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Why Packers don’t need to force an early draft pick at wide receiver

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It might cause a riot with fans, but recent history and the Packers current roster construction allows the front office to be patient in finding more help with Davante Adams.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
Justin Jefferson would be an ideal complement to Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, but would likely require a first-round pick to draft.
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

What if the Green Bay Packers do nothing? They stand pat at receiver, believing in the growth of their young players, the play design of Matt LaFleur and the aging-but-more-than-capable right arm of Aaron Rodgers. After having to rebuild the offices at 1265 Lombardi because fans burned them down, Green Bay could still build an offense around Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and that guy under center. As a trio, there are few better in the NFL.

As far as backup plans go, that’s a convenient one for Brian Gutekunst and the Packers front office and while they’re unlikely to literally do nothing, fan angst demands a receiver as early as possible in the draft assuming free agency gleans nothing, or something close to it. Money will be tight this offseason even if the Packers let Bryan Bulaga walk and the big names on wish lists for Green Bay would require financial machinations. Though we know Russ Ball is capable of managing them, he could be unwilling to endeavor an attempt.

Between the infrastructure already in place on the roster, the Packers' draft history, and the recent draft history of the NFL, Gutekunst and his capable group of scouts can afford to be patient and judicious when bolstering the receiver position in the draft with the 2014 draft offering an ideal model to follow.

When Ted Thompson took over in 2005, the offensive cupboard was hardly bare, with Donald Driver still in his prime and Javon Walker just hitting his prime coming off a career season with nearly 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns. Yet Thompson spent the first four drafts as Packers GM making multiple receiver selections, including a top-100 pick on a pass-catcher in each of those classes.

2005 — Terrence Murphy, 2nd round (58th pick)

2005 — Craig Bragg, 6th round (195th pick)

2006 — Greg Jennings, 2nd round (52nd pick)

2006 — Cory Rodgers, 4th round (104th pick)

2007 — James Jones, 3rd round (78th pick)

2007 — David Clowney, 5th round (157th pick)

2008 — Jordy Nelson, 2nd round (36th pick)

2008 — Brett Swain, 7th round (217th pick)

It’s no secret how the Packers put together the most explosive group of weapons in the league: Thompson poured resources into the position.

Then, with the Packers’ core established and Rodgers becoming a superstar, the front office turned its attention to the defense. Over the next five drafts, Thompson tabbed just three receivers, and a lone top-200 selection on one, much less top-100.

2011 — Randall Cobb, 2nd round (64th pick)

2013 — Charles Johnson, 7th round (216th pick)

2013 — Kevin Dorsey, 7th round (224th pick)

Still, to go on a streak where you take Jennings, Jones, Nelson, and Cobb is the kind of heater card players dream about. Thompson returned to form in 2014, tabbing three receivers including Davante Adams with the 53rd pick. It was an approach Gutekunst knows well: throw resources at a problem area and hope to find.

In all, Thompson found three legitimate, Pro Bowl-caliber No. 1 receivers and two top-tier secondary targets, with Cobb making the case to push into the former group at his apex. Not one of them cost the Packers a first-round pick and all of them were drafted when the team already had another established alpha in the receiver room. Jennings benefitted from Donald Driver with Jones complementing that duo. Enter Nelson, who didn’t take off until Driver aged out and Jennings was the top dog. Cobb and Adams each walked into a situation with Nelson running the show, and whomever the Packers tab next will play second fiddle to Adams.

This is the preferred methodology for drafting and developing talent. It’s also a recipe for early success at the position, with less foisted onto the plate of a young player, who instead gets to watch, learn and grow. Having a star receiver also reduces the true roster need. The impact of a No. 2 receiver likely won’t match the value of a comparable quality player at offensive tackle, for example, if that tackle is starting.

On the other hand, few positions create as much value to a team, other than the quarterback. Of the premiere positions, the Packers have a quarterback, a stacked pass rush, a talented young secondary, and at least four of five core offensive line starters. That’s the case for a No. 2 receiver providing the most potential upside of any positional upgrade on the roster. Deciphering who provides the most value at which position will be elemental in draft decision making.

Let’s say the Packers don’t re-sign Bryan Bulaga and can’t come to an agreement with Blake Martinez. They’ll be faced with bargain options in free agency, generally average (or worse) players. A starting caliber right tackle or middle linebacker of both the present and future could very well add more value over a replacement-level player than the Packers would get out of a receiver relative to Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown.

This is the luxury Thompson created by so effectively drafting receivers, a cycle that self-perpetuated because it constructs the ideal environment for success. Draft a receiver when he doesn’t need to carry the offense and he has the best chance to grow into the player he’s maximally capable of becoming. Even if that’s “only” a high-end secondary target, that’s an uncommonly useful player.

First-round receivers tend to go to teams looking for a No. 1. The Packers have theirs. Furthermore, in a draft as deep as this class, waiting under the second or third round won’t dilute the talent pool as significantly as it might in other years, making it easier to find a quality complementary piece on Day 2.

Even in what was considered a weak receiver class in 2019, the league found myriad options on Day 2 including DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman, Diontae Johnson, and Miles Boykin. Later picks like Hunter Renfrow, Darius Slayton, and Kelvin Harmon likewise found meaningful roles as rookies, with young receivers coming out of college more polished and readier than ever to contribute to NFL teams right away.

Now go back to 2014. The Packers’ glaring holes on defense were keeping them from re-entering the mix of Super Bowl contenders in the NFC. In the first round they found a critical defensive piece, before hitting on a second-round receiver, and taking multiple additional shots at receiver on Day 3. They also found a reliable, if limited, tight end. Sure, in every draft the plan is to draft good players and Thompson accomplished that in ‘14, but it’s a model that can work as process in 2020.

If there’s an outstanding player at receiver available at 30, there’s an easy path to him being the most impactful player they could take at spot. But if there’s not, a defensive piece at linebacker or a starting right tackle look like obvious places for instant upgrades. Luckily for the Packers, they can wait at receiver, knowing they still have Rodgers, Adams, Jones et al to fall back on and a deep draft class from which to choose.

Prioritizing linebacker or tackle early fit as value propositions, even if they’re far less sexy picks. What’s more, Packers and NFL history provides a plethora of examples for waiting and still hitting on impactful receivers on Day 2. This confluence of factors sets Green Bay up with flexibility heading into a money-tight free agency period to add talent at multiple positions without having to sacrifice much in quality.