Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson talks about the current roster and the internal debates that take place during the NFL draft. (April 20, 2016) Stu Courtney | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Ted Thompson stepped to the podium in the Lambeau Field media auditorium on Wednesday morning and delivered the usual statement that he provides every year in the week leading up to the NFL draft.
The Green Bay Packers general manager thanked everyone from team president Mark Murphy all the way down to the video department, emphasizing the village it takes to properly prepare the organization for the draft. He credited his personnel department for their efforts, insight and organization.
Then, Thompson got back to his tried-and-true philosophy of taking the best player available, but the question was raised whether it’s always so cut and dry? Has there ever been a situation where you have to weigh the best guy on the board against a comparable player at a pressing area of need?
Thompson, entering his 12th draft calling the Packers’ personnel shots, rarely offers any glimpse into his psyche, but admitted there is room for compromise. It’s simply a reality that you can’t always see things in black and white when dealing with the draft’s unpredictability.
“I suppose there is,” said Thompson when asked if there’s wiggle room between best player available and need. “I suppose there is. I would never tell you there is. If you asked me, I would say, ‘Well, that’s not the way I wanted it.’ But, yeah, I mean, it’s not written in stone.”
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
Thompson obviously didn’t provide any examples, but the 2014 NFL draft probably is the best illustration of a primary need (safety) meeting with the best available player (Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). So far, Clinton-Dix has started 36 consecutive games in the secondary, including playoffs.
There always will be a high level of randomness to the draft, particularly when you pick near the end of the first round like the Packers have for the past seven years. It’s why their personnel department has given up on doing mock drafts – too many variables and obvious internal bias. An overabundance of information is a double-edged sword that personnel directors must wield.
Only a handful of factors guide Thompson’s actions when the clock is ticking down on draft night – the opinions of his scouts and coaches, his own assessments of a particular player and an undying belief in taking the best guy available no matter what.
“When you’re picking 27th, it’s much more difficult to come up with the actual 27 names and be sure that these are the guys will have been taken and these are the ones that will be left for you,” Thompson said.
“It gets to be a little more mathematically difficult to predict. But you have groups of players and you try to say, ‘OK, this guy and this guy are pretty close. They play different positions but they’re pretty close.’ Maybe we’ll put them as a couple that might be there and that sort of thing. It’s constant evaluating.”
Thompson acknowledges that outsiders probably doubt the validity of his comments based on his tight-lipped mentality. Still, the 63-year-old general manager swears he’s being genuine, not evasive.
So while inside linebacker and tight end appear to be high on the Packers’ shopping list, Thompson maintains that he doesn’t feel any added pressure to address those positions. To his credit, both spots were considered major needs last year and he waited until day three of the draft to tackle either.
What exactly the Packers do at No. 27 next Thursday remains anyone’s guess. Assuming they stay put, you can rest assured that Thompson will walk to the same podium he did on Wednesday and expound upon the Packers finding the right guy for the best value.
Sometimes that player turns out to be Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews. Occasionally, it’s Justin Harrell. But for however long Thompson runs the Packers’ front office, his mantra won’t change.
“You can be in a position where this solves Problem A on our roster, but he’s also the best player available,” Thompson said. “You can be in a position and get lucky where you can address both, but if it comes to a point or the other, I would prefer to take the best player available.”
• Thompson confirmed newly signed linebacker Leventee McCray will continue to be an outside rusher with the Packers.
McCray, 25, played outside linebacker for the past three seasons in Denver, but has tweener characteristics. Listed at 6-foot-3, 246 pounds, McCray is actually lighter than Clay Matthews (255) and Carl Bradford (248), who both played inside last season.
“We thought he had some good snaps over there in Denver,” Thompson said. “We think he’s got a nice body type, he’s got good athletic ability, shows the ability to be an outside backer with length and that sort of thing.”
• Thompson wouldn’t touch the subject of Jared Cook when asked at last month’s NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., about the veteran tight end taking a visit with the Packers.
A few days later, the Packers agreed to a one-year, $2.75 million contract with Cook. The addition of the 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end is expected to give Aaron Rodgers and the passing game a serious threat in the middle of the field than it’s lacked since Jermichael Finley’s career-ending neck injury in 2013.
“He’s very athletic, great catch radius, a big target,” Thompson said. “We think he’ll add some stuff to us athletically on the offensive side of the ball.”
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