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Have the Packers Done Enough to Maximize Aaron Rodgers’s Career?

Rather than helping the two-time MVP by picking a wide receiver last weekend, the Packers selected his replacement. And a look at Green Bay’s recent draft history shows very little concern for the weapons surrounding the QB.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Just hours before the start of the 2020 NFL draft, Aaron Rodgers laid out what he hoped the Packers would do on Day 1. “We haven’t picked a skill player in the first round in 15 years,” Rodgers told Pat McAfee. “So that would be kind of cool.”

Green Bay did use its first pick on a skill-position player, just likely not one Rodgers was hoping for. In drafting former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th pick, the Packers launched their QB succession plan—but that plan is still years away from being executed. If that pick wasn’t confusing enough, the team spent its second-round selection on Boston College running back AJ Dillon, a between-the-tackles bruiser who will be redundant behind star rusher Aaron Jones. In the third round, Green Bay took a tight end who coach Matt LaFleur plans to use like a fullback.

Barely three months ago, the Packers were in the NFC championship game. This team has a solid roster across the board, but came into the draft with a glaring need for a talented pass catcher to pair with Davante Adams and help the 36-year-old Rodgers keep his Super Bowl window open. Yet the Packers emerged from the deepest wide receiver draft in history with a haul full of backups and role players. It’s an astounding lack of urgency for a team that should be trying to get over the hump, and it brings into focus a question that could linger over the franchise for years to come: Did the Packers do enough to maximize Rodgers’s career?

Between drafting Rodgers in 2005 and Love in 2020, the Packers used zero first-round picks on offensive skill-position players. That alone looks like a pretty glaring lack of support for a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Packers would surely counter with the second-round talents they stocked up on through the years—Jordy Nelson (the 36th pick in 2008), Randall Cobb (64th, 2011), Eddie Lacy (61st, 2013), and Davante Adams (53rd, 2014)—but on the whole, the team’s investment in offensive weapons pales in comparison to nearly every other franchise. Since the 2006 draft, the Packers rank 29th in total draft capital (as measured by the traditional Jimmy Johnson draft chart) spent on non-QB skill-position players (i.e., wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends):

If we throw in offensive linemen, the Packers do even worse. Though they’ve taken a couple of first-round blockers during the Rodgers era (Bryan Bulaga in 2010, Derek Sherrod in 2011), they sink all the way to 31st:

There are some caveats here. For one, Rodgers enjoyed the presence of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver during the first few years of his career, so the Packers weren’t looking for receiver help for a good chunk of this sample (though neither of those guys was a first-round pick). Green Bay was also pretty good in the past couple of decades, so the team had less draft capital to spend than most others (this fact only enhances the Jets’ hilarious placement at the bottom of both charts). The Jimmy Johnson draft chart also tends to overvalue top picks—though it’s the most accurate representation of how the NFL perceives the value of draft picks. Use something like Chase Stuart’s draft chart and the Packers come in 23rd in both scenarios.

These charts also don’t fold in picks that are traded for players—so while the Cowboys trading a first-rounder for Amari Cooper, for example, is a serious offensive investment, it doesn’t get picked up in this analysis. It also doesn’t account for free agency; this is about only draft investment.

But that doesn’t really matter too much in the case of the Packers, because they’ve easily been the most inactive team in both the trade and free-agency markets during Rodgers’s career. Former general manager Ted Thompson had an almost fanatical devotion to building the roster through the draft—which makes the team’s refusal to put highly drafted weapons around Rodgers all the more damning. Between 2005 and 2017, Thompson signed virtually no notable offensive free agents, unless you stretch the definition of “notable” to include center Jeff Saturday and tight end Jared Cook.

Thompson changed roles in 2018 and Brian Gutekunst took over the decision-making reins. But even with a new GM in charge, the only real offensive weapon Green Bay has signed is Jimmy Graham, who was already plenty washed by the time he became a cheesehead in 2018. The Packers chased wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders this offseason, but couldn’t land him. The team instead signed former Colts receiver Devin Funchess, who has never had a 1,000-yard season and is coming off a fractured clavicle that caused him to miss nearly all of 2019. The 6-foot-4 Funchess is a good red zone target and is comfortable lining up in multiple spots in the formation, but he’s the type of receiver teams would generally rather have in a no. 3 role. Instead, he’ll be in the spotlight as Robin to Adams’s Batman.

When Adams missed four games with a toe injury last season, Rodgers was left throwing to former fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling and undrafted free agents Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard. Adams is a legit superstar who can deliver when the Packers need him to—but this offense would be a lot more dangerous with another high-profile target alongside him. Last season Green Bay finished 11th in passing DVOA and fourth in rushing (making their second-round selection of a running back all the more confusing), and while Rodgers isn’t the world destroyer he was from 2011 to 2014, he’s still easily an above-average passer. Some receiving help could push this offense over the top.

Instead, the Packers went in the opposite direction. CBS Sports’s Jason La Canfora reports that the Packers’ “desired goal” is to have Rodgers attempt only 20 passes per game this season, while emphasizing defense and the running game. That strategy flies in the face of modern NFL thinking, in which passing offense is king—and it looks even worse when you have Rodgers at quarterback. Plus, even if that is the plan, the selection of Love doesn’t fit with it. Barring an injury to Rodgers, Love won’t see the field much for at least a few years. The Packers won’t even get the benefit of having a starting quarterback on a rookie contract, which has become a pillar of modern roster-building.

These critiques mirror ones made when the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005 to take over for Brett Favre. Time proved that selection was the correct choice—and if Love develops into even half the player that Rodgers is, the Packers will get the last laugh when it comes to their 2020 draft pick.

But there are some key differences between the situation the team faced in 2005 and the one in 2020. Favre had publicly toyed with retirement for years before that draft, and Rodgers was a top talent who fell into the Packers’ laps. This time around, Rodgers sounds like he wants to play for years to come, and Love was never projected to go much higher than where he did. And, crucially, Green Bay traded up to get him. Just because the Rodgers pick worked out doesn’t mean the Love one will—the Packers are essentially trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

No matter what happens with Love, this draft will help cement the idea that the Packers didn’t maximize Rodgers’s career. While he’s played with some good playmakers through the years, the team never tried to acquire the type of superstar wideout who could have put the offense over the top while Rodgers was at his peak. Now, with what may be the team’s final—and best—chance to do so, Green Bay instead decided to look to the future.