GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers released receiver Amari Rodgers on Tuesday, the latest in a string of bad third-round draft picks by a team that calls the NFL Draft the backbone of its roster building.
Of the 41 players drafted in the third round in 2021, few contributed less than Rodgers, who was claimed off waivers by the Houston Texans on Wednesday. This season, seven of those third-round picks have started every game and 21 players have started at least one game. In their two seasons, 19 players have started at least 10 games.
It’s rare for a third-round pick to not get through his rookie contract, let alone not finish his second season. Rare but not unique. Rodgers became the fifth member of the Class of 2021 to be released this year, joining the Vikings trio of quarterback Kellen Mond (No. 66), linebacker Chazz Surratt (No. 78) and guard Wyatt Davis (No. 86) as well as 49ers running back Trey Sermon (No. 88).
This was general manager Brian Gutekunst’s fifth draft. His third-round picks have been linebacker Oren Burks in 2018, tight end Jace Sternberger in 2019, tight end Josiah Deguara in 2020, Rodgers in 2021 and offensive lineman Sean Rhyan in 2022. Combined, they started 12 games for the Packers. Only two of the five are on the roster, with Deguara averaging 14 snaps per game and Rhyan playing exactly one snap on special teams before being suspended for the rest of the regular season.
Deguara, with 11 catches this season and two career touchdowns, has been the best of the bunch, obviously, though that is sort of like being class valedictorian with a 2.0 GPA.
The problems pre-date Gutekunst’s ascension to GM. The Packers haven’t signed one of their third-round picks to a second contract since safety Morgan Burnett in 2010. Rodgers this week joined running back Alex Green (2011), defensive tackle Khyri Thornton (2014), receiver/running back Ty Montgomery (2015) and Sternberger (2019) as third-rounders to be cast aside before finishing their four-year rookie deal. Green, Thornton and Sternberger were out of the league altogether before their fourth seasons were complete.
The list at the end of this story shows the team-by-team third-round results since 2018, listed with number of players selected, number of starts and “Weighted Career Approximate Value.” Shortened to “wAV,” the metric, as explained by Pro Football Focus, attempts to put a single number on the seasonal values of a player at any position from any season. It’s a way to make apples-to-oranges comparisons, such as a running back to a center.
There’s no sugarcoating Gutekunst’s third-round selections. The five players have combined to start 14 games. (Note: Burks has started two games this season for the 49ers.) Only the Philadelphia Eagles got fewer starts from their third-round picks, with their three selections having contributed nine starts.
Two points on that. First, the Eagles traded away their third-round picks in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, they acquired cornerback Ronald Darby, a starter who helped them win the Super Bowl. At the trade deadline in 2019, they acquired receiver Golden Tate, who caught the game-winning touchdown in the playoff game at Chicago.
Second, the Eagles’ 2021 third-rounder, defensive tackle Milton Williams, has had a bigger role than any Packers third-rounder since 2016 draft pick Kyler Fackrell. Williams, who has three sacks and eight tackles for losses in about 1 2/3 seasons, played 456 snaps as a rookie and is on pace to hit that number again while playing on a loaded defensive line. Fackrell played 623 for the Packers in 2018, when he had a one-year-wonder season of 10.5 sacks.
Since 2011, the Packers landed only one third-round selection who started more than 20 games in his career. That was tight end Richard Rodgers in 2014, who started 24 games and scored 13 touchdowns in four seasons in Green Bay and is playing for the Chargers this season. Rodgers started 12 games in 2015, the only time a third-round pick has been a regular starter for a season since Burnett.
NFL Third-Round Draft Picks, 2018-2022
Baltimore Ravens: 11 players, 220 starts, three Pro Bowlers, 121 wAV.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Seven players, 148 starts, 62 wAV.
Houston Texans: Eight players, 148 starts, 50 wAV.
Detroit Lions: Seven players, 135 starts, one Pro Bowler, 39 wAV.
Denver Broncos: Nine players, 132 starts, 60 wAV.
Buffalo Bills: Six players, 127 starts, 56 wAV.
Washington Commanders: Six players, 125 starts, 46 wAV.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Seven players, 124 starts, 34 wAV.
Cincinnati Bengals: Six players, 123 starts, 55 wAV.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Six players, 120 starts, 43 wAV.
Miami Dolphins: Five players, 112 starts, 41 wAV.
Dallas Cowboys: Seven players, 105 starts, 45 wAV.
Arizona Cardinals: Five players, 94 starts, 35 wAV.
San Francisco 49ers: Seven players, 93 starts, one Pro Bowler, 51 wAV.
Los Angeles Rams: Eight players, 91 starts, 38 wAV.
New York Giants: Seven players, 91 starts, 37 wAV.
Seattle Seahawks: Four players, 87 starts, 34 wAV.
New Orleans Saints: Four players, 85 starts, 29 wAV.
Los Angeles Chargers: Five players, 85 starts, 27 wAV.
Las Vegas Raiders: Eight players, 84 starts, 35 wAV.
Kansas City Chiefs: Five players, 80 starts, 37 wAV.
Tennessee Titans: Six players, 73 starts, 25 wAV.
Indianapolis Colts: Five players, 72 starts, 21 wAV.
Cleveland Browns: Eight players, 66 starts, 24 wAV.
New England Patriots: Eight players, 52 starts, 28 wAV.
Chicago Bears: Two players, 44 starts, 21 wAV.
Atlanta Falcons: Five players, 38 starts, 18 wAV.
New York Jets: Six players, 37 starts, 19 wAV.
Carolina Panthers: Five players, 32 starts, 6 wAV.
Minnesota Vikings: Seven players, 31 starts, 21 wAV.
Green Bay Packers: Five players, 14 starts, 11 wAV.
Philadelphia Eagles: Three players, 9 starts, 5 wAV.
As an aside, only six third-round picks have been selected for a Pro Bowl. Three were drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, the undisputed third-round heavyweight champions. The Packers have not found a Pro Bowler in the third round since getting Antonio Freeman and William Henderson in 1995 and Mike Flanagan in 1996.