Ted Thompson's recent drafts have been a mixed bag.
His draft was certainly all the more under the microscope this year with the Packers coming off a 6-10 season that was made worse by the lack of production from Thompson's first-round pick in 2007. Defensive tackle Justin Harrell, who is now projected to play end in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' new 3-4 defense, has not played half a season in the two he has been on the payroll.
So how did Teddy do? I will examine each draft pick, as well as any trade involved in the selection...
With the ninth pick in the first round, the Packers were able to draft the second-highest rated defensive player in the draft by most experts.
Raji was ranked the fifth-best player overall by Scouts, Inc., following the combine, and was the second highest-rated player left, behind Michael Crabtree, who plays the Packers' deepest position (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/130830-green-bay-packers-past-future-position-analysis-volume-iv-receivers/show_full).
While the Packers expressed an interest in Crabtree, that pick would have been a colossal mistake. At best, he would give the Packers a couple hundred more passing yards than the receiver they would have let go to make room for him (most likely Ruvell Martin), since he could not unseat Pro Bowl receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. He would also have to split up catches with James Jones and last year's top pick, Jordy Nelson, out of spread formations.
But as we learned in 2008, being thin on the defensive line is catastrophic. The Packers dropped 25 percent in sacks, falling from the top half of the NFL to the bottom quarter.
This accounted for about a quarter of the extra yards the Packers gave up in going from the 11th-ranked defense to the 20th-ranked defense. (Almost as much as the additional yardage that came from Adrian Peterson.)
Thus, Ted Thompson did what he has maintained he believes most in—drafting the best player available—while still filling the Packers' greatest need, a defensive tackle. Without a talented, big tackle, the 3-4 defense crumbles, and Ryan Pickett was the only player of the appropriate size with any game experience on the roster.
Raji (6'3", 337 pounds) has the tools to jump in immediately as a solid back-up."He's a rare guy physically," Thompson said of Raji. "He's genuinely a powerful, powerful man, especially in his lower body. He has the ability to take people backwards where they don't want to go. He also has the quickness to go around them.
"It's unbelievably hard to find the combination of skill set that he brings. The good Lord just didn't make many people like this."
Indeed, the son of two Pentecostal ministers led a very good Boston College defense in sacks with eight in 12 games, the first time that has happened from the tackle position in 23 years. A three-year starter, in his senior season over one in three of his tackles was for loss, showing he penetrates as well as taking up space.
This was a difficult pick for me to gauge. Thompson sent the 41st, 73rd, and 83rd picks to the New England Patriots in exchange for the 26th and 162nd picks. This is a decent value, but to what end?
I have little doubt that Clay Matthews will be a good NFL linebacker. Both his father (also a linebacker named Clay) and his uncle (Bruce, an offensive lineman), were in the league 19 seasons and made the Pro Bowl.
But he is unlikely to help in 2009. He is too small (6'3", 245 pounds) to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4, and the team littered with smaller linebackers who are inside linebacker material—A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, and Desmond Bishop—who are more experienced.
Even if he could put on the necessary weight by the start of the season to play on the outside, he must not only transition to a new set of responsibilities, but the higher level of competition in the NFL.
That seems like a lot to ask of a kid right away, and he will spend too much time on the field thinking rather than reacting unless just turned loose to pass-rush. This takes away some of the unpredictability of the 3-4 scheme.
The Packers had too many needs elsewhere to give up picks to move into the first round for a guy who cannot contribute much beyond special teams immediately.
(While Matthews was rated lower than a player who seemed a better fit physically for OLB, Everette Brown, since Brown fell below the Packers original second round position, one must assume he was overrated.)
Lang played for a small college, but played big-time, in-state programs Michigan and Michigan State often enough to see what he could do. He was a starter as a left tackle, but spent time at right tackle, guard, and defensive tackle. as well.
At 6'4", 316 pounds, he possesses the size to compete with the likes of Tony Moll and Alan Barbre for the right tackle spot should Mark Tauscher remain unsigned or come back to slowly from reconstructive knee surgery. He is considered a physical player with a good work ethic.
In all likelihood, he will not see much action but will provide depth to four of the five line positions—all that can be expected for the 109th pick of the draft.
Fullback was another position of need for the Packers, and they got the second best player at that position in the draft. Quinn Johnson played for a big-time program (LSU) and earned a national championship.
Having good size (6'1", 250 pounds), he was a devastating blocker, recording 107 knock-downs and laid 15 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. He was considered the most dominant blocking fullback in college.
However, he was originally a linebacker, and was not converted to fullback until 2006. Thus, he only started 14 games at the position, and he is raw, especially in running (2.18 yard average) and receiving (just three catches his senior season for 33 yards).
In 2009, he is likely to find himself low on the depth chart, but should see time on special teams and should push current fullbacks John Kuhn and Korey Hall.
Jamon Meredith gives the Packers another person to battle for the right tackle position. Since Mark Tauscher became a starter out of the seventh round, it pays to roll the dice—have enough people competing and you have a good chance to land one of starting quality.
Meredith not only played in a big-time conference (South Carolina) that featured many of the best defenses in the country, but started 38 games in the process and recorded 123 knock-downs in his senior season. He has played both tackle positions and guard, which is the most likely position for him at his size—he has the height (6'5") to play tackle but will need to add bulk (304 pounds).
He is unlikely to see action in his rookie season, but little is expected of a late fifth-round pick.
Defensive End Jarius Wynn did not have great college stats, starting just seven games and playing in just 13 after transferring to Georgia from junior college. However, he saved his best for last, with a six-tackle performance against rival Georgia Tech at the end of the season, followed by a tremendous Capital One Bowl with two sacks.
At 6'3", 273 pounds, he is not big enough to play the end position except in pass-only downs, and he lacks the athleticism to be a good OLB. He has never been above 283 pounds, but given time, he may add enough to his frame to contribute at DE.
Because he has little major college experience either, I would expect him to be a practice squad player until he adds bulk and learns the position at this level.
My first thought when I saw this pick was, "you're kidding—ANOTHER safety?" The Packers already have two studs in Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, plus bonafide starters in Aaron Rouse and recently (and inexplicably) signed free agent Anthony Smith, AND a decent back-up in Charlie Pepprah. So how is Brandon Underwood going to see the field?
Apparently, as a cornerback. Because he was out of Cincinnati, I knew little of him, but in my research, I found out his natural position is corner, and he only switched to safety when pressed to it by injuries.
This suggests not only versatility, but a team-first attitude. After failing to meet academic requirements for Ohio State (hard to believe, isn't it?), he worked his way through college and is just 24 hours from a criminal justice degree.
He is tall (6'1") and lean (198 pounds), but very chiseled. He has good speed, claiming to have run a 4.36, 40-yard dash time at his best. He showed the ability to get to the ball, with four picks, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.
He is unlikely to pass Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Woodson or Al Harris, or even unseat nickelback Tramon Williams, who filled in so well for Harris. However, I would not be surprised to see him in the mix for the dimeback position with last year's second round pick, Pat Lee, and special teams standout, Will Blackmon.
If so, he may be the steal of the draft for the Packers; at the very least, his special teams experience and his talent likely signal the end for Jarrett Bush.
Brad Jones played outside linebacker for Colorado in the 3-4 defense, but at 6'3", 232 pounds, he is too small to play that right away.
Nevertheless, he can concentrate on adding weight and may be worth keeping around until he does. His senior season, he racked up 78 tackles, 48 of which were solo, and had seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss to lead his team.
If he even makes the team, he was worthy of a seventh-round pick.