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Thompson's Hybrid Draft Strategy Has Served Packers Well

Thompson's Hybrid Draft Strategy Has Served Packers Well

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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Handsback's picture

Chris, I love the home runs and hate the misses, but TT does as good as job as any GM. This year will be a challenge.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

I was flat screaming at the tv to pick Rodgers, I saw his play and knew he could be a big hit down the road. Of course he was not needed at the time but I am very glad TT picked him. I did the same with Lacy and he was great till he got hurt, maybe there is still hope.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Thompson does draft for need, amongst the BPAs on the board. They don't line them up in a liner order 1,2,3,... They sort them into value buckets and take the guy who they think is going to help build the roster overall out of the highest bucket with guys still in it.

Rodgers was sitting all alone in that highest bucket when the Packers walked up to the podium.

stockholder's picture

No, A. Rodgers served him well. Without A-Rod he'd be gone.

pooch's picture

Lucky he wasn't stuck with his # 2pick Brian Broem,funny you hear nothing of that bust

al bundy's picture

Wrong so wrong. Take rogers and nelson out of the mix and evaluate what stars you have to carry this team or at least be competitive? Thes two guys make ted look good. Period.
Datone, fakeral, rollins randle gunter ripkowski janis thomas ryan? These guys could not make most teams

CAG123's picture

You could throw CM3 and Daniels in there as great picks. Especially Daniels seeing most scouts found him too small.

snowdog's picture

to Al Bundy , Rip did an outstanding job this year . Your kidding right ?
Although fullback is not the value it once was , he would be a high value on any team .

pooch's picture

Thompson sucks,take Arod out they have a sub .500 team.Big deal ,so he is going to live on that for 15 years.He can also live on having best qb in league and only 1 lombardi

cummings's picture

You could say the same thing about Brady, E. and P. Manning, Wilson, Newton, or any other top level QB. Would Belichek be where he is today if he hadn't "lucked" into Brady in the 6th round?

Bert's picture

Certainly not as many SBs without Brady but a pretty good team of championship caliber without a superstar QB. Belichick has a knack of using all of the tools (draft, FA, trades etc) available to him and builds a pretty strong and deep roster year-to-year. He did make the playoffs with Cassel a few years back and he was pretty mediocre at best.

CAG123's picture

No he didn't they finished 11-5 but missed the playoffs (which is crazy)

Bert's picture

My bad. But going 11-5 with Cassel is pretty impressive. Put Cassel as the Packers starter for a year and we'd be lucky to go 5-11.

Hematite's picture

If it wasn't for Aaron Rodgers Thompson would be pedaling life insurance somewhere.

croatpackfan's picture

Thank God he is here. I would hate to see some other franchize every year for 8 years in row in play off, while Packers will be in Salary cap mess... Thank you Aaron Rodgers.

CAG123's picture

My problem with TT is his annoying ability to draft a guy that doesn't play a certain position and then try to convert him to a position of need. He's done that too often. When I look back at other drafts and see stars selected in later rounds and then just see a bunch of guys on the Packers roster it really makes me wonder about this guy. Looking at the Packers defensive players besides Daniels and a few others I see just a bunch of guys Letroy Guion, Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Morgan Burnett, Joe Thomas, Datone Jones, Randall, Rollins, no splash players no difference makers just guys. The few we do have are either getting old ()Clay, don't have enough talent around them to take off pressure (Daniels), or coming into form (HHCD).

Since '61's picture

TT is only part of the equation for the results the Packers have achieved during his tenure in Green Bay. The other key parts are MM as head coach and the HOF play of AR. TT put the keys to success in place with his first two major decisions as Packers GM. First hiring MM who has proven to be an excellent coach and second by drafting Aaron Rodgers as his QB. He deserves huge credit for those two decisions since most GMs don't even get those two decisions correct, especially the first time around. As for his draft picks he has made some good solid picks, some middle of the road picks and some bad/unlucky picks. CM3, Jordy, Cobb, Daniels, good/solid picks. Thornton was a bad pick, Sherrod unlucky due to his injury, just as examples. Don't have the time or space to go through every pick. The point is that if you review every pick of every GM you would probably find that TT is among the top 5 more likely the top 3 GMs in the league, especially when you consider that he has been drafting at #24 or above every year. My issue with TT is not with his draft picks because the draft is a crap shoot anyway. My issue is with his limited use of FAs to fill gaps on the Packers roster that may have made the difference in winning another 1 or 2 SBs. He has another chance this year to solidify the defense with one or two FAs that could help us go all the way. By this time next season TT will be judged again on whether or not he made the decisions to get us to the SB. Thanks, Since '61

croatpackfan's picture

I agree that TT is credited for hiring MM and AR. MM is credited for developing AR to the HOF and GOAT level. AR is credited to rising up team to the contender level every year... And backt to TT who should be credited for keeping MM as HC and who allows AR to have enough quality team, which may be rised to the level of contendfer!

GBPack's picture

Great post, '61. I agree with a lot of this. It's hard to rag on a guy like TT when it comes to the draft because of the position we're picking every year. Generally, teams will only have 17-25 (max) first round grades going into round 1. When we're picking mid to late 20's we're just not going to hit every time and get the splash player we all want. At that point, every guy ranked in the top 50 is fair game, depending on what a team's board looks like. When we do get to pick a little higher, Ted has been good (Bulaga, Ha Ha, Aaron, Raji). The one huge miss being Harrell, obviously.

I'm with you on the free agency point. I had ZERO problem with draft and develop only philosophy in 2011 coming off our Super Bowl win because our roster was absolutely stacked. Now is the time where we need to be more like the Patriots and use mid to late round picks and FA to acquire guys that can plug holes more effectively. On the surface, the pick ups of Bennett, Hogan, Van Noy and Rowe didn't move the needle that much when NE acquired them, but those were HUGE pieces for them and they were all had at a moderate cost. We're a responsible team when it comes to the cap, but Ted has to be willing to play the game and part with a precious pick once in awhile and spend SOME, not all, but some of that money.

Handsback's picture

Agree, agree, and agree again. The draft is just one tool, FA needs to be used to add depth especially to those lower roster spots that TT is currently filling w/ UDFA. Nothing wrong w/ UDFA, just need better guys then that when injuries wiped out your depth like last year's CB, and RBs.

Slim11's picture

I don't completely agree with the description of MM as an "excellent" HC. In his own words, he is a "highly successful " HC in the NFL. That I agree with. IMO, he needs to be more consistent with game planning and in-game adjustments to move up another notch. There are times when his play calling, which is a product of game planning, has cost the team wins. The departure of Tom Clements is, hopefully, a step in the right direction for the Packers' offense.

When it comes to players, MM can only do so much based upon what TT gives him. TT has to play the free agency market carefully. I believe he's gotten to a point where he's gunshy and won't realistically entertain the thought of being more aggressive in free agency.

JacFrost's picture

My def of taking bpa is you do regardless of position. Its a no brainer that if you need a corner, yes you would want the best one available.
Very few teams can just pick the best overall guy available anymore, everyone has needs to fill.

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