Eleven years ago, Packers GM Ted Thompson made Aaron Rodgers the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft – despite the presence of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre on the roster – serving as a loud proclamation of his Best Player Available (BPA) draft philosophy.
This draft strategy has kept Thompson employed for over a decade, while yielding a Super Bowl ring in 2011 and evolving three of Thompson’s front office disciples into GMs for other teams. The strategy, while often times infuriating fans on draft day, has built appreciation and trust in Ted’s roster-building approach, while other GMs gradually erode their team’s talent level by picking by need in the draft.
And despite Thompson’s success with BPA, his early-round picks during the past several drafts have exhibited more than a hint of roster need in them, beginning in 2012 with the selection of outside linebacker Nick Perry. That offseason, the Packers needed help on their front seven, which Thompson answered with Perry in the first round and then soon-to-be bust Jerel Worthy in the second round.
The following season, as the Packers continued to lack talent and depth on the defensive line, Thompson grabbed UCLA D-lineman Datone Jones in the first round, who has failed to secure a starting spot in Dom Capers’ defense over three seasons. In 2014, the Packers’ GM selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with 21st overall pick as a means of bolstering a weak safety position. He also nabbed Davante Adams out of Fresno State in the second round to fill the void temporarily left by James Jones at wide receiver.
The 2016 draft appears to follow suit, most clearly evidenced by the drafting of nose tackle Kenny Clark, which comes roughly two months after the announcement of B.J. Raji’s retirement. And, amidst these picks that were clearly predicated on need have been selections that represent pipeline needs, like cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins in 2015.
Interestingly enough, the selection of Raji, himself, in 2009 could have been interpreted as a draft pick based on need. The same could be argued for Thompson’s home run pick of Clay Matthews, which came 17 spots after Raji in 2009. Even the selections of Greg Jennings (2006 R2), Brandon Jackson (2007 R2), Brian Brohm (2008 R2), Bryan Bulaga (2010 R1) and Derek Sherrod (2011 R1) exhibit a higher degree of need than BPA, based on the Packers’ roster composition at the time.
It’s safe to assume that Thompson will continue to favor positions in the draft when key personnel are entering their contract year or the Packers are suffering from a clear talent deficit. At the same time, it’s worth noting that Thompson has continually neglected positions of need in early rounds (inside linebacker) but is always sure to keep a steady supply of positions that he deems critical to Mike McCarthy’s system (wide receiver and offensive line).
The verdict seems to be that Thompson employs a blend of the BPA and ‘Draft by Need’ philosophies, which is common across the best GMs in the league. However, Ted’s use of BPA seems to have slowly declined in recent years, potentially under the mindset that the Packers are only a few pieces away from another Super Bowl.