When Ted Thompson woke up on the morning of April 23rd, 2005, he had no intention of drafting a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft later that day. Having assumed his duties as Packers’ general manager just three months prior, Thompson was more focused on picking up the pieces from a home Divisional round loss to the Minnesota Vikings and a defensive unit that finished the pervious season ranked 25th in total defense.
Of course, all of that went out the window nearly four and a half hours after the San Francisco 49ers selected Alex Smith with the first overall pick and Aaron Rodgers began his long and arduous wait in the Javits Center green room.
While the need for a quarterback was far down the list of priorities for the Packers heading into the 2005 Draft, the 24th overall pick they used to select Rodgers changed (or perhaps perpetuated) the course of franchise history in a way few people could have expected.
Green Bay turned six of its 10 remaining selections into defensive players that year – Nick Collins (S) in the second round, Marviel Underwood (S) and Brady Poppinga (OLB) in the fourth, Mike Hawkins (CB) in the fifth, Mike Montgomery (DT) in the sixth and Curt Campbell (CB) in the seventh. Collins helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV five years later before having his extremely promising career cut short by a neck injury the next season. Poppinga was also a member of the Super Bowl team and saw plenty of playing time before being released in 2011. Of the other four, Montgomery was the only one to play more than one full season in Green Bay, contributing primarily as a backup during his five years with the team.
As laid out by Zachary Jacobson here, wide receiver Terrence Murphy, a second round pick of the Packers in 2005, could very well have been a high level playmaker if not for spinal injuries he sustained from a helmet-to-helmet hit. Murphy, along with Junius Coston, (C), Craig Bragg (WR) and Will Whitticker (G), constituted the rest of the Packers’ offensive selections in 2005.
All in all, Thompson’s first draft largely filled positions of need, yet only yielded three or four players that could be considered to have had a significant impact on the field. The most notable of those, of course, filled a position many did not consider to be of primary importance at the time.
It also proved to ensure the Packers would be successful for years to come.
Over the years, Thompson has asserted his philosophy for drafting is that of taking the best available player, and he certainly did just that in 2005 when Rodgers fell into the Packers’ lap at 24th overall and when he took Nick Collins in the next round.
But 2005 isn’t the only example of Thompson’s successes in the early portions of drafts. A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Bryan Bulaga, Randall Cobb, Nick Perry, Casey Hayward, Eddie Lacy, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Davante Adams are all players Thompson selected within the first two rounds of their respective drafts. Sure, none of them will probably go down as generational talents like Aaron Rodgers, but they have all made significant positive impacts in their time with the Packers.
On the other hand, Thompson was also responsible for drafting Justin Harrell, Pat Lee, Jerel Worthy, Brian Brohm, and Derek Sherrod in the first two rounds. I can’t remember a pick more universally panned in my lifetime than Harrell, whom Thompson took with the 16th overall pick in 2007. Brohm was thought to be a legitimate challenger to Matt Flynn for the backup quarterback spot in 2008 and was released a year later without ever appearing in a game for the Packers.
During his tenure as Packers general manager, Thompson has garnered a reputation for uncovering the proverbial “diamond in the rough.” Players drafted by Thompson in the third round and later include: Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Mike Daniels, Jermichael Finley, David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, Morgan Burnett, James Jones and Desmond Bishop, among others.
For all those successes, though, how many later round picks were assigned to the practice squad or released outright? Too many to list here.
If it seems like I’ve contradicted myself to this point, I assure you it has been intentional. So what’s the point?
Drafting and building a roster in the NFL is an inexact science. Even for Ted Thompson, a general manager who has been widely praised for his ability to construct homegrown rosters, the job isn’t nearly as easy as Mel Kiper, Jr. makes it out to be. For every home run, no-brainer, generational talents that pan out like Aaron Rodgers, there are a hundred highly-acclaimed players who flame out and disappear into the abyss.
I use the 2005 draft as an example not only because it produced Thompson’s best pick, but also because it also produced one player who was on a Hall of Fame track (Collins), and another who barely got a chance to scratch the surface of what he could have been (Murphy).
Am I saying Thompson should get a pass for all his less successful decisions just because his first-ever draft pick turned into a Hall of Fame quarterback? Absolutely not. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the Packers more than likely wouldn’t be in the midst of eight consecutive playoff berths if Thompson had opted to go for defense in that spot. The same sentiment could be applied to David Bakhtiari, a fourth-rounder turned elite left tackle.
That’s where Thompson’s draft history goes to show that there is no one theory to successful drafting. Not even Thompson believes himself when he says taking the best available player is unequivocally the best way to do it. What he has done as Packers general manager is employ a hybrid of need and talent-based assessment, and the Packers run of success during that time is proof that it works.
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