Back in 2017, one of the most notable observations from the Green Bay Packers’ draft was the addition of prospects from the Southeast.
The Packers, in what became Ted Thompson’s final year as General Manager of the team, drafted their first two players from the Southeastern Conference since 2014 during that 2017 NFL Draft. This author’s article at that time pointed out that perhaps the Packers were slightly tweaking their draft philosophy to seek out bigger and faster players — a priority mentioned by the team’s front office during the offseason — specifically through some of the country’s most competitive championship conferences in the SEC and ACC. Up to this point, the Packers had been keenly aware of the western portion of the United States, selecting 33% of their draft picks from 2012-2017 from that area.
Since that article, Green Bay has only continued its focus on the Southeast during the NFL Draft in the Brian Gutekunst era, while shifting away from the West.
One possible reason for this is the change in responsibility of Sam Seale. Once the team’s West region scout, Seale had a significant role in the Packers drafting 18 of their 53 picks from the West Coast. Seale appeared to have Thompson’s ear come draft day. However, Seale was promoted to National Scout in 2018 as Gutekunst entered his leadership role. With Luke Benuska in Seale’s old position and Seale taking on an expanded territory, Green Bay has been less likely to draft from the West, picking just three players from that region overall and two from the Pac-12.
Instead, there has been a dramatic influx of talent from the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences. Under Thompson, the Packers drafted just nine combined prospects from those two conferences over the five-year period mentioned above. In Gutekunst’s first four drafts, Green Bay has already drafted 16 total players from the ACC (5) and SEC (11) out of their 37 total picks. Two additional players - Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Shemar Jean-Charles - also hailed from smaller southeastern conferences. Surely, Gutekunst’s wealth of previous experience as a Southeast region scout from 2001 to 2011 has provided him with a high level of knowledge of those collegiate programs. That type of experience also appears to be a comfort zone for the Packers’ GM when making his selections.
Gutekunst has also shown a propensity for targeting players from the Power Five, going that route with 29 of his 37 draft picks (31 if counting Notre Dame). Only two of the team’s selections on the first two days of the draft over Gutekunst’s four years have been non-Power Five picks - Jordan Love and Josiah Deguara. While it is not uncommon for players from top-level competition to go earlier in the draft and make up a larger percentage of the draft pool, Green Bay has certainly begun targeting large-school players more frequently. In comparison, 35 of Thompson’s 53 picks from 2012 to 2017 were from the Power Five.
As the Packers gear up for the 2022 NFL Draft, they will do so with a very different approach than the trend they showed just five years ago. While there will be much roster movement for the organization to sort out prior to the end of April with Aaron Rodgers and the salary cap to account for, one can predict that the Packers will once again look to dip into the South and draft players from power conferences.