I’d really like someone to answer this question for me. I never feel great about how Ted Thompson drafts until I look back in retrospect. I couldn’t help but feeling that there were a lot of missed opportunities though. What’s dumbfounding to me and a lot of other analysts is why Thompson doesn’t seem to address his biggest need even when it is blatantly obvious that it’s going to be the achilles heal of the team. In all but one year since Ted Thompson has been General Manager there have been huge holes that were exploited by some team to beat the Packers. Even on the Super Bowl team there were weaknesses at Safety, Inside Linebacker, along the defensive line, and certainly in the backfield where James Starks was the teams number one rusher. So, why doesn’t Ted Thompson address his number one need? The answer, I think, boils down to your draft philosophy.
Best Available Player or Most Pressing Need?
As most observers noted before the draft, Ted Thompson gave his standard “we’ll take the best player available” answer to the question of how he’d approach the draft. History shows however, that he doesn’t always draft that way though. In last years draft, Thompson took Damarious Randall, a CB out of Arizona State. I didn’t even know who this person was. He hadn’t been projected on anyone’s board and seemed like a strange pick at the time. Even now I still think that Quentin Collins, the Packers’ second round selection will be the better corner, but Randall makes a little more sense now that I’ve seen him play. Cornerback was the biggest need for the Packers in last years draft and they filled the need in the first and second rounds. You could make a very compelling argument that there were better players available, but Thompson chose instead to fill a need. The same was true in 2014 with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 2010 with Bryan Bulaga, 2009 with B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, and now 2016 with DT Kenny Clark.
Curiously, the Packers haven’t taken an Inside Linebacker in the top 100 since drafting A.J. Hawk in the top five and Abdul Hodge at sixty-seven in the 2006 draft. Hawk was an Outside Linebacker in college at Ohio State, but eventually converted to an Inside Linebacker in Dom Capers’ 3-4 system in 2009. One thing that’s notable about Thompson’s drafting style is that there is only a mild drop off in the talent he acquires from the 4-7th round stages. That’s remarkable given how most teams draft. Thompson’s worst drafts (2005, 2007, 2011) have yielded at least two starters. 2005 is given a pass by most analysts and commentators because of who they got in the first round: Aaron Rodgers. Thompson also picked up All-Pro Safety Nick Collins in the second round of that draft as well though. 2007 was arguably Thompson’s worst draft, which contains only one player that is still with the team: Mason Crosby. The Packers haven’t had a bust bigger than Justin Harrell, who was picked at number sixteen overall. The Packers only hope in the first round of that draft was to trade up and select ILB Lawrence Timmons, who went fifteenth overall or RB Adrian Peterson went off the board at number seven. Beyond the first round that year, the Packers were really limited in an absurdly thin draft class that produced few big names aside from Eric Weddle and Charles Johnson. In 2011, the Packers clearly should have bet the house on DE’s J.J. Watt and Muhammed Wilkerson.
The jury is still out on 2014 and 2015 obviously. 2014 produced Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Richard Rodgers, Corey Linsley, and Jeff Janis. 2014 was one of those strange years where the obvious pick for the Packers just dropped in their lap when their biggest need and the best available player just happened to be the same pick. 2015 yielded CB’s Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, but little else. WR Ty Montgomery was sidelined through much of last season with an injury and LB Jake Ryan looked lost last year especially in coverage situations. The 2016 class has some potential though I think the Packers will regret not taking Myles Jack with their first round pick. I was praying that they wouldn’t go after LB Reggie Ragland, but given who they wound up with (Kenny Clark) part of me kind of wishes we had picked Ragland. The Packers second round selection also seems like a leap of faith. We’ll see whether Jason Spriggs pans out or not, but the Packers gave up a lot to get him. Overall, it’s nearly impossible to grade the draft at this stage. We have no idea how players will develop, but judging just from the amount of scrutiny that can be applied to the 2015 draft picks it is surprising how much you can learn about a player in just one year.