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The Packers’ 2020 draft class is barely playing

The Packers picked for depth more than need in this spring’s draft, and it’s showing.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Draft picks are fun and exciting. After months of anticipation and buildup, your team makes a series of selections that will define the franchise for years to come — hopefully for the better. And just as exciting is getting to see those rookies take the field for the first time, hopefully filling positions of weakness or adding new skills to already strong groups.

And then there’s the Green Bay Packers’ 2020 draft class, which didn’t seek to address any obvious weaknesses from last year’s team and — so far at least — is barely seeing the field at all.

Pro Football Reference only carries snap data back to 2012, but that gives us a good window into how the Packers have deployed their draft picks over almost a decade. And in the four games of the 2020 season so far, Packers draft picks have played only 237 snaps across offense, defense, and special teams, a little more than half of the next smallest class.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of how much the Packers have played their most recent draft class in each year dating back to 2012.

Why are the Packers 2020 draft picks playing so little?

There are two main reasons why the Packers’ 2020 draft picks aren’t getting on the field.

First, and most obviously, is the positions they play. Jordan Love, a quarterback, isn’t getting a single rep while Aaron Rodgers is replicating the MVP-winning/possible demigod play we saw earlier in his career. Why would he? The same goes for A.J. Dillon. Why would you take reps away from Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to give them to Dillon? Save for late-game situations (or goal line runs requiring a big body), there just hasn’t been much reason to play him.

Secondly, a good portion of the 2020 draft class has been injured so far this season. Josiah Deguara was interesting in a small role in Week 1, but a late injury in Week 4 will put him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Kamal Martin seemed like a likely starter at inside linebacker, but he only just returned to practice this week after a training camp knee injury.

Does it matter that the Packers’ draft picks aren’t playing?

However much the Packers’ draft picks could be participating, it seems clear so far that the team hasn’t been terribly affected by their absence. The team is 4-0 and cruising, and it seems unlikely that even the rookies out of the lineup due to injury would have really buoyed the team all that much.

What does the Packers’ draft class mean, then? Anything? A couple of thoughts.

First, I think the Packers have pretty conclusively demonstrated that drafting for need (even perceived need) can be a fraught strategy — or at the very least, an ineffective one in the short term. It’s probable that any rookie at a position of need — receiver, linebacker, defensive line, and so on — wouldn’t have changed many outcomes. After all, what change could they have made? Would the Packers be more undefeated?

That said, many of the Packers’ perceived needs this spring will once again be needs when the draft rolls around again, and the Packers will face the proposition of really needing to nail their draft picks to shore up those shallower positions.

But that will hardly be a situation unique to the Packers. Every team in the NFL is going to be in an insanely high-pressure situation when it comes to next spring. They’ll be evaluating a class of players coming out of a pandemic-affected season as they try to fill holes on rosters likely gutted by a salary-cap crunch.

The Packers, at the very least, will have the luxury drafting with a 2020 class already waiting in the wings to take on bigger roles. That may be the ultimate takeaway of the historical oddity we’re experiencing this year: the Packers’ 2020 draft class may not be playing much now, but that might just be a down payment on bigger roles in the future.