GREEN BAY – The beauty of general manager Ted Thompson’s draft-and-develop system is that the Green Bay Packers never should be in a rebuilding mode.
As long as Thompson is making the right choices 50-60 percent of the time with his draft selections, the warehouse never should run out of goods. Whenever items are pulled off the shelves because someone paid a pretty price for them or their expiration dates passed or they become damaged, newer merchandise fills their place.
Of late, Thompson hasn’t had to restock his shelves all that much.
In four of the last five seasons, Thompson has come out of the draft with fewer than 10 selections, including seven in 2016, which tied the mark for fewest selections the Packers GM has made in his 13 seasons running the franchise.
But after watching his team crumble under the weight of injuries and inadequate depth, Thompson went out to retool his roster in a way he hadn’t since 2006 when he signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett and finagled 12 draft picks.
DOUGHERTY: Getting defensive over draft
4TH ROUND: A natural next step for Biegel
4TH ROUND: BYU running back brings toughness
This offseason, Thompson lost some considerable talent with the free-agent exodus of Julius Peppers, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde, Jared Cook, JC Tretter and Datone Jones and the release of cornerback Sam Shields.
The talent drain caused Thompson to pivot in an uncharacteristic way.
He went out and signed two tight ends, Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, to replace Cook, cornerback Davon House to replace Micah Hyde, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to replace Peppers and guard Jahri Evans to replace Lang.
Then he went into the 2017 draft with eight picks and came away with 10 selections, most of whom stand an excellent chance of making the roster provided they stay healthy.
Thompson focused on size and speed, tabbing athletic outliers such as cornerback Kevin King, safety Josh Jones, defensive lineman Montravius Adams and guard Kofi Amichia and complementing them with big-school producers such as linebacker Vince Biegel, running back Jamaal Williams and receiver DeAngelo Yancey.
“Quite frankly, we wanted to have more than seven draft choices at the end of all this,” Thompson said after making his 10th and final selection Saturday. “We felt the team needed a little more juice on the roster and that sort of thing.”
5TH ROUND: Trade down brings WR Yancey
5TH ROUND: More RB depth with UTEP's Jones
6TH ROUND: Offensive line fortified with Amichia
7TH ROUND: Offense targeted in final two picks
On Thursday night, Thompson had the option of sitting where he was at No. 29 in the first round and taking King, outside linebacker T.J. Watt or inside linebacker Reuben Foster, all of whom could have helped him, or trading back into the second round and adding a pick.
King was the preferred choice and when he was passed over in the first round, Thompson had him guaranteed with the 33rd pick he had acquired in the trade with Cleveland. Thompson tried to move down more and get another pick, figuring he could still get King, but he never got the deal he wanted and stayed put to make the selection.
The bonus is that Thompson also got Cleveland’s pick at the top of the fourth round, No. 108 overall. He tried to deal that one for more picks, too, but he didn’t like what was offered and selected Biegel, the Wisconsin Badgers senior.
The extra selection may go a long way in determining how good this draft is. The combination of King and Biegel forever will be compared to Watt and Foster, two guys Thompson could have taken at No. 29.
When Thompson traded back in 2008 and selected Jordy Nelson with the No. 36 pick, he also received a fourth-rounder, No. 113 overall. The bonus pick wound up turning into linebacker Jeremy Thompson and tackle Jermon Meredith after he traded down again for an additional selection.
Luckily for Thompson, the Nelson selection stood on its own. Of those picked from No. 30 to No. 35, only Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers is still in the league and only two of those picks lasted through the 2014 season.
PACKERS PICKS: Selections by round
DRAFT TRACKER: Pick-by-pick coverage
If the King pick turns out as well as the Nelson one, Thompson will be satisfied. But this draft was about retooling, about going into the 2017 regular season not having to rely on five undrafted free agents to make up a 10th of the roster.
The Packers need bonafide football players now and in the future. Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy didn’t need to witness much more than the NFC championship loss in Atlanta to see that.
“On the good part,” Thompson said, “we just added more players. Just like I was talking, I felt like we needed to add some more bodies, and not only bodies, but football players and good people and all the things that make up an NFL team.”
Thompson didn’t seem to care whether he was duplicating positions during this draft or leaving a need unintended, something that could come back and bite him if injury strikes at a thin position. His philosophy was to add numbers and make sure they made the Packers a more athletic team.
Thompson took defensive backs with his first two selections for the second time in three years, took three running backs after the third round and drafted a receiver (Yancey) despite being pretty well-stocked at that position.
BADGERS: Three agree to free-agent deals
AFTER THE DRAFT: Packers begin signing undrafted free agents
The bottom line is the Packers need more drafted players and fewer street free agents and undrafted rookies.
“Everyone gets excited about the first-round pick, which is 14 percent of the NFL rosters,” said senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith. “The second-round pick is like 20-something percent of your roster. The majority of your roster is going to be third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks.
“I think those rounds are the meat of your team. I think if you're going to be a good team, you have to be successful in those rounds. I think why the Packers have been successful over the last 10 years as we look back at our drafts, we've had players in those rounds that have been very successful and have developed into good football players.
“A lot of the teams you watch around the league who haven't succeeded year after year, you look at the bottom of their drafts and they haven't been successful. One of the things that Ted Thompson is probably one of the best at in this business is the second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seven-round draft picks and free agents. I think that's the combination you need to succeed."
McCarthy is never one to turn his back on a veteran free agent and gladly accepted Bennett, Kendricks, Jean Francois, House and Evans. Those are established players who are going to be counted on to produce and provide leadership.
If they can’t produce, however, there’s less of a chance that McCarthy will have to rely on guys like Demetri Goodson, Makinton Dorleant, Brian Price, Mike Pennel, Jordan Tripp, Christine Michael and Don Jackson to fill voids in the lineup.
If King and Jones are as good as Thompson and Co. think they are, how big of an upgrade will that be from Kentrell Brice or Josh Hawkins? How much better would it be if Biegel were able to fill in when Clay Matthews or Nick Perry were hurt instead of Jayrone Elliott or Montravious Adams instead of Price or Christian Ringo when Letroy Guion is out?
A lot of things have to go right for this class to be a good one. But from the look of it, the Packers at least recognized they needed a roster upgrade.