In Ted Thompson’s 11 seasons as general manager, the Green Bay Packers have won one Super Bowl, been to the NFC championship game two other times and are on a streak of seven straight trips to the playoffs.
He’s done it while relying more on draft and develop than any other team in the NFL. He's missed on plenty of picks -- they all do -- but that track record means he’s hit on some big ones, too, most notably, of course, Aaron Rodgers.
In three weeks, Thompson will begin his 12th draft running the show in Green Bay. His record is long enough that it’s worth going back and ranking his drafts, leaving out 2014 and ’15 on the theory that it takes three years to fairly assess a draft class.
This list (ranked in descending order) is purely subjective and places a premium on quality over quantity:
1. 2005: The no-brainer of no-brainers. Any draft that yields a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback (Rodgers) would be a quadruple grand slam even if he were the only guy in the class. A second difference maker in second-round safety Nick Collins takes this class up another notch.
2. 2009: Another easy call. Again, landing a player the caliber of linebacker Clay Matthews alone makes this draft a home run. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji, Thompson’s first pick in this draft, played some big-time football in the Super Bowl run in 2010, though he was up and down thereafter. Thompson also landed guard T.J. Lang in the fourth round, and he’s still going strong in forming one of the better guard duos in the league with Josh Sitton.
3. 2008: Jordy Nelson is the distinguishing player in this class. He was only OK early on but improved every year and became a difference maker. We saw just how important he has become when he missed last season because of a torn ACL. Sitton, a fourth-round pick, is among the best guards in the league. Jermichael Finley, a third-rounder, never became the tight end he might have but still played some good football until a neck injury ended his career in ’13. And though second-round quarterback Brian Brohm busted in a big way, seventh-rounder Matt Flynn proved to be a competent backup in the Packers’ system.
4. 2010: Here’s where the real arguments begin. The player who puts this class just above the rest is cornerback Sam Shields, who was signed soon after the draft and has been Thompson's best undrafted rookie. He has grown into a difference maker. This class also produced four capable players, though no other standouts. Safety Morgan Burnett, a third-rounder, hasn’t been the ballhawk he was in college, but he’s a starter worth keeping. Hip and knee injuries have diminished first-round tackle Bryan Bulaga, but he still can play. The Packers might not have won the Super Bowl in 2010 if sixth-rounder James Starks hadn’t returned from injury for the playoffs to provide just enough of a run game, though he proved injury prone as a full-time player. His niche is as a five-to-10-touch back. Mike Neal, a second-rounder, ended up being a ‘tweener as a defensive lineman and outside linebacker, but he gave the team a lot of snaps and an occasional play over the last six years.because
5. 2012: At first glance, this draft was brutal. Only three of the eight picks lasted more than two years. First-rounder Nick Perry hasn’t been the pass rusher Thompson projected. Thompson traded up for second-round defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, but he was a total bust. And the Packers were looking for fourth-rounder Jerron McMillian to fill a big hole at starting safety after a year or two, but he busted as well. But Mike Daniels is the difference. He’s the defensive lineman the Packers were hoping for in Worthy and is among their three or four most important players on that side of the ball, as his four-year, $41 million contract extension from mid-December suggests. Second-rounder Casey Hayward was a viable nickel cornerback before leaving in free agency this offseason for a deal that averages about $5 million a year. And Perry generally has played good football when healthy, though he’s been either out of the lineup or diminished more often than not. The Packers re-signed him recently for one year at $5 million, so that counts for something.
6. 2013: This class probably will move up a slot, maybe even two, depending on the next season or two. In his first two years, second-rounder Eddie Lacy provided the run game this franchise had lacked since Ahman Green. It was a killer when he got heavy and slow last season. Recent photos suggest he’s back in shape for his first contract year. David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick, might never be a Pro Bowl left tackle, but he has proven plenty good enough since starting as a rookie at the most important position on the offensive line. First-rounder Datone Jones has been more of a miss than hit, but he played his best football late last season and might have found a niche as an elephant pass rusher. You can’t dismiss Micah Hyde, a fifth-rounder who is a viable backup as a slot corner and safety, and a good punt returner. Linebacker Sam Barrington (seventh round) and defensive lineman Josh Boyd (fifth-rounder) could add a little something after missing most of last season because of injuries.
7. 2006: Thompson landed three immediate starters in linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge and receiver Greg Jennings. But the impact wasn’t as big as it might seem. Hawk gets big points for durability – he rarely missed practice, let alone games (two in nine seasons). But even at his best he was an average starter and didn’t do much to change games (nine interceptions and four forced fumbles in 142 games). Colledge was a four-year starter but the Packers were looking to replace him by his last year. Jennings was by far the best of the group and the team’s No. 1 receiver for several years, but his post-Packers career suggests that Brett Favre and Rodgers played a big role in his success as well. Nelson has proven to be the better of the two. Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, a sixth-round pick, flamed out because of substance-abuse issues just as he was becoming a good player.
8. 2007: Mason Crosby keeps this class out of the basement. He’s still the Packers’ kicker and just signed a new four-contract worth just over $4 million a year. Third-rounder James Jones was a viable No. 3 receiver for several years and led the league in touchdown receptions in ‘12. Bishop helped win the Super Bowl in ’10 when he proved to be a better inside linebacker than injured Nick Barnett. But Bishop’s time as a starter was relatively short – a knee injury early in ‘ 12 ended his time with the Packers. The rest of this draft provided next to nothing, and the killer pick was in the first round. Thompson took a big injury risk on defensive lineman Justin Harrell, and it backfired. Harrell just wasn’t that into football and played in only 14 games over four seasons before washing out after a torn ACL. Second-round halfback Brandon Jackson’s only value was as a pass protector, not exactly what you’re looking for from that position and round. Safety Aaron Rouse (third round) and offensive lineman Allen Barbre (fourth round) were impressive athletes who didn’t pan out.
9. 2011: The worst of them all, this draft yielded 1 ½ players. Randall Cobb, the second-rounder, is a keeper as a slot receiver, though he suffered without Nelson last year. Fourth-round cornerback Davon House flashed ability but couldn’t stay healthy enough to ever lock down even the No. 3 role. He landed a nice contract ($6.125 million a year) from Jacksonville in free agency last year, but he was more talent than performance, and the Packers rightly didn’t even consider getting in on the bidding. And that’s pretty much it. First-round tackle Derek Sherrod busted after a severely broken lower leg his rookie year. Tight end Ryan Taylor (seventh round) was a special teams player. Running back Alex Green (third round), tight end D.J. Williams (fifth round) and linebacker D.J. Smith all had every chance to play but bombed. Ricky Elmore, a sixth-round outside linebacker, couldn’t play a lick and will go down as one of the worst players Thompson ever drafted. Seventh-rounder Lawrence Guy, a defensive lineman, never played for the Packers but just re-signed with Baltimore.
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