s not afraid to trade up or down in the first round, and he’s already drafted a few players who went against type (Alexander, Amari Rodgers). Gutekunst also shocked everyone by taking an out of the blue quarterback in 2020. Just because he’s stuck to his preferences for the past few years doesn’t mean he won’t bend them in 2022, especially when options that match his preferences are rare. That’s one of the reasons why this project should be particularly exciting.
Green Bay needs to use this draft to fill the roster with affordable talent to maximize the rest of Aaron Rodgers‘ career. The Packers won’t mortgage the future to focus entirely on the present, for better or for worse. It’s not the Green Bay Rams. But Gutekunst will have to challenge his previous thresholds in this draft to get big talent early. It will be interesting to see what he does.