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Monday, April 25, 2005

Ted Thompson - 1st draft review



by Mark Lawrence
PackerChatters Staff

The 2005 NFL draft is over now, and we've all gotten to see the new Packers GM Ted Thompson have it his way. We all now have a flavor for what Ted is all about.

Ted Thompson is a disciple of Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren. Ron Wolf was trained in the scouting department of Al Davis' Raiders. Al Davis is a big proponent of "draft defense, develop offense." Ron wolf very much followed in this philosophy with one difference: Wolf firmly believed that you had to have a top-10 quarterback to have a chance at the Superbowl. After nine years as the GM of the Packers, Wolf indicated that he had made several mistakes, but only one that he seemed to really regret: never drafting a WR high for Favre. Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman were both trained by Wolf, and both seem determined not to repeat this mistake. If anything, Sherman, the previous GM of the Packers, seemed to have spent several drafts focusing on offense to the detriment of defense.

Before the draft Ted had a press conference where he seemed to stress two points: first, that he was a big believer in drafting Best Player Available (BPA) regardless of need; and second that he thought all draft choices were nothing more than a chance, so the more chances the better your odds of hitting. Taken at face value, these statement would seem to indicate that he would not be driven to plug holes, but rather to accumulate as much talent as possible; and that he would be very open to trading down to acquire more picks. Generally, you would expect a team coming off the superbowl to have relatively few available roster openings, and therefore to wish to have fewer but higher picks. This would be a team looking to shore up a couple of problem areas, perhaps, but not having any big holes on their roster. Conversely, you would expect a team that had done relatively poorly to try hard to accumulate a lot of picks and thereby get a lot of potential new players. The two teams coming off the Superbowl, the Patriots and the Eagles, were involved in 4 trades each, in nearly every case trading up. The Packers were involved in three trades, in all cases trading down. No other team was involved in more than two trades. So, we learned that Thompson is a dealer when he believes it suits his purpose.

Coming into the 2005 draft, the Packers had just finished a year with a record of 10-6, a top five offense, and a bottom ten defense. The year was capped off with an extremely disappointing and disturbing loss in the playoffs, at home, to the hated Vikings. There was no question in the minds of Packers fans everywhere that this was the year to draft defensive play makers.

In Free Agency, the Packers lost two starting offensive guards and two starting defensive safeties. Also, the starting strong side linebacker was not signed, and appeared to not be welcome back. Finally, an early season injury to nose tackle Grady Jackson made very clear how thin the Packers roster was at DT. There were several holes on this team that needed plugging before one could call them a playoff caliper team.

The Packers started out the draft with 7 picks, distributed as 1(24), 2(51), 2(58), 3(89), 4(125), 5(143), 6(180). Their extra 2nd round pick came from trading perennially disgruntled CB Mike McKenzie to the Saints, and their 7th went to the Chiefs for a 2003 trade.

Pick 1: QB Aaron Rogers inexplicably fell 23 spots. Before the draft, the consensus among the JE (Journalistic Elite, those known to be the best informed, best educated, and most intellectually honest in our society) was that Rodgers was the #1 pick more ready to start today, and Smith was the #1 pick with perhaps more talent and upside but requiring more work. Many thought you would have trouble fitting dental floss between these two, value wise. Peter King, whose massive intellect is overshadowed only by his equally impressive waist, watched an afternoon of tape with Phil Simms, and came away convinced that Rodgers is the real deal and Smith is a big leap of faith.

The 49ers opened the draft with a pick of Alex Smith. After that, there were 22 teams in a row who either already had their franchise QB or had what they considered to be more pressing needs. It was thought quietly before the draft that the 'loser' of the 49ers sweepstakes would be picked at #3 by Cleveland, or #5 by Tampa Bay, or #8 by Arizona, or #9 by Washington. It was also thought that if the 'loser' somehow dropped past these teams, there followed a dozen or more teams who had no particular need for a QB.

Well, in any case Rodgers was available at pick 24. As were a bunch of defensive players - DTs who were mostly a bit undersized or who had questionable motors, DEs who were 'tweeners and were stars when compared to college's 260 pound tackles but were performance risks when measured against the NFL's 320 pound tackles, a few LBs with various physical or character issues, and a couple safeties who were not at all clearly 1st round value. It was looking very much like the smart choice was either to take a chance on drafting your future QB for 20 cents on the signing dollar, or trade down 10ish spots. TT took the chance. With this pick he proved that he is more concerned with building a long term winner than with winning our opening game. The 49ers will most likely give Alex Smith about $22M guaranteed in a 7 year contract. The Packers will most likely give Rodgers $5M guaranteed in about a 5 year contract. While one can argue indefinitely about the relative merits of these two men, and then confuse the topic further by dragging in other names like Manning, Leaf, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Brees, and Brady, in the end there is one certain fact: the Packers got a QB who was a clear contender for the #1 overall pick, and they will pay one fifth as much as San Francisco, New York, or San Diego for a similar pick. This is BPA and value, all wrapped up in one neat clipboard holder.

We are told that Thompson fielded several trade offers for this pick, including one from aforementioned Cleveland. It seemed that at pick 24, there were a fair number of teams that were interested in Rodgers. However, Thompson made up his mind quickly: Rodgers was his future quarterback. This was great value on a great player, and more picks was simply not adequate compensation. Also, if Rodgers for some reason didn't work out, the blow to the Packers franchise of effectively losing $5M and a #24 pick would not be nearly the hit that, for example, San Diego took when they were forced to cut their losses on their $15M #2 pick Ryan Leaf. Normally, a quarterback at this level costs you two years of pain: a bad year to get the required high draft pick, and another bad year when he starts as an ill prepared rookie on an otherwise poor team. Here we pay 20 cents on the dollar, Rodgers gets at least a year to prepare, and we never had the down year. Genius? Luck? God has season tickets? Who can say. If this pick alone works out, it was a good draft.

Pick 2: With a glaring need at safety, Thompson looked to the alternatives. Last year the Packers had three safeties - Bhawoh Jue, Mark Roman, and Darren Sharper. Jue and Sharper were both lost in FA, and Roman did not have a very successful year. To Thompson's eyes, one fellow stood out - ball hawk Nick Collins from Bethune-Cookman in NCAA Division I-A. Nick is from a small black college and was not at all scouted by the JE, so he was simply not on their radar screens. If he was listed at all in the various mock drafts, it was in the 5th round or below. However, Collins had attracted some attention from scouts with his performance both at the senior bowl and the combine. Collins fits the "new-look" packers: blazing speed, his 4.37 40 time making him outstanding for a safety, good man coverage skills, a solid college record of interceptions showing that he's always close to the ball, a history of questionable tackling, and indifferent intelligence. On the basis of physical talent, there's little question that Nick Collins is an excellent 2nd round pick. The open questions will be, can he learn the defense? Can he get on the field this year? Can he develop over the next two years into a true free safety? If the answers are yes, this will turn out to be one of those diamond in the rough picks that makes the scouting staff / GM look like geniuses. If he never becomes assignment sure, this is going to look like another desperate reach based on two numbers: 40 yard time and career interceptions. Nick's wonderlic score of 14, indicating an IQ of about 88, raises some questions about his ability to learn. The Packers sent their DB coach down to Florida to work with Nick for a day. The coach returned promising that he could teach Nick and Nick could learn. This was enough for Thompson, so he pulled the trigger and chose him in the mid second round.

Time will tell how this will develop. The JE have already passed judgment - since they had never heard of the guy, and since all information by definition flows through the JE, this was obviously an enormous reach. The real question would be, how did the various NFL scouts view Collins. The Packers Faithful must presume that casual talk among the scouts at the Senior Bowl and combine had lead the Packers staff to conclude that many teams saw Collins as a 2nd round prospect. Otherwise, no matter how Nick turns out, it would be obvious that we could have drafted him lower and saves both money and a high pick. Here we see some very impressive physical talent at a position of great need, but we have little sense of BPA or value. In fact, with Collins it seems perhaps easier to make an argument for reaching a bit than picking for value.

Pick 3: Last year injuries decimated our WRs, and since we carried only 4 WRs on the roster, it didn't take much to get to the point where we were playing extremely raw players bounced up at the last second from the practice squad. Thompson found a real gem in the late 2nd round - Terrence Murphy. Terrence has the new Packers look: blazing speed. Surprisingly for a player who was in a ground based offense, his down field blocking is considered below average. Murphy scored 15 on the wonderlic, indicating an IQ of about 90. Nasa need not shiver in their sleep about the new rocket propulsion labs going up in Brown County. It has been claimed by several that had he played in a more pass oriented offense, he would have been taken in the top 20. At least one mock draft prepared by the JE had him going at pick 31 to Philly, who is equally in need of WR prospects. Terrence has superior punt and kickoff return capabilities, but there are questions about how long it will take him to absorb the WCO. I think we can assume that if he proves reliable at catching punts and kickoffs, he'll have earned an active spot on the roster. I think as a receiver there will be only a few plays where he will be trusted to be in the correct route, and it's unlikely that this restriction will be lifted this year. So, most likely a good special teams player and a decent #4 WR for a few plays per game, but not starting WR material this year. However, it's extraordinarily rare to find a WR who is able to learn the WCO in one training camp. If you have an immediate need for a WR starter in the WCO, you need a FA who has played this system for a few years. Again we get the flavor of drafting for the future, not so much for need. Again we get a strong sense of BPA and value.

Pick 4: Faced with a late third round pick and an offer from Carolina to trade two 4s for one 3, Ted traded entirely out of the third round. We must conclude that at this point Thompson's draft table had lots of candidates with few distinguishing properties, and 2 for 1 with a bit of a delay looked like a good deal. Since there was a partner for this trade, we can also conclude that other people thought there were candidates with distinguishing properties.

According to my value chart, Thompson gave up a pick with value 145 for two picks with aggregate value 110. Either Thompson was working from a very different value chart that showed much less difference in value between a late 3rd and a late 4th, or Thompson set aside his value chart due to his read of the talent then available. In any case, the trade was made and Thompson's first day of drafting as a GM was done. Thompson started his day with several defensive needs and seven picks; he ended his day with one defensive player, two offensive players, and five picks. None of the first day picks looked like immediate starters. However, last year, out of 255 total drafted players, only 10 of them started all 16 games. So, one can say that judging a pick by whether the player is ready to start is probably an unrealistic standard.

The Packers faithful all settled down to take a few deep breaths and try to regain their composure after a day that had seemed to contain a lot of drama, and perhaps held out a lot of long term hope, but had not felt particularly satisfying compared to the team's immediate needs.

Draft Day Two.

Pick 4: 4th round, #115. Thompson opened his second draft day by taking safety Marviel Underwood from San Diego State. Underwood is another speed player - 5'10 1/2", 197 pounds, 4.38 in the 40. There were other safety prospects on the board that were better tacklers or better at diagnosing plays; however it seems the Packers will continue under Bates to believe that you can teach tackling and reading, but you can't teach speed. We have a large and growing number of potential players who have blazing speed, but require substantial coaching. Underwood is another.

Pick 5: 4th round, #125. Brady Poppinga, a light DE from BYU. Brady is a bit older than many in the draft due to taking two years off college to go on a mormon mission. He's 6'2 1/2" 247 pounds, 4.66 in the 40. Again we see this emphasis on speed. Brady projects to being an OLB on passing downs, whose assignment will be to cover a TE or large WR, or rush the passer. This player looks a bit like a pick for a team moving towards a 3-4 defense. Perhaps he signals a new type of defensive alignment for the Packers against spread offenses on 3rd and long. Or 4th and 46.

Pick 6: 4th round, #126. Thompson traded this pick to the Eagles for a 5th, 6th, and 7th round pick. On my draft value chart, I show this trade as being fair, meaning the Packers got three bodies of roughly equivalent value to the one body Philadelphia got.

Pick 6: 5th round, #143. Thompson chose C/G Junius Coston from North Carolina A&T. Coston is an athletic guard, with abilities to pull and work in free space that will look right at home in the Packer's offensive line schemes. There's an excellent chance that he will prove a good long-term replacement for either Wahle or Rivera.

Pick 7: 5th round, #167. Michael Hawkins. Hawkins is a superior physical specimen at 6'1 1/4" 176 pounds, running the 40 in 4.38. Yet again we see speed. Hawkins is a product of a severely broken home, and has spent time living with each parent, living with a grand parent, living with an uncle, and living on the street. He has serious problems with trusting other people, and seems to have problems with authority figures. It is very unobvious that Michael can successfully integrate with a professional team. If he can, this will be a real steal, as his talents are almost certainly first day, perhaps even first round if he can accept training and coaching. Unfortunately, Michael's history is not very reassuring. It seems likely that he will not manage to finish out the year on the Packer's roster.

Pick 8: 6th round, #175. Traded to New England for a 6th and a 7th round pick. This trade was not even close to fair value according to my draft value sheet, and seemed to indicate that Thompson either had little regard for the quality of the remaining players, or that he simply wanted more bodies. If he had little regard for the remaining player quality, one had to wonder why he made his previous trades. All in all, I found this trade more than a little confusing. Even now it seems a bit gratuitous.

Pick 8: 6th round, #180. Mike Montgomery from Texas A&M. 6'4 7/8", 276 pounds, 5.05/40, 9 on the Wonderlic. Montgomery projects as a defensive tackle, but clearly needs a year in the weight room to be ready to play this position. He needs to add 20 pounds, at least half of that muscle. His score of 9 on the wonderlic compares to an IQ of about 78. In all likely hood, Montgomery can barely read and will not be at all successful at picking up a playbook by studying in his room. his positives are a non-stop motor. It's difficult to understand this pick, especially as there were other prospects available such as Bill Swancutt. This just looks to me like a camp body who could have been picked up as a street free agent, then returned to the streets in mid August.

Pick 9: 6th round, #195. Craig Bragg, UCLA. 6'7/8" 184 pounds, 4.46 in the 40. Bragg was the #1 WR at UCLA. He has excellent hands and good speed, and runs nice routes. He is considered a good possession receiver. Unlike Montgomery, this seems like a clear excellent picj and a near lock to make the team. He projects to start as a punt returned and special teams player, and then work his way into the receiver rotation as he learns the WCO routes. The contrast in quality between Montgomery and Bragg seems, at face value, to be quite staggering.

Pick 10: 7th round, #245. LB Kurt Campbell, Albany. 6'1" 225 pounds. No one seems to know much about Campbell. He competed in track, so I think it's safe to presume that this is another speed pick. At 225 pounds, I suppose you would have to project him as a strong safety. It's difficult to see how he fits into this team, given the large number of fast DBs already on the roster.

Pick 11: 7th round, #246. G Will Whitticker, Michigan State. No one seems to know anything about this guy - even Packers.com has nothing on him for a biography. Given the number of guards already on the roster, it seems he's a camp body perhaps destined for the practice squad. Given our 6th and 7th round selections, it's difficult to understand the trade with New England, where we received neither value nor quality.

Conclusions:

Thompson is clearly picking to build a long term winner, not to be the best possible team this yeas. Thompson clearly has his eye on value, meaning he wants to draft talent at below market prices. This may prove to be a bit of a blind spot in years to come: one does not get a Reggie White type at below market prices, to the contrary one must typically be ready to pay a premium. Thompson clearly thinks that the draft is a crap shoot and that slightly more picks are generally better than slightly higher picks. Finally, it would seem that either Thompson is indifferent to basic intelligence in his players, or that he is easily swayed by coaches' promises that they can train the guy up. I have serious reservations on this last point: I think there are basic intelligence requirements at the various NFL starting positions. People who score below 15 on the wonderlic are big risks at positions requiring a lot of study, like WR, and are moderate risks at positions requiring quick diagnosis like safety. It probably is true that a nose tackle can be less than stellar in this area.

Sherman spent his last few years as GM drafting defensive players almost exclusively on the basis of speed, apparently believing that anyone fast could be trained to play good football. Thompson would appear to be continuing in this mold, begging the question of why he was brought in as GM. It's not immediately obvious how this draft was materially different than it would have been had Sherman been running it. It's clear that the Packers have one of the youngest and fastest defensive backfields ever assembled anywhere. No collection of wide receivers is going to put the Packers in a bad match up, at least so far as head to head speed goes. As to whether or not these various speedy Gonzales' can be trained up to take proper angles, deliver clean tackles, and play consistent zone. . . that remains the big question. Packers Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates has all the raw material one could every hope for, and he certainly can't make any big complaints about how the players have had bad training in the past. For most of these guys, it seems they've had little or no training in the past. Early indications are that Bates and his assistants are superior teachers. I guess we'll see.


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