With the 2011 NFL Draft in the books, Green Bay Packers fans everywhere are left to speculate on why Ted Thompson chose the players he did. In this article, I will try to delve into the mind of our ‘awkward genius” and present a coherent rational for each pick.
* Derek Sherrod – Offensive Tackle – Round 1, Pick 32 – Replacement for Chad Clifton: The Packers hope that they have their bookends for quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ prime years. This pick reminds me a lot of Bryan Bulaga, another offensive tackle that was widely respected but not as highly touted as some of the other offensive linemen in the draft and probably fell roughly 10 spots before the being selected by the Packers. Thompson was thinking value last year with Bryan Bulaga and that applies to Derek Sherrod as well.
At the moment, the Packers claim that they haven’t worked out where Bulaga and Sherrod will be playing, but I think it largely lies with Mark Tauscher. If Tauscher decides to come back for another year (and beats out Bulaga as the starter), then the Packers will have the option of choosing who goes where. If on the other hand Tauscher retires, gets cut or becomes the backup, then Bulaga becomes the logical choice for right tackle since he already has experience there and Sherrod gets to learn the ropes behind Clifton and become the future left tackle.
In my opinion this isn’t a snub on Bulaga, nowadays both bookends are equally important, especially with a pass first offense like the Packers; defenses will take advantage of the weakest offensive linemen, not just the blindside tackle.
* Randall Cobb – Wide Receiver – Round 1, Pick 64 – Replacement for James Jones/Donald Driver: The Packers hope to add another wide receiver to their stable to replace James Jones (who is likely to leave for greener pastures) and continue to add depth behind Donald Driver, who just turned 36. Thompson knows that the Packers are a passing team and keeping multiple receivers on the field gives the Packers the best shot at winning.
While Cobb was seen as a slot receiver, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cobb spends plenty of time outside the numbers. The Packers are rather unconventional in the sense that they don’t really have designated roles for their wide receivers, with every receiver playing every position. For example, Greg Jennings was often most effective coming from the slot, perhaps due to the fact that #1 receivers rarely line up there and often have linebackers or safeties covering them.
Cobb also brings versatility as a returner and is an immediate upgrade over the “top secret” emergency quarterback (which is assumed to be either Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson), which also likely means that the Packers will continue to keep only two quarterbacks on their roster with a third on the practice squad.
* Alex Green – Running Back – Round 3, Pick 96 – Replacement for Brandon Jackson: Incidentally, Alex Green seems to have characteristics of both types of running backs that the Packers like; Green has the size and the one cut/fall forward running style of a Ryan Grant or a James Starks but also has the soft hands and the purported pass blocking potential of a Brandon Jackson. Even if Brandon Jackson is resigned, Thompson was probably thinking of grooming his eventual successor anyways.
With Jackson as a free agent and a lackluster performance as the feature back once Grant went down, Green is the logical replacement. Green actually might become a better pass blocker than Jackson simply due to the fact that he’s 20 pounds heavier and 4 inches taller.
Finally, the fact that Green played mostly in a spread offense might actually be an advantage for Green; if he does become the 3rd down back, usually 3rd downs for the Packers means going into a spread look.
* Davon House – Cornerback – Round 4, Pick 131 – Replacement for Brandon Underwood/Pat Lee: Its pretty obvious what Thompson thinks about this pick; obviously both Lee and Underwood have been disappointments at cornerback; Lee seems to have a propensity to get hurt and while not much was expected from Underwood as a 6th round draft pick, his recent scandal of soliciting a pair of prostitutes added to lackluster play probably means he’s the first one on the team to get cut.
House has no character issues unlike Underwood and no history of injury unlike Lee. Add to that the fact that the NFL is trending toward a more spread offense, and having multiple cornerbacks that can come off the bench and play becomes vitally important (ask the Falcons in the NFC divisional round after they lost nickel cornerback Brian Williams).
While the trio of Charles Woodson/Tramon Williams/Sam Shields is probably one of the best, should one of the players get hurt (or two in the case of the Super Bowl) or Charles Woodson gets moved to safety, more depth was needed.
* DJ Williams – Tight End – Round 5, Pick 141 – Replacement for Andrew Quarless: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Thompson was thinking with this pick. DJ Williams doesn’t really fit into what the packers typically look for in the tight end position; he’s about the same weight as the rest of the tight ends, but a good 3-4” shorter at 6’2” than the rest of the tight ends. On the plus side, his height probably means he has an advantage in terms of blocking leverage and the fact that the Packers love to motion tight ends pre-snap is probably a big reason why they drafted Williams.
I see this pick as mainly due to the fact that while the Packers will try their hardest to get Jermichael Finley under contract for the long term, he does seem to get hurt quite often and Andrew Quarless has issues catching the ball. Enter Williams, who never missed a game due to injury in his college career and was considered to have the best hands of any receiver the draft.
My personal feeling is that Andrew Quarless isn’t on the hot seat based on the fact that he simply hasn’t had enough playing time to warrant being replaced (see Finley’s rookie season), but the Packers probably felt that depth behind Finley was important to address since Donald Lee is probably not on the team next year and Tom Crabtree is considered more as a blocking tight end/special teams player.
* Caleb Schlauderaff – Offensive Guard – Round 6, Pick 179 – Replacement for Jason Spitz: Jason Spitz fell out of favor dramatically last year, from being a contender to start at left guard during the preseason to getting benched during the Patriots game for TJ Lang after Daryn Colledge got hurt.
With the selection of Derek Sherrod in the 1st round, TJ Lang likely has no chance to compete at tackle, so the most logical solution is that he moves over to left guard, taking over for Daryn Colledge, who is a free agent and probably unhappy with his tender (like last year). Spitz also probably won’t be back so adding another interior offensive linemen makes sense. Thompson was probably thinking of adding depth at the line and maybe getting another run blocker, Schlauderaff is a decorated in this regard much like Josh Sitton and hopefully he will have time to add bulk and improve his pass blocking to become a solid backup.
* DJ Smith – Inside Linebacker – Round 6, Pick 186 – Replacement for Nick Barnett/Brandon Chillar: Thompson’s only thinking about the money on this one. Smith played weakside linebacker in college, but based on his unusually small size and his reputation as a tackler, I’m making the assumption that he was drafted as a reserve inside linebacker and a special teams player.
Essentially this is a financial move; the Packers have 4 starting caliber inside linebackers making serious money; AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop both received big contracts this offseason, Brandon Chillar received one last offseason and Nick Barnett is halfway through his contract that he signed in 2007. With Hawk and Bishop as the designated starters, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers try to do something with Barnett and Chillar, whether that be restructured contracts, trades or in the worse case scenario cuts. Smith was probably drafted much in the same mindset as Desmond Bishop was, as a core special teams player and a developmental prospect.
* Ricky Elmore – Outside Linebacker – Round 6, Pick 197 – Replacement for Brady Poppinga: While Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden have all made significant contributions across from Clay Matthews, Brady Poppinga was sort of lost in the mix; while a starter in the 4-3 defense, he never really managed to compete in the 3-4 and the fact that he will be 32 during training camp probably means it will be hard for Poppinga to make the team again.
The Packers could decide to keep 5 outside linebackers on their roster, for one outside linebackers make good special teams players and second since its such a premium position in the 3-4 defense, having capable backups are important (see the Giants defensive end position) and Thompson just added another outside linebacker to develop. Worse case scenario is that Elmore has a really good shot at making it onto the practice squad where he can develop.
* Ryan Taylor – Tight End – Round 7, Pick 218 – Replacement for Korey Hall: Most people see this as a little odd considering that DJ Williams was drafted at tight end already, but this is classic Ted Thompson logic. What kind of players does Ted Thompson love that no one else does? The answer: fullbacks. My prediction is that Taylor wasn’t drafted as a tight end, but rather as a “all purpose” player like Korey Hall and John Kuhn. Speaking of Hall and Kuhn, both are free agents and it’s unlikely that both will be resigned; Kuhn definitely has the edge on Hall since he became the folk hero/short yardage running back after Ryan Grant went onto IR.
The Packers love blocking tight end/fullback/H-backs/special teams players and Taylor will probably be used in the same fashion. Taylor used to play linebacker before getting converted to tight end, mostly playing as a blocker and on special teams, which reminds me a lot of Hall, another linebacker conversion.
* Lawrence Guy – Defensive End – Round 7, Pick 233 – Replacement for Jarius Wynn: The Packers were strapped for defensive bodies during the first half of the season with Justin Harrell being lost in the first game, Cullen Jenkins breaking his hand and Ryan Pickett getting hurt at well; the Packers were forced to use Josh Sitton and TJ Lang in goal line packages, where naturally as offensive linemen they were terrible.
With the inclusion of Howard Green and both Pickett and Jenkins getting healthier midway through the season, this wasn’t as huge of an issue, but more depth is required, especially considering that Johnny Jolly’s career is likely over after a second drug possession charge and Cullen Jenkins being a likely free agent departure. Lawrence Guy is this year’s CJ Wilson, who beat out Jarius Wynn for a spot (who then got it back after Justin Harrell went on IR) but probably could use a year on the practice squad to develop.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.