As the Green Bay Packers approach their first NFL Draft with Brian Gutekunst as general manager, one of the questions that fans and media alike are asking is about how closely his strategy will resemble his predecessor. Gutekunst was first hired into the Packers’ front office when Ron Wolf was the GM, and he has served in the organization for Ted Thompson’s entire tenure in that position.
Thompson, of course, is remaining with the team in a scouting capacity, providing valuable information and insight to Gutekunst. However, the 44-year-old “Gutey” is now the one who, to paraphrase his own words, puts the players up on the board.
However, with 13 Thompson-led drafts to look back on, we have enough of a sample size to spot trends with how Thompson tended to use his picks. We scrubbed through each of Thompson’s draft choices from 2005 through 2017 and assigned them point values based on the traditional Draft Trade Value Chart to see what conclusions we can draw about Thompson’s true tendencies in drafting different positions throughout his tenure. Note that we assigned each player to the position that he was primarily drafted for; for example, Ty Montgomery was drafted as a wide receiver prior to being moved to running back, so he is classified as a wideout in this analysis.
In regard to trades, we factored in times that Thompson traded up in the draft to select a certain player, assigning the value for the picks that were traded away in order to acquire the specific selection instead of the value of the specific draft slot. We ignored trades back in the draft, however, because it would be much more difficult to assign a value to each pick acquired; instead, those situations simply used the value of the draft pick that was actually used.
For example: Thompson traded picks 2.41 (490 points), 3.73 (225), and 3.83 (175) to acquire pick 1.26 (700) in 2009, selecting Clay Matthews. We used the 890 points for the three picks traded away as the value of the draft capital used to acquire Matthews rather than the 700 for that specific selection. Likewise, when the value of the picks traded was less than the pick acquired, we still used the value of the traded picks to reflect what the Packers actually gave up to make the selection.
What we found when breaking down the selections by position was fascinating and tells a story about one specific position:
Thompson Draft Capital by Position
|Position/Group||# of picks||Draft Value|
|Position/Group||# of picks||Draft Value|
Because the Packers used both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses through Thompson’s tenure, we broke the front seven down into three categories: interior defensive line (which includes 4-3 DTs and all 3-4 down linemen), edge rushers (4-3 DEs or 3-4 OLBs), and off-ball linebackers.
What stands out among this table is the fact that the Packers have used more than twice the draft capital on interior defensive linemen than on any other single position with just under 5,000 points. In fact, based on the value of individual picks, Thompson used four of his top nine picks on linemen: B.J. Raji (9th overall, 2009), Justin Harrell (16th, 2007), Datone Jones (26th, 2013), and Kenny Clark (27th, 2016).
Next up is the wide receiver spot, which despite having the same number of picks as DL — 18 — has less than half the total draft value spent on the position. Of course, this is largely because Thompson had tremendous success finding wide receivers in the second round.
The next tier of positions consists of four spots: off-ball linebacker, offensive tackle, edge rusher, and safety. However, linebacker is skewed drastically by the selection of A.J. Hawk at 5th overall in 2006, Thompson’s single highest-value pick ever. That pick took up a whopping 1700 points, and setting that selection aside would drop linebacker down into a similar category as running back or interior offensive line.
Of course, the quarterback position has required relatively little draft capital, since Thompson selected a Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall pick in his very first draft. The stability he has provided has ensured that the team drafted only one other quarterback higher than round five since.
Finally, at the bottom of the chart we have the “devalued positions” in Thompson’s tenure: running back, interior offensive line, tight end, fullback, and special teams. I argue that off-ball linebacker should belongs in this group as well based on the non-Hawk draft picks.
What value does this analysis hold? It is a little difficult to tell because the draft pick values are so massively skewed towards the very highest draft picks. However, it is clear that Thompson had more success in drafting wide receivers later than he has with drafting defensive linemen early. Likewise, it shows which positions he truly valued enough to spend significant capital on them — specifically defensive line, wide receiver, cornerback and safety, offensive tackle, and edge rushers. The positions that are treated as priorities should come as no surprise to Packers fans who have closely followed Thompson’s tenure, but it is valuable to see them so clearly defined.
Will Brian Gutekunst value these positions similarly to his predecessor? Time will tell whether we ever get a large enough sample size to run a similar analysis on him, but with the Packers appearing poised to draft a defensive back or edge rusher with the 14th overall selection this April, it seems unlikely to change, at least for 2018.