Packers strike gold by stealing Lacy in second round

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By Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, January 4, 2014

GREEN BAY--Additional selections are made in the draft. Injuries strike. Rookies play.

It was business as usual this year when it comes to Ted Thompson’s ninth rookie class as general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

Except, that is, for Eddie Lacy.

The Alabama running back all but carried the offense during almost the eight full games missed by Aaron Rodgers. For his efforts, Lacy probably rates as a shoo-in to be the National Football League’s offensive rookie of the year.

“Running back is a hard thing sometimes to put your finger on,” Thompson said Thursday. “But whatever it is he seems to have at least a little bit of it.”

Lacy will become the first Packer to win the award since running back John Brockington in 1971. As the 61st selection overall in the draft, he also will become the latest-drafted honoree since Denver running back Mike Anderson, the 189th choice (sixth round) in 2000.

Seven of the last nine top offensive rookies were top-10 picks. The list includes Robert Griffin III (second pick, 2012), Cam Newton (first, ’11), Sam Bradford (first, ’10), Matt Ryan (third, ’08), Adrian Peterson (seventh, ’07), Vince Young (third, ’06) and Carnell Williams (fifth, ’05).

On draft day, the Packers were waiting late in the second round with the 55th pick when San Francisco called. Instead of taking Lacy at No. 55, Thompson traded down to No. 61 and gained a sixth-round selection in return that was later dealt.

Were the Packers confident no team between No. 55 and No. 60 would take a running back?

“You try to be aware of as much as you can on everything that’s going on,” said Thompson. “But you never know how it’s going to fall.”

Thompson was asked if he knew that Denver, which took Wisconsin running back Montee Ball at No. 58, had Ball ahead of Lacy.

“If I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” he replied.

Did Thompson prefer Lacy to Ball?

“In my opinion, in the business that I’m in, I think that’s a silly question and it’s inappropriate of me to answer it in any respect,” he said.

“First of all, you can’t talk about players on other teams. Second of all, I can always answer questions to make me look good. I wouldn’t do that.”

The Packers traded down twice more late in the third round, sending the 88th pick to the 49ers and the 93rd pick to Miami.

When Thompson and his people looked at the board after the first three rounds that Friday night in April, they owned the 12th pick in the fourth round.

Did Thompson have tackle David Bakhtiari in mind for the fourth round when he traded down twice in the third round?

“Quite frankly, I can’t recall who was on the board and what we were thinking about,” said Thompson. “He was certainly someone we were interested in acquiring.”

When Bryan Bulaga blew out his knee Aug. 3 and Marshall Newhouse bombed, it was Bakhtiari, the Packers’ pick at No. 109, who stepped in to start 16 games at left tackle.

“You catch a break some time,” Thompson said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does. We picked Josh Sitton in the fourth round (No. 135, 2008). Maybe T.J. Lang (No. 109, ‘09), too.”

Entering the draft with eight selections, Thompson ended up with 11 draftees after dealing down three times and trading up for running back Johnathan Franklin.

Bakhtiari, who has played 1,118 of the 1,121 snaps on offense, accounted all by himself for 34.4% of the 3,252 snaps that rookies played from scrimmage in the regular season.

“He’s done what we ask these guys to do,” said Thompson. “This is a hard business. You never know where you’re going to get slammed. They have to be ready, and these guys have done that.

“It’s a long way before you can really judge it. You’ve got to see it a little bit more. But we’ve gotten contributions from these fellas.”

Of the 11 draft choices, two are starting, two started a few games, three also are on the 53-man roster, three landed on injured reserve and wide receiver Charles Johnson was plucked off the practice squad by Cleveland.

There also are four rookie free agents among the 68 players currently under contract who signed their first NFL contracts with Green Bay. Andy Mulumba has started off the bench, two are on the 53 and another is on IR.

Of the 12 playoffs teams, New England edged Green Bay, 14-13, for most rookies on current 53-man rosters. The 10 other clubs are averaging 8.3.

Judged by opening-day rosters, Seattle had the youngest (25.43 years) of the playoff teams just ahead of Kansas City (25.57) and Green Bay (25.64).

“We don’t search it out,” Thompson said, referring to youth. “Young is good. I’m getting older, and I can tell you I used to be better than I am now. But we don’t do it for youth’s sake.”

On offense, rookies played 2,004 snaps compared with 1,248 on defense.

Lacy was second to Bakhtiari in snaps with 678 (60.5% of the offensive plays); Micah Hyde (419, 39.9% of the 1,049 plays on defense), Mulumba (291, 27.7%), Datone Jones (241, 23%), Nate Palmer (195, 18.6%), Myles White (123, 11%) and Josh Boyd (102, 9.7%) also surpassed 100 snaps.

Jones’ playing time has dwindled in recent weeks. As the 26th pick in the first round, his limited production has followed that of recent first-round choices Derek Sherrod (No. 32, ‘11) and Nick Perry (No. 28, ‘12).

Is there a reason why the Packers have had better luck in the past three drafts beyond the first round?

“I couldn’t say,” Thompson said. “I haven’t thought about it that way. There might be.”

In all, the 15 rookies have totaled 138 games played, with 39 starts.

“It’s a reflection on our coaches,” Thompson said, referring to playing rookies. “They’re preparing them to play. They’re just not doing a card (scout-team) play.

“We’re getting ready to play a playoff game and here I am talking about a bunch of rookies. Our team is grateful for the help all these rookies have given. But our team is made up of a lot more than that.”

Of Thompson’s 87 draft choices over nine years, 38 remain under contract in Green Bay. The list includes 13 starters, 17 backups, seven IR players and one kicker.

Another 13 players that no longer are with the Packers once were starters.

Of the 49 other players, 36 spent at least some time on the team’s 53-man roster.

When the season ended, 12 of those 49 were on active rosters, linebacker Desmond Bishop was on the Vikings’ IR list, Johnson was on the Browns’ non-football injury list and linebacker Terrell Manning was on the Chargers’ practice squad.

Starters include wide receiver Greg Jennings (Vikings), tackle Breno Giacomini (Seahawks) and guard Daryn Colledge (Cardinals).

Backups include tight end D.J. Williams (Patriots), tackle Allen Barbre (Eagles), guard Jamon Meredith (Buccaneers), center-guard Caleb Schlauderaff (Jets), fullback Quinn Johnson (Titans), running back Alex Green (Jets), defensive end Lawrence Guy (Chargers) and cornerback Will Blackmon (Jaguars).

Clark Harris serves as the Bengals’ long snapper.

Of the 34 players out of football, wide receiver Terrence Murphy, linebacker Jeremy Thompson and safety Nick Collins were forced to retire prematurely because of neck injuries.

Everyone else managed to sign a contract with at least one other team after departing Green Bay. Everyone, that is, except for defensive tackle Justin Harrell, quarterback B.J. Coleman and tackle Andrew Datko.

Thompson, who will be 61 next week, said the $10.3 million increase in cap salaries for Clay Matthews and Rodgers in 2014 won’t cause him to assemble a team in any different fashion.

“We’ll try to keep it simple, try to get good players and put together a good team,” he said.

Asked if he was proud of his work in Green Bay, Thompson replied, “At times.”

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