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Finding a silver lining in the Packers’ 2020 offseason

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Simply seeking answers from the Shanahan coaching tree explains the Packers’ current straetgy.

NFL: JAN 19 NFC Championship - Packers at 49ers Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Has the dust settled on the Green Bay Packers’ draft? Is it safe to come out?

There’s an apparent content black hole that mandates we need analysis for how a superstar quarterback is thinking and feeling based on … wild speculation. This isn’t that. This is about a journey to seek optimism by doing actual research instead of taking quotes from opposing teams as to what sort of “message” the Packers are trying to send to their players.

My initial reaction to the Jordan Love draft pick was quizzical, which turned into befuddlement by drafting running back A.J. Dillon in the second round and then Josiah Deguara in the third. By Saturday, I was just out. I didn’t want to watch anymore. Like many, I was upset and just confused at why a team that was one win away from a Super Bowl appearance was seemingly Fredo-ing this draft.

By Sunday, I needed to gain some resolve and find optimism in what unfolded because it’s much easier to be a sports fan if you’re able to find the silver lining.

Yes, the Packers were one win away from the Super Bowl last season, but they got absolutely thumped — for the second time — by the San Francisco 49ers. There’s reason to believe that drafting one first-round WR wasn’t going to be the player to put them over the edge. Nor was it a guarantee that a picking a coverage linebacker to chase down SF backs in some hypothetical playoff rematch would be the savior.

Instead, the Packers have continued to make steps towards being the team that they want to be, with an offense that shares similar DNA to the aforementioned Niners. Which does truly mean that the Packers want to have the offense flow through the run game, as it’s being reported. And NO, that doesn’t mean they’re gearing up to pound the rock into the ‘A’ gap 50 times a game or use backwards logic by saying “teams win when they carry it ‘X’ amount of times.” They want their concepts to flow through physical, athletic players with a ton of positional flexibility — like what Kyle Shanahan has set up in San Fran.

They don’t want to have to pass so much. Take a look back to when Aaron Rodgers has thrown the ball 45-50 times. Were they blowing teams out? No, we were likely talking about how whack the defense was and that Rodgers was having to carry them, per usual. If you can run over a team as the Niners did to the Packers last season, that works, too.

The top five teams in terms of Yards Per Offensive Play in 2019 were 1. Dallas, 2. Kansas City, 3. Baltimore, 4. Tennessee, and 5. San Francisco. Dallas threw an absurd amount last year and didn’t make the playoffs. The Ravens, Titans, and Niners were all teams that loved to churn out plays on the ground and still gain large chunks of air yards.

But why not be more like Kansas City who was #2 and, you know, won the Super Bowl? The answer is simple: Because there’s no quarterback like Patrick Mahomes! Andy Reid is, of course, an innovator, but he’s always pursued weapons and it took until getting a god-tier QB to push him over the top. Alex Smith was in KC for at least two years with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, among others, as well as Kareem Hunt for an impressive rookie season. They never won a Super Bowl despite all their firepower.

Furthermore, only the Cowboys (who, again, missed the playoffs) are in the top five for Yards Per Offensive Play with two 1,000-yard receivers. Four other teams also had two 1,000-yard receivers in the NFL last year: the Buccaneers (Chris Godwin, Mike Evans), Chargers (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams), Browns (OBJ, Jarvis Landry), and Rams (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods). Yeah, none of those teams made the playoffs either.

As the Packers continue to implement offenses similar to the Shanahan offense (and a little McVay flair as well), it’s worth noting that, despite all the talk about weapons, the Niners’ passing weapons actually weren’t as good as the Packers outside of George Kittle.

Per Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel finished 24th and 29th, respectively. That is pretty good, but Allen Lazard finished ahead of both of them! He was 18th in WR DVOA. Davante Adams — of all people — is the odd man out, having finished 43rd after missing four games. This is a glaring opportunity for positive regression for the Packers passing game because Adams is objectively better than Lazard, Sanders, and Samuel. If Lazard continues to get better, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be a better option than any receiver the Packers could’ve conceivably drafted past the 20th overall pick, at least in 2020.

Of the 31 receivers taken in the first round since 2010, only nine have posted multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Four of those receivers had 1,000 yards in their first seasons and those names include A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and Amari Cooper and none from last year’s draft. To put it plainly, first-year receivers are rarely good or provide a season-changing impact.

The Packers are building on a strength from last year, when they finished 4th in rushing DVOA, with the hope that strength-building will increase their 11th place passing DVOA finish. GM Brian Gutekunst hasn’t neglected trying to get weapons either, he just wants them for the right price. In the past year, Gutey has attempted to trade for Robby Anderson, sign the aforementioned Sanders this offseason, and trade up in the second round to draft a WR. He also signed Devin Funchess to fill a WR role, who has a career 7.2 yards per target average and will only be 26 years old.

Additionally, if this is true, then Gutekunst was indeed trying to add a weapon in round one all along:

Aiyuk is a weapon both LaFleur and Shanahan seemed to feel would be the right move for their respective offensive game plans. When Brandon Aiyuk got vultured, the Packers simply reinvested in the most important position in football and a position where first-round pedigree actually makes an impact.

Then, the Packers had to pivot. They drafted Dillon, despite naysayers like myself, and Deguara. With moves like these, I can’t help but think to when the 49ers paid a heavy price tag for both Tevin Coleman and Kyle Juszczyk in free agency. They got who Shanahan wanted to help fit the scheme, and the Packers can be seen as doing the same thing here.

Seeing Deguara as simply a run supporter may be too elementary of a thought. He’s a passing game weapon who can help Rodgers tremendously. The tape shows a physical TE who can play in the slot and is willing to put a hit on an EDGE rusher. He’s the #5 TE from this draft class in both Relative Athletic Score and SPARQ percentile. If it wasn’t for his 6-foot-2 height, he’d be seen as a clear cut tight end, closer to Travis Kelce than Juszczyk. He’s probably the biggest factor in my optimism for the Packers offense being a bully next season.

Regardless of what happens going forward, Packers fans have been blessed with nearly three decades of Hall of Fame quarterback play. If Jordan Love pans out to be the even an average starting quarterback, Packers fans will have been spoiled.