When I look back on the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 draft in two or three years, the first two questions I’ll ask are:
How did Myles Jack work out for Jacksonville? And was it worth it for general manager Ted Thompson to trade up for a tackle in the second round?
The Jack question is big, and I can’t help but think Thompson should have taken the chance and picked the UCLA inside linebacker at No. 27 overall.
Without his 2015 knee-cartilage injury, Jack was a top-10 pick. With it, he’s facing at least the possibility of microfracture surgery down the road. NFL teams had to determine those odds and the possibilities he might end up a diminished player. He made it through the first round and was selected with the fifth pick in the second, No. 36 overall.
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
Team doctors had a lot of say on where Jack was on the draft boards, but GMs had latitude within the medical evaluation. Some tolerate more risk than others. No GM was willing to take Jack in the first round, but Jacksonville traded up two spots to get him early in the second, at No. 35 overall.
For my money, Thompson is in a position where he has to take some risks.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is quarterback, there’s a really good chance the Packers will be drafting in the bottom quarter of the first round. That means they’re not often getting a shot at a player as obviously talented as Jack.
Jack still could bust, either because of the knee or because he just busts. But it was a rare opportunity to draft a rare defensive talent. He was picked only nine spots after the Packers — does is really matter whether it was first or second round at that point? — so it’s hard to see how taking him at 27 would have been that much a reach.
And unlike Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, the other gifted inside linebacker whose knee injury dropped him from the top 10 to early second round, Jack should be able to play this year. Smith likely won’t.
Maybe Thompson was scared off by his first-round swing and miss with another injured player, Justin Harrell in 2007. More likely, it’s just the GM’s nature to avoid this kind of risk. But I can’t help but think Thompson should have gone Babe Ruth on this one. (Ruth described his approach to hitting thusly: “I swing big. I hit big, and I miss big.”)
As for Spriggs, Thompson paid a steep price for a player who very well might not get on the field this season. I have to admit that puzzled me.
I realize Thompson needed a swing tackle this year, and he also wanted protection for next offseason, when left tackle David Bakhtiari and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang will be free agents. But trading fourth- and seventh-round picks to move up nine spots in the second round for that guy was costly. Thompson’s successes in previous fourth rounds are proof there.
Was there really not a future starter in the third or fourth?
Thompson has made his living by accruing extra picks, not trading them away, on the proven theory that there’s a large element of luck in drafting. More picks means a better the chance of finding good players. It’s the right approach. So I question the trade up.
But I will say, in two years this might be the easier to defend move of the two. We learned this week what Bakhtiari probably will cost in 2017, and it ain’t cheap. Two good young starting left tackles, Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead, signed nearly identical five-year contracts: Glenn’s averages $13 million a year, Armstead’s $12.9 million.
Bakhtiari isn’t a Pro Bowler, but he’s a bona fide starting left tackle in the NFL. They aren’t easy to find, and you can bet his next contract will be in line with those two, whether it’s with the Packers or someone else. Spriggs clearly was drafted to provide Thompson with an alternative there in 2017, though the GM will have other options as well.
The Packers could play Spriggs at right tackle and move Bryan Bulaga inside to replace one of the guards, or re-sign both guards and release Bulaga if his injury issues continue.
It also looks like Thompson at least made a safe pick with Spriggs. This week I spoke with three offensive line coaches in the league, and all three saw Spriggs as a legit second-round player who could start at left tackle as a rookie if needed.
“I loved him,” one coach said. “Very fluid, good athlete. I was not as impressed with him sometimes watching his play at Indiana, more so when he went to the Senior Bowl. He kind of got beat a couple times (in one-on-one drills) and just went, ‘OK, enough’s enough,’ and he got after it and responded pretty good. I was impressed with that. He definitely has the skills for the position, there’s no doubt. Maybe some of the best skills in the draft.”
Said another: “Looks like he hasn’t yet been developed (physically). That’s why when you watch the film he’s not extremely powerful (against the run). But he’s so athletic he can get in a guy’s way, get his hands on him and tie him up, and the guy has a hard time. But you don’t see him knocking somebody back. But it’s hard to teach a guy to be athletic. Sometimes they have it or they don’t. The thing you can develop is strength, especially in a young guy.”
None of the three saw Spriggs as a future guard — “I don’t think he has the (butt) to be inside against the monsters in the middle,” the third coach said — but all thought he can get strong enough to play right tackle.
“I’m with (Thompson) on that (pick), I like Spriggs a lot,” one coach said. “You’re getting yourself a premium player probably down the road here.”