American Football

How to narrow down the Packers’ potential first-round picks in four easy steps

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NFL Combine
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With testing coming up at the Combine next week, keep these four data points in mind when trying to project who the Packers will draft in the first round.

Let’s just say that Brian Gutekunst has a type.

The Green Bay Packers’ general manager has made eight first-round draft picks since ascending to his current position atop the team’s personnel department, and there are some clear and obvious trends to those picks. When examining each of those players, a few qualities stick out, and Gutekunst rarely (if ever) shies away from any one of them.

Let’s take a look at these one by one, then examine how each of those eight picks (plus one bonus player who could functionally be considered a first-rounder) fit into the various criteria.

Elite Athleticism

We know that the Packers value athletic ability extremely highly. Whether the team references Relative Athletic Score or (more likely) some other in-house metric that gives a broad picture of a player’s overall measureables. But RAS is the most readily available tool at our disposal, so it’s worth looking at that as a proxy for whatever the Packers do use.

Using RAS, the team has not drafted a player in the first round with an RAS below 8 in the Gutekunst era, and only two of those picks had a RAS lower than 9. Once the results are in, it will be safe to filter out of round-one consideration anyone with an RAS below 8 entirely, and to focus especially on players with a 9+.

Youth

The Packers are notorious for liking first-round prospects who are on the younger side. Kenny Clark might be the best example of this, as the 2016 first-round pick was just 20 years old on draft day. Dating back to 2008, the team has drafted just one player in the first round who was 23 years old or older on the day of the draft.

Premier Position

Admittedly, the Packers have drafted players at a number of positions in round one, but they generally stick to positions that are “premier” spots in terms of importance. That includes spots like quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line/pass rusher, and secondary. Wide receiver could probably fit in there as well, as the Packers have reportedly been high on several first-round receivers that they were unable to draft and also were willing to trade up into the first to get Christian Watson.

As for positions that are unlikely? Off-ball linebacker can be considered a question mark in terms of value; before Quay Walker, the last player at that position that the Packers drafted highly was A.J. Hawk in 2006. Then there are some obvious spots to filter out: the last time the Packers picked a first-round tight end was in 2000 (Bubba Franks), interior offensive line goes back to 1994 (Aaron Taylor), and the last first-round running back for the team was way back in 1987 (Brent Fullwood).

Power Conference

In general, the Packers only draft players who play in power-five (now power-four?) conferences. The team’s recent obsession with Georgia Bulldogs is well-known, but aside from one notable recent pick, the Packers have exclusively pulled from power programs in round one for decades. It’s entirely Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-12, and Big XII (or its predecessor conference) for round one players dating back through at least 1990, save for in 2020.

With that said, this isn’t a trend that is necessarily specific to Green Bay, and it may not really be indicative of a true preference on the part of this front office. Most of the best prospects come out of the programs in these conferences simply because that’s where the most talented players play and that’s where they face the best competition. This will probably only continue to be the case with relaxed transfer rules and NIL changing the face of college football. In fact, since 2018, there have been 15 players drafted in the first round from non-power five conferences, and the Packers did pick one of them, so this is more of a general trend that players outside of the top conferences just don’t get picked in round one often by anybody.

Recent History

With these data points in mind, let’s take a look at just how closely the Packers stick to these criteria under Gutekunst. As you’ll see, every player fits at least three of the four above requirements, with most hitting all four.

Lukas Van Ness (2023) (4/4)

RAS: 9.39
Age: 21
Position: EDGE
Conference: Big Ten (Iowa)

Quay Walker (2022) (3/4)

RAS: 9.63
Age: 21
Position: LB
Conference: SEC (Georgia)

Walker’s position at LB is borderline in terms of whether the Packers truly consider it a premier position, but it was surprising at the time that they did draft a player at that spot early.

Devonte Wyatt (2022) (3/4)

RAS: 9.59
Age: 24
Position: DL
Conference: SEC (Georgia)

Wyatt is the lone first-round Packer to be older than 22 on the day of the draft since Justin Harrell in 2007. (Note: Clay Matthews was close, as he turned 23 about three weeks after he was drafted.)

Eric Stokes (2021) (4/4)

RAS: 9.37
Age: 22
Position: CB
Conference: SEC (Georgia)

Jordan Love (2020) (3/4)

RAS: 8.43
Age: 21
Position: QB
Conference: Mountain West (Utah State)

Love, of course, is the lone non-power 5 player the Packers have drafted in the first round in years, though as we’ll see below, you could consider one other recent pick a borderline first-rounder. Interestingly, however, quarterback is a position where players from outside the power 5 are picked in round one at a more frequent rate than most other positions — think back on Josh Allen (Wyoming), Carson Wentz and Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Zach Wilson (BYU), and Paxton Lynch (Memphis) as several examples dating back just to 2016.

Rashan Gary (2019) (4/4)

RAS: 9.95
Age: 21
Position: EDGE
Conference: Big Ten (Michigan)

Darnell Savage (2019) (4/4)

RAS: 8.37
Age: 21
Position: S
Conference: Big Ten (Maryland)

Jaire Alexander (2018) (4/4)

RAS: 9.53
Age: 21
Position: CB
Conference: ACC (Louisville)

For a little added bonus, we’ll mention Christian Watson as well, as the Packers were reportedly willing to trade into the back of round one for the wideout and indeed gave up a first-round value in picks to go up and get him.

Christian Watson (2022) (3/4)

RAS: 9.96
Age: 22
Position: WR
Conference: FBS/Missouri Valley (NDSU)

Watson would have been a first-rounder had the Vikings acquiesced to the Packers’ trade request at pick number 32 instead of insisting on waiting to 34. That also would have ended Green Bay’s first-round drought at the position that dates back to 2003, though the team also reportedly was high on players like Justin Jefferson and Brandon Aiyuk in 2020 before drafting Love.

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