It seems like this is an age-old debate. Do you draft for need or do you draft the best available player? Well, in an ideal situation, you draft the best available player because you’ll get the biggest long-term return on investment. Unfortunately, most teams choosing in the NFL draft aren’t in an ideal situation.
Most of them have a bunch of holes to fill.
Now, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will tell you he always takes the best available player, i.e. the highest-rated guy on his board. Since none of us see that board, we can’t tell you for sure he’s full of shit. All we can do is look at how his drafts turned out (and then tell you he’s full of shit).
The rationale when choosing to fill a need through the draft instead of choosing the best available guy goes something like this. Let’s say the best available is an offensive tackle. Your team already has a decent, but not great, offensive tackle. On the other hand, your outside linebackers are shit and there’s an available outside linebacker two slots down on your board.
Well, in that case you’re probably making your team better overall right now by choosing the linebacker. And this is a win-now league the last time I checked.
Now, we’re not going to sit here and sift through every one of Ted’s drafts in their entirety. Everyone drafts best available in the mid-to-late rounds because you’re not expecting those guys to walk in and start as rookies.
It’s the first three rounds where this choice gets put to the test. That’s where your team is getting “right now” or “pretty soon” starters. So we’re going to analyze Mr. Best Available’s picks from rounds 1-3.
1 — Datone Jones, DE
Was this a need-based pick? Hell yeah it was. The Packers were starting an aging Ryan Pickett and fairly mediocre C.J. Wilson at defensive end in 2012. They had another defensive lineman, Jerel Worthy, coming off a torn ACL. They had also lost outside linebacker Erik Walden, who provided the occasional pass-rush threat, in free agency.
2 — Eddie Lacy, RB
It’s hard to qualify this pick one way or another. The Packers were in dire need of a running back when Lacy fell into their lap. They split up running back duties between Alex Green, Cedric Benson, James Starks and DuJuan Harris in 2012. That being said, Lacy had first-round talent, so you have to think he actually was the best available. A happy coincidence.
1 — Nick Perry, OLB
The Packers outside linebacker situation wasn’t pretty in 2011. The starters were Clay Matthews and Erik Walden. The main backup was an undrafted free agent, Vic So’oto. Matthews led the Packers with six sacks and the anemic pass rush was one of the reasons the pass defense ranked dead last in the NFL in 2011. So what do you think? A pass rushing outside linebacker looks like a pretty big need to me.
2 — Jerel Worthy, DT
Did you know the Packers started Jarius Wynn 15 times on the defensive line in 2011? They also started Howard Green (once) and C.J. Wilson (twice). So, yeah. Defensive lineman was a huge need.
2 — Casey Hayward, CB
We all scratched our head when the Packers picked a cornerback from Vanderbilt. Not only was Hayward from Vanderbilt, but the Packers already had Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields on the roster. Jarrett Bush also had starting experience. Well, that makes Hayward a clear best-available pick.
1 — Derek Sherrod, OT
The Packers chose another tackle, Bryan Bulaga, in the first round a year earlier, but that isn’t to say this wasn’t a need pick. While Bulaga started on the right side, Chad Clifton was manning the left. A very old Chad Clifton. A Chad Clifton whose body broke down in 2011, when he only started six games. The Packers were obviously thinking they had their two starting tackles for the next 10 years in Bulaga and Sherrod. Unfortunately, Sherrod became a walking injury and we got to endure the Marshall Newhouse era instead. So, need? Yes and we found out just how big of a need once Clifton finally started to fall apart.
2 — Randall Cobb, WR
The Packers had one of the best receiving corps in the NFL when they drafted Cobb — Driver, Jennings, Nelson, Jones. There’s no way you can call this a need pick, even if you’re just looking at Cobb as a returner (which the Packers did need at the time). Obviously, you don’t draft a guy just to be a return man in the second around.
3 — Alex Green, RB
This pick is tough to call either way. The Packers rolled with Brandon Jackson as their starter in 2010, but that’s because Ryan Grant was on IR. Grant returned to the starting role in 2011, but didn’t even hit 600 yards rushing. Playoff hero and injury risk James Starks was also on the roster. The fact that Green isn’t even with the Packers anymore probably says more than anything. Those best available player types usually manage to stick with the team that drafted them for longer than two seasons. So we’re going with need.
1 — Bryan Bulaga, OT
This is an obvious need pick for the same reason as Sherrod. The Packers starting tackles in 2009 were Clifton and Mark Tauscher, who the team had to pull out of purgatory or something. Oh, and they tried to go with Allen Barbre at right tackle before they pulled Tauscher in off the street. If you remember anything about Allen Barbre, then I’m sorry. He makes Marshall Newhouse look like an All Pro.
2 — Mike Neal, DE
Neal also filled (or was supposed to fill, but didn’t because he couldn’t produce) a big need for the Packers. He was supposed to replace Cullen Jenkins, who the Packers basically refused to even consider re-signing once he became a free agent. The Packers also lost Aaron Kampman to free agency. Jenkins and Kampman supplied quite a bit of the pass rush for the Packers. Neal was supposed to be the younger, cheaper version of Jenkins.
3 — Morgan Burnett, S
The Packers seemed set at safety when they drafted Burnett. Obviously, Nick Collins wasn’t going anywhere. The other starter was Atari Bigby, who was solid when he was healthy. Bigby ended up missing all of 2010 because of injury and the Packers started Charlie Peprah for most of the year. That was the beginning of the end for Bigby in Green Bay and it turned out the Packers would be lucky to have Burnett. Clearly, best available.
1 — B.J. Raji, DT
Raji was chosen at No. 9 overall and frankly, despite coming off a 6-10 season, the Packers had plenty of good defensive linemen. Among them was Ryan Pickett, who played the same position as Raji. Even though my big board said Michael Crabtree, I’ll give Ted the benefit of the doubt and assume Raji was the top guy on his board at this point.
1 — Clay Matthews, OLB
The Packers switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in 2009. Their 4-3 starting outside linebackers in 2008 were — get this — A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga. Can you imagine those two clowns starting on the outside in the 3-4? Can you imagine those two guys even sniffing an opposing quarterback? Man, that would have been a total disaster. The Packers needed a pass rushing outside linebacker for their new scheme. They’d find one by cramming a square peg into a round hole and converting Aaron Kampman from defensive end. They’d find the other by trading back into the first round and making this need-based pick. Worked out just fine though.
2 — Jordy Nelson, WR
There was a time when the Packers didn’t have four good receivers every season. Still, they were pretty well set with Donald Driver in his prime and Greg Jennings entering it. They had also just drafted James Jones in the third round the previous season. So we’re chalking Jordy up to best available.
2 — Brian Brohm, QB
Brett Favre had just “retired” and the Packers knew Aaron Rodgers was their guy. So what was Brohm? Hard to say if he was there to be a career backup or an insurance policy if Rodgers faltered. What we do know is that Brohm would have been the No. 1 overall pick (or pretty close to it) had he come out after his junior season. Gotta write this one up as best available.
2 — Pat Lee, CB
The Packers starting cornerbacks were set when they drafted Lee. Al Harris was coming off a Pro Bowl year and the other guy was a future Hall of Famer named Charles Woodson. Tramon Williams was on the roster, but only entering his second season. As we recall, the Packers drafted Lee specifically to come in and be the nickel back. Tramon ended up being that guy and Lee ended up being a bust, but that still makes this a need pick.
3 — Jermichael Finley, TE
Donald Lee was the guy when Finley was drafted. There’s no evidence that the Packers expected Finley to come in and push him and he didn’t. Finley took some time to develop and it always seems like the Packers knew that would be the case. Even though Lee was no superstar, this wasn’t a Bubba Franks pick. Best available.
1 — Justin Harrell, DT
Ugh. I’ll keep this brief. The Packers had Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams providing a pretty stout defensive tackle tandem. Somehow, in big Ted’s mind, Harrell was the best available player.
2 — Brandon Jackson, RB
When the Packers made this pick, 2006 leading rusher Ahman Green had just signed as a free agent with Houston. The Packers wouldn’t trade for Ryan Grant until just prior to the season opener. Obviously, they were trying to fill a giant hole at running back with Jackson.
3 — James Jones, WR
The Packers wide receivers weren’t anything to write home about at this point. Donald Driver was coming off a Pro Bowl season, but Greg Jennings was just entering his second year. Ruvell Martin and Koren Robinson were a couple of the other guys on the 2006 roster. Jones was clearly brought in with the hope he’d be a No. 2 or 3. Need.
3 — Aaron Rouse, S
Nick Collins was one safety. The fact that Marquand Manuel was the other should tell you where this one is going. The Packers were hoping Rouse would step in as a starter sooner rather than later. Need.
1 — A.J. Hawk, ILB
There are some things to remember here. First, Hawk was chosen fifth overall. Second, the Packers ran a 4-3 at the time. Third, their starting linebackers in 2005 (other than Nick Barnett) were Paris Lenon and Robert Thomas. That being said, the Packers had plenty of holes coming off a 4-12 season. Yes, linebacker was one of them, but so was tight end. David Martin, anyone? Remember him? And the 49ers picked Vernon Davis sixth. That hurts, but you still have to think old Leadfoot was actually the best available on the Packers’ board.
2 — Daryn Colledge, OT
Even though Colledge was a tackle in college, we know the Packers saw him as a guard when they picked him. This was obviously a need pick because of where the interior of the Packers line was. That is, in disarray. In 2005, Scott Wells started at left guard, Mike Flanagan was the center and some guy named Will Whitticker was the right guard. Flanagan left as a free agent for Houston. That moved Wells to center and created two big holes at the guard positions. Colledge filled one of those.
2 — Greg Jennings, WR
So Donald Driver was coming off a 1,200-yard season. Antonio Chatman, who was primarily on the team because he was a return man, was second in receiving yardage with 549 yards. The Packers actual No. 2 receiver was Robert Ferguson, who was well on his way to becoming a bust (366 yards in 2005). Receiver was a need.
3 — Abdul Hodge, OLB
Well, we’ve already established that linebacker was a need and since Hodge wasn’t the fifth overall pick in the draft, that’s what we’re calling this pick.
3 — Jason Spitz, G
Ditto with guard. Like Colledge, Spitz started as a rookie.
1 — Aaron Rodgers, QB
You know this story. Rodgers was supposed to go top 10. The Packers had Brett Favre, who had just thrown for over 4,000 yards. Rodgers slid. The Packers pounced. This is probably the best example ever of a team drafting the best available player instead of choosing to fill a need.
2 — Nick Collins, S
The Packers unceremoniously let Darren Sharper walk (and sign with the Vikings) earlier in the offseason. And that’s a pretty damn big hole to fill. The other starting safety was Mark Roman and, well, the Packers obviously had to pick a safety that could come in a start right away. Need.
2 — Terrence Murphy, WR
One of the main reasons the Packers drafted Murphy was to be their return man, but we’re going to go back to the same logic we used with Randall Cobb. You don’t spend a second-round pick for just a return man. The Packers had not only Donald Driver, but also that piece of shit Javon Walker, who up to this point was still both productive and not whining about anything. Both of those guys had over 1,000 yards in 2004. That leads us to believe Murphy was the best available.
Here’s the breakdown.
Picks for need: 17
Best available: 12
Ted Thompson likes to blow smoke up your ass.