The 2021 draft seemed to throw a lot of knowledgeable Packers fans and bloggers for a loop. It seemed to deviate from the “typical” Packers draft. Many Packers bloggers cited previous draft statistics to help other fans identify potential Packers draft picks heading into the 2021 draft. For example, 22 of 25 plays that had a RAS score taken by Brian Gutekunst had a score of 8.0 or above.
These players tended to be somewhat raw with a lot of upside. These players were usually going to take a year or two to develop. The Packers were able to afford this because they usually drafted players a year before they were going to need that player to play an important role on offense or defense. Rashan Gary and Jordan Love are recent examples, further back guys like Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson. Players like David Bahktiari, Elgton Jenkins, and Corey Linsley were expected to sit out at least a year but were forced in early due to injuries.
Also, there were long-held thresholds the Packers held at certain positions. Whether that be a height minimum, weight minimum, certain positional experiences, or athleticism standards. hFor example, the front office never drafted receivers under 5’11. Randall Cobb is the only exception to that rule. Another similar one was at cornerback where since Ron Wolf they hadn’t drafted a cornerback under 5’10 ½ until of course Jaire Alexander who was 5’10 ¼. Outside of Corey Linsley, Caleb Schlauderaff, and Jake Hanson, every offensive lineman drafted by Ted or Gutekunst had tackle experience in college. But the interesting thing here is Gutekunst deviated from the Packers’ previous draft strategies in 2021. This is what is going to be delved into in this article and why.
First, let’s start with the Packers’ 1st pick. Eric Stokes from Georgia. With the selection of Stokes, he was not a deviation from the Packers’ usual MO. It is easy to see why. Stokes is 6’0 5/8th 194 with a RAS score of 9.37. Just from an athletic standpoint, he fits perfectly. He also went to a power five conference. Gutekunst seems to like to take players from those conferences with his first-round picks. Even more, Stokes played for a big program in Georgia that constantly is a good team and puts players in the NFL every year.
Another less talked about threshold that the front office seems to place on first-round picks is age. They do not take players in the first round older than 22 and prefer them to be 20 or 21. Stokes fit this as well. The only thing that stands out about Stokes was his agility testing. He tested poorly in the short shuttle and was very average in the 3 cone drill. The packers tend to prioritize these tests in all positions. They must have let it slide a little due to the rest of his testing being so good.
Stokes was the outlier in this group in that he fits the Packers’ usual draft pick. The rest of their picks fall out of their usual purview one way or another.
Next would of course be Josh Myers from Ohio State. He had no athletic testing due to recovery from offseason surgery. But based on his film he was not an elite athlete. It is highly doubtful he would have scored at 8.0+ on the RAS scale. A lot of fans though were surprised by his selection. The consensus among most draft experts was that either Landon Dickerson from Alabama or Creed Humphrey from Oklahoma was the top center in the class. Dickerson went at pick 37 to the Eagles. But when the Packers pick came up and Humphrey was there people assumed if the Packers were going to take a center that they would take Humphrey. He fit their usual approach to the draft. The former Sooner scored an epic RAS of 10. He had a lot of upside to his game as well.
But the Packers surprised everyone and took Myers. People didn’t understand it. They felt the Packers screwed up in taking the “lower-rated” Myers. But the truth is there was a reason for this. Myers was a better fit for the Packers to come in and slide into the starting center spot. Firstly, he has a very high football IQ. Which gives him a pretty high floor. Also, he spent his career at Ohio State playing in a similar zone blocking scheme. So it would be a smoother transition to Green Bay’s system. Maybe his upside wasn’t as high as a Creed Humphrey, but that was not important to the packers right now. They were going to need him to hit the ground running.
Now to their 3rd pick. Amari Rodgers from Clemson. He again did not fit the Packers’ thresholds. He was even shorter than Randall Cobb at 5/9 ½. His RAS score was even a low (for the Packers) 5.36. Another thing with Rodgers is he was not a receiver with much of an upside, which the Packers usually love. He mostly played out of the slot at Clemson. Like Myers, there was an exact role that they drafted him for. Of course, this was all before the Cobb trade. But the role that was planned for him was similar to Cobb. Play the slot, return some punts, and maybe get a few gadget plays here and there.
They knew his upside was limited. Rodgers’ size, athleticism, and short arms limit that. That is not why they drafted him. Rodgers will probably never be anything more than what he was drafted to be. While he can break some tackles due to his size and his savvy. He is not going to go out there and break 20 tackles and put up 900+ yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in a season. Rodgers may not even put up 800 yards in a season. But that’s not the role they will be asking him to fill, and they wanted him to be able to slide into that role as a rookie with minimal effort.
With Green Bay’s 4th pick they took Royce Newman out of Ole Mississippi. Newman was taken to compete for a starting spot at guard and to offer tackle and guard depth if he couldn’t win a starting spot. Newman’s athletic testing did not scream Packer. His agility grades were kind of just OK. He did poorly on the 3 cone drill. Which has been said before the Packers value highly. His positional versatility did fit though. Newman is already 24 years old. The Packers usually don’t take guys that are that old. It usually speaks to them not having much of an upside. They have usually physically peaked and had minimal growth potential.
On film, he reminds you a bit of Mark Tauscher. In that, his technique isn’t perfect and he is not the greatest athlete, but he just somehow gets the job done. He does not look like the typical Packers offensive lineman who has the athleticism of a tackle in the body of a guard. He was just a two-year starter at Ole Miss so there is some upside there. The point is that he was drafted to see if he can compete for a starting job, if not though at least the Packers would have a decent depth lineman who could play guard or tackle.
With their first pick in the 5th round, the Packers took defensive lineman TJ Slaton from Florida. Slaton is another departure from the Packers’ usual draft pick. First, he is 330. The Packers do not usually draft linemen that big. The last time they drafted one that big was BJ Raji in 2009. Slaton also right now is more of a run-stuffing nose tackle. They do not usually draft those types of guys. They either draft pass rusher types like Kingsley Keke or guys who can do both like Kenny Clark.
Slaton does have some upside in that he could develop his pass-rushing skills. But even if he doesn’t they at least have a guy who can come in and take 10-20 snaps a game during obvious run downs. Due to his subpar agility scores and his lack of playing agility his upside as a pass rusher is not high. They took him to fill that role because they have had trouble defending the run. So again they took another guy who has a high floor who can fill a specific role as a rookie.
The second pick in the 5th was Shemar Jean-Charles a corner out of Appalachian State. Shemar again is another pick that didn’t fit the front office’s usual defensive back pick. First, let’s start with his size. He is 5’10 /8ths below their 5’10 ½ threshold. He also only weighs 184 pounds. The Packers like their corners bigger. They like them bigger so they can play physical with receivers late in the season when it gets cold in December and January. Jean-Charles did not test out well at his pro day. He scored a RAS of 4.27. The last time they drafted a corner with that low of a score was Quinten Rollins in 2015 who had a score of 4.71. Going back to 1999 they have not drafted a defensive back with a score below Rollins 4.71.
Going into even more detail is his agility scores were bad. Jean-Charles 3 cone score of 7.15 was the slowest out of any draft pick since Tyrone Culver in 2006. All that adds up to a player with minimal upside. Which again historically is not something the Packers do. Now he was drafted to fit a specific role. SJC was a very good special teams’ player at Appalachian State. The Packers needed help on special teams and that is why he was drafted. Watching him in preseason you can see his subpar athleticism in coverage. The Packers have switched him to the slot. At Appalachian State, he exclusively played on the outside so there is a little bit of a learning curve. Even still his upside is at best a decent nickel back in a few years. But for this season he will only play special teams outside of some injuries happening.
6th and 7th round picks:
When it comes to the 6th and 7th rounds though those picks are just the team taking the best available player on the team’s board. Even with that being said Isaiah McDuffie was drafted for a specific role. Similar to Shemar Jean-Charles. He was drafted for his ability to help out the underperforming special teams group. McDuffie is an undersized speedy linebacker. Going back to 1994 the Packers have not drafted a linebacker as light as him. McDuffie lacks size and strength and may never be able to be anything more than a sub-package linebacker and special teamer. But again he was drafted to fill that specific role, not the usual Packers MO of drafting a player with upside who could grow into something much more.
With the Cole Van Lanen pick though. That pick was classic Packers. Van Lanen was a college left tackle who the Packers have moved to guard and right tackle. He had a good pro day. He only started a total of 19 games at Wisconsin so there is some untapped potential there he could develop into a starter down the line or he could end up as a career journeyman.
With the Packers’ final pick Kylin Hill, he fit with this year’s drafts strategy. To get a guy who can fill a specific role this year. Hill was drafted to be the team’s 3rd down back. Hill is filling in the Jamaal Williams role in other words. He can carry it, he can play in the passing game, and he can pass block. He is a little more dynamic than Williams though.
Out of 9 picks, 7 were drafted to fill a specific role this season and possibly beyond. Players who may not have the high athletic upside of the Packers’ usual drafts, but guys who the front office and coaches knew could come in right away as rookies and fill that role. The reason is they needed to find guys to fill those specific positions. Due to either a departed free agent (see: Corey Linsley, or Jamaal Williams), a weakness in a position group (Special Teams), or due to injury (Bahktiari being out and Jenkins sliding out to left tackle). This is another example of this team being all in for this season.