Packers 2009 Draft Has Potential To Be Great, Best for Thompson
It’s well known that Ted Thompson has experienced success in the NFL Draft, opting to build through the April event rather than free agency or trade. During his tenure in Green Bay, Thompson has drafted ten current starters (Rodgers, Collins, Hawk, Jennings, Spitz, Jolly, Sitton, Matthews, B. Jones, Crosby) and is widely considered one of the best in the business at projecting future talent.
While his 2005 and 2006 drafts have stood as his best to date since joining the Packers, his 2009 class has potential to be the best he has ever put together. During his time in Seattle, he took part in five drafts and selected Pro Bowlers Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson and Marcus Trufant, Ken Hamlin, and Rocky Bernard among others.
While he found gems through the draft in Seattle, his success in Green Bay has been far superior and he now has the youngest team in the league poised to make a deep playoff run. Thompson’s luck began in 2005 when he made California quarterback Aaron Rodgers his first selection as Green Bay General Manager. Four years later, Rodgers is a top-5 quarterback and looking like one of the best steals of the draft this decade.
Joining Rodgers in that 2005 draft class was Pro Bowler Nick Collins, who started from day one and has turned into one of the better coverage safeties in the NFC. Thompson also selected Brady Poppinga in the fourth round in what has turned out to be an important draft for Thompson, but not necessarily a deep one.
The next year Thompson put together the deepest draft class in Green Bay, selecting five starters and a special teams specialist. Given the fifth pick in the draft, Thompson selected Ohio State outside linebacker A.J. Hawk. While he has not lived up to his draft slot’s potential, he has done better in the 3-4 defense and a serviceable starter.
In the second round Thompson drafted Greg Jennings and Daryn Colledge, then took Jason Spitz in the next round. Those three players have started since they arrived in Green Bay and, if Colledge is brought back for the right price, are all great selections. Thompson took ACC Special Teams Player of the Year Will Blackmon in the fourth round and found his steal of the draft in Johnny Jolly, who he selected in the sixth round.
The ’05 and ’06 drafts have set the foundation for the Packers, especially on offense, so it’s no surprise to see the 2009 draft class seemingly setting up the defense for future success.
After struggling earlier, ninth overall pick B.J. Raji has come on nicely and given a banged up Packers’ defensive line good minutes and even better production. With Ryan Pickett potentially leaving for free agency after this season, Raji could be a full-time starter in 2010.
If early returns are any sign for the future then Thompson found his steal of the draft early, when he traded up to select USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Through 13 games, Matthews finds himself in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year with 40 tackles, a forced fumble, and eight sacks.
Past the first round, Thompson has also struck gold as offensive lineman T.J. Lang has seen spot starts this season and seventh round pick Brad Jones has filled in nicely for Aaron Kampman, who is out with a torn ACL for the remainder of the year. Sixth rounders Jarius Wynn and Brandon Underwood had provided excellent depth and could prove to be potential role players in the future.
Because of the Matthews trade, Thompson lost out on his second round selection and both third rounders, but Matthews has more than made up for it and if the Packers could, they would surely make the trade again. In Matthews and Raji, the Packers have set up the foundation for their 3-4 defense with a versatile nose tackle/defensive end and a pass rushing threat on the outside.
Combine the run-stuffing Raji and the pass rushing threat of Matthews with one of the best secondaries in the league and you have one of the better up-and-coming defenses in the league. Much of that credit goes to Thompson, who also signed Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson from free agency as well as Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby after they went undrafted.
The 2006 draft might produce more starters than 2009, but the impact of last year’s draft class could be unmatched.