If you followed the Green Bay Packers’ draft last weekend, you probably couldn’t help but notice all the Pac-12 players they selected.
General manager Ted Thompson’s 2016 class includes four players from the league. That’s on top of three Pac-12ers he drafted last year, two in 2014 and three more in 2013.
That’s 12 in four drafts combined. Over the same time, the conference with the next-most Packers picks was the Big Ten (six), followed by the best college football conference in the country, the Southeastern Conference (four).
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
Could it just be coincidence? There’s always that possibility. You don’t even have to ask Thompson to know what his answer would be. Anyone who has covered this team for a few years can tell you it would be, "that’s just how it kinda worked it all out."
But one scout I texted back and forth with after the draft went straight to Occam’s razor.
“It’s his M.O.,” the scout texted. “Ted likes Pac-12 (guys).”
Just to give this a little more context, over the last four drafts the SEC has produced by far the most draft picks of any league, 217. It’s followed by the ACC (145), the Big Ten (132), the Pac-12 (116) and the Big 12 (89).
So the SEC has had twice as many players drafted as the Pac-12 since 2013, but Thompson has drafted three times as many Pac-12 (12) as SEC players (four) in that time.
As for what he likes about players from that league, your guess is as good as mine. Two of those schools (Stanford and California) are a cut above academically, and five of those 12 picks were from those two schools. But if that’s a factor, it’s not the whole story.
It’s worth pointing out the Packers’ most experienced college scout, Sam Seale, works the West Coast.
Seale, 53, is in his 21st year as a Packers college scout. His title had been only college scout, as were the team’s other college scouts, until 2012, when Thompson promoted him to West region scout. He’s still the only college scout in the organization with his region in his title.
“I've known him forever, he worked for my dad,” said Eliot Wolf, the Packers director of football operations. “He really works hard. He knows the players, knows his area, and he's not afraid to give his opinion. He's not afraid to stand up and say, 'Ted, I hate this guy.'”
The Packers have made Seale available to the media on draft weekend the last couple years to talk about the players selected from his area, and just from those sessions, it’s clear he’s all extrovert. It’s not difficult to envision him expressing his opinions in meetings.
Seale said he’s able to visit most schools in his area three times a year. Thompson, Wolf and director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst also made scouting trips to the West Coast this past season.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good read on everybody,” Seale said. “Some guys, I miss. Hopefully, I don’t miss too much.”
For the record, Thompson this year drafted a fifth player from Seale’s region, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell of Utah State.
“I know the (scouts) upstairs are like, ‘Why are we going to the West Coast so much? We ought to go down to the SEC,’” Seale said. “But to me, football is football. I went to Western State College in Colorado and I played nine years (in the NFL). So if you’re a player, you’re a player.
“I don’t care if you’re from Alabama, you’re from USC, wherever you’re from you just have to come in and compete and play.”
Here are Seale’s thumbnail takes on the three Pac-12 players the Packers had drafted before he met with reporters Saturday afternoon:
Kenny Clark (6-2⅝, 314), DT, UCLA, first round: “Clark is just a big, strong kid. I felt from viewing him he could come in and play. I don’t know what the coach is going to do with him (regarding nose tackle or defensive end), but I really believe he has enough ability to help us get over the hump. He’s a young kid, and there’s a lot of growth potential in that kid.”
Blake Martinez (6-1⅝, 237), ILB, Stanford, fourth round: “He’s a smart guy, he can set a defense. … To me, I thought he was a big, physical guy, and we needed guys that are physical on the inside with the smarts to set up the defense.”
Trevor Davis (6-1⅛, 188), WR, Cal, fifth round: “If you look at his stats (64 catches and seven touchdowns in two seasons), his production is amazing for how (few) times they threw him the ball. They had like five or six receivers on that team and every one of them was productive. The quarterback spread the ball around. I think he’s going to be a big surprise for a lot of people.”
The Packers completed their draft by using their sixth-round pick to select a fourth Pac-12 player, tackle Kyle Murphy (6-7, 301), yet another Stanford product on the heels of Martinez this year and receiver Ty Montgomery in 2015.
"We liked him a lot," Thompson said of Murphy. "We had several guys go out on the West Coast and Stanford, particularly."
Thompson acknowledged that he puts a lot of faith in the recommendations of Seale and his other scouts.
"Sam and I have worked together for a long time," the Packers GM said. "He probably doesn't want to be linked with me because I'm older than him. But it means a lot to work with a guy for that long. And all of our fellas upstairs, I feel that way about. But sometimes you get a little misty-eyed when you think about the number of hours that we've sat together and talked football. So it's special."