Russ Lande discusses his surprises in this year's NFL draft.
The last time the Green Bay Packers didn't draft a rookie starter was 2011. They very well might not have one this year, either.
That's going to bother some and maybe many of the team's fans. General manager Ted Thompson could have used one of his top couple of picks, and traded up if necessary, to take an inside linebacker who would have played immediately.
He didn't, and I can see why. A look at Thompson's draft history shows the potential pitfall there.
Really, the only pick worth questioning from the cheap seats was UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Not because of Hundley — there's no way to know now which ones will turn out to be good or even great in the NFL, and Hundley very well might be one. I question it in principle and consider it a luxury not worth the cost. More on that later.
Maybe the most surprising development in Thompson's draft this year is that it wasn't as defense-oriented as appeared likely going in. His haul consisted of four players on defense and four on offense, though three of the first four picks were on the defensive side: cornerback Damarious Randall in the first round, cornerback Quinten Rollins in the second and inside linebacker Jake Ryan in the fourth.
Unless Ryan is one of those mid- to later-round surprises that crop up now and then, such as fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari in 2013 and fifth-rounder Corey Linsley last year, it looks like Clay Matthews will play plenty at inside linebacker again this season. That's not all bad for coordinator Dom Capers' defense, because Matthews was great there last year, even if the Packers' would prefer he spends more time as an edge rusher than inside.
"I've had people tell me in studies and so forth that (Matthews') production is probably ranked as probably one of the highest, or the highest, of inside linebackers (in the NFL)," coach Mike McCarthy said after the draft wrapped up late Saturday afternoon.
But all the hand-wringing in Packers fandom because Thompson didn't select one of the high-round inside linebackers is too much. First, because the Packers had Matthews as a fallback all along. And second, because Thompson's 2012 draft serves as a lesson for the risks in getting antsy and moving up to fill a need.
In 2012, the Packers badly needed an inside pass rusher — B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn had the only sacks (three each) at that position the year before. So when the run on inside rushers started in the second round, Thompson traded up to ensure he'd get either Jerel Worthy or Devon Still.
It looked like a good move at the time. He selected Worthy and looked like he'd upgraded the Packers' inside rush. Only he didn't. Worthy ended up busting, as many picks do — a huge majority of players are average or worse. So Thompson spent two picks — it cost him a fourth-rounder to move up eight spots — and solved nothing. Instead, when he sat and picked his fourth-round compensatory choice, he landed Mike Daniels, the inside rusher he was looking for in the first place. Don't think he doesn't remember that.
This year, Thompson clearly rated Randall higher than all the inside linebackers in this year's draft — all were available at No. 30. So you take the better player if both are at positions of need. The main goal of this draft, after all, was for Thompson to find playmakers and difference makers for his defense, no matter the position.
If Thompson had thought any of the inside linebackers drafted before his pick (No. 62) in the second round were worth trading up for — we're talking about Benardrick McKinney, Eric Kendricks and Denzel Perryman — he should have taken him at No. 30. If not, don't burn two picks on one player unless you feel great about that guy. And you probably shouldn't feel that great about many college players.
The one decision I question, though, is the Hundley pick. Now, let's be clear and say that unless your full-time job is scouting college players, it's a waste of time to pan or praise picks based on your opinion of the player. Even the experts don't know how it will turn out.
But Thompson's trade up from late in the fifth to early in the fifth to draft Hundley, regardless of whether the quarterback pans out, looks to me like a luxury not worth the cost.
I know the arguments for it. You can't function in the NFL without a decent quarterback, so you need a backup who gives you a chance. Rodgers has an injury history, and if he were to miss five or six games, then a good backup might be the difference between qualifying for or missing the playoffs by the time Rodgers gets back. (Winning the Super Bowl without him is a non-starter.)
Also, though Rodgers is too young (31) for an heir apparent, Hundley could fetch good trade value if he looks like a promising player in three years.
And the trade wasn't that steep — a seventh-rounder to move up 19 spots, when the Packers already had two compensatory picks at the end of the sixth round anyway.
All those things are true.
But I still don't think it was worth the price. If the Packers were going to trade up, why not take a shot at another defensive player — they could have picked anything but a defensive back. Or just sit and pick. Either way, who knows? Maybe they'd get lucky and hit on a player, like they did last year with Linsley.
The point is, Hundley has about as good a chance to bust as anyone else they might have taken. So why not take the shot at a player who might help you win a Super Bowl with Rodgers on the field, rather than one who will play only if Rodgers is out. I'd normally say that the fifth round is about when teams with a premier quarterback should start considering drafting a potential backup, but Thompson's move up here seemed rich.