Dougherty: Will Ted Thompson trade down in NFL draft?

Pete Dougherty
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Ted Thompson’s history as a down-trader leads to the same question every NFL draft season: Will the Green Bay Packers general manager move out of the first round to add an extra pick or two?

There's always good reason to wonder.

For one, he likes trading down: 21 of his 29 draft-day trades have been moves down.

He’s also usually picking late in the first round, so he’s looking at players who might have early second-round grades anyway.

And especially in years like this, when he’s picking at the bottom of the round (No. 29 overall), there could be a team or two looking for a quarterback in the late first round rather than early second so they have the fifth-year contract option if he pans out.

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But the fact is, in Thompson’s 12 drafts with the Packers, he has traded down in the first round only once. In 2008, he moved back six spots (from No. 30 to 36 overall) and selected Jordy Nelson in the second round. In return, he improved his fourth-round pick by 11 slots and received a fifth-round selection as well.

Thompson also never has moved up from his first pick. So while you never can dismiss the possibility he’d move down, the smart money the last several years has said that in the first round he’ll sit at his spot and take a player.

Is there any reason to think this year will be different? Yes. Not that I’d bet on it straight up, but I’d put higher odds on him trading down from No. 29 than I would have in the last few years.

Here’s why, or at least why I’d be looking to move down if I were him.

It’s not that Thompson needs more picks, though that’s rarely a bad strategy. There’s a significant element of luck in the draft, and the more bites at the apple, the better the chances of finding good players.

But the Packers have four immediate needs in my mind, and a trade down could improve their odds of getting immediate help at most or all of them: outside pass rusher, cornerback, running back and guard.

Now, this is in theory. If there’s a guy Thompson really likes available at No. 29, he has to take him. You can’t pass on a player about whom you feel strongly. Especially this year if he’s an edge rusher. That’s the kind of guy who, if you’re right, can make everyone on your defense better.

But if not, then a move down makes sense. Trades usually don’t work out according to the draft trade chart that used to be in vogue, but you have to think Thompson could find a way of either picking up an extra third, or moving up from the fourth to the third, as part of the exchange for falling back, say, six to 10 spots. That would give him two seconds and two thirds.

Top-100 picks are especially coveted in the NFL, and that would give him a shot at picking a player from each of those four positions with four picks between Nos. 30 and 100. There’s no guarantee things would fall that way — you can’t stray far from your board just to fill a need — but he’d have the picks to do it.

This draft works in favor of a trade down also because its depth is at edge rusher, cornerback and running back. Thompson doesn’t necessarily need a late first-round pick to find a good prospect at any of those positions.

Now, maybe Thompson doesn’t see the Packers’ needs the same way I do.

At running back he and coach Mike McCarthy appear to be on board. Both have said publicly they’ll be adding running backs to the roster, so that’s as close as you’ll ever get to them acknowledging a significant need.

At cornerback, they’ll be looking for Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to bounce back from bad second seasons; both had significant injury issues. They also will hope for LaDarius Gunter to keep improving and for free-agent reacquisition Davon House to upgrade the core.

But could they actually believe the position doesn’t need more immediate help after seeing what happened when Sam Shields went down with a concussion last season? I think not.

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To that end, yes, Randall still has a lot of potential because of his springy athleticism and ball skills. He played well as a rookie and still could be a good player. But last year has to leave at least some doubt.

Rollins also could bounce back. But according to MockDraftable’s NFL scouting combine data that goes back to 1999, Rollins’ 4.57-second 40 ranks in the bottom quarter of cornerbacks. So unless he proves to have exceptional instincts and ball skills, he’ll never be more than a No. 3 or 4 cornerback.

House was a good signing for the cost ($2.8 million) and he knows the system, and Gunter is a competitor. But the Packers need more talent at cornerback, and the most athletic ones usually go in the first two or three rounds.

At guard, maybe the Packers feel OK about Don Barclay as the leading candidate to replace T.J. Lang. When you have to make do, guard is a position to do it. But I find it hard to believe they’re not going to draft one in the first three or four rounds to compete for that job.

And if I’m them, I above all want a pass-rushing prospect. Nothing helps a defense more than a good rush — just imagine what a difference another rusher could have made on third downs in the NFC championship game at Atlanta. With Clay Matthews’ advancing age and Julius Peppers’ departure, the roster is crying out for new talent there. That’s probably going to take a pick in the top two rounds as well.

Sure, this is all speculation, but that’s what draft season is all about. Odds are Thompson still will use his own pick in the first round. It’s usually close to a sure thing. This year, though, don’t be so sure.

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