The Packers fell short of their ultimate goal again this year.
That shouldn’t be depressing, though – only 1 team out of 32 wins it each year – so the Packers are historically ahead of the curve.
For them to get back, I always find it fun to study how the current championship team was built. It yields great insights about the game and gives us some clues on what the Packers could do differently if they wanted to emulate a champion.
The Buccaneers signed Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown last year and got a lot of attention. But, as we’ve already covered: the Buccaneers were already one of the most talented rosters in the league before the big name free agents came to town.
So how did they put together such a talented roster?
For that answer, we need to dive in to what they’ve done in the draft the last few years.
The Buccaneers had the luxury of picking in the top 10 after a pathetic 5-11 season, but instead of locking onto one blue chip player and hoping for the best, they traded down from #7 to #12 and picked up two additional 2nd round picks. They traded down from one of those 2nd round picks and used those selections on cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Jordan Whitehead. Those guys aren’t household names, but they were both starters on a team whose weakness was the secondary.
They traded down a couple times and brought stability to their two weakest positions.
Oh, and the guy they took in the 1st round after trading down?
The nose tackle isn’t (yet) an All Pro like five of the other guys in their front 7, but he was the guy who came back from IR in time for the playoffs, turning their defense from a potential liability to championship powerhouse.
In 2019, the Buccaneers were picking in the top 10 again after their second consecutive pathetic 5-11 season.
In the 1st round, they took linebacker Devin White 1st, who was an instant stud and All Pro (as well as the most deserving player of the Super Bowl MVP award this year). In the 2nd round, they took Sean Murphy-Bunting, who had a pick in each of the 3 playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. Then, in the 3rd round, they traded down with the Rams and used the picks they received from that deal on cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards, who also both became starters, further shoring up the Buccaneers weakest positions.
The Buccaneers previous two drafts improved their position a bit and they weren’t picking in the top 10 any more (funny how good drafts make a team better).
This made it a little harder for them to get exactly what they want.
With a need at right tackle, they swapped a couple Day 3 picks to move up 1 spot in the 1st round and take Tristan Wirfs (who was not only the best lineman in the draft but the 2nd highest rated right tackle in the league by PFF), then in the 2nd round, they took Antoine Winfield (the best defensive back to come out of the class).
Those two guys both played huge roles in the Buccaneers Super Bowl season.
So what did we learn?
A lot of people are talking about the has-been free agent rentals that the Buccaneers added this year, but really, this team was very talented coming into the season and it was built on the strength of some very high draft picks (that came as a consolation prize for losing so much that they hadn’t been to the playoffs in 12 years) – and the value of those picks was compounded with frequent trading back.
As Ted Thompson was fond of saying: it’s easier to get hits when you have more swings.
That’s very true and it’s also true that the higher you pick, the better the odds are of finding good players.
The Buccaneers took advantage of high draft picks and wisely moved back multiple times. On top of all that, they just plain made great picks.
The free agents get the attention, but the core of this team was built through savvy drafting focused on trading down from high picks.
That’s a lesson to remember as we head into another crazy free agency season.
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