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Richard Rodgers: Green Bay’s Top Secret Rookie Receiver
richardrodgers
packers.timesfour.com

I’ve previously expressed my committed man love for Ted Thompson, the General Manager of the Green Bay Packers: Thompson is a guy worth stalking, because he is Football Sex Personified. In particular, I’ve examined the wizardry Thompson has displayed in drafting wide receivers with his high-equity picks, from Greg Jennings and James Jones to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and now Davante Adams.

Recent news, however, has made me think that perhaps I’ve been viewing Thompson’s drafting prowess through too narrow of a lens. In response to a question about who would be starting at tight end for the Packers in Week 1, Rob Demovsky had this to say:

If organized team activities and minicamp are any indication — and considering they are practices in shorts and helmets, they may not be — it would appear rookie Richard Rodgers might have the inside track. His size (6-foot-4, 257 pounds) and athleticism stood out during the offseason practices. At least once a practice, he made an eye-catching play in the passing game, and coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers at the conclusion of minicamp this week that “if there was one thing that jumped off for a rookie in the offseason program, I would say he was very productive.” Now, he got more reps because returning starter Andrew Quarless did not practice at all this offseason, but Rodgers took advantage. He will have to show that he can be an effective blocker once the pads come on in training camp, but at this point he might be in the lead.

When I first read this news on Rodgers’ apparent impressiveness in practice, I immediately had this thought: What if Thompson is awesome at selecting with high picks not just WRs but all players predominantly involved in the passing game? If Thompson is good at drafting WRs (and I think he is), then could he also be good at drafting other receivers, namely TEs.

To answer this question, I went to Pro Football Reference and looked at all of the passing-game players (including quarterbacks) whom Thompson has drafted in the top three rounds since becoming GM in 2005.1 The results speak for themselves:

Year

Rnd

Pick

Name

Pos

College/Univ

Best Positional Finish on Packers

2005

1

24

Aaron Rodgers

QB

California

1

2005

2

58

Terrence Murphy

WR

Texas A&M

137

2006

2

52

Greg Jennings

WR

West. Michigan

4

2007

3

78

James Jones

WR

San Jose St.

16

2008

2

36

Jordy Nelson

WR

Kansas St.

2

2008

2

56

Brian Brohm

QB

Louisville

DNP

2008

3

91

Jermichael Finley

TE

Texas

5

2011

2

64

Randall Cobb

WR

Kentucky

18

2014

2

53

Davante Adams

WR

Fresno St.

??

2014

3

98

Richard Rodgers

TE

California

??

I admit that the sample size is small, especially at the QB and TE positions, but let’s entertain the possibility that Thompson hasn’t spent lots of premium draft picks on those two positions because he hasn’t needed to, in part because he’s so efficient with the high-equity picks he does use. Perhaps it’s good that Thompson hasn’t needed to select more than one TE in the first three rounds for almost a decade. At least we know that when he did select a TE with a top-100 pick, Thompson did well enough not to need to do so again for another six years.

In sum, this table makes Thompson look like a passing-game mastermind—and he looks even better when you consider that Murphy (despite his lack of production) was not a career bust: He retired from the NFL after only one year, suffering a severe neck injury as a rookie and learning that he had spinal stenosis. Thompson can’t be held accountable for what Murphy didn’t do as a Packer.

Additionally, Brohm was drafted primarily to backup Rodgers at QB, not to become a starter, a fate not uncommon for second-round passers. Just look at the Patriots’ selection of Jimmy Garoppolo in Round 2 of this year’s draft. Brohm never developed into an NFL-caliber player, as Thompson cut him after only a year on the team, but in all likelihood Thompson never really wanted Brohm to see meaningful game action as a Packer anyway.

In general, the high-equity passing-game players whom Thompson has drafted for the Packers have turned out to be productive. For the last decade, the Thompson stamp of approval on a QB, WR, or TE drafted in the top three rounds has been as good as the word of the fantasy gods.

What does this mean? You should think about drafting Richard Rodgers. And by “drafting,” I mean “grabbing off of waivers because he’s dirt cheap,” so cheap in fact that recently he wasn’t even selected in the rookie draft for the RotoViz Dynasty League, a 12-team IDP affair with 53 roster spots per team. At that price, it’s hard to go wrong.

Of course, he recently went undrafted in our league and has a low acquisition cost for a reason. Here’s a heat map from RotoViz’s College Career Graph App comparing him to the five TEs selected before him in the 2014 NFL Draft:

His Dominator Rating looks unconscionably low, and in 2013 he received few targets and had a red zone conversion rate the same as mine. With these numbers, he looks like a bad prospect.

And I might as well get this out of the way now: His combine numbers make him look nonathletic. His size is nice (6’4” and 257 lbs.), but his combine 40 time (4.87 seconds) was awful. Still, third-round selections Jordan Reed (6’2″ and 236 lbs.) and Dwayne Allen (6’3″ and 255 lbs.) didn’t look athletic at their combines either with their 40 times (4.72 and 4.89 seconds respectively), and they’re both currently TE dynasty darlings, so maybe Rodgers’ timed athleticism doesn’t matter. But in general he doesn’t have what we tend to look for in undervalued TE prospects. There’s no getting around that.

But it’s not all bad. Despite his subpar DR, Rodgers has a Phenom Index score that is almost average. That’s not a rousing endorsement, but it’s at least a way of telling you that Rodgers isn’t horrible and is still fairly young. Additionally, Rodgers is versatile, playing TE in 2011 and 2012 before transitioning to WR last year, despite his questionable athleticism. In theory, he could be a movable player who creates advantageous mismatches for the Packers.

Finally, even though Rodgers’ final-season stat line of 39-608-1 leaves something to be desired, there’s a chance that his 1-11 Cal team simply didn’t put him in a position to succeed and perhaps didn’t know how to use him. For instance, Bryce Treggs, first on the team in receptions and second in yards receiving, managed only one TD in 2013. I’m just saying it’s possible that Cal didn’t get the ball to Rodgers the way it could have, especially in the red zone. I mean, what’s likelier?—that Rodgers, with all his size, totally sucks at scoring TDs? Or that, even though he was third on his team in both receptions and yards receiving, Rodgers simply wasn’t given scoring opportunities in a manner commensurate with his abilities? I think the latter.

For the sake of argument, let’s just say that perhaps Rodgers is better in the red zone and at scoring TDs than we saw in 2013 and now return to the six-TE cohort of Rodgers and the five guys selected before him. If one looks only at their efficiency on a yardage-per-target basis, and not at their scoring production, then Rodgers actually looks pretty good.

Name

Round

Pick

Trgs

YPT

Eric Ebron

1

10

96

10.14

Austin Seferian-Jenkins

2

38

52

8.65

Jace Amaro

2

49

152

8.89

Troy Niklas

2

52

53

9.4

C.J. Fiedorowicz

3

65

44

6.8

Median

2

49

53

8.89

Richard Rodgers

3

98

65

9.35

With more targets than all but Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, Rodgers was more efficient on a yardage-per-target basis than all of them except for Ebron and (barely) Troy Niklas. Even though the NFL generally valued all of these guys more than Rodgers, he outperforms them as a group. Now, I’m not very good at spelling, but I think it goes something like this: Arbitrawj?

Rodgers is nothing close to a sure thing, but that’s what you get when you’re trying to buy something for nothing. Yes, he was underproductive in college and unathletic at the combine, but he was also efficient and versatile in college, and as a rookie he has the chance to play with Aaron Rodgers and the only players with whom he is currently competing are four guys yet to have significant NFL success who entered the NFL as late-round selections or undrafted free agents.

And did I mention that Ted Thompson selected him with a top-100 pick???

“And that may be all I need to know.”

<3

  1. I exclude running backs because they generally do not rely on the passing game for their production in the way that QBs, WRs, and TEs do. Also, I’ve chosen to look only at players drafted in Rounds 1-3 because the success rate for all players in the NFL selected after those rounds is low enough to render a team-, position-, and era-specific analysis of such players almost useless.  (back)

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