Despite misses, Thompson's '12 draft not un-Worthy

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy (99) jokes around with teammate Letroy Guion during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

After the Jerel Worthy trade Tuesday night, Twitter and Green Bay Packers-oriented websites buzzed about general manager Ted Thompson's 2012 draft.

Rightfully so.

It was worth noting that before that class even has begun its third NFL regular season, five of Thompson's eight picks no longer are with the team. On its face, that's alarming, especially for a GM whose personnel philosophy skews as far toward draft-and-develop and anti-free agency as Thompson.

But without context, that high early failure rate means little. And anyone who instantly declares the '12 draft a disaster is wrong.

The truth is, if you've ever really looked at the history of the draft, you know Thompson's '12 class probably will end up being not bad at all.

That's because it's not the number of picks who are still with the team three or four years later that matters. It's who they are.

In its simplest hypothetical form, if a team has 10 picks and one becomes a Pro Football Hall of Famer, whereas the rest wash out of the league in two years, then that's a good draft. If that Hall of Famer is a pass rusher, it's a home run. And if it's a quarterback, it's a grand slam and then some.

Now, just to be clear, this isn't saying Thompson's '12 draft has a future Hall of Famer. OK? And we're not suggesting it's a great class or one of Thompson's best. It wasn't and isn't.

But look at who's left from Thompson's eight picks in '12: Mike Daniels, Casey Hayward and Nick Perry. There are a couple players there.

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

Daniels already is one of the Packers' best defensive players — he's the insider pass rusher they projected Worthy to be — and is on his way to very good career, maybe even better.

Hayward's 2013 season was ruined by a recurring hamstring injury, but based on his rookie season and training camp this year, he's their best ballhawk and slot cover man. They definitely missed his ability to play the ball last year.

So that's two players who don't just get on the field regularly; they make plays that help win games. Maybe they're not big difference makers yet, but it's hardly farfetched to think one or maybe even both could be soon.

Perry, on the other hand, hasn't been the outside pass rusher Thompson projected as a first-round pick, and he's been hurt a lot. But when healthy, he's good enough to justify rotational playing time.

So yeah, Thompson's '12 class has zero depth and seen a majority of its players flame out uncommonly fast. So what? Daniels and Hayward are good enough that it's hardly a disastrous year.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward makes a catch while running drills during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

I'd argue it's on its way to being better than Thompson's '06 draft, where the three best players were Greg Jennings, Johnny Jolly and A.J. Hawk. Same for '11 , which included Randall Cobb, Davon House, Ryan Taylor and Derek Sherrod. And at least as good as '07, which produced James Jones, Mason Crosby, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Jackson.

Thompson's best class, hands down, was '05. It's worth pointing out that from that 10-man class, only four still were with the team by Year 3 (2008), and two of them were Brady Poppinga and Michael Montgomery. Remember them?

Of course, the first two picks were Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins. An elite quarterback, and a difference-making safety. That's close to as good as it gets.

Next is '09, when the Packers landed a pass rusher, Clay Matthews. He alone makes that a good draft. But the class also included two core players (B.J. Raji and T.J. Lang) and a part-time starter (Brad Jones) all still with the team.

Thompson's '10 draft obviously had more depth than '12 with Bryan Bulaga, Mike Neal, Morgan Burnett, James Starks and Andrew Quarless. But who would be harder to replace? Those five, or Daniels and Hayward? Not that easy a call.

If you look at NFL drafts, not just year by year, but team by team, you see the big picture. There are a lot of decent players who aren't much better or worse than each other. It's the good and great players that matter, and getting two or three in one draft is doing pretty well.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson watches training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Really, the biggest lesson from Thompson's '12 draft is the danger of trading up. It's aggressive and gets people excited, but violates the NFL's law of averages and more often than not comes at a price.

Thompson that year, wholly out of character, traded up three times: To draft Worthy and Hayward in the second round, and Terrell Manning in the fifth. Those deals cost the GM four extra picks, four more bites at the apple.

He hit on Hayward. But missing on Worthy at No. 51 overall was in essence missing on two picks, and on missing on Manning was like missing on three.

Maybe that's why Thompson hasn't traded up the last two years. So yeah, feel free criticize Thompson for his '12 draft. But do it for violating his principles, not for missing on five of eight picks.

— pdougher@pressgazettemedia and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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