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Packers’ approach to first-round draft picks combines both athleticism and youth

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On Thursday, the Packers continued to demonstrate a focus on youth as much as athletic ability in round one.

Indiana v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers love drafting exceptional athletes. That much is clear from the team’s draft classes over the past several years and is particularly obvious when looking at the last eight rounds of drafting since Brian Gutekunst started as the team’s general manager. In 2018, for example, nine of the Packers’ ten non-punter picks had RAS values greater than 8, with eight of them over

Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday continued that trend, as the team landed elite athletes in edge rusher Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage. The two combined for a lot of green numbers on the RAS board, with only Savage’s size keeping him from a value over nine:

However, recent drafts have shown that as important as athleticism is to the Packers from top to bottom in a draft class, age appears to be a critical factor as well when deciding who to draft in the first round. To be sure, a small sample size can skew the numbers, but the trends are clear: the Packers are more likely to draft a young player in round one than an older one.

Let’s look back at the Packers’ draft picks by round in each of the past few years to see this in action. Below are the picks from days one and two going back to 2014, along with each player’s age on draft day.

First Round

  • 2019: Rashan Gary (21), Darnell Savage, Jr. (21)
  • 2018: Jaire Alexander (21)
  • 2016: Kenny Clark (20)
  • 2015: Damarious Randall (22)
  • 2014: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21)

Second Round

  • 2018: Josh Jackson (22)
  • 2017: Kevin King (22), Josh Jones (23)
  • 2016: Jason Spriggs (21)
  • 2015: Quinten Rollins (22)
  • 2014: Davante Adams (21)

Third Round

  • 2018: Oren Burks (23)
  • 2017: Montravius Adams (21)
  • 2016: Kyler Fackrell (24)
  • 2015: Ty Montgomery (22)
  • 2014: Khyri Thornton (24), Richard Rodgers (22)

Check out those small numbers above. The Packers haven’t drafted a player older than 21 in round one since picking Damarious Randall in 2015, and he was 22 at that time. In fact, only four picks in days one or two since 2014 have been older than 22 on draft day, and only one of them was drafted before round three.

The Packers have certainly put first-round grades on players older than 22 in recent years, and again, some of this is the luck of the draw. Some is also a function of the fact that the first round often tends to be filled with underclassmen, precisely because players who are likely to be high draft picks tend to leave for the draft with a year of college eligibility remaining. But still, the Packers clearly value players who are on the younger end of the spectrum, likely because they have more time to develop before reaching their physical primes.

Take a look at Kenny Clark, for example. He was not only a great athlete for a defensive lineman, but he was 20 years old. At that age, Clark was able to further develop his already exceptional athletic ability in Green Bay; clearly that is preferable to the Packers than taking a player with similar or lesser physical tools who is three or four years older. Now, Clark is entering year four and will only turn 24 years old in October, and he is molding into one of the finest defensive tackles in the NFL.

If you look even farther back at just first-round picks, it is clear that this has been the approach going all the way back to Ted Thompson. Indeed, since Thompson took over as GM in 2005, the Packers have drafted exactly one player in the first round who was older than 23 on draft day. That pick? Justin Harrell in 2007, and Packers fans all remember how that turned out.

Thus, youth is clearly a priority for Brian Gutekunst and was for Ted Thompson, particularly when looking at that in combination with a player’s athletic ability.