First, some numbers. Much like the NFL Draft, qualitative and quantitative elements must work in conjunction with one another. Believe it or not, according to Football Outsiders, Jimmy Graham provided above-average tight end play last season. Losing him leaves a hole to fill. For the purposes of the draft, the Packers will have to decide if using a top-100 pick on Jace Sternberger last year qualifies as a reasonable plan moving forward. FO numbers love Allen Lazard and Aaron Jones, which sets the Packers up well, at least statistically, at the skill positions.
Losing Bryan Bulaga clearly hurts the offensive line, but as a whole, they were tops in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate, fifth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, and 10th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Recent history suggests Corey Linsley’s career in Green Bay ends after 2020, but Lucas Patrick filled in admirably the last two seasons and just signed a new deal. Assuming they want to keep David Bakhtiari on a new contract, this line looks to be in good position moving forward even if the play at right tackle slips.
Not that the numbers needed to tell us what our eyes plainly see, but the defensive line needs shoring up, finishing 31st in adjusted line yards last season. Green Bay managed a poor second-level defensive mark as well, coming in 27th, a hint at linebacker issues last season. With Blake Martinez gone and Christian Kirksey in the fold, those numbers could get better, but the nickel linebackers playing next to Kirksey right now contributed to this problem. Finding a solution there could be a potential need spot in the draft.
Combine these factors, poor defensive and linebacker play, and their 23rd ranking against the run comes into focus along with a ranking of 26th defending tight ends in the passing game. A heavy focus at the Combine on interior defensive linemen, particularly those projected on Day 2, and linebackers across draft slots, makes sense from Gutekunst and Co. The 30,000-foot view of the roster suggests the middle of the defense stands out as the team’s biggest weakness.
This is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it’s useful to marry the numbers with what otherwise seems obvious. It could also seem obvious the team has needs that statistically aren’t supported, like at receiver where a player like Lazard performed far better than the mainstream view. Considering how often the team plays two receivers or fewer—the majority of offensive snaps now—the combination of Davante Adams, Lazard, and Devin Funchess point to a need for a different type of receiver, but not necessarily a glaring demand for one as a priority.
This is not the final word on the issues, of course. Broad strokes can only go so far in evaluating roster strengths. A quality scheme buoys talent. A group of good players can make up for the failings of one, or at least hide them in the final numbers. What does the qualitative side of the equation look like?
For our purposes, let’s use average as a baseline for establishing need. If a player is above average, the position will not be considered a need. If it’s below average, it will be. Based on Pro Football Focus positional rankings, the spots Green Bay lacks an average starter are right tackle, cornerback, and defensive line next to Kenny Clark. We would include linebacker if Christian Kirksey’s grades from last year qualified him.
Rick Wagner’s 2019 was an aberration for him, as he’s been an average or better starter most of his career by PFF grades. Still, he’s not a long-term option and we expect the Packers to look for a tackle in the draft. It’s worth noting guard does not show up here despite fan concerns around Billy Turner. He’s a solid guard despite angry protestations on Twitter.
Pass-catchers come in conspicuously absent from this list. Marcedes Lewis played extremely well last year, and Sternberger will be entering Year 2 with high expectations. In fact, he may very well have been TE1 had he come out in this draft. Allen Lazard slots in 58th out of 112 wideouts by PFF, so hardly a banner season, but the advanced numbers like DVOA and DYAR are much more generous. We expect the Packers to take a receiver, potentially even early in the draft, but for longer-term reinforcements, this is not as glaring a need.
This offense was, after all, 8th in offensive DVOA in 2019 and 11th passing, despite playing in a new offense, missing Davante Adams for a month, and the untimely demise of Geronimo Allison. This fits with what the statistics tell us. We have to balance this with the potential impact of an upgrade at the position. Just because they have some solid guys after Adams doesn’t mean the team couldn’t benefit from an upgrade. It could.
On the other hand, the second half of the season for the Packers’ passing game fell flat. After posting the 6th-best passing DVOA through nine weeks, Green Bay finished the season 23rd in the second half. Adams returned to the lineup and Lazard emerged, but it became clear the rest of the passing weapons were mediocre as Allison atrophied, Marquez Valdes-Scantling got hurt then lost his confidence, and Kumerow proved he’s nothing more than a useful WR5.
Funchess helps, but he’s a stop-gap fix.
One way to blend these analyses comes from ESPN’s top fantasy expert, Mike Clay. Clay uses roster units rather than specific positions, which, in some cases, serve as better indicators of depth than quality of starters. From a fantasy lens, he cares about production, the statistical outputs. That must also be balanced with quality of players. How good a matchup does a receiver have against a cornerback? In order to know, that cornerback’s quality requires evaluation.
He sees the offensive roster as the 8th group in the league and the defense 17th, right at average. But by position, he views the Packers receivers, tight ends, linebackers and cornerbacks to be below average. Linebackers and cornerbacks show up across these evaluations, as does receiver if we suggest that not only can the Lazard spot be upgraded, but that depth presents a problem.
Overlay this with what we believe about positional value, and that brings us to a list that looks something like this: LB, CB, WR, OT, DL.
Given the Packers’ feelings about the linebacker position (they don’t much care), it’s hard to see them valuing that spot above others, though there’s an interesting middle ground: a nickel safety. It kills two birds with one draft stone. A player like Antoine Winfield Jr., K’Von Wallace, Jeremy Chinn, or Terrell Burgess can play in the box as an overhang defender and cover receivers in the slot. It’s an eventuality not being discussed enough when it comes to Packers options, particularly in a deep draft.
If we view it through that lens, suddenly the top-of-list positions could makes more sense like this: Hybrid safety, WR, OT, DL. Whether that will be the top four selections will be based on the players on the board, but in terms of places where the team could use the help, spots where a rookie could be most impactful, these are spots to target for Gutey and Co next week.
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