Dispelling the Ted Thompson 1st-pick myth

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson gives a thumbs-up to teammate Aaron Rodgers after the two connected for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

This might not qualify as puncturing a Ted Thompson myth, but it might drop the air pressure a notch or two.

The myth is that the Green Bay Packers' general manager almost always drafts the best player available, especially in the first round.

He won that reputation because he seems less inclined than most GMs to force-feed picks for his most immediate needs. Last year, for instance, he didn't draft an inside linebacker at all even though it was high on the Packers' priority list. Same for safety in 2013.

And then there's his first pick in two of his earliest drafts, Aaron Rodgers (2005) and Jordy Nelson ('08). Rodgers essentially wouldn't play for three years; Nelson joined a relatively deep position when Thompson needed a running back, a tight end and help almost anywhere on defense far more.

But look closer at all his drafts and the need is there, it's just not always the most pressing one.

With Rodgers, well, as they say, the hardest time to find a quarterback is when you need one. So better too early than too late at the game's most important position.

When Thompson drafted Nelson with his first pick three years later — the GM traded back from late in the first round to early in the second — it looked like the ultimate choice of value over need. The Packers already went three deep at receiver with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones, and several positions needed immediate help at the time.

But looking back, you can see the thinking. Driver was getting old. Thompson wanted his new young quarterback to have enough weapons and was drafting for one, maybe two years down the road. He liked Nelson better than anyone at a position of immediate need — cornerback, tight end, running back and safety were at the top of the list that year. So Nelson it was.

The need was there with Thompson's other first picks as well.

Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix runs with the ball after making an interception against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Some years it was for the here and now. A.J. Hawk ('06), B.J. Raji ('09), Nick Perry ('12), Datone Jones ('13) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ('14) all either started from Day 1 or were picked because of desperate needs on the defensive side of the ball.

In other years, the need wasn't acute but would be soon.

In '07, Justin Harrell was a first-round hedge against starting defensive tackle Corey Williams, who was in the final year of his contract and likely expensive to re-sign. A year later, Thompson put the franchise tag on Williams and traded him to Detroit.

In '10 and '11, neither of Thompson's first-round tackles, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, was drafted to play as a rookie. But Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton were nearing the end of the line. Tauscher, in fact, didn't even make it through the '10 season; Clifton broke down the next year.

I'd like to find an overarching draft philosophy for Thompson, but in most ways it just doesn't work. It's not like he's Al Davis, who you could count on to take the biggest, fastest guy at his position on the board.

Still, there are a couple of general truths we know about Thompson. He obviously prefers to trade down (19 times) for extra picks rather than up (seven times) for a targeted player. His average of 9.6 picks a draft says he recognizes the significant element of luck in selecting players.

Thompson also cops to believing in the big-man theory — as he likes to say, the planet has a limited number of huge, athletic men, so you better get them when you can. His first pick has been an offensive or defensive lineman in half of his 10 drafts.

The Green Bay Packers first-round draft choice A.J. Hawk and Packers General Manager Ted Thompson during a press conference inside Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Saturday, April 29, 2006.

Thompson generally sticks with Ron Wolf's physical traits by position as well. For instance, you almost never see the Packers bring in a defensive back or receiver, even undrafted, who's shorter than 5-feet-101/2. The quarterbacks almost always are at least 6-2.

And with his first pick, Thompson errs on the side of caution. In '06, for instance, he passed on boom-or-bust tight end Vernon Davis for the safer selection, Hawk. The lone risky pick among Thompson's first-rounders was Harrell, who was coming off surgery for a torn biceps. And that didn't work out so well.

So when you're trying to figure out who Thompson might take at No. 30 next week, keep an open mind. Remember that while inside linebacker and cornerback are his most immediate needs, you have to look a year into the future as well.

— and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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