Sharp Cheddar: Cheeseheads Must Trust Ted Thompson in 2009

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IApril 26, 2009

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 5:  B.J. Raji #90 and Brian Toal of the Boston College Eagles talk after giving up a field goal to the North Carolina Tar Heels during an Atlantic Coast Conference game on November 5, 2005 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina defeated Boston College 16-14.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The feeling inside 1265 Lombardi Avenue after the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft was remarkably different than in previous Ted Thompson drafts: no boos.

The man known both affectionately and infamously as "TT" in Cheesehead circles had made his mark on the franchise once again, but this time in a way fans should embrace. 

B.J. Raji's enormous presence could be felt from a time zone away. As he fell down the board on Draft Day, Thompson and his staff were anxiously waiting to see if the Boston College stand-out would fall all the way to their pick at No. 9.

He did, and the Packers pulled the trigger on the incredibly talented defensive tackle and first team all-ACC performer. Raji has a unique combination of speed and strength for a man of his size.

Hopefully, after the Packers drafted the the 330-plus pound Raji, they hired a bigger cafeteria staff for the upcoming OTA's.

Packer fans watching the Draft in the Lambeau Field atrium cheered vigorously when the pick was announced, a stark contract from the last two years when the selection was met by a loud chorus of boos from the fans.

The Packers didn't draft in the first round last year, instead trading back to acquire picks, then moving up to take Kansas State wide-out Jordy Nelson who was no better than the Packers third wide receiver in 2008.

Not a popular pick on draft day, not a popular pick now, particularly when the Packers could have had DeSean Jackson, Eddie Royal, Limas Sweed, or Devin Thomas with that pick.

Things were not much better in 2007 when the Packers took Justin Harrell 16th overall, only to lose him to injuries in both seasons as a pro. The dangerous "b" word looms over the former Volunteer's head and TT knows that.

With a switch to the 3-4 defense, the nose tackle position will be even more important in getting stops. The best 3-4 defenses in the NFL also happen to have the best nose tackles.

Casey Hampton anchors that punishing Steeler defense, while Vince Wilfork has allowed the talented Patriot linebackers to become stars.

That is what could make Raji special. Wilfork and Hampton make others better, and Raji has the strength and power to eat up blockers, freeing up his teammates. The difference is Raji can move like the aforementioned players can't. And they're Pro Bowlers.

On the interior, Raji registered eight sacks and 16 tackles for loss as a senior, and by the end of the year was the most dominating defensive player in the nation.

Aaron Curry might have been the most complete player in this draft, but Raji was the most dominant, at least defensively.

To say the Packers had any decision to make between Raji and Crabtree would be foolish. Certainly, Crabtree projects as an instant impact player in the NFL, but the Packers have shown you can get a receiver anywhere in the draft. Big bodies who can move like Raji are few and far between.

The other crucial cog in the 3-4 defense is the rush linebacker position. Ted Thompson shocked the Packer nation when he gave up his second and both third-round picks to move back into the first round and grab Clay Mathews, the outside linebacker from USC.

There is talk about the Packers overpaying for Mathews, particularly if you use a point system to rank slotted draft positions. But as Thompson said in his press conference, if you want to get a particular player, you have to pay the price for him.

Mathews is a special athlete with the most fluid hips of any of the outside linebackers worthy of first day consideration. He catches the ball like a receiver, but loves to stick his nose in the play and make a big hit.

Oh, and Kevin Greene, one of the best 3-4 OLB's in the history of the NFL is the Packers linebackers coach. He likes this kid a lot. That is good enough for me.

With essentially just three key needs, defensive line, linebacker, and offensive tackle, the Packers have set themselves up marvelously for the draft's second day.

Thompson has already proven adept at finding talent late in the draft and can certainly find a serviceable tackle to add depth to this group.

Sure, the Packers could have taken Crabtree at No. 9, or even Brian Orakpo. They didn't and we don't know if it was the right call.

Both Raji and Crabtree have big-time bust potential, but if Raji plays up to his potential he can  be one of just a handful of big-time defensive tackles in this league.

With guys like Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte in the division, that nose tackle position has to be your anchor.

As far as over-paying for Mathews, much like Raji, only time will tell. Mathews could be Mike Mammula, or he could be Mike Vrabel. He is a physically gifted athlete who will not be out-worked by anyone.

Mathews also has the benefit of having an outstanding teacher in the aforementioned Greene. He will also have Aaron Kampman playing opposite him, leaving Mathews in 1-on-1 situations on the edge. 

Thompson has messed it up before. If a GM without a mistake was he who could cast the first stone, there'd be a lot of rocks on the ground and very few in the air.

But Thompson has brought this team a core of talented young players like Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings, and Nick Collins.

So while Crabtree is catching touchdown passes by the Bay and Orakpo is terrorizing Tony Romo, pay attention to Raji taking on double teams so A.J. Hawk can make the play in the backfield.

Watch Clay Mathews cover Matt Forte 1-on-1 out of the backfield on second down, then on third down force an overthrow by whipping Roberta Garza and getting in Jay Cutler's face just before releasing the ball.

Ted Thompson may say he has thick enough skin to withstand the boos, but this time he knows he got it right. It seems Packer fans do too.