Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson famously grasped onto draft picks like Gollum and the ring. By rarely using free agency, Thompson’s mindset of viewing draft capital as precious made sense, but even he understood there were times when trading up was required. When Brian Gutekunst took over in 2018, the first major draft decision he made was to trade down, adding a first-round pick from the New Orleans Saints in a move that will end up coming to define his legacy in Green Bay, good or bad.
That decision and the resulting trade to come back up and get Jaire Alexander, a potential future star, sets the table for a draft where the Packers have three top-50 picks and six in the top 120. Using the Chase Stuart draft value chart, the Packers have the third-most draft capital in 2019, behind only the Arizona Cardinals who own the No. 1 pick and the Oakland Raiders who boast three first-round selections.
An extra first-round pick provides cushion to get a little more aggressive with the rest of the draft. No matter what happens after, two shots at getting an impact player in the top-30 provide a floor for the draft class. Hitting on both picks would basically mean the rest of the class could wash out of the league and still be a successful class.
If we think of draft picks like energy, a good trade follows the Law of Conservation of Energy: draft value can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred or changed. It’s not the base value that a team like the Packers has to worry about. In terms of draft picks, four quarters isn’t as impactful as a dollar, even if they have the same true value. The trick is finding the sweet spot. At what point is having a mid-first player more impactful to your team than having a later first and other assets?
There’s a reason the trade value chart grows exponentially as it climbs: those picks offer explosive value because the ceiling for those players tends to be higher. The odds of hitting on a great player are better. Green Bay could decide to leverage this premise in its favor.
Statistically speaking, the Packers are highly unlikely to find a useful player on Day 3, so one way to go for Gutekunst could be to go all-in to get as many early picks as possible. The more bites at the apple, the more opportunities they have to hit. And when you’re taking those bites earlier in the draft, there’s a much higher degree of likelihood someone actually hits for you.
Considering the hit rate of late-round picks and the relative value of early picks, what if Green Bay punted on trying to find impact players in the late rounds? Gutekunst added players like Danny Vitale, Natrell Jamerson, Ibraheim Campbell, and Allen Lazard over the course of last season. They could be back on deals commensurate with what a Day 3 draft class might cost.
With two firsts, two fourths, and two sixths, Green Bay possesses unique flexibility to deal. To be clear, I’m not advocating any of these scenarios specifically, but rather presenting potential paths that could make sense from a value standpoint. Here are a handful of potential options.
Chase the superstar
The least likely option, but fun nonetheless so let’s talk about it. By the value chart, 12+30=4. That might be just out of range for the Packers to get Nick Bosa or Josh Allen. Along with Quinnen Williams, those three make up the top tier of this draft. But let’s say the Cardinals get crazy and take Kyler Murray No. 1, or trade to a team who does? All of a sudden that puts one of the few ultra-elite talents on the board.
From there, the Packers could take 44 and 75 to get back into the bottom of the first round, walking out of Day 1 with one the few true superstar players and another swing at a top guy. This would be antithetical to the approach this team has taken for years, but it’s not totally crazy given the kind of malleability that extra first-round pick gives Green Bay.
Stop the blue chipper’s fall
One simple option would be to take pick 75, package it with the pick 30 to move into the 19-22 range for a blue chip player who is falling. The chance to snatch up Jonah Williams, T.J. Hockenson, or even Dalton Risner, to add what they consider to be an elite talent, would be tantalizing. The backstop of keeping 44 means not sacrificing the change to get that third top-level talent. And from a draft chart perspective, the numbers work.
This is where the four quarters for a dollar idea comes in. Sure, the Packers could sit at 30, hoping a good player comes their way, or they could pay using a less valuable asset to magnify the value they can add. But that only makes sense to snag one of those top-tier guys. You don’t make the trade just to make the trade.
Patient, but aggressive
If there’s no one worth seeking out in that way, Gutekunst could stand pat longer. The value tends to bubble as the draft progresses. Players fall and value skyrockets. Picks 12, 30, and 44 yield players the team likes. Then, they package 75 with pick 115, one of their two fourth-round picks.
That could be enough to move into the bottom of the second round. The top-50 or so players in a draft tend to form a cutoff point for quality starters. If there’s a guy in that top-50 who happens to be falling, Green Bay can easily justify such a move. Add in one of the extra six-round picks and the Packers could get squarely in the top-60 in terms of draft picks.
The first-round trio
Ok, we’ve primed the pump, now let’s get weird. Let’s say the Packers find good players at 12, 30 but they were struggling to decide between a couple players with that second first, players they really like. Offer 44+75 to get back into the first round, a similar offer to what the Baltimore Ravens gave the Philadelphia Eagles to get Lamar Jackson, and one that works with the trade value chart. Wind up with three first-round picks and the chance to dynamically add top-tier talent to the roster.
After the top-100, everything is more or less a flyer. It’s either special-teams players, projects, character issue guys, or players who simply aren’t that good. As such, Green Bay could then take 115, 119 and sneak back into the high 90’s, finishing with four top-100 players, including three potential blue chip guys.
They’d be left with a fifth and two sixths just to ensure there are some extra camp bodies, but Gutekunst gets to shoot his shot with premier talent. In some ways, this is already how the New England Patriots treat Day 3 picks, more than willing to sacrifice those lottery tickets for proven NFL players in bad situations. They’re loaded with former high picks from bad teams and didn’t have to give up much to get them.
The Packers can follow a similar blueprint, replacing veterans with the accumulation of a few higher level draft assets for lower level assets. If you’re going to take a gamble—and all draft picks are a form of gambling—there are worse options than betting on talent.