Pete Dougherty and Ryan Wood analyze the Green Bay Packers' selections in the 2016 NFL draft. (April 30, 2016)
GREEN BAY - One week before the start of the 2016 NFL draft, general manager Ted Thompson stood behind a lectern and explained — for the umpteenth time — that he believes firmly in the best-player-available philosophy. The Green Bay Packers, he explained, would benefit more from selecting the highest-rated player than they would from need-based drafting.
In swept days one and two of the draft, which featured three picks by the Packers, and all three times Thompson pushed aside a deficiency at inside linebacker. He reinforced his front seven with nose tackle Kenny Clark; added depth on the offensive line with tackle Jason Spriggs; and improved his pass rush with outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell.
Exactly 130 players were drafted before Thompson’s best player available intersected with an area of significant need, and it finally happened around lunchtime Saturday. The Packers selected inside linebacker Blake Martinez from Stanford with the 131st pick in the draft, which arrived late in the fourth round, and even then it contained an element of premonition.
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
“The funny part of it was, (my mom) was always telling me throughout the process, she was like, ‘I believe you’re going to end up at the Packers,’” Martinez said on a conference call. “And obviously it was just a lucky guess type of thing, but it’s just funny. My mom said right after, ‘Moms are always right.’ And I’ll take it.”
When his moment arrived, Martinez donned a green Packers hat and matching gray T-shirt, and immediately posted a family photo on social media. His father, Marc, had purchased the gear in a pre-draft shopping spree that accumulated gear from all 32 teams — just in case.
The motherly hunch from Carrisa Martinez served as the second fate-like prediction for a player drafted by the Packers. Kenny Clark, a nose tackle drafted No. 27 overall on Thursday, said for weeks that people around his father predicted Clark would end up in Green Bay. And when Clark attended a hockey game with fellow UCLA alum Datone Jones in early April, Jones gushed about high much interest the Packers had.
Come draft day, Martinez and Clark shared similar experiences of limited contact with the organization followed by a bit of a surprise pick.
“I’ve been in touch with a lot of teams that need inside linebackers,” Martinez said. “For the Packers, I talked to them at the Senior Bowl, I talked to them at the combine and those types of things. But I mean, overall, didn’t talk to them much.”
Martinez, who stands 6-foot-1½ and weighs 240 pounds, earned All-America honors in 2015 and was also named first-team All-Pac-12. He recorded a team-high 141 tackles last season, and his 10.1 tackles per game led the conference.
The Packers, according to director of football operations Eliot Wolf, were enamored with Martinez’s all-around game. He flashed the ability to blitz, evidenced by 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks over the last two years. He expressed confidence in his ability to cover, and Martinez said the served as the main coverage linebacker in nickel and dime packages last season. His 40-yard dash time of 4.67 seconds is far from blazing, but Wolf said the Packers have no qualms with his mobility or range.
“I felt like this last year I improved tremendously on that,” Martinez said. “I feel 100% confident to go out there and cover whoever I need to cover.”
The decision to solidify the inside linebacker position — even if it was a round or two later than most people anticipated — should facilitate the move of Clay Matthews back to the edge, where he established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league. With Matthews and veteran Julius Peppers entrenched at outside linebackers, the Packers needed more depth alongside Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan.
Their moment arrived in the fourth round, when best player available intersected with a significant need.
“Clay prefers to play outside,” Wolf said. “I don't think that's a big secret. So any time we can add someone inside that helps facilitate that, it's a good thing.”