GREEN BAY — There is a school of thought that the Green Bay Packers, who own the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL draft, should use it to find the eventual successor to 35-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In a draft where four quarterbacks — Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones — stand head and shoulder pads above the rest, it is a scenario that at least deserves consideration from Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. Quarterbacks are the biggest difference-makers in the NFL and the opportunity to grab a good one can’t be dismissed out of hand. Besides, if there is an acute shortage on the Packers’ depleted roster, it is true difference-makers.
Although it seems unlikely the Packers will select a quarterback with one of their two first-round picks (they also select 30th), the quarterback position is likely to have a major impact on their draft — whether they take one or not.
By signing four starter-quality free agents in March, Gutekunst gave himself rare flexibility in the draft. The Packers still have glaring needs, but adding two outside linebackers, a safety and a guard covered most of their open bases and freed them up to pick a player at 12 regardless of position. How and where the four quarterbacks come off the board could give the Packers still more options in the first round.
The problem with staying at 12 is no one knows how many difference-makers there are in any one draft.
“I always feel that there’s a shelf where it starts to fall off and then maybe you’ve got bigger numbers in that second tier,” Gutekunst said. “So you’re always trying to figure out where that is. But it’s different in every draft. There’s drafts I’ve been a part of where it’s just been two or three guys (in the top tier). And there’s been drafts where it’s in the high teens.”
The number of difference-makers in this year’s draft falls somewhere between those extremes. It is deep in linemen, especially on defense, and at edge rusher and tight end, which syncs up nicely with the Packers’ needs. Despite the need for a difference-maker, this is one year where accumulating picks in the first three rounds might be the way to go for the Packers.
With seven of the top 15 teams in the selection order potentially in the market for a franchise quarterback, talk of the big four will dominate the early portion of the draft. Assuming they don’t draft one, there are three ways the quarterbacks can impact the Packers’ decisions in the first round.
First, they can sit tight at 12 and hope a difference-making player gets pushed down to them by quarterback-needy teams jumping in while they can.
Outside linebackers Nick Bosa of Ohio State, Josh Allen of Kentucky and Montez Sweat of Mississippi State, defensive tackles Quinnen Williams of Alabama and Ed Oliver of Houston, inside linebacker Devin White of LSU and tight end T.J. Hockenson of Iowa are seven players who are likely out of the Packers’ reach at 12. With five teams picking ahead of them — Arizona (No. 1), Oakland (No. 4), the New York Giants (No. 6), Denver (No. 10) and Cincinnati (No. 11) — that could enter the quarterback market, it’s possible the four top quarterbacks could be taken early, which would give the Packers a viable shot at one of the top seven non-quarterbacks.
Second, they can trade back with a quarterback-hungry team and gain even more draft ammunition than the 10 picks they already have.
Two more teams that might be seeking a quarterback sit right behind the Packers — Miami at 13 and Washington at 15. The Giants also own the 17th pick, which they might want to use on a quarterback if they don’t take one with the sixth. If three quarterbacks go off the board early and one remains at 12, the Packers might be sitting in the perfect spot to start a bidding war and trade back a few spots.
Third, they might be able to auction off the 30th pick if one of the big four quarterbacks slips to the end of the first round.
Because first-round picks have a fifth-year option attached to their contracts, teams like to draft potential franchise quarterbacks in the first round. Just last year, Baltimore traded up to the 32nd pick to take Lamar Jackson. If one quarterback drops, there could be so many potential playmakers available to the Packers at 30, especially among the defensive linemen, edge pass-rushers, offensive tackles and tight ends, that they might be able to trade back a few spots virtually without penalty.
There is a fourth draft scenario for the Packers, one that doesn’t involve quarterbacks. They could trade up to land a sure-fire impact player. That would have been unheard of during Ted Thompson’s tenure as general manager, but Gutekunst admitted last year he attempted to trade up from No. 14, so nothing is off the table.
Some might be convinced the Packers need to find the next Aaron Rodgers, but this isn’t the year to do it. None of the four quarterbacks is a guaranteed difference-maker and the Packers have too many other holes to fill to think about a quarterback.
But it is possible they can use the NFL’s insatiable need for quarterbacks to enhance the value of their pick and find a much-needed difference-maker at another position.