For the past eight years, the Green Bay Packers have spent dramatically more draft capital on defense than offense.
That may seem obvious, but it’s worthwhile to step back and lay out how we got here, the extent of this imbalance, and the implications for the team.
Coming off a Super Bowl victory in the 2010 season, then-GM Ted Thompson felt confident enough in his defense to take Derek Sherrod in Round 1, Randall Cobb in Round 2, and Alex Green in Round 3 of the 2011 NFL Draft.
But in 2011, the defense dropped off dramatically, ranking last in yards allowed. And from 2012 onward, every Green Bay Packers draft has been dominated by defense. In each of the last eight years, the Packers’ first pick has been for a defensive player.
Consider the chart below. It shows each draft pick the Packers have made from 2012 to 2019, with green representing defense and yellow representing offense. Each player’s bar represents the value of the draft pick used to select them, based on Rich Hill’s draft value chart. That chart assigns relative point values to picks, based on how teams have historically valued picks in trades.
Whether you use Rich Hill’s chart, Jimmy Johnson’s chart, or another version, the results will be fairly similar. The Packers have used 37 picks on defense over these eight years, and 32 on offense. That gap isn’t striking. But the imbalance in the value of the picks is.
Using these values, the Packers have spent nearly 3,229 “points” on defense, and just over 800 “points” on offense. Yes, that means the Packers have spent approximately four times as much draft capital on defense as on offense over the past eight years.
This trend can’t be attributed simply to coincidence and a devout adherence to the “best player available” drafting philosophy. In most drafts, Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst have been picking to fill a glaring need.
It’s hard to fault them. Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick sprinting past a bewildered Erik Walden or Julio Jones abusing Ladarius Gunter, a lack of talent on defense has been the most obvious reason for the team’s playoff exit in most years.
But despite the front office plugging defensive holes year after year, the offense has consistently outperformed the defense on the field. Over these eight years, the offense has ranked an average of 8.625 in points scored, and the defense has ranked an average of 18.5 in points allowed.
Why the disparity in results, despite a reversed discrepancy in draft capital invested? There’s many complex, interrelated reasons.
Put simply, the defense has suffered due to injuries, the ineptitude of Dom Capers, and some poor draft and free agency decisions. That’s led to a nightmarish cycle. Time and time again—with Nick Perry and Rashan Gary, Damarious Randall and Jaire Alexander, Quinten Rollins and Josh Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Darnell Savage—the Packers have needed to pick players at the top of the draft from the same position group as a former disappointing high pick.
The offense, meanwhile, has largely remained good to elite (until recently) due to Aaron Rodgers and Day 2/Day 3 gems such as David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, and Davante Adams. The success of those picks has minimized the glaring, recurring needs we see on defense.
If ever there was a time to break from the established norm, it was this year. The 2018 offense was unwatchable at times, despite Aaron Rodgers starting 16 games. Matt LaFleur brings an entirely new offensive system. And Gutekunst patched the most significant defensive holes with big signings in free agency.
Once again, though, the offense was a secondary priority. When Mike Pettine came in to fix the defense, Gutekunst supplied him with Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Oren Burks right off the bat. He did LaFleur no such favors this year.
Of course, the draft is just one way of building a team. The other primary ways are to sign free agents and re-sign your own players. As far as money being spent, the story is different. Rodgers’ contract is the biggest monetary investment the organization has ever made in a single player. The top four cap numbers for 2019 (Rodgers, Bakhtiari, Jimmy Graham, and Adams) are all for offensive players.
And the Packers still do have a talented offense. There’s certainly enough good players for Rodgers and LaFleur to get this unit back near the top of the league.
This article isn’t necessarily meant to suggest that Thompson and Gutekunst have erred in emphasizing defense so strongly in the draft. More appropriate objects of criticism may be the quality of the actual players selected, as well as Dom Capers, and Mike McCarthy’s hesitance to fire him.
But as we set expectations for 2019, keep in mind what young talent each side of the ball has been supplied with. We can hope for big things from LaFleur, Rodgers, and the rest of the offense this year. But it’s long past time for the Packers’ defense to start giving the front office what they’ve been paying for.