GREEN BAY, Wi - When the NFL draft comes along, you'll hear plenty of rhetoric on how teams decide which player to draft. "Best player available" is a phrase bandied about often, and for Ted Thompson, we have seen that generally be the case. Whether it was Aaron Rodgers falling into his lap in 2005 (24 overall) when they didn't really need a quarterback, or a myriad of late round successes, Thompson has generally stuck to his guns and taken the guy at the top of his board. However, it's when teams decide they are drafting a position instead of a player that they get in trouble.
Think back to 1999. The Packers needed some help at corner in the worst way, and Ron Wolf decided if one was good, three would be better, taking a corner with each of his first three picks. It's a good thing, too, since the only one he hit on was third round pick Mike McKenzie (87 overall). Antuan Edwards (25 overall) ended up switching to safety and eventually was out within a few years, and Fred Vinson (47 overall) was turned into Ahman Green after his second camp. That worked out for the Packers, but Vinson was out of the league in a year with bad knees.
We saw a stretch and a miss by the Packers the year McKenzie held the Packers hostage with a threatened, and then real, hold-out. Mike Sherman spent his first round pick (the last he would make as GM) on Ahmad Carroll, with disastrous results. In a wave of public backlash, Carroll was cut mid-season after a particularly poor performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006. Then-President Bob Harlan told me he got so many phone calls after that game, he did something he rarely did as president- discussed football personnel with the general manager. Carroll was gone.
Sherman made a similar reach in 2001. Sherman was taking over the reigns from Ron Wolf, who retired a couple of months later. Wolf gave Sherman final say, and needing a rusher to compliment Vonnie Holliday, Jamaal Reynolds' short career with the team began as a number 10 pick overall. Not quite a Tony Mandarich type bust, but a top 10 player has to at least contribute even if he isn't a true difference maker. Reynolds was neither.
Thompson hasn't gone the route of the stretch very often, but even he doesn't seem immune. In 2007, the Packers selected Justin Harrell in the first round (16 overall), a player who had been injured most of his final season of college football, and wasn't rated much higher than 40th on most pre-draft boards. The Packers were in need of a tackle, and Harrell never was it.
Fortunately for the Packers that year, Johnnie Jolly emerged from the draft the year before (6th round, 183 overall). Jolly's career was submarined by his substance abuse, but it goes to show once again that the draft isn't an exact science.
So how about this year? The Packers could use another corner and safety, and need to get pressure on the quarterback in the worst way, but that doesn't mean Ted Thompson will be pulling the trigger on OLB's and CB's in the first three rounds. He's a player personnel guy, not a position personnel guy. Don't be surprised if he sees a player he likes, calculates where the value falls, then takes his slew of picks in the late rounds and turns them into something the team needs earlier in the draft. We saw that in 2009 when he moved to get Clay Matthews (26 overall), and we could see it again this year.
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