April 27, 2008: Packers hope for big lift from mid-range picks
Editor's note: This story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 28, 2008.
Green Bay - Ted Thompson was director of pro personnel under Ron Wolf the year the former Green Bay Packers general manager hit the jackpot with four third-round selections in the 1995 draft.
Three of those selections - fullback William Henderson, linebacker Brian Williams and receiver Antonio Freeman - were largely considered the boost that lifted the improving Packers to Super Bowl caliber. It took until their second season for the three to emerge as starters and truly raise the performance of the team, but each played their part in winning the championship.
On Saturday, Thompson, now in Wolf's shoes as general manager of the Packers, made three selections in the second round that will largely define his 2008 draft class. And considering his team was a play or two away from the Super Bowl last year, it's possible those three will provide the same lift the '95 class did.
"I hope this works out as well," Thompson said. "I didn't even notice we had three picks there. You know you have two twos going in, but once you get in there and do the trade you never know how it's going to work out.
"Hopefully, this will have an effect, too."
It's hard to envision the trio of wide receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterback Brian Brohm and cornerback Patrick Lee being much more than part-time participants this season or maybe even next. All three have entrenched starters in front of them and in the case of Nelson and Lee, more than a few players to leap over just to get there.
But Thompson's win-through-the-draft philosophy works this way: if he's making the right picks every year, the process of competition will weed out weak links on the roster and make the team better than it was the year before. Thus, even if the three only make minor contributions this season, their presence should elevate the bar for making this team, not to mention provide valuable depth.
"The first day? I felt good about it," Thompson said, shortly after executing five trades and nine picks in two days. "I felt like it worked out pretty well. I had no idea it was going to go exactly that way, because you never know. But I think all in all, I think we picked good players that are going to be on our team and are going to be good players here for a number of years to come.
"I think, given where we were picking in the draft, that worked out pretty good."
Thompson followed up his triple dip on Saturday with some hole-filling on Sunday, adding Texas tight end Jermichael Finley in the third and Wake Forest defensive end Jeremy Thompson and Central Florida guard Josh Sitton in the fourth. Then he took Louisville tackle Breno Giacomini in the fifth and LSU quarterback Matt Flynn and San Diego State wide receiver Brett Swain in the seventh.
Though he wouldn't really admit it, the second-day picks filled some gaps in the Packers' depth and, with the exception of the rookie free agents he was in the process of signing Sunday night, pretty much ends the shopping season for the Packers.
"I would think, in some respects, we certainly added some depth to the quarterback position," Thompson said. "We wanted to try to get a tight end if it worked out from a value standpoint during the course of the draft. We weren't specifically looking to draft a defensive end, but we felt a good one got in a position where we could get him, and kind of the same way with a receiver. I think we just added quality to our team."
The proof will be in the competition, which starts with a rookie camp this weekend. But one sign of where the Packers stand is that all of the rookies, except perhaps those taken in the first three rounds, are going to have to fight hard to make the team.
Over the past couple of seasons, draft choices were practically handed 53-man roster positions, but the depth on Thompson's team is getting thick.
"We think, as a group, this is a very good group, but the bar has been raised and it will be more difficult," Thompson said of making the team. "Quite frankly, we could have had a lot more picks. But I think there's a point where you reach diminishing returns."
The bottom line is that there are three solid receivers ahead of Nelson and Swain, at least two and probably three cornerbacks ahead of Lee, a starting tight end and a likely backup ahead of Finley and plenty of offensive linemen to make it tough on Sitton and Giacomini.
The only place where there's a chance to make hay right away is quarterback, but even that's debatable, given the team's commitment to first-year starter Aaron Rodgers. Brohm will have to play lights out or Rodgers will have to get hurt for anything to change there.
When coach Mike McCarthy trots out his team in training camp, he'll have fewer bodies than he did a year ago but even more competition for spots. If Thompson hit on multiple picks in this draft, the team will be all the better for it.
"I look at our team, just the way we've operated going from year one to year two to three, we must improve from within," McCarthy said over the weekend. "And now through the draft, we've obtained good quality football players. They'll be given opportunities to produce and contribute, just as a number of our young players did last year."
And if they're any good, they should help build a strong foundation around Rodgers and make it easier for him to replace a legend.
2008 Packers Draft Picks
(Round Player Position)
2 Jordy Nelson WR
2 Brian Brohm QB
2 Patrick Lee DB
3 Jermichael Finley TE
4 Jeremy Thompson DE
4 Josh Sitton OL
5 Breno Giacomini T
7 Matt Flynn QB
7 Brett Swain WR