Going back to Ron Wolf, the Green Bay Packers’ front office has utilized a template for draft picks, believing in the probabilities: if a player isn’t fast enough or quick enough laterally, he’s unlikely to be a good NFL player. This could cause them to miss out on good players, though usually physical outliers. This strategy relies on playing the odds, and history suggests that’s the smart way to conduct business.
This offseason though, the athletic profiles for dozens of players won’t be completed because pro days and team travel can’t happen amid coronavirus lockdown. The safety of the American people trumps football, that goes without saying. It’s far more important than NFL teams going into the draft with all the information they’d normally have. That being said, it does impact how we attempt to project who Green Bay could like in April’s draft, as well as how the Packers identify and rank talent.
Using the tools at our disposal, we can start to parse this with receivers. Using the traditional standards Green Bay tends to follow, a scant five guys check every box:
- Denzel Mims
- Michael Pittman Jr.
- John Hightower
- Gabriel Davis
- Freddie Swain
Of that group, only Mims projects to be a first-round player, though Pittman’s combine opened eyes and he’s making a push to be a top-50 player. Meanwhile, Hightower and Davis look like likely Day 2 picks with Swain a possible Day 3 sleeper. For a team like Green Bay in need of some juice, this list doesn’t leave much flexibility. It’s no wonder the Packers reportedly covet Mims.
In terms of players at the combine, this leaves 50 guys on the outside looking in. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re all off Green Bay’s draft board. First, the Packers don’t only draft inside their desired parameters. It’s a guideline, not a bright line. Second, 20 of those guys don’t have enough information to be ruled out and another two are right on the borderline in terms of height, close enough to be in the mix.
Before we try to determine which of the 20 guys could still be in the mix, let’s examine who falls down the board. Popular draft names like KJ Hamler (too small), Jalen Reagor (not agile enough) and Laviska Shenault (too slow) populate a group of 28 guys who don’t fit what the Packers tend to like. That’s not a deal-breaker, particularly if one of them falls, but it’s worth noting when projecting the Packers at 30, for example. If they want to take a receiver, a move already outside their norms, one would have to think it would at least come in the mold of player they tend to prefer.
Speaking of that mold, if we have to go outside the normal parameters due to a lack of info, what other athletic indicators could we use? The Packers love athletic players, and based on the drafts we’ve seen to this point from Brian Gutekunst, they are looking at players with a Relative Athlete Score of 8.4 or higher. With incomplete data, we can only rely on what we have, and extrapolate the rest. One issue with RAS is if one critical indicator for the Packers is low, RAS may falsely indicate interest from Green Bay.
For instance, the Packers value the agility drills for offensive lineman, which would normally exclude someone like Austin Jackson from USC. On the other hand, Jackson’s RAS at 9.38 would otherwise indicate he’d be in the mix for the Packers. His 3-cone time would suggest otherwise, being almost a quarter-second off the assumed benchmark and providing a perfect example of why more data provides a better picture for teams to use in evaluation.
Having to extrapolate creates uncertainty, and as Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy pointed out on Twitter, if teams have two players ranked similarly but have a full athletic profile on one and not the other, they’ll look for certainty. They’ll draft the guy with the full workup. For our purposes, we’re trying to project possibilities. Thankfully, we don’t actually have to make picks, just speculate wildly.
In this draft, among players who haven’t completed testing but have done some testing, the RAS numbers above 8.4 includes guys like Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Chase Claypool (who is really a tight end) along with Day 3 sleepers like Antonio Gibson and Joe Reed. Fringe draft prospect Tyrie Cleveland also makes this list. Interestingly, Gabriel Davis and Freddie Swain don’t. Henry Ruggs also makes the list on RAS, but is one of the borderline guys for the Packers because of his height. Running 4.2 probably gets you bumped enough not to worry about it.
That puts the available pool of likely receivers here with their projected draft slot:
- Henry Ruggs — 1st
- Justin Jefferson — 1st
- Denzel Mims — 1st
- Brandon Aiyuk — 1st/2nd
- Michael Pittman Jr. — 2nd
- Chase Claypool — 2nd
- Donovan Peoples-Jones — 2nd/3rd
- Gabriel Davis — 3rd
- John Hightower — 3rd
- Antonio Gibson — 3rd/4th
- Joe Reed — 7th round/UDFA
- Tyrie Cleveland — 7th round/UDFA