Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Jul 2010

The Packers and the draft

Reading the Packers chapter, I'm confused by Bill Barnwell's take on the Packers' drafting record. I thought I'd give my opinion here, and see if anyone agrees or disagrees.

One aspect of Bill's argument is indisputable — Ted Thompson's draft picks have been terrible at staying healthy. Bill stresses that injuries have been the "primary" cause of what he refers to as Thompson's "very mixed draft results."

I don't disagree with the player-by-player breakdown of Thompson's picks in rounds one-to-three — although I do think there might be some cherry picking in starting the analysis halfway through Round 2 of the 2005 draft, and excluding 2009, which after all brought Clay Matthews and BJ Raji.

But Bill's conclusion — that of Thompson's first 16 draft picks in rounds 1-3, "the Packers have four above-average starters [Rodgers, Finley, Jennings, Collins] to show for them" — is too harsh. Surely Pro Bowlers are more than "above average"? Moreover — and here's where I get confused — a few lines later, Bill recognises that "When [Thompson] does hit on a draft pick, he seems to find players who are among the best at their positions." Wouldn't "four very good starters" out of 16 sound much better?

Moreover, Hawk, Spitz, and Colledge might not be superstars, but they are all four-year starters. It could be argued that they were starters-by-default, but then you'd have to accept that James Jones and Jordy Nelson have remained backups-by-default while Jennings and Driver have stayed healthy and productive.

Indeed, using PFR's Approximate Value (AV) statistic, the Packers have gotten more value out of their top picks than any other NFL team over the period in question. The 16 players that Bill analysed have produced a cumulative 235 AV; only three other teams have gotten more than 200 AV from their picks in rounds 1-3 between 2005 and 2008 (SF, Atl, Jax). For me, that refutes Bill's argument that "If Thompson was just league-average in the situations where he’s been far below-average as a drafter, the Packers would be a dynasty and about to win three or four Super Bowls."

Furthermore, Bill lauds the Packers' GM for his "very solid work in the later rounds of the draft." Again, I would disagree. Not only are the Packers' special teams (full of late-round picks) a mess, but AV indicates that the later picks have been only average on offense and defense. Rounds 4 and 5 have been particularly weak, bringing the likes of Cory Rodgers and Jamon Meredith, Allen Barbre and Junius Coston. The Packers took 13 players in rounds 4&5 from 2005-08, more than any team except Tennessee; yet they produced just 61 AV between them, the 12th highest total in the league. These picks have played an average of 20.8 games since they were drafted, which ranks an ugly 26th, and between them they have managed just 4 years as primary starters at their position.

This is especially frustrating for Packer fans, as Thompson generally chews his pencil during free agency, and is a protégé of Ron Wolf, whose late rounds consistently produced quality players (some of whom — Tauscher, Driver, Hasselbeck, Brunell, Diggs — are still playing, nine years after Wolf retired).

I'm not one of Thompson's army of unconditional admirers, but aside from the AGL factor, I don't think Bill's analysis is quite right. That said, it made for an enjoyable and provocative read!

Posted by: ammek on 09 Jul 2010

1 reply , Last at 09 Jul 2010, 10:47pm by Arkaein

Re: The Packers and the draft
by Arkaein :: Fri, 07/09/2010 - 10:47pm

The Packers sections in general have been decidedly odd in FOA for the past two years.

Last year the computer picked a mediocre finish for GB despite the fact that nearly all leading indicators (Pythagorean theorem, likely improvement for Aaron Rodgers, likely regression to mean after extremely poor luck in close games in 2008) pointed towards an improvement in 2009, which did indeed occur. The chapter in FOA 2009 only grasped at a few straws (transition of Aaron Kampman from DE to OLB, questions at right OT that involved very questionable analysis of who was actually competing for the job) but mostly sidestepped the issue completely.

I pointed this out a few times on the message boards, and finally when the staff predictions came out it turned out the the FO staff was actually quite bullish on GB's 2009 prospects. While I can appreciate sticking with the computer predictions for the book, it left me unsatisfied seeing an unexpected prediction go unexplained like that.

As far as this year goes, it felt like the old guard vs. new guard storyline was a bit forced. Suggesting that Bulaga is going to actually compete with Clifton this year is pretty laughable, and considering how much the pass protection improved over the second half of the year makes me thing Bill is really underselling the value that Clifton and Tauscher still provide. I think that FO may have gotten a bit too wrapped up in the whole (pass protection is more the QB than you think" line of conventional wisdom refuting, the o-line is still a very big factor, and GB 2009 supports that.

The whole Admiral Armbar (Tramon Williams) thing is also really overplayed. Yes he got called for a multiple long DPIs against Baltimore last year. What was left out was that game saw many DPIs against both teams, several quite questionable, and Williams followed one of his with an interception in the end zone. GB fans don't stay up at night worrying about Tramon, he'll give up a few plays but has also made up for them with health INT numbers and is fairly solid overall. It's guys like Jarret Bush being forced to play Nickel that give us the shakes. I would have liked to see some acknowledgement of the fact that GB's pass D mostly broke down late in the seaon only after 3 CBs were eventually lost to injury (Pat Lee in preseason, Will Blackmon early season, and Harris at mid-season).

Well, enough venting. Despite what I've written I think FOA is a great product, but I can't help feeling that it's a bit lacking for my team the second year in a row.

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