GREEN BAY, Wis. — In the mind of coach Mike McCarthy, the perception of positional needs can differ from actual team needs when the Green Bay Packers approach every draft.
The perception this year was that the Packers’ biggest needs were at safety, inside linebacker, wide receiver and tight end. Therefore, it’s likely not just coincidence that Green Bay addressed three of those positions — and in one case, addressed it threefold.
"You don’t really sit there and lock in on positions as much, and we’ve talked about this time and time again," McCarthy said at the conclusion of the draft.
The Packers were fortunate that the board fell the way it did in the first round. Safety was the team’s biggest need, and it’d be difficult to argue otherwise after a full season went by without a single interception from that group. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix having fallen further than most expected, the former Alabama safety was waiting as both the best player available and the best player at a position of need.
"He’s shown that he can be a three-down player at Alabama," McCarthy said of Clinton-Dix. "He’s coming from a program where he was very well-coached, and they use multiple schemes, and I think his transition here will be pretty seamless. But he needs to come in and compete with the guys that are already here."
For the starting safety job alongside Morgan Burnett, the competition for Clinton-Dix is Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo and possibly Micah Hyde if he converts to the position on a full-time basis.
"We felt very good about Ha Ha," Thompson said. "We feel good about his ability to come in and play. I think most of the time, at all of the different positions as you go down the board, I think there’s greater risk that they won’t be able to play. So we feel fairly certain Ha Ha will able to contribute."
Perceived need continued to match with actual draft picks when Green Bay selected wide receiver Davante Adams in the second round. Adams’ incredible statistics (233 catches, 3,030 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns in two college seasons) are inflated from playing in Fresno State’s spread offense, but he was an early-second-round talent who presented great value with the No. 53 overall pick.
"Felt very fortunate to get him," director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said. "Very strong at the point of the ball, very strong after the catch. He’s the body type we kind of like around here. He’s a big guy."
McCarthy described Adams, who is just 21 and three years removed from high school, as "an excellent football player."
The Packers didn’t stop adding to their wide receiver group after selecting Adams, either. Green Bay drafted Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis with its compensatory fifth-round pick (No. 176 overall) and Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis with its seventh-round choice (No. 236 overall). Like Adams, Abbrederis and Janis were tremendous values at the spots at which they were taken.
"The receiver position obviously has a lot more competition (now)," McCarthy said.
There are several interesting factors about the Packers drafting three wide receivers. While it gives them a lot of quality depth for the 2014 season, it also adds insurance in case either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb aren’t re-signed before becoming unrestricted free agents next offseason. It also means Jarrett Boykin will have serious competition for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart, while making it very difficult for either Myles White (undrafted in 2013, appeared in seven games) or Kevin Dorsey (seventh-round pick in 2013, on injured reserve all year) to make the active roster.
The one major drawback to Green Bay drafting Adams in the second round is that none of the top four inside linebackers were still available when the Packers were up again at No. 85, as Preston Brown went at No. 73 and Chris Borland came off the board at No. 77.
Green Bay’s two third-round picks were a bit puzzling in terms of value, as defensive lineman Khyri Thornton and tight end Richard Rodgers were both projected as fifth-to-sixth-round picks. Other question marks with the two of them include that Thornton came from a Southern Mississippi team that won just one game over the past two seasons (and he didn’t even play in that one victory). Rodgers played a new position this past year under a new head coach at the University of California that wasn’t as a traditional tight end.
"As far as the video I’ve seen of him, very productive, very natural, understands the game," McCarthy said of Rodgers. "I think the game comes naturally to him. I think there’s some things we can improve on. How he fits us and coming here the way we’ve played in the past, I think he fits very well. But how we’re going to play in the future, he’s going to have some learning to do."
The Packers’ fourth-round pick, outside linebacker Carl Bradford, was a good value at No. 121 (he was projected to go somewhere in Rounds 3 or 4), but it doesn’t seem to fit an immediate need. And no, regardless of what may have been said elsewhere, Bradford will not come in as an inside linebacker.
"I see Bradford as an outside linebacker," McCarthy said.
McCarthy later added: "Bradford, when he first lines up, the meeting he will go to will be with the outside linebackers."
With the first of Green Bay’s two fifth-round picks, general manager Ted Thompson went with Ohio State center Cory Linsley. This was somewhat of a need for the Packers, as it’s helpful in adding competition to a position that doesn’t have a starter after the free-agent departure of Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Linsley will compete with 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter and Garth Gerhart for the starting center job.
"It’s good to finally draft one (a center) that’s played the position before," McCarthy said. "We’re all excited about that."
In the sixth round, Green Bay added depth to its secondary by drafting former Gonzaga point guard standout — and Baylor cornerback — Demitri Goodson. It will be interesting to see how Goodson transitions to the NFL, as he had taken a five-year break from football altogether when he originally chose to pursue basketball.
It will be a few years before thorough evaluations can be done on each of these nine draft picks, but the Packers hit almost all of their needs with high-quality players.
"We just want to draft good football players," McCarthy said. "It sounds simple, it sounds basic, but that’s really the thought process."
However, as was questioned a year ago when Green Bay didn’t draft a safety despite it appearing to be the team’s biggest need even then, not selecting a much-needed inside linebacker could be what holds this team back from improving upon its recent early playoff exits.