Thompson's Approach To Remain Steady

With General Manager Ted Thompson spending his first three drafts in Green Bay re-tooling the roster and re-stocking its depth, he helped the Packers recover from a 4-12 record in 2005 to reach the NFC Championship just two years later. - More | 2008 NFL Free Agency Q&A


INDIANAPOLIS -- With General Manager Ted Thompson spending his first three drafts in Green Bay re-tooling the roster and re-stocking its depth, he helped the Packers recover from a 4-12 record in 2005 to reach the NFC Championship just two years later.

And with the Packers ending 2007 on the cusp of advancing to the ultimate stage, one school of thought is that Thompson might take a different approach in this year's draft. Meaning, rather than focus on taking the "best player available" with each pick, he might target certain needs and see if he can find a draft pick or two to fill them and help put the Packers over the top.

But don't bet on it.

That's not to say need won't be considered when the Packers make their first selection, at No. 30 overall, in the first round in late April. If the talent of available players is relatively equal, the team's need could influence the final call.

But Thompson isn't about to sacrifice the overall talent of his roster to plug perceived holes, and he said as much during his press conference from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I don't think you can do that," Thompson said about drafting specifically for need, even for a team that came as close to the Super Bowl as the Packers. "This would be an exaggerated situation, but if you had a guy you think has got a chance to be a Pro Bowl player eventually as opposed to a guy that's just going to kind of get you by, but it's a position where you're really hurting, I think it's a bad decision."

Thompson added that bypassing a potential long-term, quality starter wouldn't be damaging just for the future but it could be harmful in the present as well. Injuries, including serious ones, can crop up at any time in the NFL - from mini-camps to training camp to the regular season.

Thompson's approach paid dividends last year, despite the criticism for selecting Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell in the first round. The conventional thinking was the Packers already were well-stocked at that position, and using the No. 16 pick in that fashion wouldn't help the Packers in 2007.

But, in addition to Harrell being a potential long-term starter on the interior of the defensive line, he ended up being needed as a rookie. He missed significant time early in the season due to a torn bicep from his collegiate days and an ankle injury in early October, but by late November the Packers had lost defensive tackles Johnny Jolly (shoulder) and Colin Cole (forearm) to season-ending injuries.

There's no telling where the Packers might have been for the stretch run and postseason without a quality, if unproven, first-round pick like Harrell available to step in.

"You never know where your need is going to be," Thompson said. "You might go into training camp thinking that you're completely solid at a particular position and get two people hurt and all of a sudden you've got a dire need at that spot. I just think for us, it works best if we kind of stay true to what we're thinking."

Harrell now will be expected to be a much bigger contributor in his second season, assuming he can stay healthy and participate to a greater extent through the spring and summer. The long-term outlook hasn't changed, but depending on how the offseason unfolds for Jolly, Cole and Corey Williams (given the franchise tag), Harrell will be looked to for more than simply emergency depth.

"Justin missed a lot of time after the draft," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He wasn't able really to go through the OTAs, and we protected him there in training camp a little bit. He needs a full offseason."

Meanwhile, any specific needs Thompson sees might be more likely filled via free agency. While Thompson has a reputation for disdaining free agency - he signed only backup cornerback Frank Walker last year - it's somewhat unwarranted.

Just two years ago Thompson made multiple major free-agent signings, bringing in defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and cornerback Charles Woodson to add to the veteran core of the team, and a franchise can only make big free-agent splashes so often. McCarthy added that the team was very active in pursuing free agents last year, but just wasn't able to sign any other than Walker.

Still, Thompson does consider free agency a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and a potential free-agent target would have to be viewed as an immediate and definite upgrade over what's already on the roster.

"This is an area where you would attack a specific need, if we felt like there was one there," Thompson said. "At the same time you don't want to necessarily bring somebody in that's just going to get in the way of somebody else that you think might be a player, some of these young core guys."

{sportsad300}Thompson also wouldn't rule out trading up in the draft if the situation presented itself - he never rules out anything - even though he's never done it in Green Bay. But if there were a year it might be more likely to happen, it could be this one.

Thompson has drafted 11, 12 and 11 players in his three Green Bay drafts, but it's possible that trading down to stockpile picks might not be worth the effort with this team, one that made a trip to the NFC title game and has no major free agents hitting the open market. There may be less value in drafting so many players only to see several get cut from a championship-contending club. It could be the right time to sacrifice quantity in the draft to get a player of a certain quality.

But there's no telling what Thompson will do and how the draft will fall. Even so, in following Thompson's philosophy, any player drafted - whether in the Packers' original spot or in another one via trade - likely still wouldn't be based on need, only overall value in that slot. That's the value the Packers will have to weigh, sitting at No. 30 in the first round and in subsequent rounds.

"I think it's a great opportunity to stick to your board," McCarthy said. "And I think Ted does a great job of that -- setting the board, sticking to the board, and just drafting as many good football players as possible."

It's certainly a different scenario than two years ago, when the Packers were selecting at No. 5 and could contemplate getting one of the top five players from the college ranks.

But the wait on the upcoming draft day, considering it's the result of a near-championship season, will be worth it.

"It sort of multiplies as you go along -- every round you have to sit there and wait 30 times -- so it's a little more difficult," Thompson said of selecting so late. "(But) history tells you that every time you pick, no matter where you're at, there's a good player to take.

"Now, the margin of error is less when you're picking at the end of the round, every round. We have a good staff, we understand the challenges in front of us, and we'll see how it goes. But if we do our job, I think we'll be able to pick a good player every time."

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