The Packers appear to have depth issues on defense as the 2015 NFL Draft approaches. Yet, general manager Ted Thompson has learned not to get too wrapped up in what many consider the Packers' biggest needs.
Draft season is the most important time of year for Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers. It has to be when subscribing to a philosophy that centers around a developmental approach.
Now 10 years into the job as general manager, Thompson isn’t done evolving in his craft. He was at the head of the room when the Packers drafted for defensive needs in 2012 and saw a second-round pick (Jerel Worthy), a fourth-round selection (Jerron McMillian) and a fifth-rounder (Terrell Manning) all fail miserably once they reached Green Bay.
"You may throw in a ‘darn it,’ too; A ‘daggum,’" Thompson said during his pre-draft press conference when asked about drafted players who didn’t pan out.
"What are you going to do? But you examine, and you say, ‘That’s not anybody else’s fault. That’s my fault.’"
Thompson acknowledged his belief that it takes three years to properly evaluate a draft class. Well, it’s been three years since Thompson perhaps stepped too far away from his principles and reached for players like Worthy, McMillian and Manning — and even his underperforming first-round pick, Nick Perry.
"There’s a certain amount of weighting in terms of need, but I am adamant that that’s not the way to draft," Thompson said last week. "The way to draft is to take the best player."
Looking back at the 2012 draft is part of the "self-examination stuff" that Thompson said he puts himself through. Still, even the best analysis in the world doesn’t always guarantee high-end results when it comes to the draft.
"Quite frankly, sometimes it just doesn’t work out," Thompson said. "As much as you’d like to have some sort of magic pill to take before I pick up the phone and draft somebody, we don’t have that magic pill. We just have to depend on our work and what we think is going to happen in the future with this young man in this organization. Sometimes it doesn’t work out."
The Packers now face a somewhat similar situation to the one that got them in trouble three years ago.
Inside linebacker is a glaring need. It was the weakest position on the roster last season, and now it’s a group without A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore. That leaves Green Bay with 2013 seventh-round pick Sam Barrington, 2014 fourth-round pick Carl Bradford (who has yet to play a snap in the NFL) and maybe the possibility of do-it-all star linebacker Clay Matthews remaining inside.
Cornerback was one of the Packers’ strongest, deepest positions on either side of the ball in recent years. But after failing to re-sign Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency, Green Bay is suddenly faced with a lack of depth at one of football’s most important positions in what’s become a passing league.
However, Thompson has learned not to get too wrapped up in what many consider the Packers’ biggest needs.
"You don’t know what you’re going to need," Thompson said. "You think you need something, but this isn’t play time or anything like that. This is real life. People get banged up, injuries happen. Life happens. What you think you’re strong at, you’re not necessarily strong at."
Thompson is right. Few would consider wide receiver as a need for Green Bay considering that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are locked into long-term deals and Davante Adams is in the second year of his rookie contract. But what if Nelson and Cobb suffer injuries that sideline them for multiple games? Nelson dealt with hamstring injuries throughout 2012, missing four full games and parts of others. Cobb missed 10 games in 2013 with a knee injury. Would Adams be ready to be the No. 2 receiver for the NFL’s highest-scoring offense? Would Jeff Janis or Jared Abbrederis be ready to become the third option?
There’s an easy way for Thompson to avoid buyer’s remorse.
"If you take good, solid players that you know can contribute, albeit at a position that’s maybe a little bit heavier, as long as you’re taking good, solid players, you’re getting some value there," Thompson said. "If you reach and take something that’s not quite as good, then you may not be getting the same value. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s true. That’s what we do."
Sometimes, a draft falls exactly how a general manager hopes. Best player available overlaps with need. That happened for the Packers in 2014 with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix falling to No. 21.
It could happen again. If the third round begins and Green Bay has already added an inside linebacker and a cornerback at value spots, Thompson can feel great about how the draft is unfolding. No one can predict that, though.
"The beauty of this particular business is the uncertainty," Thompson said. "Because there’s always that gasp when a name is called and they go, ‘He picked who?’ And you hope that you don’t do that, so that other teams go, ‘Who’d Thompson pick?’ You don’t want that kind of criticism."