It's the thick of the NFL offseason in Green Bay which means it's time to whip out the draft statistic that makes Packers fans everywhere ask for another round at their local bar when the NFL Draft rolls around: Green Bay has not selected an offensive skill-position player (running back, wide receiver or tight end) in the first round since 2002 when it chose Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker with the 20th overall pick. The last time the Packers took an offensive skill-position player in the first round, Tobey Maguire's "Spider-Man" (the first one) was the world's top-grossing movie.
Longest drought without 1st-round RB, WR or TE
Common draft era (since 1967)
Twenty years of drafting and no offensive skill-position players is a testament to the front office's belief that Hall of Famer Brett Favre and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers could do more with less talent at their disposal, and both proved that theory to be correct for many seasons. However, one could argue that the Packers have also squandered some of both Favre's and Rodgers' twilight seasons by not surrounding them with more talent as their mobility and other skills slowly deteriorated.
With Rodgers not returning to Green Bay and the Packers transitioning to Jordan Love at quarterback, the team's first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, they could use another weapon or two in the passing game to complement Christian Watson, whose nine scrimmage touchdowns were tied for the most among all rookies with Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. Those nine scores from scrimmage were tied for fourth-most in the entire NFL among all wide receivers with a few of the league's best: the Vikings' Justin Jefferson, the Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase, the Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb, the Browns' Amari Cooper, and the Seahawks' Tyler Lockett. The Packers' Week 18 slip-up against the Lions showcased the need for another weapon or two, as the Lions double-teamed Watson or bracketed him with a safety nearly the entire game, daring another pass catcher to beat them. Romeo Doubs, the Packers' fourth-round pick receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, is a player head coach Matt LaFleur has high hopes for, likening the 23-year-old's " " to those of former Packers All-Pro Davante Adams.
However, adding a third option, a true top-flight receiving option, could rapidly accelerate Love's growth under center. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense hit new heights in 2021 following the addition of Chase alongside receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Higgins, the first pick of the draft's second round in 2020, has totaled over a 1,000 receiving yards in each of the two seasons since the Bengals drafted Chase fifth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. A first-round weapon at 15th overall could open things up for both Watson and Doubs in a somewhat similar fashion with both entering their second NFL seasons.
Financially, selecting a receiver or tight end 15th overall on April 27 makes the most sense for Green Bay when factoring in what trading Rodgers to the New York Jets will do to their salary cap. If the Packers trade Rodgers to the Jets prior to June 1, aka before the NFL Draft, Green Bay will take on $40,313,570 in dead cap space. Acquiring a first-round pass catcher allows for the Packers to have a young, cost-controlled asset for five seasons. That's significant for a team strapped for cash and had their No. 2 receiver, Allen Lazard (signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Jets), their top tight, Robert Tonyan (signed a one-year, $2.65 million contract with the Bears), and their backup tight end, Marcedes Lewis, all move on this offseason.
Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who set the college football bowl game receiving yards single-game record with 347 against Utah in the 2021 Rose Bowl; TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston, one of the driving forces of the Horned Frogs' surprise College Football Playoff run as well as one of the ; Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, who led all tight ends in receptions (180) and receiving yards (2,099) across the last three college football seasons; or Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid, arguably this draft's most fluid route-runner, would all be strong picks at No. 15.
The bottom line is the Packers need talent to find out if Jordan Love truly is the answer at quarterback, and they need to find out quickly. The decision deadline on whether or not to pick up his fully guaranteed, fifth-year option of $20.27 million is May 1. Realistically, the team needs to know if he's their long-term guy at the sport's most important position no later than the end of the 2023 season because that knowledge or lack thereof will shape the moves the Packers make that will have long-term ripple-effects down the road.
The only way to find out if Love is the guy is to surround him with talent because then it's easy to isolate his performance as the experimental variable if his supporting cast is well-stocked. Green Bay is loaded at running back with Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. An additional impact pass catcher, wide receiver or tight end, could be a franchise-altering addition if that player positively helps alter the course of Love's career.