Packers still have needs to address
GREEN BAY Ted Thompson built a Super Bowl winner his way, piling up draft picks while rarely dipping into free agency. Now comes the annoying part.
Assuming he doesn't pull off another surprising trade up in the first round of the NFL draft next Thursday night, Thompson and the rest of the Green Bay Packers' staff will have to sit around and watch plenty of good players drop off the board before making their pick.
"I love picking at 32," Thompson said. "I love what that means. The later rounds, it's not quite as much fun. Because you're sitting there and now you're picking at 64 instead of 40, and 96 instead of 70. So you've got to watch 28 names come off, or 30 names come off, or something like that. But there's going to be a good player to pick every time it's our turn to pick. Our job is to make sure we find that player and call his name."
Thompson said the Packers' Super Bowl run left them scrambling somewhat to catch up on their draft preparation. Now they're caught up - and while the NFL work stoppage has cast an air of uncertainty over the league, Thompson said the Packers haven't really changed the way they approach the draft.
"We've tried to do everything business-as-usual," Thompson said.
As usual, Thompson will try to balance need with value. And value almost always wins out.
"Obviously if there are what we would perceive as needs, that position might get a little more extra care or we might look at that a little more and maybe re-evaluate things a little bit more," Thompson said. "But at the end of the day, we still believe drafting the best player on the board is the best policy. You don't know what your needs are going to be. You might think you have a need at the end of April, or you may think you have a strong position at the end of April, but you don't know where that's going to be come August 1st, as we found out this season."
The Packers might seem like a team that doesn't need much to make another run at the Super Bowl, especially with a wave of last year's injured players poised to return. But there are some specific areas Thompson will be tempted to target.
One is outside linebacker, where the Packers paired several players with Clay Matthews last year. Arizona's Brooks Reed could be a good fit.
On the offensive line, Bryan Bulaga played relatively well after stepping in at right tackle last season, so it's not clear whether last year's first-rounder still is regarded as the eventual heir to veteran left tackle Chad Clifton. The Packers certainly could use options on the interior, especially with Daryn Colledge possibly headed to free agency once a labor deal is reached. Baylor's Danny Watkins could be an option.
Green Bay could look for help at defensive end, given the fact that Cullen Jenkins is expected to leave via free agency and Johnny Jolly's NFL future remains unclear after another round of legal trouble. The Packers presumably drafted the player they expect to replace Jenkins last year - second-round pick Mike Neal, who showed ability before a season-ending shoulder injury. Still, Ohio State's Cam Heyward could make sense at No. 32.
The Packers could use help in the return game and depth at wide receiver, where Donald Driver recently turned 36 and James Jones could leave as a free agent.
Or Thompson could surprise everybody and trade up, something he has done in recent years after consistently trading down to acquire additional picks in earlier drafts.
"If we're thinking about trading up, then we're of the opinion there's a particular player that we really value higher than a lot of players on the board, and we feel like it's worth the cost, then we will entertain trying to move up there," Thompson said. "The same thing can work in reverse. If we feel like there are a number of players that are about the same value, and we can move back five spots and still get the same player, then we are not averse to doing that."
While Thompson's draft-centric philosophy paid off last season, he deflected credit to the players.
"They persevered and they never blinked during that whole season and it was a special time, and it's fun to talk about that," Thompson said. "But we just think we've got a great group of guys. But we do try to do our work. I'm not saying we're not prepared and I want our fans to know that we are prepared to do this and do this draft and get ready for the season. But we don't necessarily think we do it better than anybody else."