Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari during training camp practice on August 6 at Ray Nitschke Field. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy rushes during OTA practice on May 28 in the Don Hutson Center. / File/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers running back Johnathan Franklin goes through drills during training camp practice August 7 at Ray Nitschke Field. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers cornerback Micah Hyde catches a pass during training camp practice on July 27 at Ray Nitschke Field. / File/Press-Gazette Media
One of the surest ways to make an NFL roster is to get drafted by Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
An impressive 80 percent of Thompson’s draft picks — 61 of 76 players — from 2005 to 2012 played for the Packers in their first season of eligibility.
It’s a testament to Thompson’s acumen as a personnel evaluator, as well as his penchant for relying on youth to build his roster.
“We’re a young football team, and we’ve been a young football team since Day 1 here,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s the way we’re built, it’s the way we’re designed, it’s the way we train, it’s the way we plan.”
The Packers’ system is simple. They continuously infuse their roster with young players, and the primary pipeline is the draft.
Thompson has been remarkably consistent in stockpiling talent and rarely whiffs on a draft pick.
An average of fewer than two players per draft since 2005 have failed to earn a spot on the team. Of the 15 that didn’t make it as rookies, some landed on the practice squad (Brian Brohm, Brett Swain, Andrew Datko, B.J. Coleman, Lawrence Guy, Craig Bragg, Clark Harris), others were picked up by other teams (Dave Tollefson, David Clowney, Jamon Meredith), and one fought his way back to become a Packers’ starter (Marshall Newhouse).
It was slightly easier for a draft pick to land a job in Thompson’s early years when the Packers were in a rebuilding stage — 35 of 43 draft picks (81.4 percent) from 2005 to 2008 made the team in their first seasons.
But even as the Packers became more successful, with four consecutive playoff berths to their credit, Thompson’s draft prowess has remained steady. From 2009 to 2012, his drafts yielded 35 of 42 players that made the team (78.1 percent) as rookies.
Thompson will be hard pressed to maintain his high batting average with the Packers’ 11-man 2013 draft class. Fourth-round offensive lineman J.C. Tretter broke his ankle in the spring and will almost certainly miss the entire season, while seventh-round receivers Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey haven’t been able to get on the field due to injuries and are likely headed to the practice squad.
Meanwhile, defensive lineman Josh Boyd and linebackers Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington still have much to prove in the final three preseason games in order to land on the 53-man roster.
But if Thompson’s current draft class doesn’t measure up to past standards for quantity, it could make up for it with quality.
Five draft picks are virtual locks to make the team and, assuming good health, could play significant roles this season, including defensive lineman Datone Jones, running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, tackle David Bakhtiari and cornerback Micah Hyde.
That group of players could potentially produce the greatest immediate impact of any Thompson rookie draft class, or at least rival the 2009 class that included Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and T.J. Lang.
Here is a look at each player from the Packers’ rookie draft class and where they stand three weeks into training camp:
DATONE JONES, defensive lineman (Round 1)
Analysis: Jones could be the piece the Packers have been missing since they let Cullen Jenkins walk away in free agency following the Super Bowl championship season. Before spraining his ankle last week, Jones was showing off his first-round pedigree in camp.
Quotable: Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac: “Datone is very much what we thought he would be.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers: “I certainly haven’t seen anything I’ve been disappointed with.”
EDDIE LACY, running back (Round 2)
Analysis: If he can stay healthy, Lacy will be the Packers’ go-to back this season and take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the passing attack.
Quotable: Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt: “He’s a very, very natural runner, an instinctive runner. He doesn’t really make a lot of wrong reads in the run game. He usually ends up in the right spot, he can do some things with his foot speed for a big guy. He sticks his foot in the ground and gets north and south, it’s with a burst you see him take off and accelerate. He’s been impressive when he’s touched the ball in the run game. We just have to get him up to speed on protections, routes and what not.”
DAVID BAKHTIARI, tackle (Round 4)
Analysis: Bakhtiari is getting thrown into the fire after Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending injury and in all likelihood will become the Packers’ first starting rookie left tackle since Chad Clifton in 2000.
Quotable: Offensive line coach James Campen: “He’s very mature for a 21-year-old kid. He’s a very bright kid. He still has room to grow.”
Head coach Mike McCarthy: “He definitely has the ability. … I have no question about his skill set.”
JC TRETTER, tackle (Round 4)
The Packers were high on Tretter’s ability, and if not for a freak ankle injury during the first organized team activity practice in the spring, he might be fighting for a starting job. As it is, he must look forward to 2014.
JOHNATHAN FRANKLIN, running back (Round 4)
Analysis: Franklin looks like the perfect complement to Lacy and with his speed and shiftiness could find himself at the very least handling the third-down role and possibly some return duties.
Quotable: Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt: “He probably has more reps in this camp than any of the other backs. … He’s continued to get better in his run game. … The big thing is just getting our footwork in the run game, making him more consistent. … He’s stout in protection for a guy his size, an intelligent guy, too, who understands who he has in protection.”
MICAH HYDE, cornerback (Round 5)
Analysis: With injuries sidelining Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward, Hyde has received ample opportunities to show off his considerable skills. For now he has moved past Davon House on the depth chart and is no worse than the No. 4 cornerback.
Quotable: Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt: “I like the fact that it’s not too big for him. He has a poise and a confidence about himself that he belongs here, he belongs with the (starters). When I told him, ‘Hey, you’re running with the 1s,’ he didn’t have big eyes. He just went out there and did it. I like that most about him. When he gets beat on a play, it doesn’t shake him at all. He just goes out there, when you tell him to do something, he understands it, he asks very, very good questions, and he understands football.”
JOSH BOYD, defensive end (Round 5)
Analysis: He’s big (310 pounds) and athletic, but he faces stiff competition for a roster spot. Maybe he sticks if the Packers keep an extra lineman. It’s possible the final spot will come down to Boyd or Johnny Jolly, which should make for an intriguing battle the rest of camp.
Quotable: Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac: “He’s definitely made progress. He was a typical rookie from a different system that was struggling a little bit early, but Josh is a very talented guy. Josh can strike and get off blocks. He just has to understand the intensity of the play up front in the NFL, and he will.”
NATE PALMER, outside linebacker (Round 6)
Analysis: Palmer ranks No. 5 on the outside linebackers depth chart, which puts him on the roster bubble. He is trying to catch Dezman Moses and Andy Mulumba.
Quotable: Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene: “I think he’s passionate about the game. I think he’s got a motor. He’s got a nice instinctive one-arm pass-rush move. He’s getting better with technique and fundamentals I’m teaching as far as defeating run blocks vs. tackles and tight ends. He is progressing.”
CHARLES JOHNSON and KEVIN DORSEY, receivers (Round 7)
Analysis: The two receivers are linked because of their inability to shake the injury bug, with or without pads. Their best hope is to wind up on the practice squad and count on better health in 2014.
Quotable: Offensive coordinator Tom Clements: “They’re behind, there’s no doubt, because they haven’t been able to do much either in training camp or in the spring because of injuries. They’ve been in meetings, they understand what’s going on, but it’s different when you do it out on the field, when things are moving faster. They have to play catch-up a little bit.”
SAM BARRINGTON, inside linebacker (Round 7)
Analysis: Barrington got chewed out by McCarthy early in camp for hitting a receiver during a no-contact drill, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. His fearless attitude and nose for the ball give him a shot in a crowded competition.
Quotable: Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss: “The foundation he’s laid so far, I’ve been pleasantly impressed to where he’s given himself a chance. … He’s dynamic. He’s explosive. He’s got some good size to him. He plays with some power. He can run.”