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On the Gridiron or Hardwood, Athleticism Usually Prevails

You probably watched the Baylor Bears demolish the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the finale to March Madness. There are lessons to be learned from that game that are applicable to the Green Bay Packers.

All through the season, only a couple of the sports writers who vote every week on who is the top college basketball team got it right. What you saw was an above-average team of Gonzaga athletes meet up with an elite group of Baylor athletes. It was the tough guys versus the smoothies, iron-pumpers versus the Pilates class, beef eaters versus vegans. It was no contest.

The first thing that became apparent was that the Baylor rebounders ruled the boards, and they unsurprisingly remained that way throughout the game. While both teams were roughly the same height, the Baylor big men were chiseled. They had muscular legs, v-shaped torsos, and impressive upper-body bulk. Baylor players, unlike the Zags, obviously spend a lot of time in the weight room.

The disparity was even more pronounced between the front courts. While Jalen Suggs was clearly the most athletic Gonzaga player, Baylor had three guards who made him look puny in comparison. Unfortunately for the Zags, the Bears weren’t just physical specimens – they were lightning-quick. To that, you can add that the Bears led the nation in three-point shooting percentage. This rout should have been fairly predictable.

Apr 5, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) shoots the ball against Baylor Bears guard Mark Vital (11) during the second half in the national championship game during the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

If basketball had the equivalent of the NFL Combine (which wasn’t held this year, though Pro Day events are prevalent), the elite nature of Baylor’s guys would have been quantifiable: their vertical jump scores would have been much better than the Zags’; their bench press reps would likely have doubled that of their opponents; their 3-cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, and 10-yard dash splits times would have provided proof of their superior quickness. I suspect that even their hand sizes, arm lengths, and weights would have been the match of any other college team in the nation.

In addition to their rebounding dominance, any one of their three top guards had such lightning fast moves that they could all launch 3-pointers at will, just by taking one fast step toward the basket and pulling up for the shot, or by making one quick-step back and letting fly. Gonzaga, on the other hand prepared to launch at least a dozen 3-pointers only to have defenders react so quickly that they decided to pass up on the shot.

I have no idea how Baylor assembled such a deadly mix of elite athletes and precision marksmen, but it’s apparent that when Baylor recruits they hone in on the nation’s best high school athletes. Actually, they manage to do it mostly without leaving the Southland, as they have multiple players from Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Ohio. They also brought in their big men from Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.

Lessons for the Packers

In his 13 years as general manager (2005-17), the Packers’ Ted Thompson never placed a premium on athletic ability. Going back to just Ted’s final four drafts, here are a few of his high draft choices who were far from elite athletes: TE Richard Rodgers (Round 3, 2014), DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Round1, 2014), CB Damarious Randall (Round 1, 2015), CB Quinten Rollins (Round 2, 2015, OLB Kyler Fackrell, (Round 3, 2016), and DT Montraveous Adams (Round 3, 2017).

In fairness to Thompson, CB Kevin King (Round 2, 2017), S Josh Jones (Round 2, 2017), T Jason Spriggs (Round 2, 2016), and ILB Oren Burks (Round 3, 2018) all had fine Combine marks and measurements, but have not translated those skills into being fine players.

Since Brian Gutekunst became GM in 2018, there’s been a marked improvement in drafting elite athletes, including: CB Jaire Alexander (Round 1, 2018), LB Rashan Gary (Round 1, 2019), S Darnell Savage (Round 1, 2019), C Elgton Jenkins (Round 2, 2019), QB Jordan Love (Round 1, 2020), and RB A.J. Dillon (Round 2, 2020). To date, however, elite athlete CB Josh Jackson (Round 2, 2018) has been a bust.

In some cases, players are not terrific athletes across the board, but they have one or two exceptional traits that account for their achievements. Examples are: Davante Adams (lightning quick feet and jumping ability), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (speed and acceleration), and Darnell Savage (speed and burst).

As draft time approaches, we’ll soon see if Gutekunst continues to highly value elite athleticism. You know what they (I) say: when it comes to athletic endeavors, athleticism is important. Let’s make that “crucially important.” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few must be thinking that right about now.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Mick April 7, 2021

    Since football is a game of athletic ability, one has to question the logic behind not valuing athletic ability in your scouting of college players. Worse yet; one has to wonder why a GM doesn’t address weaknesses on their team with players of better athletic ability. Lately, our GM has brought in SOME picks that have been good athletes-Jenkins-Alexander-Gary-Savage and others. But let’s not forget the brain farts that have been in the selection of J. Jones-Jackson-Burks-Biegel-Ryan, and others. One has to wonder why we can’t get to the top when we neglect positions of need; keep retaining players that have limited athletic ability, and then resigning those said players just to keep; as Gute says; most of the team in tact. Everyone knows not all picks pan out; but damn; it’s no wonder why this team struggles against physical teams.

  2. Howard April 7, 2021

    Thompson drafted his share of college basketball/baseball players thinking their athletic ability in other sports would transition to football. Quinten Rollins was a starting college point guard. Rollins spent more time in college on the basketball court than the field. Randall was a center fielder in college baseball. Didn’t transition to well to the NFL.
    To show respect to both Gonzaga and Baylor we cannot forget Demetrius Goodson who was a starting point guard for Gonzaga and then transferred to Baylor to play football. Drafted by Thompson. Goodson is still with the Packers as a scout.
    What good college basketball player had the best career in the NFL? Gates, Peppers, Gonzales, Graham? I put Gonzales and Peppers as the top two.

  3. PF4L April 7, 2021

    The term Athleticism covers a pretty broad spectrum. In terms of the combine it measures several events found at a track meet.
    Does it measure a players ability to be a good football player? Absolutely not.
    There is no hard and fast correlation between events at the combine, and if you can block, tackle…get separation, cover receivers, cause turnovers…run precise routes, learn a playbook, carry the rock into the end zone from 3rd and 10 at the 20.
    I say this every year here during the silly season….college game tape to a team is far more valuable than combine results.
    Personally..I don’t think you get to the NFL level, without having athleticism. In relation to your position as a football player.
    Teams value the combine for two far more important things than your 40 time, or your vertical.
    Teams should already know that.
    They value being able to get injury history, the players medicals. They will also poke and prod them if there are potential issues.
    Besides the money spent on checking players back rounds through specialized service company’s. The teams also gets a chance to sit down for one on one’s with the players.
    Getting to know who they are giving millions to.
    The Packers know, that checking someone’s personality, their drive, their temperament, their commitment, etc to football is important.
    Or at least they should…..by now.
    This season, obviously being different…again.
    No charge.

    1. PF4L April 7, 2021

      I don’t think Vince Wilfork turned any heads at the combine running the 40, or running a 3 cone, of how high his vertical was.

      But he was a hell of a football player.

      1. Mick April 10, 2021

        You’re right! I wonder what the 40 times were for Gates Brown and “The Fridge” ; to name a couple more.

  4. Stiggy April 8, 2021

    For every Antonio gates and Jimmy Graham…there are 2000 failures. But yes athletic ability is one of the top if not the top metric to evaluate player potential. However…you need to see some tape with the person actually succeeding in football too. The NFL isnt bench press or sprint class.

  5. PF4L April 9, 2021

    Did anybody set the alarm clock?
    Holy shit.

  6. PF4L April 9, 2021

    “All I can do is play my best, and last year I felt I did do that and may have thrown a wrench into some timelines that may have been thought about or desired,” said Rodgers.
    I could be wrong…but i swear i remember someone using that same analogy.

  7. PF4L April 9, 2021

    This Rodgers/Love thing is just getting stupid. People know the truth, it’s just that some people live in denial.
    The Packers want to move on….fine…then put on your big boy plans and carry it out.
    When we discuss this subject, i feel like we are all wallowing in the nightmare of the Packers creation.
    While they congregate and think of a strategy to save face in this clusterfuck they created. But there is no simple solution for them. They committed for a reason, there is no turning back and redoing it.
    The way it’s going….there are no winners. Not the Team, the Fans, or Rodgers.
    The Packers had a clear choice that is undisputable….You have a HOF QB, a handful of Pro Bowlers and decided improvement over that, was not needed last April.
    The team…..had a better idea…a better plan.
    Nothing we say or do can change that…it’s done.
    Below is an excerpt from a post i wrote down the hall……
    “I’ll tell ya what….they went after and drafted Love. Fine.
    Have Rodgers play out 2021. Trade him, get needed cap relief and a 1st round pick.
    Just end this because it’s getting stupid.
    You don’t ignore team needs, target, trade up and draft a QB, if you don’t plan to use him
    So lets see the master plan put in play.
    Get the kid ready to start for 2022. Lets move along and see what the kid has.
    Strap on a set and carry out the plan.”

    1. Mick April 10, 2021

      Ya, it’s getting stupid. Now I’ve heard there will be no face to face mini camps, everything done virtually. Teams that don’t comply will be penalized. Which makes me think about the awkward position Love has been put in, pandemic, lack of pre-season games; Rodgers saga;;;;;; etc! I feel bad for the kid; It’s already been almost 2 years since he saw live game action. I’m sure Love will get all 3 pre-season games with extensive action to prove what he can do. As for Gute; nope; I don’t feel bad for him; not one iota!

      1. PF4L April 10, 2021

        Yea….i’m not buying any of that virtual excuse anymore.

        Plenty of rookie 1st round picks in 2020 didn’t have camps, enough practices and had to do things virtually and they were very productive in their 1st year. They didn’t need an excuse.
        Our guy couldn’t win the back up job from a undrafted QB with 4 NFL passes.

        Love AND the Packers got that Covid pass in 2020, i’m not extending it.

        Your right Mick…it’s not the kids fault.
        He wasn’t ready by all scouting reports, but the Packers wanted him..
        I’m not blaming the kid for declaring himself draft eligible to be taken in the 1st round and wanting to make 12 million guaranteed.