Ted Thompson lands his man but forgoes ILB
Ted Thompson wanted to draft tackle Jason Spriggs something fierce.
He also places inside linebacker relatively low on the priority list for today’s NFL.
Those are the main conclusions I draw from the Green Bay Packers general manager’s moves on Day 2 of the NFL draft.
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
Thompson traded not one but two extra picks (a fourth-rounder and a seventh) to move up nine spots in the second round to take Spriggs, a tackle from Indiana who might not even play this year. Thompson’s droll, understated public speaking doesn’t do justice to his convictions, so you have to judge him solely by what he does and read hard between the lines when he talks
And with how much he values draft picks, trading two extra picks to move up says everything about how much Thompson coveted Spriggs.
“We really wanted to make him a Packer right about there,” Thompson said. “We felt like we were dancing with the devil if we waited too much longer.”
Thompson’s drafting of outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell of Utah State in the third round at No. 88 overall also spoke volumes. Not that the Packers couldn’t use help at outside linebacker — they can. But for the second straight year, despite having an acute need for an inside linebacker who can run and cover against the spread offenses that dominate the NFL, Thompson passed when it came to spending his most valuable resources, his draft picks in the first three rounds.
But Thompson is playing with fire. He didn’t address the position in free agency and now hasn’t through three rounds in the draft. I just don’t see how the Packers can play Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington together at inside linebacker in their nickel defense, which they use on about two-thirds of their defensive snaps. The two in tandem just aren’t fast enough to cover the good receiving backs and tight ends in the league. They'll have targets on their backs. If the Packers are to be a good defense, one of them has to leave the field in the nickel, and neither is what you’re looking for in a dime linebacker..
When Thompson traded up Friday, LSU linebacker Deion Jones, who ran the 40 in the 4.4s at his campus workout, still was on the board. Atlanta took him a few picks later at No. 52 overall. I don't know if he'll be a player, but he's the type of athletic talent teams now are looking for in that nickel and dime linebacker. That was among the opportunity costs of drafting Spriggs..
Thompson still has the final four rounds of the draft Saturday, so he must think he still can find that inside linebacker on Day 3. But the odds of getting immediate help grow longer with each passing round.
Look, I get it. Inside linebackers have become devalued in the NFL because of the spread passing games. So that might explain why Thompson waited until the fourth round to draft Ryan last year, and is waiting until at least then again this year to add to that position.
But if inside linebackers are that devalued, why did the Packers move Clay Matthews, their best defensive player, there 1½ seasons ago in the first place? And why did the defense improve so much after he moved?
Maybe this means Matthews won’t move back outside after all, though coach Mike McCarthy has sounded adamant this offseason that Matthews will be primarily an outside rusher again. I do wonder what McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are thinking now that three draft rounds have passed.
Thompson, for his part, gave no hint about his feelings on the matter. When asked after Friday’s two rounds how he’s breathing when it comes to his inside linebacker position, he said only: “Pretty well.”
As for Spriggs, there is zero doubt how strongly Thompson feels about him. The GM made the move clearly with 2017 in mind, because if Spriggs is anything close to the player the Packers think he is, he gives them a much stronger hand next offseason when three starting offensive lineman (David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang) along with the top backup (JC Tretter) will be free agents.
My gut feeling on the announcement of the pick was that drafting an offensive lineman so high this year, especially when the Packers had to give up two extra picks to get him, was something of a luxury move. Thompson has had great success drafting offensive linemen later — Bakhtiari, Sitton, Lang and Tretter were fourth-rounders, and starting center Corey Linsley was a fifth-rounder — and if he’d waited to the later rounds this year, the player probably would have had a year to develop.
The Packers also had plenty of needs elsewhere that were equal if not greater, most notably at inside linebacker but also outside linebacker and any of the skill positions on offense other than quarterback.
But come October or November the Packers might be really happy they have Spriggs if one of their starters gets injured. And a year from now, as long as Spriggs pans out, they’ll be in good position to replace whatever starter leaves in free agency, which is inevitable.
The pick hearkened back to 2000, when former GM Ron Wolf picked Chad Clifton in the second round at No. 44 overall. The Packers didn’t draft him to start as a rookie, either, but he started the final 10 games at left tackle and 160 games there in 12 NFL seasons.
At first blush, it looks like this could be Bakhtiari’s final season with the Packers. Spriggs was a four-year starter at left tackle at Indiana, and has prototypical size (6-feet-5⅝ and athletic ability (he had the best 40, vertical jump and broad jump of all tackles at the NFL scouting combine) of a left tackle. Considering the price the Packers paid to move up and draft him, you have to think that crucial position protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side will be his landing spot. But it's not a given, because he probably can play right tackle as well.
If he ends up on the left side by 2017, it would save the Packers the biggest chunk of money. Bakhtiari has proven he’s a viable left tackle in the NFL and next year will be in line for a contract that averages at least $10 million, and perhaps a lot more. Spriggs, on the other hand, will be on a cheap rookie deal.
Sitton ($6.75 million average) and Lang ($5.2 million average) are young enough (28 and 29, respectively) to get new deals at least similar to their last contracts, if not more. And right tackle Bryan Bulaga is scheduled to average $6.25 million in 2017.
There’s no way the Packers can pay four offensive linemen premium money. So the team will have to let one of them walk in ‘ 17.
The Fackrell pick is more than justifiable also. Teams can never have too many good pass rushers, and Fackrell has traits that give him a chance in the NFL. He has good length (6-5, 245) and decent speed (4.72-second 40). He had four sacks last season, which won’t impress anyone, but this season he’ll be two years removed from ACL surgery, and the Packers see a raw pass-rushing talent.on the come.
“He’s kind of an all-round guy,” Thompson said. “He has the ability to rush the passer, he’s got good ability in space, good athlete. We like him. Plays the ball."
And it's now on to Day 3.