With the 2022 NFL draft coming up in April there are two ways in which Packers GM Brian Gutekunst may approach it.
But first, let’s establish some facts. Gutekunst has drafted 37 players in his time as GM since 2018. There was a pattern to his first three drafts.
The Packers NFL Draft Approach in 2018-2020
As some Packers fans know, there was a draft pattern that developed over his first three drafts from 2018-2020. 22 out of 25 picks had RAS (Relative Athletic Score) scores of 8.0 or higher. A number of high-profile Packer bloggers caught on to that and mentioned it in their writings.
With that being said, let’s preface this before people start freaking out about RAS. This is not to say the Packers are going on http://ras.football, typing a player’s name in, and if their score was over 8 they put him on their board. The Packers have their own draft methods that none of us are privy to. But that pattern does show there is something similar they are looking for in players: athleticism and RAS.
What is RAS?
Each player gets a number assigned to them after they do all their workouts at the NFL Combine or their pro day. All their workout numbers are put into a formula and it comes up with a number. It is a 0-10 number. It is a scale of how athletic that player is in relation to his peers at his position. A 10, of course, would be the elite of the elite athlete, and a 0 would be a very poor athlete.
Another fact to establish: Does Brian Gutekunst and the front office / scouts know what RAS is?
Most definitely. It would be naïve to think they didn’t. Teams have been known to purchase draft guides. Teams also will interview a prospect’s elementary school teacher. The draft is a huge investment for teams. They want to get as much information as possible to eliminate as many mistakes as they can. Also, the creator of RAS, Kent Lee Platte, has stated he has had NFL scouts contact him before. So teams do know about it.
What happened in 2021?
If we look at the 2021 draft, it seems like there was a bit of a switch in the Packers’ philosophy. Out of the seven picks who had RAS scores, only three scored an 8.0 or higher. Tedarrell Slaton was close with a 7.96. Even if we include him, that is four out of seven. A bit of a departure from previous years. So the question becomes “what happened?” Was there a major switch in how the front office approaches the draft?
The answer is no. The old saying applies here “A leopard can not change its spots.” Gutekunst, and the vast majority of the scouts, hail from the Ted Thompson / Ron Wolf tree. If you go back and look, Thompson and Wolf valued athletes. So then what happened?
The 2021 draft was a continuation of their “all-in approach.” If you look at a number of the players drafted in ’21, they are guys with a lot of experience. Guys with a high floor. Guys who could fill certain roles, but maybe didn’t have the athletic upside of previous draft picks — but also didn’t have the same ‘bust potential’. Let’s talk about some examples:
The Packers drafted him over the more highly thought of Creed Humphrey. The same one who scored a 10 on the RAS scale and was thought to be the #1 center in the draft. Many wondered why. The reason?
Higher floor and experience in the same zone-blocking scheme the Packers run. Humphrey played in a man scheme. So the Packers valued Josh Myers’ NFL zone-blocking readiness to Humphrey’s potential, even though he scored out as a lesser athlete.
Amari Rodgers tested out pretty average. Which seemed weird, since all the wide receivers Gutey had drafted before all scored over 8 on the RAS scale. The Packers also traded up for him. Nico Collins and Anthony Schwartz were still on the board. So then, why did they draft someone so different from previous receivers?
Similar reasons to Myers. He had a lot of experience at a big program and could fill a very specific role, even if his athletic limitations put a damper on his upside. He could return punts and play slot. Cobb wasn’t on the roster at the time, and they wanted someone to come in and fill that role as a rookie.
Shemar Jean-Charles was another “all-in” pick, even though he tested out below average in athleticism and was a bit on the small side for their usual defensive back picks at 184 pounds (they usually draft guys 190+). There were guys who scored a lot higher in athleticism and even size. Players like Brandin Echols, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Rodarius Williams, and Rachad Wildgoose. The reason they took Jean-Charles?
Again, experience and fit. He had a lot of special teams experience, and that is what he was drafted for. He may never be more than a #4 corner and special teamer, and that’s fine because that is what they drafted him for.
While not the average to below-average athlete some of the others are, McDuffie is still an outlier for a normal Gutekunst linebacker pick. Gutey’s, and even Thompson’s, MO at linebacker has been guys with solid size — in the 6’1+ 235+ pound range.
McDuffie falls a bit short of that at 227 — and a pumped up 227 at that — where his frame is pretty maxed out. His upside is probably limited due to his size and poor agility. But again, that’s not why he was drafted. He was drafted to play special teams, and maybe be a #4 linebacker.
Finally to the Options:
Which option the Packers take relies on one person: Aaron Rodgers. Whether he’s back or he retires / is traded will tell us which approach the Packers and Gutekust likely go with.
With this approach, we will probably see a similar draft to 2021. A few highly-athletic players with upside, and a number of ‘role players’ or ‘pro-ready’ type guys to fill specific roles and help the team get to a Super Bowl in 2022.
The Rebuild approach
This is if Rodgers is gone. If he is gone, the Packers are not a Super bowl contender in 2022 — and probably not even 2023. So why take a bunch of guys with limited upside who won’t grow with your young roster? If this happens we will see the Packers return to their approach from 2018-2020.