Ted Thompson basically had his pick of defensive linemen at the Green Bay Packers’ No. 27 pick overall Thursday night.
The team's general manager took UCLA’s Kenny Clark, so we know that in a draft uncommonly rich on the defensive line, Thompson liked Clark better than Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Jarron Reed; Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler; Baylor’s Andrew Billings; and Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche.
We also now know that NFL teams have major concerns about UCLA linebacker Myles Jack’s knee. Jack was looking like a sure top-10 pick just a week ago based on talent, and healthy he might have been the ideal player for the Packers in this draft because he’d have filled a huge hole at a position where they need an immediate three-down player, inside linebacker.
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But the possibility or perhaps likelihood that Jack will need microfracture surgery in a year or two scared off every team in the first round, including Thompson, who is conducting his 12th draft as the Packers’ general manager.
In Clark, Thompson selected a young player — he just finished his true junior season and won’t turn 21 until October — who will fit immediately into their’ defensive line rotation, which took a hit this offseason when B.J. Raji unexpectedly retired. At 6-feet-2 5/8 and 314 pounds, Clark appears best suited for nose tackle in the Packers’ 3-4 defensive scheme, though he likely will play the three-technique as well.
Was he a good pick? I don’t know. I’d question the selection if the Packers are unsure whether he can add something to their inside pass rush, but Thompson said he thinks Clark can. Clark had no sacks in 2014 but six last season, which isn’t bad for an inside pass rusher.
“The hand use, the leverage, he’s very natural at that,” Thompson said. “He’s got a really strong base. He’s not easily moved. He’s a 5-flat 40 guy at 315 pounds. He had a marvelous workout at Indianapolis and at Los Angeles at school. I know all the teams do exactly the same thing after this first day, but we feel good that we were able to do what we did today.
“… I think there’s been a lot said about his pass rushing. There wasn’t a lot of numbers there until this past year. But I think this past year he showed that he’s got that kind of ability and quickness. Always been a good run player.”
There’s almost never a consensus among teams or scouts about players, though the handful of scouts I talked to in the last couple of weeks liked Robinson and Butler better than Clark as inside rushers. So be it. Thompson and the Packers’ scouts are paid to make their own calls, and they made it on Clark. Last year they drafted Damarious Randall as a cornerback even though most teams appeared to see him as a safety, and based on his rookie season Randall appears on track to proving Thompson and the Packers right.
We’ll see on Clark. For what it’s worth, here’s what three scouts told me about him last week:
“I like him, (but) I think he’s more of a second-round pick,” one said. “Somebody might pull the trigger at the bottom of the first. He has size, 6-3, 315, still has some growth potential, he’s a junior coming out. Little disappointed in his standing broad jump (9-6) and vertical jump (28½ inches) — there’s just not a lot of lower-body explosion.”
Said a second scout: “I liked Kenny Clark a lot. I think he can play the one (technique) or the three (technique). If he can play the three, that tells you he can get on that outside shoulder and rush up the field. UCLA makes him play in a bad stance, he’s almost like a frog man, he’s got this frog-man stance, I don’t think it helps him. But you can see, great with hands, gets off blocks, can be disruptive, works down the line. There are a lot of really solid things about Kenny Clark. … I wouldn’t have a problem drafting him (at 27) if I were the Packers.”
Said the third scout: “I think he’s a pretty good player. I don’t see him as a pass rusher. You’re talking 6-1, 300 (pound) guys. Now I’ve never been crazy for height — Mike Daniels is a great player. I could see that Clark be OK. I don’t think he’s Mike Daniels. Mike Daniels was the best player I watched on film.”
As for Jack, his fall out of the first round was one of the bigger stories of the first day of this draft. And it tells you how much the possibility of microfracture surgery concerns teams. He injured cartilage in the knee in practice early last season and sat out the rest of the year rather than risk returning. He doesn't need the procedure now but might in the future. The procedure pokes holes in the bone in the knee to cause bleeding, with the hope it will lead to cartilage regeneration. But players who need the procedure commonly have shortened and/or diminished careers.
There have been NFL players who have had the procedure and played both well and long: former Miami quarterback Dan Marino had it in 1986 and played 14 more seasons, though he had minimal mobility most of his career. Most notably, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson had the procedure in 1991 and played 13 more years. Like Marino, he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he played a position where he had to be able to run.
But of more recent vintage, Jadaveon Clowney the No. 1 pick overall in 2014, had microfracture surgery late in his rookie season. The Houston Texans' outside rusher returned to have only 4½ sacks in 13 games last season.
It had to be hard for the Packers to pass on Jack, but their doctors had a chance to examine him at the NFL scouting combine in February and again at his medical re-check earlier this month. Obviously considered Jack too great a medical risk for a first-round pick.
Not surprisingly, he instead went big. Defensive line definitely was a need, and as we’ve learned from Thompson with his first-round picks, when in doubt predict he’ll take a lineman on one side of the ball or the other.
“Defensive linemen, offensive linemen, they're hard to find,” Thompson said. “Linebackers and running backs are hard to find, too. But the combination of being big enough and strong enough and athletic enough to compete in the NFL, those are hard combinations to come up with."