Up or down: Don’t expect Packers to pick at 30

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night, with GMs, scouts and executives getting set to make their selections from makeshift war rooms at residences across the NFL map. Even if the viewing public will be deprived of the spectacle of seeing each player transported to the stage by boat, this year’s draft will undoubtedly prove as a welcome distraction from the uncertainty currently dominating not only the sports landscape, but that of every facet of life across the globe. And while the weekend’s proceedings will certainly be unprecedented, draft junkies and prognosticators have made sure the hype surrounding the event remains just as high as ever.

As per tradition, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst spoke with the media ahead of the draft, trading his spot at the front of the Lambeau Field media auditorium for a line on a conference call. As you might have guessed, in keeping with said tradition, he didn’t exactly reveal any classified information. He did, however, drop a few good quotes with regard to how he and his staff will approach player acquisition over the weekend.

Obviously, trying to read between the lines of what team executives say around draft time is a futile exercise. But that’s not very much fun, so let’s get to dissecting. Here are the ones I found most interesting.

On how aggressive they can afford to be in the draft:

“We have five in the first five rounds and then five in the last two rounds. I think we’ll be able to be as aggressive as we need to be. It obviously always comes down to the player and what kind of player we can acquire as far as whether we’re going to try to make a move to go up. But I’d like to move around. I think it’s a very good draft. I’d like to move around and see if we can get to the areas of the draft that I think are strong. But again, it takes two. I do like picking toward the back of the draft than up front there—obviously that means we had a pretty good season last year. But at the same time, that’s a long wait. We’ll be prepared to move up if we need to be and be prepared to move back if that’s what’s best for us.”

First of all, Gutekunst explicitly stating his desire to move picks isn’t all that surprising in itself–he’s moved around a lot, especially in the first round, in his first two drafts as GM. When viewed in the context of the rest of the quote, however, it seems pretty clear Gutekunst plans on using some of his late-round draft capital to acquire a higher pick or two. Of course, sixth and seventh-round selections likely won’t net anything on the first two days. But it would shock no one to see Green Bay put together some kind of package that gets them back in the mix in rounds four or five. That scenario jibes with Gutekunst’s statement about getting into strong areas of the draft, assuming he’s not referring to the sixth and seventh rounds as strong areas of the draft. Based on the trade value chart, they probably don’t have the capital to acquire an additional second round pick, though moving up in the second is certainly a possibility.

On the wide receiver class:

“You don’t really know where the runs are going to happen. It is a deep class, but I don’t think you can just sit and count on things—to wait and expect to have really good players there. If there’s guys that we think can play and can help us, I don’t think we’ll wait too long.”

I’ll be honest, this really grabbed my attention. If there’s anything Gutekunst said on the conference call that suggests he could try and move up in the first round, this is it. I know, I know–smokescreen! Deceit! Maybe he’s laying the groundwork to entice some receiver-desperate team into giving up a couple extra picks to jump up into the back end of round one. In fact, I think we’re more likely to see that scenario play out rather than one in which he relinquishes significant assets to move up. But it does plant a seed of possibility, doesn’t it?

On whether he’s talked to Aaron Rodgers about the possibility of drafting a quarterback:

“[Rodgers] is really focused on doing something here legacy-wise. I really appreciate that, and certainly we’re going to do everything we can to put guys around him to accomplish those things.”

Rodgers has stated his intention to finish his career in Green Bay multiple times through the media, but this seems to indicate there have been conversations about that desire internally as well. Maybe that’s not very surprising, but I thought it was interesting Gutekunst took his answer in this direction when he could have just said, “No, players don’t give us input on drafting other players.” Maybe he and Rodgers haven’t discussed the possibility of drafting a quarterback, but perhaps the Hall-of-Fame quarterback has dropped a hint or two about getting some truly elite young talent into the offensive huddle.

On whether they’d like to have Tramon Williams back:

“Yeah, we’re going to kind of wait until after the draft to see where we’re at at that point. Obviously, what Tramon has meant to not only our current team but the teams of the past, he’s an all-time Packer. If that fits once we get out of the draft then we’ll certainly make it happen if we can.”

I mean, you have to think that means they’ll be on the hunt for cornerback help in the draft, right? What else could this mean? Again, it’s not surprising–corner was probably a spot they were going to look at anyway–but this all but confirms they’ll be on the lookout.

So, with the Packers sitting on the 30th selection of the first round, the question is: Will they stay there? In short, I don’t think so. And here’s why.

Green Bay is in a somewhat advantageous position to trade back with the 30th pick when you take into account the value of the pick itself. According to the draft trade chart, the 30th pick is worth 620 points. Essentially, any team wishing to swap is going to have to offer at least a second and a fourth-round pick (remember how Gutekunst wants to get back into “strong” areas of the draft?) to match that value–possibly even one more late-rounder depending on how desperate that team is to move up.

As an example, let’s take a look at the most popularly suggested trade down scenario for Green Bay. Indianapolis, who holds the 34th overall pick (the second pick of the second round) may be in the market for a quarterback, and they may want to draft one in the first round in order to get a fifth-year option on that player’s rookie contract. The 34th pick has a trade value of 560 points–well short of the 620 they would need to offer fair value for the 30th overall pick. If the Colts throw in their fourth-rounder (#122 overall), that gets them to 610. Now, the Packers might be happy to get an extra fourth-round pick and strike a deal. Or they might play hardball and see how badly Indianapolis wants that quarterback. Either one of the Colts’ sixth-round picks would push them over the value threshold, and suddenly Green Bay has two extra picks at the cost of moving back only four spots.

Long story longer, I think a trade back is the most likely scenario for the Packers simply because I don’t believe there is any player they could want at 30 who won’t be there should they move back a few spots. If they’re approached by a team looking to grab someone in the first round, I just don’t think they’ll reject the value of collecting a couple extra picks.

On the flip side, I do think there is plenty of talent worth trading up for, depending on how much you’re willing to give up, which depends on where you think a certain player is likely to be taken. The problem in this scenario is the significant amount of draft capital it would take to trade up far enough to get one of the top players at the Packers’ positions of need. Rather than get into specific names, I think it’s easier to look at how high Gutekunst might be willing (or able) to move up.

Given Green Bay’s historical tendency to hold on to high-round draft picks, I think trading up to 15 from 30 is a likely ceiling. For that to happen, the Packers would be swapping their first-round pick with the team holding the 15th pick (in this case, Denver), as well as likely including their second-rounders this year and next year. That would leave them without a selection between 15 and 94 this year, meaning they’d have to sacrifice even more if they wanted to get back into the second round at some point.

Of course, nothing is impossible–Gutekunst said himself he won’t be waiting to go get a player he really likes. But the cost of doing so would likely violate the Packers’ historical philosophy of amassing as many quality picks as possible. It’s also possible they may not feel the need to trade all the way up to the middle of the first round, but any trade up is going to require this year’s second round pick as well, plus whatever additional compensation is necessary to strike a fair deal.

Whatever happens with the 30th pick, it seems pretty likely the Packers won’t be the ones using it.

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