Recent history sounds alarm for first-round mistake Packers must avoid

Texas A&M v LSU
Texas A&M v LSU / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

With the 2024 NFL Draft around the corner and the Green Bay Packers' only meaningful offseason move to boost the linebacker room being re-signing Eric Wilson, who is better on special teams, the team is likely looking to the draft for another starting-caliber inside linebacker.

With former All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell being released and signing with the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers are down to Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie, and Wilson as the only options at middle linebacker.

Walker has yet to put his full game together, but with new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley in town, a new scheme might be what he needs to meet his first-round draft pedigree. McDuffie could also see a boost from having familiarity with Hafley's scheme while playing for him at Boston College. While Wilson's talent shines on special teams, he makes less of an impact on defense.

That being the case, the Packers need another player who can challenge for immediate playing time or possibly take over the group.

However, the 2024 class is not particularly strong at inside linebacker and lacks a surefire top-15 talent. Although there are strong choices that are more suited for the middle rounds, the favorites of this year's class are Texas A&M's Edgerrin Cooper and North Carolina State's Payton Wilson. And both could cost a late first-round pick to acquire.

But just because they're the top choices, that shouldn't mean the Packers should prioritize them to help fill their need at linebacker.

Recent history paints a concerning story about drafting linebackers in the first round. The Packers should look to the middle rounds for help in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Recent drafts show why Packers must avoid drafting a linebacker in Round 1

There's a continued trend across the previous 10 drafts that should sound an alarm for any team considering drafting either Cooper or Wilson in the first round.

In that timeframe, 15 players played inside linebacker in college, ended up playing on the inside as a pro, or both. Of those 15 players, only five have made a Pro Bowl, and only four have been selected to an All-Pro team. Ultimately, these are not terrible numbers.

Until you dig slightly deeper.

Of the five Pro Bowlers (Devin White, Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Ryan Shazier, CJ Mosley), each was drafted inside the top 17 picks and was widely considered a top-20 player in their class. A handful were even top-10 selections.

Patrick Queen is the only player not drafted inside the top 20 to be selected to an All-Pro, but the remaining All-Pros were White, Smith, and Mosley.

How that relates to this class is, despite the upside Cooper and Wilson bring at the top of the position group this draft, both are considered borderline first-round picks but are better suited to go in Round 2. Neither is a top talent overall, and neither is projected inside the top 20 draft picks.

Players like Trevin Wallace out of Kentucky, Junior Colson of Michigan, or Jaylan Ford from Texas are not far behind Cooper or Wilson. Still, they are projected toward Rounds 3-4 of the draft and are likely to challenge for immediate starter reps for whoever drafts them.

In the case of the Packers, who desperately need to fill depth at linebacker while also finding another starting-quality player, waiting until after the opening night will be their best bet to maximize the pick's value and get production that exceeds that draft status.

Unfortunately, Green Bay has seen this exact history play out over Quay Walker's first two seasons. Like Patrick Queen, who took until year four for the lights to go on, Walker was drafted after pick 20, and it has been a bumpy ride. While scheme could be partially to blame, Walker certainly hasn't changed the historical norms of drafting inside linebacker in Round 1.

The Packers have other needs they could address with premium talent at positions that have historically been more worth using a first-round pick on. After not addressing the offensive line in free agency, despite losing three players on the line and an open starting right guard spot, it'd be a much safer and wiser move to invest a first-round pick there.

With also having 11 draft picks at their disposal, the Packers have no reason to reach for a position when a chunk of their draft picks exists where the talent is valued at in the upcoming class.

Inside linebackers should be comfortably off the Packers' radar in the first round this year unless they're confident the risk will be worth the reward. In recent history, after the top 17 picks, the risk has rarely paid off.

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