Friday, April 1, 2011

Packers Draft Trends

After six drafts and one Super Bowl championship, I think that Packers general manager Ted Thompson has amassed a fair enough body of work that we can try and draw some conclusions. I'm going to present the draftees, point out some trends and see if I can make some tentative predictions about his 2011 draft from a positional standpoint. (All hail Wikipedia!) If you're a Packers fan and/or already know this stuff, feel free to skip the following lists.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB (Pro Bowl)
2. Nick Collins, FS (Pro Bowl)
2. Terrence Murphy, WR (retired; spinal stenosis)
4. Marviel Underwood, CB (out of NFL, defined here as 1+ years without being on a NFL team)
4. Brady Poppinga, OLB
5. Junius Coston, C (out of NFL)
5. Mike Hawkins, CB (out of NFL)
6. Mike Montgomery, DE (free agent)
6. Craig Bragg, WR (out of NFL)
7. Kurt Campbell, CB (out of NFL)
7. Will Whitticker, G (out of NFL)

1. A.J. Hawk, LB
2. Daryn Colledge, G
2. Greg Jennings, WR (Pro Bowl)
3. Abdul Hodge, LB (Carolina)
3. Jason Spitz, G-C
4. Cory Rodgers, WR (out of NFL)
4. Will Blackmon, CB (free agent)
5. Ingle Martin, QB (out of NFL)
5. Tony Moll, T (Baltimore)
6. Johnny Jolly, DT (suspended)
6. Tyrone Culver, S (Miami)
7. Dave Tollefson, DE (NY Giants)
(Signed Tramon Williams, UFA)

1. Justin Harrell, DT
2. Brandon Jackson, RB
3. James Jones, WR
3. Aaron Rouse, S (Omaha Nighthawks; played for Cardinals in 2010)
4. Allen Barbre, G (Miami)
5. David Clowney, WR (Carolina)
6. Korey Hall, LB/FB
6. Desmond Bishop, LB
6. Mason Crosby, K
7. DeShawn Wynn, RB (New Orleans)
7. Clark Harris, TE (Cincinnati)

2. Jordy Nelson, WR
2. Brian Brohm, QB (Buffalo)
2. Patrick Lee, CB
3. Jermichael Finley, TE
4. Jeremy Thompson, DE (retired, spinal stenosis)
4. Josh Sitton, G
5. Breno Giacomini, T (Seattle)
7. Matt Flynn, QB
7. Brett Swain, WR

1. B.J. Raji, DT/NT
1. Clay Matthews, OLB (Pro Bowl)
4. T. J. Lang, G/T
5. Quinn Johnson, FB
5. Jamon Meredith, OT (Buffalo)
6. Jarius Wynn, DE
6. Brandon Underwood, CB
7. Brad Jones, LB

1. Bryan Bulaga, T
2. Mike Neal, DE
3. Morgan Burnett, S
5. Andrew Quarless, TE
5. Marshall Newhouse, C/G
6. James Starks, RB
7. C.J. Wilson, DE

33 of Thompson's 58 drafted players remain on the Packers' roster or IR list. Two were forced to retire due to medical conditions, eight are out of the NFL, eleven are on the rosters of other NFL teams (Aaron Rouse is on a UFL team), two are free agents and one has been suspended from the league. Just two players (Johnny Jolly, Brandon Underwood) have had legal trouble in the past six years, a testament to the character of the players Thompson has drafted. Four of his draftees (Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins, Clay Matthews) have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl, along with two free agents (Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams).

Players Selected by Position

Players are arranged in descending order of their contributions to the team.

QBs: 4 (Rodgers, Flynn, Martin/Brohm)

WRs: 8 (Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Clowney, Swain, Bragg/Rodgers/Murphy)
RBs: 3 (Jackson, Starks, Wynn)
TEs: 3 (Finley, Quarless, Harris)
FBs: 2 (Hall, Johnson)
OL*: 12 (Sitton, Colledge, Spitz, Bulaga, Lang, Moll, Newhouse/Coston/Whitticker/Barbre/Giacomini/Meredith)
CB: 6 (Lee, Blackmon, B. Underwood, M. Underwood/Hawkins/Campbell)
S: 4 (Collins, Rouse, Burnett, Culver)
ILB: 2 (Bishop, Hodge)
OLB: 4 (Matthews, Hawk, Poppinga, Jones)
DL: 9 (Raji, Jolly, Neal, Wilson, Wynn, Montgomery, Tollefson, Harrell, Thompson)
K: 1 (Crosby)

*(Since many of Thompson's O-line and D-line draftees have played several positions, this seems like the most hassle-free way to do the list.)

Thompson has selected just three running backs (Jackson 2nd, Wynn 7th, Starks 6th). He likes to aim high for WRs, having spent second-round picks on Murphy, Jennings and Nelson and a third on Jones.  Craig Bragg (6th), Cory Rodgers (4th), David Clowney (5th) and Brett Swain (7th) round out the crew at WR, the most players Thompson has selected at any single position.

Thompson selected three cornerbacks in his first-ever draft, all of whom failed. Perhaps discouraged, he took a total of three in the next five drafts, preferring instead to find CBs on the street (Williams, Shields) or through free agency (Woodson).

Until 2008, Thompson had a reputation for only trading down in the draft. That year he traded up to get Jeremy Thompson in the fourth round, and has done it each year since, nabbing Clay Matthews in 2009 and Morgan Burnett in '10. Thompson has made only two player-for-player trades that I can recall, shipping Tony Moll to Baltimore in 2009 for Derrick Martin and swapping Samkon Gado for Vernand Morency. He also famously acquired Ryan Grant from the Giants for a sixth-round pick. 

Thompson likes to go after offensive linemen in the middle rounds of the draft, spending picks on Sitton, Lang, Moll, Giacomini, Coston, Barbre and Meredith in rounds 4-6. Of these, only Sitton and Lang appear to have stuck.

Thompson has piled up a lot of late-round picks over the years, by way of compensatory picks or trades, which is one reason why the Packers average 9.6 selections per year. The Packers have had 28 picks in the last six years in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. From these rounds have come five starters (Bishop, Crosby, Hall, Jones, Jolly) and three talented backups (Flynn, Wilson, Starks) who are likely to start at some point. Bishop is probably the single best player from these rounds, closely followed by Flynn.

While Thompson hasn't regularly found talent at the bottom of the draft, at the top he's been outstanding. Only one of his first-round picks has been a bust (Harrell), with every other one starting and two making trips to the Pro Bowl. Rodgers, Jennings, Collins, Matthews, Raji and Finley are top-five players in the entire league at their respective positions, and Neal, Burnett, Colledge, Jackson, Jones, Nelson and Spitz have either been decent starters or excelled as backups. Tally them up and you can say that Thompson has had success with 13 of his top 21 picks, which is a figure most GMs would kill to have.

Players Selected by Round
(Chronological order)

1. Rodgers, Hawk, Harrell, Raji, Matthews, Bulaga
2. Collins, Murphy, Colledge, Jennings, Jackson, Nelson, Brohm, Lee, Neal
3. Hodge, Spitz, Jones, Rouse, Finley, Burnett
4. Underwood, Poppinga, Rodgers, Blackmon, Barbre, Sitton, Lang
5. Coston, Hawkins, Martin, Moll, Clowney, Giacomini, Johnson, Meredith, Quarless, Newhouse
6. Montgomery, Bragg, Jolly, Culver, Hall, Bishop, Crosby, Wynn, Underwood, Starks
7. Campbell, Whitticker, Tollefson, Wynn, Harris, Flynn, Swain, Jones, Wilson

Finally, Thompson has shown a tendency to defy the draftniks who label teams' biggest needs and how they should be addressed. He passed on selecting a cornerback or an outside linebacker in the 2010 draft, ignoring pundits' judgment that that was the team's biggest need. What happened? Super Bowl.

With that said, I offer my tentative conclusion that Thompson will go wide receiver, offensive tackle or defensive end in the first round. He will likely address at least two of these positions during the first three rounds of the draft. With an incredibly deep roster already in place, don't be surprised to see Thompson make a trade to get into the second round again to snag a favored player.

With the Packers' first-round pick I'd like to see him take any of these players, all of whom have been available at #32 in some of the mock drafts I've seen: RB Mark Ingram, WR Jonathan Baldwin, OT Benjamin Ijalena, DE J.J. Watt, OLB Akeem Ayers, DE Jabaal Sheard, G Danny Watkins, G-C Mike Pouncey or DE Cameron Heyward.

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