The Green Bay Packers are busy preparing for the NFL draft that is coming up next week, just like every other team. No one outside the front office of Green Bay knows exactly what they are planning to do. However, that has not stopped draft analysts from doing their best to speculate on who they will draft.
Most of the predictions say their first pick will be on the defensive side of the ball, and particularly the secondary, which is to be expected given the weakness on the back end. After analysts agree on that though, nothing else remains a constant. Some think that the Packers should go after wide receiver depth following the loss of Jordy Nelson and the inconsistent play of Randall Cobb. Others think that they should go for linebackers or defensive lineman to beef up the defense in general. However, the most important position they should focus on and second only to the secondary, is the offensive line.
While it has been given little attention in all the pre-draft analyses, the o-line should not be relegated to the backburner in the minds of Packers fans. While it’s a badly kept secret that Rodgers is really good outside of the pocket, making plays happen and wreaking havoc on opposing teams. However, more time in the pocket and longer protection is always a good thing. It just makes sense that if a quarterback is going to play well, he needs to have confidence in his line to protect the integrity of the pocket, and ultimately, him.
Evidence of this, is the Time to Throw statistic, which tracks the amount of time it takes a quarterback to throw the ball from the time it is hiked to them, minus sacks. While the “Next Gen” stats from NFL.com have only been keeping track of these particular stats for the last two seasons, even in those two seasons a correlation can be found.
In 2016 Aaron Rodgers had an average of 2.87 seconds from snap to throws, which was the sixth longest in the NFL. With plenty of time to do his work against opposing defenses, Rodgers threw for a passer rating of 104.2 which was second best in the NFL. The next season in the limited number of games he played, Rodgers average time went down to 2.64 seconds, nearer the bottom of the list than the top. Consequently, his passer rating dropped noticeably to 97.2 While this is not entirely conclusive, it does give a glimpse into the world of a professional quarterback where every tenth of a second is a throwing window opening or closing.
Another equally important reason is that Rodgers has suffered two broken collar bones in the last five seasons. While he has successfully recovered from both, every successive year he becomes a little more susceptible to injuries and recoveries begin taking even longer. He will be 35 next season, which even in today’s NFL is notable. He needs protection or he will not be playing a full season next year.
The reason why Green Bay might need to draft an offensive lineman so desperately is that their line is neither healthy nor incredibly talented. Brian Bulaga has been very good for the Green and Gold but he is recovering from an ACL injury. Many players are never the same after an injury like that. Plus he’s headed into his thirties very soon. Meanwhile starting right guard from last season Jahari Evans is now a free agent and not looking likely to return at the age of 34. Justin McCray and Jason Spriggs are solid stop-gaps, but not worth bragging about and certainly not long term prospects. The Packers need depth there and need depth now.
So who should they draft? Stay tuned for a future article that details what offensive linemen might best fit their team.