Seeing the Draft Through Ted Thompson’s Eyes, Part III: Draft Review
Ted Thompson has made thousands of decisions since becoming Packers general manager, and every one of them made sense to Ted Thompson. They haven’t always made sense to us, of course, especially when watching national media coverage of the NFL Draft. We watch exciting players keep falling down the big boards of Mel Kiper Jr. or Mike Mayock—only to watch Thompson pass on those “value picks” in favor of a “reach,” a player they think would have been available a couple rounds later. That fool!, Kiper implies. Didn’t he see all the bargains he was passing up? Analysts stamp the pick with a letter grade—and, in our own minds, so do we.
That feeling of “are we really sure these GMs know what they’re doing?” only grows if we think back on past drafts and what could have been. DeAndre Hopkins went one pick after Datone Jones in the 2013 first round. Boy, if Aaron Rodgers had Hopkins instead of Davante Adams running routes last year, there’s no way we lose that heartbreaker in Arizona. Inundated with national coverage that often treats the NFL Draft as a competitive scavenger hunt, we are led to marvel at the secret geniuses who “stole” Tom Brady in the 6th round of 2000’s draft, and laugh at the morons who picked Giovanni Carmazzi and Spurgeon Wynn ahead of him.
Truth is, there are no mad geniuses when it comes to the draft. The Patriots’ front office didn’t foresee greatness for Brady either; if they had, they sure wouldn’t have given other teams 198 chances to snatch him away before he went at pick 199. The same is true for Ted Thompson, whose shopping list from the day he took the job in 2005 included “good QB to secure the team’s future after its 35-year-old legend retires.” Thompson had no secret insight telling him that Rodgers was designed for MVPs; his scouts watched the same tape and saw the same strengths and weaknesses as everyone else. But Thompson knew the Packers needed their next franchise QB in place to avoid spinning for years on the “mediocre QB merry-go-round of doom” once Favre retired. Rodgers had the tools and makeup to potentially develop into that player, and he happened to be on the board at pick 24. If Rodgers’ closed-door development gave Thompson reason to believe Rodgers wasn’t going to pan out, then Thompson would just start looking for his next franchise quarterback the next year.
Neither Belichick, Thompson, nor any other front office has access to some secret pool of knowledge or insight unavailable to other teams. They all know the strengths and limitations of every prospect, and the only difference in their draft boards is the relative value they place on those strengths and limitations. We can—and did, in part I of this series—get a pretty good bead on what Thompson values, by looking for common threads among his draft picks: (1) high football character, (2) enough size and speed to succeed at his position at the NFL level, and (3) someone who fits a roster need. Armed with that information, in part I and part II we tried to create the Packers draft board in the same way that Thompson would: we assessed the roster to develop a laundry list of short- and long-term roster needs, and we identified guys who might meet those needs at various stages of the draft board and otherwise fit Thompson’s criteria for draft picks.
And we came pretty close. We only missed one item on his shopping list: we overlooked how concerned Thompson might be about Sam Barrington being able to return to form, causing us to miss on ILB Blake Martinez in round 4. (We thought Thompson would be more worried about upgrading from Joe Thomas as a coverage linebacker.) We should have known that Thompson wouldn’t count on the health of a mediocre veteran returning from injury, after he left the swing tackle position in the hands of Don Barclay last season (with disastrous results). And though we knew Thompson wanted to add a burner to his receiving corps in the mid- to late rounds, we didn’t have our eye on fifth-rounder Trevor Davis. (We figured Davis would have more draft value to a team looking for a burner/returner combo—as opposed to the Packers, who only need the “burner” half of that equation.)
Other than that, we knew Thompson’s shopping list—which, as always, was longer than the number of picks he had. And we picked out the prospects who, on paper, fit those needs and the Packers’ criteria at different points of the draft. What we didn’t know is what Thompson’s scouts foresaw when they looked at these prospects. And we couldn’t—the Packers play it as close to the vest as anyone when it comes to their internal scouting evaluations.
But come draft day each year, Thompson and his staff are forced to put their cards on the table. Thompson’s actions in the draft gave us a treasure trove of insight into how he views the Packers’ roster, the career paths his scouts expect from these prospects, and his future plans. We’ll take a look at conclusions we can draw from each selection, and in some cases, why Thompson didn’t go another way. We’ll also show how Thompson got “value” from this draft at every point—at least as he defines it. And to do that, we have to start with a brief primer on how Thompson thinks about value.
What “Value” Means to Ted Thompson
Every single pick that Ted Thompson (or any competent GM) makes is—in his mind—the absolute maximum value on the board at that point of the draft. But Thompson isn’t thinking about “value” in the way Mel Kiper taught us to think about value; it’s not just a simple comparison of the guy’s draft slot to where he has expected to go.
Thompson’s ideas about value are a function of his role. Thompson is an asset manager for an institution valued at more than $1 billion, and his CEO has given him two basic tasks:
(1) don’t sink this storied franchise (which, for an NFL GM, translates to “make sure the team isn’t without a good QB for long”); and
(2) get the most performance you can out of 53-player portfolio of assets without going over the salary cap.
This draft wasn’t about task one. Thompson met his obligations there when he picked Rodgers over Favre in the 2008 summer showdown, and the promising Brett Hundley has him feeling OK if anything were to happen Rodgers in the next few years.
For Thompson, this draft (and most of his moves) was about task two. Four-year rookie contracts are much cheaper than veteran contracts, and young players who give veteran-level performance at a rookie-contract price are the single best way for an NFL GM to maximize limited cap space. This year, the Jaguars and Bears will use more than $16 million in cap space on DT Malik Jackson and ILB Danny Trevathan, both of whom were late-round picks of the Broncos in 2012. Last year, when they were still under rookie contracts, the Broncos got the same performance from the same guys for around $3 million. Get enough meaningful contributions from players on rookie contracts, and a GM might be able to create a $155 million, salary-capped roster that generates performance worth $200 million year. And that’s a team that can compete with anyone, so long as a decent QB is one of the assets in that portfolio.
Depending on rookie contract performers gives Thompson a big leg up against teams with dead cap space and big-dollar free-agent contracts. To acquire an asset once he hits the open market in free agency, a GM typically has to pay him more than 31 other teams are willing to pay. That doesn’t leave much room for the player to outperform his salary; all a GM can really hope is that the free agent’s production meets his salary. And that’s not the way to squeeze every ounce of performance of out every dollar spent.
From Thompson’s perspective, free agents don’t offer opportunities for good return on investment unless they are crucial for unlocking the true value of other players on the roster. That’s why paying the open-market price to add Charles Woodson in 2006 was logical to Thompson. The roster had one good CB already in Al Harris, but his performance was going to waste. No matter how well Harris blanketed one receiver on the field, it was not going to affect the other team’s passing game—opposing QBs just teed off on Ahmad Carroll and other weak links in the secondary instead. If the organization was going to realize the full value of Harris’s strong performance, Thompson needed to shut down the open freeway on the other side of the field. Thompson and his scouts didn’t pay open-market price for Woodson because they thought he was a future defensive MVP—Woodson’s career trajectory at the time (multiple Pro Bowls early in his career, but none in the previous four seasons before 2006) offered no reason for Thompson or anyone else to believe that Woodson would suddenly start playing better in his 30s than he did in his 20s. But Thompson and his scouts knew that Woodson could still play CB at a very competent level—and that meant Thompson’s portfolio would not only add starting-caliber play from Woodson, but would also finally stop wasting the value of Al Harris’s strong performance on the other side. That’s a multiplier effect that can justify paying the price for an open-market free agent.
For Thompson, things are different when it comes to extending the team’s own players. Thompson, McCarthy, and the Packers staff are better positioned than anyone else to know when one of their players is about to break through, and they can negotiate an extension before that player proves his true worth to the rest of the league. Thompson’s done it before, including a six-year extension for Aaron Rodgers just two months after he assumed a starting role—well before Rodgers had shown us just how good he was to going to be.
What Ted Thompson’s Picks Tell Us
Cap-friendly extensions for key players are crucial to keeping the team competitive, but Thompson knows the best value of all comes from contributors on rookie contracts. Let’s take a look at why Thompson may have thought each of these picks was a good value, and what their selections say about the Packers’ internal deliberations.
Pick 27: DL Kenny Clark, UCLA
Though he had other options to fill needs at 27, we knew before the draft that Thompson probably had his eyes on a pack of defensive linemen tailor-made for the 3-4, all projected at the end of the first round. We didn’t know which member of that group was the Packers’ scouts’ favorite (turns out it was UCLA NT Kenny Clark), or which members of that pack would make it to pick 27 (all of them). But by identifying the main characteristics we know Thompson values in players (because we see him pick guys with those same characteristics, year after year), we were able to identify Clark as one of multiple members of that group who seemed to fit Thompson’s profile.
So, given everything we know about how Thompson saw the world heading into this draft, what can we discern from his decision to pick Clark at 27? Here are a few conclusions we can draw.
Clark was truly, honestly, the Packers’ “guy.” As is always the case, every GM in the NFL says he’s happy the guy he picked was available. You’d certainly hope so: if a GM didn’t like the guy he took, he probably should have taken someone else. But GMs naturally have varying levels of enthusiasm about their picks, because they all have their favorites. They don’t necessarily project all of their favorites as future Pro Bowlers; these favorites might be scattered all over their board, from a round one cover corner to a round seven special teams demon. What makes them Thompson’s (or any other GM’s) favorites is one common denominator: Thompson views these guys as perfect fits to solve specific roster problems he foresees in the coming seasons.
And we know, almost without a shadow of a doubt, that Kenny Clark was one of those guys this year for Thompson. We looked at the Packers’ DL in part II of this series; if eternal optimists like us saw only one guy (Mike Daniels) who we wouldn’t replace if we had the chance, just imagine how badly the “nothing personal, strictly business” asset manager Ted Thompson wanted to gentrify that broken-down neighborhood around Mike Daniels.
Thompson couldn’t have asked for a bigger gift from the draft gods in this year’s draft class. Linemen with the size to occupy blockers in a 3-4 are not terribly hard to find; Thompson found one in undrafted free agency two years ago in Mike Pennel, and grabbed Letroy Guion and Bruce Gaston off the scrap heap the same year. But finding linemen with the size to occupy blockers and the athleticism and motor to give those blockers fits on a regular basis? Those guys are much rarer commodities, and Thompson knows they fetch a large premium in free agency, if they make it to the market at all. And in this year’s draft class, there were six of those guys who fit the 3-4 and were projected to go between pick 15 and the second round: Alabama stuffers A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, athletic project Chris Jones of Mississippi State, high-energy behemoth Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech, and two nose tackles, Baylor’s Andrew Billings and Clark.
Even before Thompson heard about the details of these guys from his scouts, Thompson could certainly see why using the 27th pick on one of them was a sound investment. If he “hit” in picking one of those promising linemen in the first round, then he might get a few years of $7 to $10 million performance—the market rate in free agency for higher-end starters on the defensive line—for a little over $2 million a year, the average salary for a rookie contract at pick 27. And if he accidentally picked a dud, a lineman who performs no better than Letroy Guion did last year? That “first-round bust” would still offer some bang for the buck, because his contract is still 40 percent lower than Guion’s contract—which established the market rate for “mediocre-but-moves-OK” defensive linemen at more than $3.5 million per year in cap space. From a cap-value standpoint, choosing someone from that six-pack of linemen was almost a no-lose situation.
And Thompson got his first choice of all of them. This wasn’t an uneducated guess for the Packers staff: not knowing which of those linemen would be available at 27, Thompson’s scouts surely did extensive homework on all of them. And Kenny Clark emerged victorious as their best bet to become a high-end 3-4 lineman. Thompson doesn’t reveal much emotion in his press conferences, and his words are guarded. But compare his tone and language in the post-Clark press conference to his tone and language in the press conference in 2007, when the Packers selected Justin Harrell two picks after Darrelle Revis (the guy they reportedly really wanted) went to the Jets. Thompson’s post-Clark press conference comes as close to “restrained jubilation” as you’ll see from him.
Once again, character counts. That six-pack of linemen under consideration for Thompson probably didn’t include talented but troubled Robert Nkemdiche of Mississippi, who went 30th to Arizona. As we know from looking at Thompson’s past draft decisions, Thompson is not about to invest a valuable draft choice on a player who hasn’t proven that he’s ready to take his football career seriously. Mike Sherman conned himself into spending high picks on those kinds of guys throughout his borderline disastrous tenure as GM, with predictable results. In the 2004 draft alone, he blew a first-rounder on CB Ahmad Carroll (who spent two-and-a-half seasons as the guy other QBs picked on before the Packers finally had enough and cut him), as well as top-75 picks on CB Joey Thomas (who was cut after barely seeing the field in one-and-a-half seasons), and DT Donnell Washington (who was cut after never seeing the field in two seasons). To make things worse, Sherman got sucked in so completely by the mysterious potential of Washington—a man the scouts had labeled an “enigma” in pre-draft reports—that he tossed away a fourth rounder moving up to make sure no one else could get him.
The roster pays the biggest price for those kinds of mistakes four years later—enough time for quality draft picks to have become established contributors, yet still carry only a rookie-contract cap number. And what happened four years after Sherman’s Bungle? The Packers went a disappointing 6-10. There were other factors at play in that 6-10 record as well: it was Rodgers’ first season as QB, and Thompson had to cut good players because of the cap mess Sherman left him. But make no mistake: Sherman cost the Packers four great opportunities to generate big returns on cap space four years down the road, and the roster paid the price.
If there were a bunch of linemen with similar grades available, why didn’t Thompson trade down and get an extra pick? Because when pick 27 rolled around, there was a perfect fit staring Thompson in the face. The Packers scouts surely examined all the round 1 DL candidates with a fine-toothed comb, and they liked Clark best of all. As for other teams, Thompson will take their calls. But if there’s a guy on his board who stands out as the good fit for the Packers when his first-round pick arrives, that caller had better knock Thompson’s socks off with an offer.
No one ever has, by the way. Thompson has traded down in the first round once in 11 years, in 2008, and it was because the six picks in front of him couldn’t have gone any worse. The Packers were drafting 30th that year, and the guy they reportedly really liked, record-setting speed back Chris Johnson of East Carolina, went to the Titans six picks earlier. After missing out on Revis in 2007 (and with Al Harris coming into a contract year), Thompson could have really used a pro-ready CB, as well. So what happened next? The best two remaining pro-ready CBs who fit the Packers’ size profile for the position (Michael Jenkins of Ohio State and Antoine Cason of Arizona) went off the board in two of the next three picks after Johnson. (Thompson made a desperation play for a corner at the end of the second round that year, Alabama’s Pat Lee, and was punished with a player who busted.) Next off the board were Lawrence Jackson and Kentwan Balmer, two D-Linemen with 3-4 size; neither really fit Thompson’s profile in other ways, but you can almost always find a way to justify taking big athletic linemen who fit your scheme at the end of the first round. The Packers’ scouts obviously weren’t that excited about the next cornerbacks on their board. Brandon Flowers went shortly after the Packers’ pick at 30, but at 5’9” he did not meet Thompson’s height requirements for the position.
So, Thompson bailed, went down to pick 36, and grabbed a guy who scouts said needed time to develop, but could be a special player eventually: WR Jordy Nelson. More on him in a moment.
Pick 48: OT Jason Spriggs
In our pre-draft roster review, we knew Thompson could take comfort that the starters at OL this year were set. But we also knew that 60 percent of those starters were set to become free agents after the season, and he needed to find someone with the promise to be a day-one starter at left-tackle in 2017. Thompson couldn’t bank on re-signing all three of Sitton, Lang, and Bakhtiari, and starting left tackles are harder to find than starting guards. Thompson didn’t need to pay a premium for a plug-and-play starter, but he needed to find someone who had the physical attributes and promise to develop into a starter by 2017.
Before the draft, the highest-rated Packer-compatible prospect among the linemen who “could use a redshirt year”—by far—was Indiana’s Jason Spriggs. There were other developmental guys who had the size and athleticism for the position who were projected to be available in the third and fourth rounds, but none had the elite physical tools of Spriggs. While we thought Thompson would love to add Spriggs, but we weren’t sure he’d be willing to pay the first- or second-round price tag it would take to get him.
He was. Bakhtiari is the odd man out in Thompson’s extension plans, which makes sense: why pay a competent left tackle $8 to $10 million to be the starter in 2017, when he might be able to get equal or better performance from Spriggs starting next year, all at a second-round contract price? But the math gets better than that for Thompson, because his scouts don’t think Spriggs will just become one of the 20-25 competent left tackles in the league. They think he’s destined for much greater things—as we explain below.
We should be very excited about the future of Jason Spriggs. As we discussed in the preview, plug-and-play prospects in the draft cost a premium over guys with similar (or better) traits who might need a redshirt year with NFL coaching before they are ready to contribute at their best. Other than QBs, these developmental prospects aren’t normally drafted in the first 50 picks, because teams are rushing to get quality plug-and-play guys to fill gaps in their rosters this year. To justify taking a developmental guy in the top 50, he has to have the promise of becoming something very special.
Thompson has used a handful of top-50 selections over the years on guys with scouting reports that read, essentially, “great physical tools, may need some time to really develop them.” One of them was Daryn Colledge, who never broke through as a high-level starter for the Packers. Another was Derek Sherrod, who was a disappointment but never really got the chance to develop due to serious injuries.
The others? A QB with an awkward Tedford-coached delivery but lots of promise (Aaron Rodgers, R1-2005), a small-school DB with serious athletic tools (Nick Collins, R2-2005), and an unpolished receiver with size and track-star athleticism (Jordy Nelson, R2-2008).
Bottom line, if the Packers’ scouts thought Spriggs projected to nothing more than a quality LT, then Thompson doesn’t trade multiple four-year rookie contracts in this draft for four years of Spriggs. The Packers’ scouts think Spriggs is something special. It’s not hard to picture them high-fiving each other after sneaking in front of Bears’ GM Ryan Pace for Spriggs, depriving their divisional rivals of offensive line talent they really could have put to use.
Pick 88 – OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Before the draft, we could surmise that Thompson probably felt OK about OLB opposite Clay Matthews this year, between Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Datone Jones. The problem comes next year, because Jayrone Elliott and Matthews are the only OLBs under contract after this season. In the middle rounds, Thompson could afford to take a guy who could use a redshirt year to develop before taking over as a starter—and we noticed that Kyler Fackrell fit the Packers’ mold perfectly. When he was there at the end of the third round, it was probably a no-brainer for Thompson.
Why didn’t Thompson grab Andrew Billings at a big discount at the bottom of the third round? Andrew Billings was a name that many pre-draft publications, including ours, floated as a possible candidate for Thompson’s pick at 27. Thompson had his choice of two potential nose tackles of the future in the first round, and his scouts foresaw a brighter future for Clark. They picked him at 27, and Billings proceeded to cascade down the draft board until the Bengals rescued him in the mid-fourth round.
If Thompson’s scouts looked at Billings and didn’t see anything special—and they clearly didn’t—then there was no reason for Thompson to think about taking Billings or any other non-special prospect in the third round. The opportunity cost was just too high, and the value equation doesn’t make sense to Thompson. In Thompson’s view, splurging on a falling prospect like Billings in the third meant losing Fackrell. The third round was right about the expected range for Fackrell in mock drafts, guys with the frames and athleticism to start at 3-4 OLB are few and far between in the middle rounds, and there were 43 other picks (including several by teams with 3-4 OLB needs) before the Packers’ next selection. Unless lightning struck, Thompson figured, one of them was going to take Fackrell. And if Fackrell was a guy the Packers’ scouts thought could fill the Packers’ gaping 2017 hole at OLB—as he obviously was—then Thompson saw no reason to pass on a presumptive 2017 starting outside linebacker in favor of a non-special player at a position he’d already addressed with Clark.
Doubling up with Billings could cause other roster problems, as well. When asked in his post-Clark press conference Thursday about whether his first-round pick would play nose tackle, Thompson was noncommittal—he just said Clark will play “defensive line.” Thompson isn’t being evasive: Clark was his guy, and he wants Dom Capers to have the flexibility to put Clark wherever he ends up fitting in best. Had Thompson added Billings too, then that flexibility was gone. Scouting reports say that Billings’ natural position is nose tackle, and his lack of height (only 6’1”) doesn’t make him a great fit for end. If Clark shows in training camp that his best position is the nose, as well, then the redundant selection of Billings would have presented Dom Capers with the choice of playing a first-round pick out of position or sitting a pro-ready third-rounder on the bench.
In Thompson’s world, that’s not the way to get the highest possible return out of his draft choices. The Packers need as many live bodies on the defensive line as they can get, but not at the cost of missing out on the chance to fill a more urgent need with a starter-ceiling prospect who fits Thompson’s profile perfectly.
Pick 131 – ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford
We figured Thompson would be looking for an inside linebacker sometime after round 1, but thought he would prioritize coverage skills over base defense skills. Sam Barrington has never been a high-caliber starting ILB, but he had shown he could credibly fill the role and we assumed that Thompson was counting on him to be a season-long starter inside for the Packers’ base defense. With Barrington and Jake Ryan holding down the base defense, we figured Thompson would be more interested in plugging a slightly more glaring (and increasingly important) roster hole at ILB: a legitimate coverage linebacker with the speed of a safety.
But Thompson picked Martinez, a base linebacker, instead. Martinez fits the first two criteria for Thompson draft picks: high football character and the physical characteristics necessary to do what the Packers need him to do. But what about need? As we observed in looking at past draft picks, Thompson doesn’t draft redundant pieces, because they don’t add value to the roster that he isn’t already getting from somewhere else. And on paper, Martinez looks awfully redundant of second-year player Jake Ryan. He’s the same size as Ryan (6’2”, 237 for Martinez, 6’2”, 240 for Ryan); his combine testing numbers are very similar to Ryan’s last year (4.71, 22 reps, 6.98 three-cone drill, 4.20 20-yard shuttle for Martinez; 4.65, 20 reps, 7.11 three-cone, 4.20 shuttle for Ryan); and his scouting reports describe their play in pretty similar terms, though Martinez’s reports put a little more emphasis on his toughness than Ryan’s did. And while both of them have decent speed for base inside linebacker, neither has the ideal characteristics to serve as a coverage linebacker in sub packages.
So what’s going on here? How does it make sense for Thompson to add the seemingly redundant Martinez to his portfolio? Martinez adds special teams value, of course, but Thompson can find potential special teams demons like Martinez all over the place, including undrafted free agency—he’s not spending a fourth-round pick on Martinez for his kick coverage skills. And he didn’t take Martinez for his long-term developmental potential; Martinez is about as much of a finished product as you’ll find in the middle rounds.
The only way the Martinez pick “computes” is if Thompson is worried that Sam Barrington is not going to be up to the task in coming back from injury this year. And that makes sense. Barrington was not a high-level starter anyway, and he’s not a guy who had any athleticism to spare. If he’s not the same player coming back from injury, then Martinez gives Thompson assurance that he won’t have to resort to patchwork solutions later on. And if Barrington comes back fine, then Dom Capers has a three-man competition for the starting spots in the base—never a bad thing when none of the three options has yet proven himself capable of being a blue-chip starter.
Pick 137 – DE Dean Lowry, Northwestern
Thompson’s selection of Dean Lowry, a mid-round target we pegged as fitting the Thompson criteria, was pure cap maximization. Thompson knows he probably isn’t getting a diamond in the rough here: Lowry got Big Ten coaching at Northwestern, and he’s not a guy who oozes raw athleticism waiting to be tapped. But he has good enough size to be a part of the DL rotation, and he showed enough signs of life in the pass rush (including six tackles for loss in one game his senior year) to make Thompson think he might have some tricks up his sleeve. Lowry’s long-term floor is probably no worse than the level of Guion’s performance last year—and Thompson just showed that he values Guion’s performance at more than $3.5 million per year in cap space. If Thompson can get three or four years of equal or better performance out of Lowry on a fourth-round contract averaging around $750,000 per year, he’s looking at a pretty good return on investment.
Thompson can only bank those returns if Lowry can get on the field. Fortunately, there’s nothing to stop Lowry from gobbling up all the playing time he can earn over the next four years. To Thompson (and to us), it’s easy to believe that Lowry and his pro-ready game might well emerge as the best of the uninspiring group behind Daniels and Clark (consisting of Guion, Boyd, Pennel, Josh Boyd, and work-in-progress Christian Ringo), and we can envision Lowry spending at least some of the next four years of his rookie contract as the Packers’ starter at 3-4 end. Worst-case, he’s a rotational guy. Either way, Lowry’s probably as sure a mid-round bet as it gets to add performance to the team for four years at a low-price tag.
Lowry’s not an IPO waiting to skyrocket; if he was, Thompson (and everyone else) would have wanted him earlier. In Thompson’s mind, Lowry’s a safe, low-risk bond that guarantees him the kind of nice, low-risk returns on investment that he needs from his roster to ensure that it stays competitive.
Pick 163 – WR Trevor Davis, California
We thought Thompson might be tempted to add a burner to the receiving corps in the middle to late rounds. Jordy Nelson’s injury (coupled with injuries to the offensive line) had domino effects that left the offense in a black hole, and Rodgers, McCarthy, and Tom Clements often looked stumped on how to get out of it. The most football-savvy Packer fans figured out the problem for themselves, and analysis-oriented beat writers like Bob McGinn eventually clued the rest of us in: with no fear of the deep ball, opposing defensive backs could press receivers, sit on routes, clog up the intermediate areas of the field, and watch in glee as Rodgers tried to dodge pass rushers while searching in vain for an open receiver.
It’s not a problem that’s likely to recur this year, with Jordy Nelson back and Jeff Janis showing he’s ready to contribute—which is why we figured Thompson wouldn’t be interested in a burner until the middle rounds. And he found his burner there, in California WR Trevor Davis. Davis is well-regarded as a returner, which the roster doesn’t really need; Thompson has collected a lot of guys with return skills (Montgomery, Hyde, Abbrederis, Janis) in prior drafts. But he also has 4.42 speed and great all-around athleticism.
No teams are projecting stardom for Davis, who is awfully thin (188 pounds); Davis wouldn’t be on the board in the fifth round if they were. But he can let Thompson sleep at night, giving the Packers reason for a little more assurance that the puzzling offensive nightmare of last season—which surely embarrassed Thompson even more than it embarrassed Packer fans—won’t happen again.
Pick 200 – OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford
Finally, Murphy is another pick that directly addresses an embarrassing hole in the roster last year: the lack of a decent swing tackle. Undrafted free agent Don Barclay has hung around the fringes of the roster for years, and he helped the Packers out of some jams early in his career. Barclay lost 2014 to injury, but Thompson—likely assuming that Barclay would be back to his old self—did nothing to add OL depth in the 2015 draft.
It was a colossal mistake. Barclay was a disaster last year when forced into duty, and he (among other back-up OL) put the health of the franchise QB in jeopardy far too often. Thompson’s fourth-round pick of Blake Martinez showed that Thompson learned not to count on marginal players coming back from injury; with Martinez, the roster is protected if Barrington doesn’t return to form.
Thompson is banking on his sixth-round pick, Kyle Murphy, to solve the Packers’ swing-tackle problem for the foreseeable future. As we said in our preview, Murphy (whose scouting reports suggest a ceiling of swing tackle or low-end starter) looks like a solid upgrade from Barclay, and he has experience at both tackle spots. His presence will also allow Packers’ line coaches to focus on grooming Spriggs to be the elite left tackle Packers scouts think he’ll one day become, instead of trying to get Spriggs ready for game-day action at multiple positions on the line.
Ted Thompson walked away from the 2016 draft with a blue-chip stock (Clark), an exciting IPO he thinks is going to pop (Spriggs), a high-yield bond (Fackrell), a couple lower-yielding bonds (Martinez and Lowry), and a little bit of roster insurance (Davis and Murphy). That's how we look at the draft when we see it through Ted Thompson's eyes, always studying his 53-man portfolio to maximize the total return at the end of the year.
He doesn't always succeed, and his mistakes are on display for millions to see. He often comes across like the stern father who keeps saying “no” whenever we pass the toy aisle. And he refuses to go for broke chasing titles, because he knows there are always a handful of Super Bowl-contending teams each year—and which one emerges with the title is as much a matter of luck as it is roster construction. Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all made the playoffs last year, and all of their GMs had constructed rosters capable of beating anyone. Yet two of them were knocked out of Super Bowl contention on a single play in the first round of the playoffs, when Bengals villain Vontaze Burfict illegally clobbered all-world receiver Antonio Brown and ended his season. That started a chain of events that lost the game for the Bengals, while leaving the Steelers’ offense unable to pick up enough first downs to prevent Denver’s fourth-quarter comeback in the divisional round following week. Thompson knows he cannot control the randomness that often decides which Super Bowl-caliber team in a given year actually wins it.
All Thompson can do is to continue to be the asset manager that he is: finding value, minimizing risk, and aiming for a return on investment that’s good enough to make the Packers one of those select few teams each year that is capable of winning it all.
- Like Like
- 13 points