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Why we don’t have to wait to grade the Packers’ 2018 draft

We have no idea if any of these rookies are going to great or terrible, so how can we decide how good this draft was? Easy: grade the process.

2018 NFL Draft
Fans didn’t love giving up the chance to draft Derwin James, but the Packers made the right choice adding value.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Forget the established NFL truism that it takes three years to decide if a draft pick is any good. Or don’t forget it, but acknowledge that we don’t need it right now — not to establish whether the Green Bay Packers had a good draft. Not just the Packers, but any team, can be graded on their ability to manage resources, mitigate risk, and maximize the value of their selections.

Instant draft grades get rightfully dismissed because they too often rely on pre-draft evaluation of players and their quality to assess the grading scale. We simply don’t know enough to do that and usually those grades end up looking foolish in a few years when we actually get determine who is good and who isn’t.

Instead, we can grade the process. And when it comes to approach, organization, strategy and value, Green Bay deserves high marks for the 2018 class.

That beings with the trade out of 14 with Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds on the board. Fans and some media wailed and gnashed their teeth about giving up the opportunity to draft one of these blue chippers, but the Saints gave up a historic haul to trade up outside the top-10, particularly for a non-quarterback. New Orleans essentially valued the pick, based on the trade value chart, as worth more than the No. 1 pick.

With the most picks in the league, Green Bay knew it would get back into range, something Gutekunst talked about after the first round. This was a plan, not a happy accident. The Packers knew they could trade down and still trade back into a range to get one of the players they coveted.

Speaking of players, Jaire Alexander was the top corner on a number of media boards and widely considered, at worst, one of the two or three best in the class. He has elite athletic ability with a SPARQ score in the top 10% of corners in the NFL, ball skills, and plays not only a premium position but a position of great need for the Packers.

Whether they nailed this eval or not, picking an uber-athlete at a need position, particularly a guy who can play the slot where the Packers lack depth, was an ideal strategy.

Critics point to the 76th pick given up, but Green Bay made that move knowing it held significant Day 3 capital to be used to move back into Round 3, something they also knew ahead of time they could do. Once they traded the pick, Gutekunst confirmed they were watching their board during the third round and waiting to see if any of their guys fell.

One did, and they moved back up to get Oren Burks, giving up only minimal assets in the process considering how many they held to begin with. Giving up 76 was more or less a wash because it only cost a fourth and one of Green Bay’s fifths. They basically turned 101 into 88 by adding the fifth-rounder, which was one of many extra selections at their disposal. This too, was an excellent move whether or not Burks turns out to be great.

In between those picks, Green Bay watched teams at the top of the second round reach for a number of players who likely wouldn’t have been in play for the Packers. They stood pat at 45, believing one of their guys would still be available. That move paid off in the form of Josh Jackson, a potential first-round player.

While one could argue they got lucky, there were a number of players with possible first-round grades, including Jackson, available to start Day 2. I wrote at the time there were roughly a dozen such players. Standing pat and believing one of those guys would fall made sense and their patience was rewarded.

And on Day 3, the Packers threw resources at the receiver position, one of their true need positions on the roster, with the understanding these late-round picks are lottery tickets. If one of those receivers becomes a decent player, the investment will be worth it and it comes at a premium position. That’s a smart allocation of resources.

The most puzzling move, on its face, was the investment in special teams with a punter and a long-snapper going on Day 3. And it’s not just that; the Packers used legit draft capital on them. But this is what a team with 12 draft picks is able to do. If Green Bay had a single selection in every round, it likely doesn’t take either player. They had multiple, so they could. Having extra picks is itself a luxury, so using them in a way that might be frivolous on another team isn’t for the Packers.

We can quibble with the overall trajectory of the draft without an edge rusher or projected offensive tackle at the next level. But Gutekunst also didn’t press his board, reaching for a player simply because it was a need. Instead, he understood the pass rush can get better with better coverage. Questions will linger about the offensive line, but if Bryan Bulaga stays healthy, he’s the answer.

Even these are more top line critiques of the draft. They are process oriented, but also lack context. There has to be a player at the position worth picking when Green Bay picked. If there wasn’t, they did the right thing by not picking one.

When we take each pick in the context of what the Packers needed, what they got and what they used to get there, Brian Gutekunst’s draft process has to be considered a success. Even if the players turn out to be just OK, the continued use of this approach should result in success.

Remember, even Ron Wolf’s first pick, Terrell Buckley, didn’t work out and things turned out OK for Wolf’s career. Packers fans hope Gutekunst’s first pick pans out better, but remember who Jaire Alexander’s cornerbacks coach was his freshman year at Louisville: Buckley.

Gutekunst should get an A just for the beautiful symmetry of it.

We can save the player grades for later, three or maybe ever four years down the road. For now, it’s clear Gutekunst’s process worked. And as Aaron Rodgers has tweeted a number of times this offseason (in a nod to Philly sports), we have to #TrustTheProcess.