Packers focus on playmakers, address needs

Ryan Wood
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Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan helps address one of the Packers’ biggest draft needs.

At a glance, there was no consistent theme with Ted Thompson's approach to this year's NFL draft.

The Green Bay Packers general manager opened by selecting a safety in the first round who can play cornerback. With his second-round pick, he took a cornerback who can play safety. Thompson split the Packers' haul down the middle — four offensive players, four defensive. There was a quarterback, a fullback and, yes, an inside linebacker.

Thompson picked and chose which roster needs to address. There were no offensive linemen, but every other place on the depth chart had at least one representative.

"We literally kept saying, 'Let's make sure we try to draft football players,'" Thompson said. "I know that sounds simple, and we should probably always do that, but sometimes you get carried away and talk about that hand size or 40-yard dash time and things like that. I was trying to have everybody focus on good football players. I hope we did that."

It was no coincidence the Packers evenly dispersed their eight picks.

With the exception of cornerback and linebacker, their needs weren't glaring. This was a team that finished one step short of the Super Bowl last season. No matter what happened over the past few days, the Packers still were staring at being in championship contention this fall.

More than anything, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team wanted to add "multi-dimensional athletes" in the draft. That doesn't mean a good 40 time or ideal measurables as much as diverse football players who can help in multiple ways.

"The theme is the same every year," McCarthy said. "It's (take the) best player available. Do not get too far away. Same thing I heard as a young assistant coach back in 1999 — you take good football players. You take football players. You don't get caught up in BPA, best player available versus NP, 'need pick.' Then you've got some other ways people look at it.

"We obviously stay true to just taking the best football player."

Still, there were some needs addressed. The Packers strongly targeted their secondary, hoping to fill the holes left by departed cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House. Arizona State safety Damarious Randall and Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quinten Rollins will be cheaper, inexperienced alternatives next season, filling out the secondary depth.

Neither Randall nor Rollins has much size. Rollins measured 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds at the NFL combine, while Randall was 5-foot-10 7/8 and 196 pounds.

With Randall and Rollins, the Packers have only two cornerbacks at least 6-feet tall: Micah Hyde (6-0, 197 pounds) and Tay Glover-Wright (6-0, 175). In a division with Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236) and Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 216), the Packers' lack of height at cornerback paints a stark contrast.

McCarthy said he isn't worried about the size disparity.

"They can jump," McCarthy said of his corners. "That's all part of it. You look at it, and sometimes you have to look at the whole picture. To me, it's time to throw the measurables out the window. Especially the young men we drafted. It's time to go play football. I don't buy into the fact that because you have a bunch of 6-5 receivers in your division, you have to get a bunch of 6-2 corners. Our opponents, especially our division opponents, will not dictate the way we build our football team."

At Michigan, Jake Ryan played both inside and outside linebacker.

The Packers started Saturday by filling their other need at inside linebacker. Michigan senior Jake Ryan is expected to compete for playing time early at that position. McCarthy said no starting jobs were handed out Saturday, and they won't be for months.

But in the Packers' 3-4 defense, Ryan (6-2 3/8, 240) has ideal size to be paired with fellow inside linebacker Sam Barrington (6-1, 246).

"A lot of pedigree," Thompson said of Ryan, whose father, grandfather and two brothers played college football. "Very well-liked at school. I think a two-time captain, and he's played some big-time ball."

Ryan may allow the Packers some flexibility with their roster.

Throughout the offseason, the Packers' plan for outside linebacker Clay Matthews has been the most intriguing issue. Matthews made an instant impact when he was moved to inside linebacker midway through last season, but the change came at the expense of pulling their top pass rusher off the line of scrimmage.

It's yet to be seen whether Ryan's presence will allow Matthews to return to his natural position. McCarthy indicated the five-time Pro Bowler could play both spots in 2015.

"Number one, Clay is an outside linebacker," McCarthy said. "He's a pass-rusher. That's his premium position. I think it's very evident after the bye week that moving Clay around, his productivity definitely went up. I've had people tell me in studies and so forth that his production is probably ranked as probably one of the highest, or the highest, of inside linebackers. Just the way he played the position. That's a big credit to Clay.

"Clay is going to both meetings. I was in the inside linebacker meeting on Friday with Clay. He's getting ready to play wherever he needs to play. The most important thing is creating opportunities for your big-time players to make plays, and that's what we'll do with Clay."

The Packers concluded their draft by selecting Oklahoma fullback Aaron Ripkowski, Louisiana-Lafayette defensive lineman Christian Ringo and Alabama-Birmingham tight end Kennard Backman within an eight-pick stretch of the sixth round.

Ripkowski could be fullback John Kuhn's replacement after the veteran's one-year contract expires at the end of 2015. McCarthy said Ringo drew comparisons to defensive lineman Mike Daniels. Backman is an athletic, developmental tight end who was a top high school basketball player in the Atlanta area.

All eight rookies will arrive in Green Bay this week for the Packers rookie orientation next weekend.

Said McCarthy, "I'm looking forward to seeing these guys Thursday night, getting in here."

— or follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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