Ted Thompson's Top Picks for the Green Bay Packers: Feast or Famine?

Evan McDonielsCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2012

Ted Thompson's Top Picks for the Green Bay Packers: Feast or Famine?

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    The NFL is a fascinating mix of players ranging from undrafted free agents who become starters to top selections who simply can't make it in the NFL.

    The Packers roster is a great example of this.  While UFA Sam Shields far exceeded expectations of most undrafted players, other top picks in Thompson's tenure (featured later in the slideshow) never delivered.

    In any franchise, the first and second rounders are expected to contribute significantly from day one in an NFL uniform.

    This slideshow takes a look at General Manager Ted Thompson's first- and second-round picks in his time in Green Bay, separating them into two main categories of "feast" or "famine."

    "Feast" designates a pick that was stellar, featuring a franchise player or game-breaker chosen by Thompson in the first or second round.

    "Famine" is reserved for players picked in the first two rounds who either had their career cut short due to injuries or simply failed to deliver production-wise despite getting a fair shot.

    Of the 15 selections in the first two rounds during Thompson's tenure so far, only two were classified as a "wash," indicating the high risk-reward nature of NFL selections early in the draft.

Feast: Finding That Elusive Franchise Quarterback

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    Background: Just prior to Ted Thompson's return to Green Bay to become the Packers' GM, Mike Sherman had been both head coach and general manager. 

    Sherman's draft blunders are some of the most epic in NFL history (a punter who never made it in the NFL was one of Sherman's third round picks). 

    In 2005, Thompson inherited a playoff team, but one whose recent picks showed little to no promise of being game-changers on a roster whose impact players were in decline.

    The Pick that Changed Packers History:  Picking Rodgers 24th overall in 2005 was met with mixed reviews among both fans and NFL pundits. 

    Why draft a quarterback if you have a future Hall-of-Famer just coming off three straight playoff years?

    Those that approved may have connected Thompson's roots as a Ron Wolf protege in citing the need to bring in new quarterbacks every year of Wolf's tenure.

    It took some years of wondering when Rodgers would mature and develop into NFL-starter material before Rodgers became what he is today.

    The rest is history: Rodgers has now become the top quarterback in the league and will likely soon add an MVP trophy in addition to his Superbowl win and other great achievements as leader of the Pack.

Famine: A Second-Round Quarterback That Flopped

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    When Brian Brohm was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, Thompson was playing on his mantra of taking a guy who slipped to him (a list that includes Rodgers, Justin Harrell and Brian Bulaga as well).

    When Rodgers was found at the 24th pick, it was considered a shock to the NFL world and Thompson took advantage of Rodgers' falling stock to capitalize for the Packers success.

    In Brohm's case, the quarterback failed to deliver even in practice as he was quickly jettisoned from the 53-man roster to the practice squad (an unheard of place for a second rounder) to ultimately being plucked from the practice squad by a desperate Buffalo Bills team lacking a quarterback.

    Brohm's monumental collapse went from sure-fire, early first-round pick heading into his senior year at Louisville to playing for the Las Vegas Locomotives in the United Football League.  Ouch.

Feast: Second-Round Receivers

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    You can't imagine half the fireworks of today's Packers offense without recognizing the elite level production receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have provided.

    Nelson may have had his breakout party in last year's Superbowl with nine catches for 140 yards and a score, but he followed that playoff run up with one of the best season's for any receiver in Packer history (15 TDs and 1,263 yards).

    Meanwhile, Greg Jennings is an under-recognized all-pro-level wideout whose leadership has also developed at a breakneck pace since being drafted in the second round out of tiny Western Michigan.

    Today it's hard to imagine scouts criticizing the risks involved in choosing Jennings who didn't have elite size or speed coming out of a small school. 

    Many scouts year-to-year question the small-school prospects due to their purported lack of experience facing elite college competition, yet Thompson took the risk in stride.

    Meanwhile, the pick of Jordy Nelson was harshly received by many in Packers nation.  Fans grumbled at the unglamorous method of trading down Thompson utilized. 

    Nelson also needed time to become a late bloomer in a similar context to Rodgers.  His first two seasons were unproductive at best and he was essentially the third or fourth wideout with mid-round pick James Jones ahead of him at one point.

Unfortunate Wide Receiver Famine: Terrance Murphy

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    When Murphy was healthy, he and Rodgers became quick friends in the 2005 training camp as roommates.

    Drafted in the second round soon after Rodgers, Thompson was following a tradition of GMs who draft weapons for their future franchise quarterback to tandem with.

    Murphy was impressive when healthy in his one-and-only rookie season for three games.  The sky was probably the limit for this young fellow whose career was unfortunately stolen from underneath his chin strap when a helmet-to-helmet collision caused the narrowing of his spine near the neck, ending his career abruptly.

    Many lament the lack of a return specialist for the years between 1996's Superbowl MVP Desmond Howard and 2011 rookie Randall Cobb.  Murphy may have been that piece of the team puzzle, a possible future star returner the NFL never got to see develop.

    As part of Packer nation, I wish Murphy only the best in his current professional career as he seeks to become among the "top 30 under 30" in the nation as a Realtor according to the Journal-Sentinel

    Out of respect, I encourage others not to label Murphy "a bust" but rather a terrible casualty of a very menacing game on the body.  For the sake of this article, "famine" is only meant in the football sense of the word.

Feast: An O-Lineman and a D-Lineman

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    B.J. Raji, DL:

    When the Packers had a top-10 pick in 2009, the only positive coming off a terrible season was thinking about the draft possibilities.

    When I saw B.J. Raji's highlight reels of his time at Boston College, I thought, "Please let this be the guy for the Packers at pick No. 9!" 

    Raji displayed the power expected out of a run-stuffing defensive tackle but also had an unreal amount of athleticism for a 330 lb. human at BC.

    In what ended up being a franchise-changing pick, Raji practically carried the defense in the Packers' astonishing, underdog Superbowl run of 2010. 

    Even more important, when the Packers hired Dom Capers to transform the Packers' vanilla 4-3 bump-and-run defense into a 3-4 hybrid, attacking defense, there were question marks about whether they had any true 3-4 players on the defense. 

    Ryan Pickett has since answered the bell resoundingly well in his time transitioning from 4-3 to 3-4, but Raji represents the d-line's most talented and essential component now and into the future.

    Bryan Bulaga, OT:

    On offense, Bryan Bulaga was expected to be picked well before the Packers No. 23 pick yet he somehow slipped and Thompson took advantage. 

    Since being drafted, you never hear Bulaga's name in a broadcast, a great attribute for an NFL tackle.

    Furthermore, in only Bulaga's second season, he deserves recognition as a top right tackle at only 21 years of age.

The Famine of Two Highly-Touted Linemen

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    Justin Harrell, DL and Mike Neal, DL*:

    Ok, so I hate to use an asterisk to cover my bases but facts are facts and Neal deserves another season to see if he can stay healthy and make an impact on the field.

    As a talent, I think Neal could still dominate as a 3-4 DE.  He has incredible strength and plays with relentless energy.

    The story lines of Harrell and Neal are creepily similar though Harrell had an injury history in college that might have raised red flags to other teams looking to draft before the Packers did at No. 16 in 2007, while Neal never had any major injuries prior to being drafted.

    Another significant difference of the two is being drafted 16th overall (Harrell) carries much higher expectations than being picked 56th (Neal).  Many also thought Neal was a reach in the second round.

    That said, Harrell had several seasons to try and stay healthy and was ultimately cut.  He was never signed by an NFL team this year after being cut.

    Similarly, Neal just seems to have one injury pop up after another, frustrating the young man in the same way Harrell was.

    Both were early-round picks expected to deliver results of some kind and so far neither have.

    In fairness to Harrell, he was a great kid in his time in GB, never complained and always worked hard so let's not let our selfishness as fans get in the way of the fact that the kid never got a fair shake from the medical gods (that can strike any of us I might add).

    In Neal's shoes, the best he can do is keep studying the game and get his body in as best shape as humanly possible to make an impact in 2012.

Feast: Game-Breaker Defenders

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    Clay Matthews III and Nick Collins:

    When Collins was selected in 2005 following the selection of Rodgers, the safety was brimming with athletic talent. 

    The problem was, most so-called experts felt Collins was taken far too high considering the school he came from and whether it would translate into NFL results.

    Collins wasn't an immediate impact player, needing a year or two to truly become an elite NFL safety but the results prior to his unfortunate injury (similar in gravity to Murphy's) were all galaxy-level play.

    Collins provides incredible range and ball-hawking capability to a defense whose starting corners aren't speed demons and really rounded out their defensive unit's strengths well.

    As for Clay Matthews III, if a six-sack season is a disappointment for a USC walk-on who's said to have had his best season yet by many experts, that's a good problem to have.  Matthews is now an NFL-wide fan favorite for his relentless motor ability to knock linemen 100 pounds bigger than him off their stance as well as his game-changing awareness in both coverage and pass rush.

    Matthews is well-known as Thompson's only first round trade-up and the results have been monumental in establishing the early years of Capers' 3-4-based principles.

Famine: Brandon Jackson and Pat Lee

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    While some might argue Brandon Jackson's ability to become a reliable third-down back who was very adept at protecting Rodgers makes him a worthy pick, I don't see how you draft a second-round back for such a limited role.

    It's a similar situation with Pat Lee in the defensive backfield.  Though he was drafted in the second round for then-defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' bump-and-run coverage, Lee still should have been able to contribute in either Sanders or Capers' respective systems at some point.

    Lee's only praise has come on special teams on occasion, and that isn't the type of accolade you'd associate with a great second-round pick. 

    Lee's beyond-belief and wretched fill-in work as a returner against the Lions in the regular season-ending finale also hurts his case even on special teams (check out this video of Lee spotting the Lions a safety and a fumble to open the game).

    It's likely Thompson recognizes Lee's limitations and cuts him loose much like the Packers did with Brandon Jackson on the other side of the ball.

    Some would call it "recognizing a mistake" and others might call it "moving on."  Either way, both Lee and Jackson represent famine in Ted Thompson's draft history since 2005 on an otherwise deep and talented squad.

Debatable Washes: Daryn Colledge and A.J. Hawk

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    When the Packers looked to start-up their own brand of the zone-blocking system made so famous in Denver, second-round pick Daryn Colledge had high expectations for manning one of the guard spots.

    While Colledge fought many competitors to remain a starter for five years in a Packer uniform, he was maligned for being under-powered in many of the sacks he was responsible for in a record-setting year for sacks allowed.

    Colledge was never an all-pro despite being highly-regarded entering the draft but he was no slouch either.

    As for A.J. Hawk, he certainly isn't living up to the superstar status expected of a fifth overall pick when he came out of Ohio State.  Yet, he became the quarterback of the defense, calling plays and alignments during the Packers' Superbowl run of 2010.

    The Superbowl victory in 2010 is the main reason I count both of these players as a wash.  In Hawk's draft class, sure, you can find a few players the Packers would love to have now in hindsight drafted after Hawk (Vernon Davis, Roman Harper, Haloti Ngata, Tamba Hali) but there's also a slew of mediocre-to-bust caliber players in the 2007 first round as well.

    Players who were key starters in a championship season are of great importance and can't be considered busts.

    In the case of Colledge, it was a win-win for both player and franchise.  Colledge got his pay day and the Packers got a chance to let up-and-coming T.J. Lang have a shot on a team that went 15-1.

    The 28-year-old Hawk certainly underperformed after inking a contract extension this year and could be worth trading for a mid-round selection this year if the Packers feel they have better options on the current squad or through this year's draft.

Understanding the Rollercoaster Ride of the First Two Rounds Since 2005

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    Like a kid at one of those fireworks stores just off the highway, Thompson discovered some explosive talents in the first two rounds of the draft at times while also discovering first-hand that others were complete duds.

    Thompson's roster is envied by nearly all NFL teams indicating the man finds a way to breed talent from top to bottom from the 53-men privileged to wear green and gold.

    That said, the extreme mania between "feast" and "famine" in those first two rounds really shows the high risk-reward nature of being an NFL GM on draft days.

    To think only 2 out of the 15 Thompson draftees in the first two rounds were "washes" indicates the rollercoaster ride that first day and early day-two can take us fans on over the course of years.

    One thing's for certain in Thompson's tenure: he won't be predictable or telegraphed in his picks. 

    Another certainty: Thompson won't draft for need, leaving many mock drafts helpless in predicting the Packers fortunes.

    Thompson charts the course of the Packers' ship looking out miles into the future rather than just in front of the stern a vantage point which makes teams who believe in the "best player available" philosophy successful.

    What's in store for 2012?  What needs fixing?  What area of the team will go from strong to spoiled?

    We'll find out soon enough...