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Ted Thompson’s Early Defensive Focus Doesn’t Pay Off

General manger Ted Thompson has had 12 first-round draft picks in his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Nine of those picks have been defensive players.

Let’s go down the list.

  • 2006: A.J. Hawk (5)
  • 2007: Justin Harrell (16)
  • 2009: B.J. Raji (9)
  • 2009: Clay Matthews (26)
  • 2012: Nick Perry (28)
  • 2013: Datone Jones (26)
  • 2014: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21)
  • 2015: Damarious Randall (30)
  • 2016: Kenny Clark (27)

Of the three years Thompson didn’t take a defender in the first round, he went for Brett Favre’s successor, Aaron Rodgers, after the quarterback inexplicably fell in his lap in 2005, and tackle twice — Bryan Bulaga in 2010 and Derek Sherrod in 2011.

In 2008, the Packers traded back and out of the first round. That was the year they took receiver Jordy Nelson with their first pick, a second-rounder, at No. 36.

What does this mean?

It means Thompson has been trying to build a championship defense through the draft for quite a while. If you look at that on the surface, he’s obviously only been able to build a championship defense for one season.

The Packers’ defense was ranked fifth in the NFL in 2010 (and second in points allowed), the year they last won a Super Bowl.

They actually ranked second and seventh in those categories the year before, in 2009. Of course, they ran into the offensive juggernaut that was Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs that year, losing a 51-45 overtime thriller in the Wild Card round.

In 2011, when the Packers went 15-1, they were 32nd in total defense. Their best mark since then was 11th in 2012. The Packers were 22nd in total defense and 21st in scoring defense last season. That was marred by being 31st in passing defense.

This says a lot about personnel, scheme and Thompson’s high draft picks.

First, we know defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme is predicated on pressuring the quarterback and creating turnovers. That’s why the Packers were still successful in the 2011 season, despite giving up a ton of yards — they were able to create turnovers.

It helps when you have guys like Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Nick Collins patrolling the secondary. None of those guys were first-round picks by the Packers.

Woodson was the rare free agent signing, Williams was an undrafted free agent picked up after the Houston Texans cut him and Collins was a second-round draft pick in 2005.

That tells us something else — if Thompson can’t pair a quality secondary with the pass rushers he has, the defense doesn’t work.

Clay Matthews, one of Thompson’s rare first-round defensive hits, has given the Packers 72.5 sacks in eight seasons. Julius Peppers, signed as a street free agent, gave the Packers 25 sacks in three seasons.

Thompson probably gets that. Twice in the past three years, he’s drafted a defensive back in the first round.

The book is still out on Damarious Randall at this point, but he was terrible in 2016 after a strong rookie season. Not only did Randall regress in coverage, it became apparent that he wasn’t physical enough to be a No. 1 cornerback.

As for Clinton-Dix, he made the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All Pro. However, I don’t think there’s anyone here who believes he deserved either of those honors. His 2016 campaign was plagued by missed assignments and terrible decisions, which always reminds me of possibly the biggest boneheaded, idiot, unaware play of all time.

Love or hate him, Troy Aikman is right. “I have no idea how Clinton-Dix does not make a play on this ball. He’s right there in position. That ball is in the air for what seems like eight seconds.”

I mean, no offense, but all of this suggests that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a dummy. If you gave him a box cutter, he very well might not be able to find his way out of a box…

We all expect the Packers — Thompson — to go defense again in the first round when the draft commences on Thursday. As one scout said — if they don’t go defense here, everyone in that scouting department should be fired.

That player could be a pass rusher, it could be a cornerback.

If you look at the list above, it’s likely he won’t have a huge impact, however. In fact, mediocrity might be his ceiling and he might be an out-and-out bust.

With the exception of Matthews, the best defenders acquired by Ted Thompson have not come from the first round of the draft.

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Joseph Bonham

Joseph is a fiction writer when he isn't doing this. In his spare time he likes to do manly things like drink beer and procreate.

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3 Comments

  1. Vijay Swearingen April 23, 2017

    Excellent look back. I have my doubts as I’ve always had. Perhaps they focus on measurables too much, or something. At the bottom of Rd1, if it were me, I’d trade back in this deep draft class.

  2. Howard April 24, 2017

    In this case the stats lie. I would suggest the Packers had the worst defense in the NFL last year. The only group that saved the defense last year was the Packer offense.

    The stats say “The Packers were 22nd in total defense and 21st in scoring defense last season. That was marred by being 31st in passing defense.”

    A closer look indicates the Packers were dead last in yards allowed per pass at #32. The Packers were #28 in yards per play allowed. The Packers were #27 in points allowed per play. The #27 rating does not even show the true picture. All the defenses that allowed more points per play than the Packers had offenses that gave up a large quantity of points on turnovers to the opponents defenses during the year. In the NFL defensive stats that just shows up as points allowed. It is impossible to see how many turnover points were pick sixes, or direct TDs, but based on the offense for the 6 teams with worse points allowed per play I would say those offenses (SF, Jets, Bears, etc.) gave up several direct TDs.

    The Packer offense was in the top 3 in not allowing the opponent points on turnovers. In addition the Packer offense kept the Packer defense off the field by having a high 3rd down conversion rate, and time of possession advantage. Rodgers is very good at running the play and game clock down to almost zero on each play. It may be maddening when the offense has to call time out or take a delay penalty. We just have to remember it was keeping the worst 2016 defense in the NFL off the field. The Packers 2016 defense had one of the lowest plays from scrimmage in the NFL thanks to the offense and QB#1, otherwise the Packer defense would have been #32 in every important defensive stat.

    The team had better pick defense, however it did not work so well last time the Packers were #32 in defense. I think Perry is the only selection left from that class. The real problem is if TT picks all defense who is going to be drafted to protect QB #1 in the guard /Center area? After all the only thing that made the defense look as good as they did on paper (stats) was the offense. Take that away and what do you have? You can’t get worse than #32.

  3. Deepsky April 24, 2017

    If Randall ends up being a bust, I would be surprised.

    The odds of taking a player in the first round and have them bust is twice as high for QB or defensive lineman than it is for a corner back. Plus corners are notorious for second year slumps, especially in Capers defense. Shields went through a sophomore slump.