Arguably the biggest surprise of the first round of the 2020 NFL draft was the Green Bay Packers Packers selecting Utah State star quarterback Jordan Love. Unlike the other clubs seeking a playmaker in the first round, Green Bay isn’t looking for a new one just yet. Aaron Rodgers, in addition to being an all-time great, is still holding strong among the league’s best.
To tell the story we have to start from the very beginning. The Green Bay Packers were coming into the 2020 NFL Draft after reaching the NFC Championship Game, losing to the 49ers. Then, during the offseason, they retained most of their core players. Their big moves included signing free agents Rick Wagner, Christian Kirksey, and Devin Funchess. Besides, they let linebacker Blake Martinez go to the Giants.
It was a secret open to the public that the Packers’ biggest need heading into Night One of the 2020 Draft was a wide receiver.
Davante Adams has been fascinating in his six years in Wisconsin. He’s made the Pro Bowl during each of his last three years in Green Bay. However, apart from, there are few, if any, reliable weapons for Aaron Rodgers. If he had at least another good target, especially with Aaron Jones‘ impact on the passing game, the offence could be on a whole another level. Add this to a terrific pass-rush and one of the best corners in the game, Kevin King. A wide receiver would make the Packers one of the favourites to win another championship, probably the last in Rodgers’ career.
So far, nothing new and surprising. What’s the fascination with stating facts that everyone knew were true and didn’t even bother re-think or re-consider, or even question? That’s absolutely true by all accounts, and, surely, most Packers fans would tell you that, even the casual ones.
Someone didn’t know that, however. Whether it was Brian Gutekunst, the general manager, Matt LeFleur, the head coach, or anyone else, remains unknown. But what’s obvious is that this “someone” clearly thought otherwise.
Draft night came and it was, as always, a circus like no other, in addition to being a crucial event for any team’s hopes of competing. The Packers picked 30th on Night One. Surprisingly, they traded up with Miami for the 26th pick. What could that have possibly been for? Maybe a receiver? The market in that class had depth but some of the better names had already found teams. However, all the talk went away when they selected Jordan Love. So what could have been the point of all that?
Fans and experts alike probably got flashbacks of the 2005 draft, when, with much more certainty over the state of the upcoming season, the Brett Favre-led Packers picked Rodgers near the end of Round 1.
Most fans have ultimately praised the move given Rodgers’ success in the league. It’s not the best thing to compare the 2004 Packers and the 2019 Packers just to evaluate the QB pick. However, it’s worth doing now that both are described as “thinking ahead in the future.” So, the 2004 Green Bay Packers lost in the Wildcard round in the NFC to the Vikings. With the loss, one of the best offensive units in the NFL was denied a chance to make a deep run. The Packers scored the fifth-most points and accumulated the third-most total yards during the regular season. Moreover, the offence had balance, being third in passing yards and tenth in rushing yards.
There weren’t many holes on that side of the ball. Fullback William Henderson was a First-team All-Pro, and fellow running back Ahmad Green and wide receiver Javon Walker made the Pro-Bowl. That was the polar opposite of what the defence had shown, ranking 23rd in points allowed and 25th in yards surrendered, and managing to send exactly zero players to the 2005 Pro Bowl in Honolulu.
If anything, they needed to fix the secondary. The Packers did the worst job stopping the run – they ranked 9th in most yards allowed.
The infamous first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft was Alex Smith to the 49ers. Four cornerbacks went with the first 23 picks, including Fabian Washington by the Raiders just before the Packers hit the clock.
Most Mock Draft experts expected Green Bay to go cornerback. 247sports predicted Justin Miller out of Clemson. It’s difficult to assume how good Miller would have been on the Packers. He had one good stint with the Jets after falling to the end of the second round and would make the Pro Bowl in his second season. Not as a cornerback, though, but as a return specialist.
What is known, however, is that then-new Packers general manager Ted Thompson eventually addressed the secondary – in the second round. With their next pick, he selected Nick Collins out of Bethune-Cookman. Collins would go on to reach three Pro Bowl and become one of the greatest safeties in Packers history.
That justifies selecting Aaron Rodgers even if Rodgers had been a bust. Instead, he became a regular name in the so-called “G.O.A.T” conversation. The catalyst – filling a crucial need with the next pick. The paid off big – the Packers allowed the fewest passing yards in 2005.
And this is the core problem. After the 49ers took Brandon Aiyuk at 25th, no other receiver would go until Pick 33. Cincinnati and Indianapolis selected Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. with the first two picks of Round 2. Had they never traded up, this would’ve never been considered a reach. Nevertheless, let’s assume it would be.
In addition, let’s accept that the Packers see something in Jordan Love, just like Ted Thompson in 2005. Even then, their next two picks, despite a deep WR class, were A.J. Dillon, a running back, and Josiah Deguara, a tight end. Although the latter classifies as a pass-catcher rather than a blocker, it doesn’t compare with a real wide receiver, who would have been a WR2 or WR3. Also, the Packers would not address the wide-receiving position at all with their next six picks.
Now, they’re stuck with Allen Lazard and Funchess at the WR2 battle. Rodgers might not be happy but, more importantly, he might be in trouble. That applies to all of the Packers team. Green Bay is still a top contender within the NFC and one of the favourites to win it all. However, they blew the chance to give their playmaker weapons and go all-in on the 2020 season.