When it was over, Ted Thompson’s mantra remained unchanged. He insisted that he hadn’t drafted for need, that he’d trusted his board, that he’d taken the best player available.
And, truth be told, the Green Bay Packers general manager had draft-pick proof of that in several instances.
After all, he’d obviously taken his highest-rated player regardless of position at least a few times – while the Packers needed wide receiver help, they certainly didn’t need to use three picks on the position – during the seven-round 2014 NFL Draft, which ended Saturday evening.
Also, he hadn’t filled all his positional needs over the three days, having not selected an inside linebacker, which had been one of the Packers’ weak spots entering the draft.
And, for the first time in 10 drafts as the Packers GM, he didn’t execute a single draft-day trade, meaning at no point did he look at his board and see a player that he absolutely, positively had to go up and get, the way he did with a select few (Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnet, Jerel Worthy most notably) in the past. (Of Thompson’s 30 draft-day trades in his first nine drafts, 24 were backward.)
Thus, Thompson was able to finish off the nine-player draft and say with a straight face that he didn’t intend to use the draft to target all the areas that ailed his team.
“I’ve said this over and over, I didn’t go into this draft trying to address need. That’s what we don’t do,” Thompson said. “If the perception is that we relieved a need, that’s fine. But that’s not how we view our team.”
Perhaps not, but look at what Thompson and the Packers personnel and coaching staffs did with their nine selections.
With their first-round pick, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, they finally addressed their most glaring position of weakness, a trouble spot since Nick Collins’ career-ending neck injury in 2011.
With their second-round pick, Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams, they got a pass-catcher in the mold of departed veteran James Jones who could be the latest in a long line of second-round success stories at receiver.
With their two third-round picks, they added Southern Mississippi defensive tackle Khyri Thornton, the fifth defensive lineman they’ve drafted in the past three years and a logical replacement for unsigned 34-year-old veteran graybeard Ryan Pickett; and California tight end Richard Rodgers, who will be expected to compete for significant playing time at a position where incumbent starter Jermichael Finley seems like a longshot to return between his recovery from a career-threatening neck injury and the fact he’ll have multiple free-agent suitors if/when he’s cleared to play again.
And then came Saturday, when the Packers took a pass-rushing outside linebacker (Arizona State’s Carl Bradford, fourth round), a position that outside of Clay Matthews has been perennially disappointing; a center (Ohio State’s Corey Linsley, fifth round) who’ll compete for the vacant starting job after Evan Dietrich-Smith wasn’t re-signed; a cornerback (Baylor’s Demetri Goodson, sixth round) who could spend a year developing while starter Tramon Williams and reserve Davon House enter the final years of their contracts; and two more wide receivers (Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, fifth round; Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis, seventh round).
Since the three receivers were more than quarterback Aaron Rodgers could have asked for – and considering that Thompson confessed to being surprised that Abbrederis was still on the board at No. 176, and that Janis was projected by some to be a second-day prospect – it’s reasonable to think that Thompson simply saw too much value in each player to pass him up.
But beyond that, every other pick took care of a hole – some larger than others – in the roster. Whether Thompson was truly able to fill those with the best player available each time because there were simply so many areas of need, Thompson wouldn’t say. (“I haven’t even thought about that yet,” he replied.) But there’s no denying that the Packers are better off at multiple positions that were concerns a few days ago.
“Sometimes the needs of the perception and needs of the reality might be a little different,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You don’t really sit there and lock in on positions as much, and we’ve talked about this in here time and time again. The way the board is set, you have it set by position vertically, but the value of it is horizontal. And you can’t get into reaching and things like that because that’s when you make mistakes and you may potentially pass up a great player.”
Added Thompson : “Today especially, [but really] all three days, we tried to go towards quality. And it's definitely the way the board worked out. We stuck with the board and tried to do it the right way."
The right way resulted in five offensive players and four defensive players; three players at positions with no true incumbent starter (center, free safety, tight end); four underclassmen (Clinton-Dix, Adams, Rodgers and Bradford); and eight players from Football Bowl Series schools.
But perhaps the most surprising was the no-trade approach.
“There were tons of conversations during the course of the weekend and today as well. None of the deals that we were offered were just right for us, and apparently none of the deals that we offered were right for the other teams,” Thompson said. “And sometimes, you wait for an hour and you're ready to pick somebody. There were a few times where you had to go through a little gut-check where you're 10 picks away and you've kind of got your eyes on a name or two. And once it gets to be your opportunity, you're kind of anxious to go ahead.”
Now, McCarthy and Thompson are anxious to see what they’ve got.
In the 6-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix, they have their first first-round pick at safety since another Alabama safety, George Teague, was taken by Ron Wolf at the bottom of the 1993 first round.
“We just tried to improve our safety competition. It definitely improved there,” McCarthy said. “How Ha Ha is utilized, that will be determined when he comes in here and competes for a position.”
In the 6-1, 212-pound Adams, they have an ultra-productive two-year starter (233 receptions, 38 touchdown catches) who could immediately challenge Jarrett Boykin for the vacant No. 3 receiver job.
“He’s the body type we kind of like around here. He’s a big guy,” college scouting director Brian Gutekunst said.
In the 6-3, 304-pound Thornton, they have another versatile young talent who can move (5.03-second 40-yard dash) and who caught the Packers’ eye late in the draft process.
“He had so much twitch, so much upside, it was something we couldn’t pass on,” Gutekunst said. “The kid can run. He’s got a lot of upside. We felt fortunate to get him.”
In the 6-4, 257-pound Rodgers, they got a tight end who didn’t spend much time on the line of scrimmage and will have to learn how to block but has some intriguing athletic gifts.
“He's got ability,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “I did have to do some searching to find some tape on him blocking, but he is capable of blocking. I think that once he gets in and gets a chance to compete, we ask our guys to do everything, [and] I think that he's perfectly capable of competing for that.”
In the 6-1, 250-pound Bradford, they have a player who lacks ideal size for the position but put up 39 tackles for loss and 20 sacks in two seasons as a starter.
“Probably one of the reasons he was staring us in the face where he was is the fact he’s not your prototypical 6-4, 35-inch arm type of guy. But after watching the tape and doing the workout stuff, I think we felt comfortable he’d transition to this league pretty well,” Gutekunst said. “He’s a pass rusher. That’s what he does best.”
In the 6-3, 296-pound Linsley, they get an experienced center who will compete with 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter for the open starting job.
“It’s good to finally draft one that’s played the position before. We’re all excited about that. I know (line coach) James Campen’s real excited,” McCarthy said. “It will be good just to have a natural center come in and play that position. I know we historically move our guys around but I think it’s important for him to come in and play center.”
In the 6-1, 195-pound Abbrederis they get their first Badger in over a decade (guard Bill Ferrario was the last UW player the Packers drafted, in the fourth round in 2001) and a determined person who went from walk-on to No. 1 receiver during his time in Madison and could help at both receiver and returner.
“I’ve been watching him for a few years – as I guess probably all of you – and followed his track [with] the walking on, trying to earn his own way,” Thompson said. “His first couple of years especially, he did everything but sell hot dogs down there. He did all the returning on kicks and punts and all that sort of stuff, and then you watch him play his junior and senior year and every game they played (against) the opponents in the Big Ten, quality corners are on him and he still gets open, he still catches the ball and he still runs with it. We think he’s a very versatile guy.”
In the 5-11, 194-pound Goodson, they have a raw ex-basketball player project who will require good fundamental coaching to unlock his football potential.
“The basketball thing, that’s in the past. I just strictly look at the football player,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “Some of the things he did in basketball, being able to stay in front of guys and use your feet and things like that, it’s just like playing corner. So that will help him. But other than that, I like the kid’s skill set. He’s a guy that has a chance to be a good player down the road.”
And in the 6-3, 219-pound Janis, they get an off-the-charts athlete who was a star at the Division II level.
“He completely dominated his level of play,” Thompson said of Janis, who had 83 catches for 1,572 yards and 14 TDs last year. “We do testing results of all the 40s and jumps and bench presses and shuttles and all that of every player in the draft that is eligible; it’s like 1,000 guys. Of all the receivers in that group, he was the second-rated athlete according to his testing. He’s a very gifted fellow.”
And whether need was a tie-breaker for them at the time of their selection or not, they’ll all get a chance to show what they can do starting Friday at the rookie orientation camp.
“All the players that were drafted, it definitely gives us a lot of competition, particularly at the wide receiver position,” McCarthy said. “I don't think you ever go into the draft and put limits or expectations on how much competition you're trying to create in one specific area. It had a lot to do with the way the board was set.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.