Hitting on players in the later stages of the NFL Draft is critical to the success of any NFL team. It’s something that former Green Bay Packers general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson did for years — turning picks in the third rounds and later into steady with regularity.
Wolf was especially productive in round three over his tenure in Green Bay. Of the 14 third-round picks the team made with Wolf calling the shots, he found nine players who were multi-year starters for the team and several who have been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. Check out this list:
Meanwhile, Thompson made his best hay in rounds four and five, particularly in the trenches. Brady Poppinga, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Mike Daniels, JC Tretter, David Bakhtiari, Dean Lowry, and Blake Martinez were all fourth-round picks in the Thompson era, and he found Corey Linsley, Micah Hyde, Marshall Newhouse, and Aaron Jones in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Draft seems to have Brian Gutekunst off to a decent start in the later rounds, thanks to some impressive rookie seasons from a pair of day-three wide receivers. However, he is also earning early praise for two picks in this year’s draft. Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner listed the 15 most underrated picks in rounds three and up from this April’s selection meeting, and two Packers picks are on his list. Interestingly, the two were college teammates in 2018.
First up, Renner is excited about the selection of third-round tight end Jace Sternberger, taken with the 75th overall pick:
Sternberger played just 49 snaps in his college career before last season at Texas A&M, and it’s safe to say he was worth the wait. After transferring from Kansas to A&M, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder earned the highest receiving grade among all tight ends in FBS. He had seven more big-time catches than any other tight end last season. Sternberger might not be a great athlete, but he makes up for it with fantastic ball skills and crisp routes.
Although PFF grading weighs heavily into this analysis, it’s easy to see from the tape why Renner gets so excited here. And while tight ends usually take a while to make an impact in the NFL, waiting until round three to draft one ensures that the team does not need him to become a game-changer as a rookie.
Renner then mentions Sternberger’s Texas A&M teammate, Kingsley Keke, as the other great value that Gutekunst found:
The Senior Bowl was made for players like Keke. He’d flashed talent at Texas A&M, but he played a role there that likely wasn’t going to best suit his talents at the NFL level. Over 60 percent of Keke’s snaps last season came outside the tackle. At 288 pounds, he’s far more suited for the 3-technique defensive tackle in the NFL. Rushing from that position at the Senior Bowl, Keke had the highest win rate and grade of any player in the pass-rushing one-on-ones.
This is a fascinating point about Keke, one that goes along with the discussion about his ideal playing weight. It’s interesting to wonder where Keke might have been drafted had he not dropped weight and moved out from nose tackle to end as a senior, or perhaps if he had only cut a little bulk and played in the B gap instead. It’s entirely possible that the Packers may have found the next Mike Daniels in the fifth round this year, and the timing could not be better with Daniels’ contract due to expire.
For now, Packers fans will be waiting another week to see these players work into OTAs with the rest of the team, as rookies have the week off. However, starting next week the rookies should start to see their roles defined a bit in practice, and in less than three months they’ll get to finally start strapping on the pads for full-contact practices in training camp.