“A couple of days before the draft, I heard the Cowboys were a threat to take (Kyle) Long in the first round, perhaps if they moved down from the 18th pick. I later heard from league sources outside of Halas Hall that the Colts (24th pick) and Rams (22nd pick) were very interested in drafting him. Some suspected the Packers (26th pick) also were in the Long market.” – Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune
This recent bit of news caught my attention claiming that Kyle Long was actually a very hot commodity in the 1st round with at least 4 other teams, including the Packers, were willing to take the multifaceted offensive linemen, who will begin his career as a guard. The only reason that this struck me as a little odd was that this exact same story popped up after last year’s draft, again involving an offensive guard. In 2012, Kevin Zeitler was selected 27th overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, one spot ahead of Nick Perry, who was selected by Packers with the 28th overall pick. Again the Packers were rumored to be in love with Zeitler and were distraught when the Bengals stole him away with the pick before theirs that they dejectedly handed in their card for Perry (so the story goes).
From the offset, the question becomes what would the Packers do with a high draft pick guard in either 2012 or 2013? General manager Ted Thompson seems to like his current two starters in TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, both who where signed to extensions without hitting free agency, which is perhaps the highest honor Thompson can bestow a player. But again, with “the silver fox” you never really know what he’s going to do in the draft, sometimes he drafts heavy in positions of depth while ignoring positions of need, ostensibly under the “best player available” philosophy. I don’t claim to know how Ted Thompson truly operates, but I’d assume that if a guard were the best player available, he probably wouldn’t hesitate to draft him.
While we might never know if Ted Thompson would have ever taken either Zeitler or Long, we can look at how he’s managed his past drafts and roster in order to get a better idea of how important a guard truly is to the Packers. Below is a list of every offensive lineman the Packers have drafted under the Ted Thompson administration. Keep in mind, college stats are a little jumbled and hard to find, especially for players from less well known schools who were projected to be high round draft picks. Also no one knows exactly where the two rookie offensive linemen are going to ultimately line up, but my best guess is that Bakthtiari stays at tackle while Tretter moves inside to guard.
As you can see Ted Thompson loves tackles, especially left tackles and really doesn’t like guards. Out of 17 offensive linemen that Ted Thompson has drafted really only 2 were guards in college and became a guard with the Packers; both were drafted near the bottom of the draft and neither did all that all that much (with the Packers or anywhere else). Caleb Schlauderaff didn’t make it to the active roster as a rookie and was subsequently traded to the New York Jets while Will Whitticker was a backup guard in college and with the Packers, but only for one season. You could make the argument that Jason Spitz also played guard in college, but was tabbed as a interior swing man and center of the future with the Packers (who ultimately lost the starting spot to Scott Wells). All in all, Ted Thompson has only used 3 draft picks out of 17 on college interior linemen.
What Ted Thompson does like to do is take college left tackles and convert them into guards. Initially, this actually seems like a great idea; left tackle is considered the premium position on the offensive line and colleges typically put their best athlete at left tackle. However, college defenses aren’t as fast or as strong as in the pros so often times successful college left tackles who got by without good feet can kick into the interior positions. Current guards Josh Sitton (right tackle), TJ Lang (left tackle), Don Barclay (left tackle) and Greg Van Roten (left tackle) were all offensive tackles in college. In fact, there have only been two tackles drafted who played exclusively on the right side; one was Breno Giacomini, a tight end conversion who only started playing tackle in his senior season and was still developing into a offensive linemen and Josh Sitton, who played right tackle in college but was immediately penciled in as a guard after he was drafted.
In all, I would argue that the Packers do not put much importance on college guards and their thinking is that it’s a better idea to get a more athletic college left tackle and convert them to guard in the pros. With that in mind, I have my serious doubts whether or not the Packers were truly interested in either Zeitler last year or Long this year with a high draft pick. News coming out of the Packers’ front office is often misinterpreted; the Packers enquired about Michael Vick when he was released from prison and there are still rumors that the Packers are one team that is open to bringing in Tim Tebow. Of course neither rumor has ultimately turned out to be true, the Eagles were perhaps the only team willing to take a shot with Vick and so far the only news about Tim Tebow is how no team wants him.
My personal feeling is that writers and fans are less than thrilled about their team picking a guard in the 1st round; after all it’s probably the least sexy position in football so in order to generate good buzz and for fans to justify the pick, they assert that a lot of teams wanted that player, hence it was a great decision. Even going further on Dan Pompei’s article, he asserts that Long is in fact a top 10 pick, in which case the Bears got a fantastic deal. Perhaps Pompei thinks that Long will ultimately end up as an offensive tackle, which have a higher premium but offensive linemen with very little experience are almost never picked that high; unlikely defensive linemen (where inexperience almost seems like a positive), offensive line play is more about technique than raw power and technique is something you learn by playing. Either way, all this talk is pure conjecture, and only Long’s talent on the field will ultimately justify his pick.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.