Exactly How Little Have the Packers Invested in the Wide Receiver Position?
Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, a majority of pundits, analysts, evaluators, mock drafters, and twitterers (tweeters?) perceived the Green Bay Packers' biggest need to be wide receiver.
It made sense, given that the team had very little proven talent beyond Davante Adams. It seemed like a perfect storm -- the team's biggest hole aligned with a historically deep class at the position.
Naturally, the Packers -- who entered the draft with 10 picks at their disposal -- did not select a single wideout.
That questionable decision by general manager Brian Gutekunst -- among a number of other head-scratching moves -- left most analysts bewildered and many fans infuriated. Is the bewilderment and infuriation truly justified? Has Green Bay been palpably negligent toward the position? If so, just how neglectful have they been?
To best answer the question, I looked at how much capital each of the 32 teams have invested in adding to their wide receiver groups over the last five years. Why five years? That's the period of time in which Green Bay has lost each of James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb -- and Jeff Janis, of course. Five years is also a sufficient sample size for a position as volatile as wideout.
Here's a look at what I found.
In order to gauge the amount of draft capital each team has invested in wideouts since 2016, I used Jimmy Johnson's draft pick value chart. I used the corresponding value for each pick spent or traded for the position. The results? See for yourself.
|San Francisco 49ers||686||975||461||21||6||2149|
|Los Angeles Rams||330||0||760||632||69||1791|
|New England Patriots||350||590||7||620||71||1638|
|Los Angeles Chargers||122||0||15||1500||0||1637|
|New Orleans Saints||0||0||136||0||430||566|
|New York Jets||310||0||0||231||1||542|
|New York Giants||0||23||0||0||500||523|
|Kansas City Chiefs||0||340||13||37||71||461|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||27||8||34||170||0||239|
|Green Bay Packers||0||0||71||22||26||119|
As you can see, the Packers have invested the least amount of draft capital at the wideout position since 2016. Keep in mind, that's despite losing three receivers who, through the 2018 season, were responsible for one-third of Aaron Rodgers' career completions and attempts, 37 percent of his yards, and 42.9 percent of his touchdowns.
It's also worth noting that 7 of the 10 Super Bowl teams during that period are in the top half of the list.
There's been speculation that Matt LaFleur is trying to move more toward the Kyle Shanahan scheme, which was all but confirmed by LaFleur after drafting an H-Back in the third round.
Matt LaFleur said the Packers will try to use Josiah Deguara in the Kyle Juszczyk role.
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) April 26, 2020
However, if that's the case, there's a notable flaw in that strategy.
Since Shanahan became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, only two teams have spent more draft capital at wideout. Sure, they've missed on some -- most notably Dante Pettis -- but with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk in the fold, the team will not be lacking speed at the position.
The same cannot be said for LaFleur's Packers.
Some of the past drafts can be explained away by wanting to invest in a leaky defense. That's understandable. The 2020 draft is harder to justify. Looking toward the future by selecting a quarterback makes some sense, but trading one of your four picks from the first four rounds to move up five spots to make the selection is an entirely different story.
Not wanting to reach for a receiver in the subsequent rounds is reasonable, though taking an old-school bruiser (with nearly 900 touches) at running back and an H-Back -- two of the least valued positions in the league -- in the second and third rounds is hard to rationalize.
If Gutekunst had done just one of those things, it would be easier to comprehend. The fact that he did all three of them while in a position to add players who could significantly increase Green Bay's chances of reaching the Super Bowl is what people are struggling with.
Now, I've only been focusing on the draft. Do things look any better if I included additions at the position through free agency?
Capital invested in free agency is markedly more difficult to gauge than dealing specifically with the draft.
It's tough to create a value system without biases that's going to account for salary cap and other essential factors. But...I'm going to do it anyway.
In order to be able to estimate to capital spent on the position during the period, I'm going to use the same value system that's used for the draft. How? It's fairly simple...kind of. For each season during the period, I took every free agent signing and ranked them by total guaranteed money -- because that's what a team is actually investing in a player.
I gave the signing with the most guaranteed money the value associated with the number one pick, the second-highest got the equivalent of the second pick, and so on. It's not perfect, but we're looking at a five-year window and are comparing the Packers against all other teams.
Here are the results.
|Kansas City Chiefs||1600|
|San Francisco 49ers||1508|
|New York Giants||1445|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1375|
|New York Jets||1059|
|New England Patriots||1036|
|Los Angeles Rams||850|
|Los Angeles Chargers||800|
|New Orleans Saints||746|
|Green Bay Packers||39|
The Packers wind up 30th by this estimate, and if we were to combine the two values, they'd have spent have spent less than a third (158) of the capital on adding receivers as the next team on this list -- the Seattle Seahawks (501). They've spent less than a seventh of the capital of the 30th-ranked team -- the Miami Dolphins (1139). That's astonishing.
Yes, this is far from a perfect way to gauge free agency model. That said, even a perfect model can't make six Day 3 picks and Devin Funchess look good. Mind you, four of those six picks are either out of the league or on other teams -- but that's beside the point.
Keep in mind, not a single team that made the Super Bowl during that five-year period appears in the bottom-10.
The Final Word
Yes, the Packers have neglected the position...in a big way. No matter how you look at it, few teams have invested as little as Green Bay has over the past five years.
When people talk about Rodgers' decline in play, perhaps they should keep in mind that his front office seems to not care to surround him with talent at receiver.
Despite this, the Packers can be found on FanDuel Sportsbook at +2500 to win the Super Bowl, the 12th-best odds in the NFL.