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Ted Thompson vs. Ron Wolf in Round 1

TP.TT&RW

Before we continue our 2015 Packer Draft series by taking a hard look at who the Packers may end up drafting in the first round, let’s take a step back to consider past drafts. Admittedly, whether deserved or not, Ted Thompson is not known for his first round selections. Whether that is because his first pick as GM will always be his best, or because of unrealistic fan expectations for the first round (cough!), or because of a few well-ostracized busts, or because that is a fair evaluation when compared to other GMs, we can only guess it is a combination of all that.

One thing I can tell you with near empirical certainty is that it isn’t because of a comparison to Ron Wolf.

Ron Wolf will be entering the NFL Hall of Fame this August. Deservedly so, not only for Wolf’s miraculous work with the Packers but also for his long tenure with the Oakland/LA Raiders.

By the way, when do we get a street or a building around here named for Ron Wolf? Seems like a reasonable question. My referendum to have Day Street renamed Mike Sherman End appears stuck in committee. Certainly Ron Wolf deserves something better.

Anyway, though there is no questioning Ron Wolf’s place among great NFL GMs, Wolf’s ensemble of first round selections holds a striking resemblance to Thompson’s own.

Ron Wolf Year # overall Player Stars Seasons as Packer
1992 5 Terrell Buckley 2 3
1993 15 Wayne Simmons 2 4
1993 29 George Teague 2 3
1994 16 Aaron Taylor 2 3
1995 32 Craig Newsome 2 3
1996 27 John Michels 1 2
1997 30 Ross Verba 2 4
1998 19 Vonnie Holliday 2 5
1999 25 Antuan Edwards 1 4
2000 14 Bubba Franks 3 8
2001 10 Jamal Reynolds 1 3
Totals 11 222 20 42
Average 20 2 3.82
Ted Thompson YEAR # Overall Player Stars # Seasons as a Packer
2005 24 Aaron Rodgers 4 10
2006 5 AJ Hawk 2 9
2007 16 Justin Harrell 1 2
2009 9 BJ Raji 2 5
2009 26 Clay Matthews 3 6
2010 23 Bryan Bulaga 2 5
2011 32 Derek Sherrod 1 2
2012 28 Nick Perry 2 3
2013 26 Datone Jones 2 2
2014 21 HaHa Clinton Dix 2 1
TOTAL 10 210 21 45
AVERAGE 21 2 4.5

On average, Ron Wolf selected around #20 overall in the first round. Ted Thompson has selected at spot #21 on average. That not only suggests similar team results during his tenure, but it also means neither GM has really had any advantage in regards to where in the first round they were picking.

In the column headed “Stars,” I have attempted to insert a qualitative measure for each pick. To minimize the subjectivity of evaluating each player, I have only used a 4 star scale. 1 star is a bust. 2 stars is a bonafide NFL starter, but not a great player. 3 stars are for Pro Bowlers or consistently above average players. 4 stars is for your special, Hall of Fame class player.

As you can see, both GMs mostly drafted players falling in the 2 star category. Some NFL fans seem to think that any player taken in the 1st round should be a 3 or 4 star player. By that measure, both GMs have selected mostly busts. Obviously, I do not subscribe to that theory. A perusal of the last 5 drafts shows that about 30% of the players taken in the 1st round become Pro Bowl to All Pro type players. About 30% become busts. The other 40% are just reliable NFL starters, or what I call a 2 star player.

Wolf selected three busts, by even the most generous measures, in John Michels, Antuan Edwards and Jamal Reynolds. So, far Thompson has drafted two by the same measure in Justin Harrell and Derek Sherrod. That makes both GMs a little better than the 30% first round bust rate. Of course, there is still time for Nick Perry, Datone Jones or HaHa Clinton-Dix to be deemed busts.

Injuries are obviously the biggest factor in a first round pick becoming a bust. In fact, I would say all the busts taken by both GMs were probably 2 star players who simply got injured. Jamal Reynolds would be the exception. He didn’t need an injury to bust.

Ron Wolf selected one 3 star player in Bubba Franks. Believe it or not, Franks was selected to three Pro Bowls, which is why he gets the 3. Otherwise, yes, I would agree that Bubba was more like a 2 star player than a 3. Of course, Wolf traded a first round pick in 1992, the 19th overall, for Brett Favre. If you count Brett, then Wolf selected one 4 star player as well.

So far, Ted Thompson has done the same. He has drafted one 4 star player in Aaron Rodgers and one 3 star player in Clay Matthews. However, whereas all of Wolf’s picks have completed their careers, the same is not the case for Thompson’s. There is still time for Matthews to become a 4 star player, and for Bryan Bulaga or HaHa Clinton-Dix to be 3 star players.

However, the final column of the table is where the biggest difference between the GM and their picks is shown. Amazingly, Ron Wolf never extended ANY of his first round picks, not counting Brett. Bubba Franks was the only first round draft pick of Wolf’s to receive an extension from the Packers, and he was actually extended by Mike Sherman.

Side note: Wayne “Mad Max” Simmons was briefly extended by Wolf, but he was then traded 6 games into the extension. So, same difference.

Apparently either Wolf didn’t think too much of his picks by the end of their rookie contract, or he preferred to replace them with other market options. A few of Wolf’s picks did go on to have decent careers with other teams – Terrell Buckley as a slot corner, Vonnie Holliday and Ross Verba, but none of them other than Brett and Bubba had long-term futures with the team.

Quite the opposite is the case with Ted Thompson. The only first round picks not extended by the Packers are the two busts – Harrell and Sherrod – for whom injuries had the most to do with their being cut by the team. Otherwise, the organization’s commitment to “draft and develop” is clear. Once a player has been “developed,” Thompson is clearly loath to let them walk.

The only conclusion that can be derived from those numbers is that Ted Thompson is just as good, if not better, when picking in the first round than Ron Wolf was. So, if you think Ted Thompson isn’t very good at it, then neither was Wolf. Of course, we can argue that Wolf didn’t have to be because he played in free agency, and played well. That is probably true, but for one, free agency was an incredibly different animal back then and two, teams built on free agency have the tendency to age and decline rapidly. The Packers are looking to do neither.

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Shawn

Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.

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11 Comments

  1. DJ April 10, 2015

    Really good stuff. I think its a coin flip too if all the factors (resigning philosophy, evolution of the salary cap, free agency, trades etc) are considered rather than just grading by player name & production. A lot of moving parts, for sure, making each circumstance/pick unique. Of course, as you know, no real judgment can be levied without analyzing the later rds….where the cream of the crop GMs do their best work…but that would be a Herculean task & unrelated to the 2015 draft….yet awesome historical reading nonetheless. And you are the only one qualified, that I know of, to do it. So…Get on it, dude. lol!

  2. PF4L April 10, 2015

    I don’t even think you compare TT and Ron Wolf in the same conversation when you speak of great GM’s. 1st round picks are probably 3% of the equation.

    1. Shawn Neuser April 10, 2015

      That is true on both counts, but Ron Wolf’s legacy has a lot to do with what he did in Oakland/LA.
      As Green Bay Packer GMs, they ARE very comparable. Their winning percentage is similar. Their division title and record making the playoffs is similar. Wolf has two Super Bowls and one trophy as Packer GM. TT has 1 Super Bowl and 1 trophy. Both GMs went to 3 NFC Championship Games.

  3. Howard April 10, 2015

    You would expect TT would be on par with Mr. Wolf. TT would probably be the first to admit he gained a considerable amount of his knowledge, judgment, and abilities from Mr. Wolf. We could all be so fortunate to learn and develop our trades under someone as good at their trade as Mr.Wolf was. TT obviously worked hard, had good skills, and took in all the knowledge that the teacher provided.

  4. fred April 10, 2015

    It would be cool to see all the other dradt rounds graded like this.

  5. Salazar April 11, 2015

    More of this, less of the TMZ stuff, thanks.

  6. Deepsky April 13, 2015

    Thompson takes a lot of heat for letting fan favorites go when they get to a certain age, but time and time again these players sign huge contracts with other teams only to suffer a severe injury where they sit or are cut. Take Scott Wells for example. Starts for the Packers for 7 years, the Packers let him walk, he goes to the Rams for $6 million a year and the next year he breaks his leg. Wells was released by the Rams a few weeks ago.

  7. elafave April 14, 2015

    The only player I was loathe to see TT walk was Wood, and to some extent, Tramon, although I know Tramon was impossible to actually keep, Wood wasn’t, or made it seem that way. TT didn’t even take a shot at retaining #21 and that rankles me to this day. Sure don’t mind having the Ol’ Wiley White Owl at the helm of our beloved squad though.

  8. Fritz April 15, 2015

    HHCD is more likely to become a 3 star player than a 21 star “bust” no? same for CM3 to become 4 star player vice a 2 star player, as there is still a chance the coaching situation will be rectified when the Pack gets a motivational coach like BB to replace the totally uninspiring blubberboat they have for a HC now.

    as to the other 97% of the equation: you can’t say TT made anything the worst hiring of a HC of all time in the nfl: Ray Rhodes, that one is on RW, so the score for posterity is definitely in the WIN column for MM?

  9. 40for60 April 19, 2015

    My gut feeling is that Ron Wolf would have more Championships with the reigning MVP of the league. TT has failed to build a necessary supporting cast around Aaron IMO, neglecting available FA, and letting good players walk.

    1. Shawn Neuser April 19, 2015

      Ron Wolf had the reigning MVP of the league 3 times and has the same number of Championships.
      A-Rodge’s performance against NY in 2011 and Seattle last season have as much to do with his number of titles as anything else. The defense + special teams got 5 turnovers from Seattle. The offense converted those into 3 FGs.