Ted Thompson has made a lot of brilliant draft picks since taking over as Green Bay Packers general manager in 2005.
He drafted some guy named Aaron Rodgers in the first round in 2005, Greg Jennings (current issues aside) in the second round in 2006, Jordy Nelson in the second round in 2008 and both Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in the first round in 2009. Don’t forget Randall Cobb in the second round of 2011 either.
The middle rounds have seen success too. James Jones was a third rounder in 2007 and Josh Sitton was selected in the fourth round in 2008. Sitton’s partner-in-crime, T.J. Lang, was a fourth rounder as well in 2009.
This is just a partial list of great picks Thompson has made during his tenure with the Packers. He’s hit more than he’s missed and has Green Bay poised to be in Super Bowl contention for the next several years. We could go on and on about how deft Thompson has been at drafting over the years and that doesn’t even include undrafted free agents.
That being said, no draft class of Thompson’s has made quite the impact, especially right out of the gate, as the 2013 class of rookies. Some of it may not have been planned on due to yet another injury epidemic on the Packers’ roster, but this group of youngsters has come to play and very well could down as Thompson’s finest draft class to date.
To review, here is the 2013 Green Bay Packers draft class:
1. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
2. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
4a. David Bakhtiari, T, Colorado
4b. J.C. Tretter, T, Cornell
4c. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
5a. Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
5b. Josh Boyd, DE, Mississippi State
6. Nate Palmer, LB, Illinois State
7a. Charles Johnson, WR, Grand Valley State
7b. Kevin Dorsey, WR, Maryland
7c. Sam Barrington, LB, South Florida
Go down that list and you will see many reasons why the Packers are still in control of the NFC North despite Lambeau Field once again doubling as an infirmary.
Look at Datone Jones, for example. While his stat line is basically flat (he only has one credited tackle on the year), his addition to the defensive line, along with the triumphant return of Johnny Jolly, has helped improve the performance along the line. The defensive line is much more physical than it was a year ago and has helped make things easier for a depleted linebacker squad.
The next two players on the list really need no explanation, but the addition of both running back Eddie Lacy and tackle David Bakhtiari have helped the Packers withstand injuries at both positions. Many felt confident Lacy would be able to fill in well for DuJuan Harris who went down in camp with a season-ending knee injury.
Lacy has not only filled Harris’ shoes, but he increased the size. His bruising yet quick running style has been key to one of the most remarkable turnarounds in a team’s running game that the league has ever seen. Coach Mike McCarthy swore the running game would be improved and the Alabama rookie has helped his coach make good on his promise. Lacy has been so good, along with the reborn James Starks, that it makes some wonder where Harris will fit on the roster in 2014.
As for Bakhtiari, his insertion into the starting lineup was met with much more pessimism than Lacy’s. When Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay’s best offense tackle, went down with a torn ACL in training camp and McCarthy put Bakhtiari at left tackle, there was concern for how well Aaron Rodgers’ blind side would be protected.
Instead, Bakhtiari has been stellar for a rookie especially one taken in the fourth round. There is no better evidence of this than the performance the rookie from Colorado had on Sunday night against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, one of the best in the NFL. What was Allen’s stat line Sunday night? Zero sacks and zero tackles.
Not bad rookie, not bad at all.
Immediately after the draft, J.C. Tretter actually was the player everyone thought would play the role Bakhtiari has so far this year. Unfortunately for Tretter, a broken ankle derailed that idea and opened the door for his fellow fourth round pick. Bakhtiari has since walked through that door and pretty much slammed it shut for the time being.
The last of the Packers’ fourth round selections, running back Johnathan Franklin, has been a bit of an enigma. Initially it was thought he and Lacy would duke it out for the starting job or at least the backup behind Harris before he was injured. After a lackluster camp, Franklin found himself third on the depth chart behind Lacy and Starks.
Franklin still got his chance however and had a 100-yard rushing day in Cincinnati against the Bengals after Lacy missed the game with a concussion. Since then, thanks to a healthy Lacy and Starks, he has been relegated mainly to special teams duty. Still, Franklin has potential and could make a solid one-two punch with Lacy if Starks were to leave.
Looking now at the fifth round picks, it’s becoming clear Micah Hyde may go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2013 draft. Hyde broke open Sunday night’s game against the Vikings thanks to his 93-yard punt return for a touchdown and likely has become the Packers’ new returner with Randall Cobb both hurt and, when healthy, a crucial part of the Green Bay offensive attack. Hyde is even leading the league in punt return average with 18.6 yards per return on ten returns. He very well could return kickoffs as well on Monday night against the Bears thanks to Franklin’s struggles against the Vikings.
It’s not just Hyde’s return skills that will make him a steal, however. He’s also a solid cornerback. Hyde has shown a nose for the ball and is a good tackler. He’s not afraid to get up on the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid to hit hard, something the Packers have needed on a defense that has been frequently criticized as “soft.” He’s basically only been used as a dime back, but if he can continue to show playmaking ability it’s not totally out of the question he could make Tramon Williams sweat a bit.
The rest of the 2013 draft mainly were depth selections, but for the Packers to find immediate contributors in the first five rounds is remarkable. Looking at the rest of this year’s rookie class, defensive end Josh Boyd can watch and learn thanks to the depth on the defensive line. Linebacker Nate Palmer, a sixth round pick, has been forced into action thanks to injuries to Clay Matthews and Nick Perry but he hasn’t become a liability as of yet and that is a good sign.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson has since been waived and thanks to the depth at the position, not much was expected from him anyway. Kevin Dorsey, the other seventh round wide receiver, has been place on injured reserve and will be a long shot to make the team next year. Linebacker Sam Barrington, the final Packers pick of the 2013 draft, has been limited to special teams has been solid there.
It’s been Thompson’s best class top-to-bottom and that doesn’t even include the undrafted free agents. Of that list, linebackers Andy Mulumba and wide receiver Myles White have been big contributors so far thanks to the injury situation. White in particular is looking more comfortable every week and judging by the Vikings game, Rodgers is beginning to trust him more which helps White’s future prospects on the team.
Tight end Jake Stoneburner is also on the active roster, but has been relegated mainly to special teams. It remains to be seen what he can contribute in the passing game.
Thompson is a notoriously strong drafter and the Packers already were loaded with talent heading into this spring’s draft. Looking at what the current class has done so far, the future appears even brighter for Green Bay. They keep getting better with each draft and that’s really all a fan can ask for out of the general manager each spring.
What could Thompson possibly do for an encore in 2014? The rest of the NFC North is already shuddering at the thought.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke