GREEN BAY – When discussing the National Football League draft, former Packers GM Ron Wolf said GM’s are like baseball players.
Hit .300 and you get Hall of Fame consideration.
If Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson is going to be considered in Hall of Fame terms, he needs to hit it big in the upcoming draft.
Thompson hit a home run in 2009 when he traded up to select USC linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick.
That was two drafts ago. Two drafts, by the way, that produced safety Morgan Burnett (third round, 2010) and little else to help the defense.
Bryan Bulaga, the top selection in 2010, quickly developed into an above-average right tackle. But Derek Sherrod, last year’s top pick, struggled before breaking his leg in a Dec. 18 game at Kansas City.
A swing-and-a-miss by Thompson in the first round of this year’s draft likely means Matthews is going to be seeing double-teams in his sleep. A Packers’ defense that surrendered the most yards in NFL history can’t be expected to show significant improvement with the current personnel.
Matthews needs help. So do B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson.
Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers needs help.
Capers can’t be expected to baffle NFL offenses with smoke and mirrors when a pass rush and run defense are what’s required to do the job.
Thompson’s likely draft strategy seems evident.
The Packers’ GM’s first obligation is to contemplate all possible trades up to acquire a top-flight – at least in the Packers’ scouts’ minds – pass rusher to bookend with Matthews and balance the defense.
For example, if Illinois’ defensive end Whitney Mercilus (6-4, 254) drops into the late teens or early 20s of the first round, Thompson seriously must consider trading up. That holds for Alabama linebackers Courtney Upshaw (6-2, 265) and Dont’a Hightower (6-4, 269) should either inexplicably take a draft-day tumble.
If none of the projected top pass rushers falls, or at least none that are to Thompson’s liking, the plan is clear at No. 28
No, it isn’t “selecting the best player on the board.”
The Packers have no need for a quarterback, receiver, running back or tight end, especially in the draft’s early rounds. Once those positions are ruled out it leaves the best available pass rusher unless there is still available a significantly higher-rated cornerback or safety.
Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (6-3, 192) or Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron (6-2, 218) are possibilities if Thompson and Co. has either rated significantly higher than the remaining pass rushers. Another long shot is Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones (6-5, 265) at No. 28.
If Thompson is sitting with the 28th pick, one option may be Boise State’s Shea McLellin (6-3, 258) as a pass rushing outside linebacker.
What I wouldn’t look for Thompson to do is trade down. Acquiring more draft picks isn’t going to solve the Packers’ most pressing need. That is an impact pass rusher to twin with Matthews. It is possible Thompson could mine gold in the mid- or late-rounds, but that would be a very dangerous approach to solving the team’s greatest weakness.
The Packers enter the draft with 12 selections – eight of their own plus four compensatory picks that can’t be traded.
That’s more than enough ammunition to move up in the first round and get a top-flight pass rusher, and to improve the overall depth, especially at running back, linebacker and the secondary.
The Packers have several things going for them entering the draft.
They don’t need a quarterback, receiver, running back or tight end in the early rounds. They have enough to offer to move up, and if not, they’re still likely to add a quality defensive player with the 28th overall pick.
My best guess is the Packers trade up, select Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus, and get ready for Day 2 of the NFL draft, with Thompson one clean hit closer to being a .300 hitter.
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.