This is the third in my series of articles examining potential draft strategies for the Green Bay Packers. I’ve previously identified the Packers' five primary needs to be at offensive tackle, cornerback, outside linebacker, running back, and safety.
In Article 1 , I proposed the Packers re-sign their own free agents, sign one free agent from another team to address one need, and trade down to obtain four picks in Rounds Two and Three to use on the other four needs.
In Article 2 , I looked at trade-up scenarios and the players who would make that a worthwhile strategy. A potential game-changer like CJ Spiller would be one example.
In this article, I will examine possible draft strategies assuming the Packers do not make any trades.
BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE:
This strategy says you take your highest rated player available, regardless of position or need. This is usually the strategy that Ted Thompson employs. Although it would appear he may have strayed from this strategy a bit in 2009, selecting players strictly at positions of need (no picks at wide receiver, for example), Thompson will tell you those players were at the top of their board at the time.
While I believe it for Clay Matthews Jr., I’m not sure about BJ Raji. Was Raji really rated higher than Michael Crabtree on their value board? Or did they catch wind of difficult contract negotiations to come? Or did Thompson succumb to the needs of the ensuing defensive alignment changes? We’ll probably never know the real truth, but regardless, it sure worked out just fine.
This particular draft strategy can have fans pulling their hair out. For example, in 2008, selecting wide receiver Jordy Nelson and quarterback Brian Brohm with the first two picks? I liked the trade down and was OK with the Nelson pick, but saw no reason to use a second-round pick for a player who, even in a best case scenario, would just be Aaron Rodgers’ backup. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know exactly how bad that decision was.
BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE WHO FITS YOUR SYSTEM :
A slight modification of best player available, this method allows you to eliminate certain players if their strengths and/or style of play don’t fit into your system.
Here’s an interesting NFL Network video with Charlie Casserly taking the GM’s viewpoint while Steve Mariucci and Jim Mora give you the coach’s perspective. Definitely worth a view.
While Casserly espouses a strict best-player-available approach, Mariucci and Mora want players who make sense for their system. As Mora states, if you are a cover-2 team, picking a cover corner, even if he’s the best player, does not help the coach win.
Does Thompson use this modified approach? Absolutely. Last year was surely the best example. With the Packers changing defensive systems and a roster full of players drafted to play the 4-3 and man coverage, Thompson needed to add as much 3-4 experience to his team as possible. Reading public comments on the selections from Thompson, McCarthy and even the players themselves, the recurring theme was “good fit for the system.”
As I've mentioned, I think 2009 was a special case in which Thompson gave more weight than usual to positional needs. So in effect he gave preference to the best player available who fits the system at a position of need. For Thompson, this was a rather stark and probably rare change to his overall draft day philosophy (and we’re all glad he did it).
DRAFT STRICTLY FOR NEED:
Not much needs to be said here. This is a sure-fire way to screw up your team for years to come.
Winning in the NFL is all about accumulating the most and the best talent, regardless of position. Reaching to fill positional needs will invariably lead to mistakes that wind up not filling the need anyway. Practically any GM (does Al Davis count?) will agree with this.
BEST IMMEDIATE IMPACT PLAYER AVAILABLE:
This is a situational strategy that mostly applies to the Round One choice of teams that feel they are a player or two away from the Super Bowl. Can this be a strategy for the Packers? I think a good argument can be made that the answer to that question is YES.
There can be little disagreement that the Packers’ offense is one of the most difficult in the league to contain. Picture that offense with a speed running back threat who can also be dangerous in the screen game and as a pass-catcher in general? What do opposing defenses scheme for in that scenario? Undoubtedly, it would be a nightmare for them.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers’ transformed 3-4 defense improved to second in the NFL against the run, but fell apart in big games against big-time quarterbacks who were allowed to get far too comfortable in the pocket. Teams were able to specifically scheme for the Packers' only real pass rush threat, Matthews. In most cases, using two players to slow Matthews gave these experienced quarterbacks all the time they needed to quickly get the ball to their first open receivers.
Now picture the Packers’ defense with a second legitimate pass rush threat at left outside linebacker. Opposing offenses would not be able to key on Matthews. They would be forced to keep more players in for possible blocking help, and the Packers would see less of those four- and five-receiver sets their depleted secondary had difficulty with late last year. With another major pass-rushing weapon, the Packers' defense could become that unpredictable blitzing team that Dom Capers desires.
Either of these scenarios, a major impact running back or outside linebacker, could be enough to propel an already very good team to the next level. If you think your team is close to being a Super Bowl contender, this type of move makes a lot of sense in this “win-now” world.
With the uncertainty surrounding the NFL football landscape in 2011, and the feeling they were a better team than they showed in the playoffs, I believe the Packers organization is gearing up towards a serious run at the Super Bowl THIS year.
Thompson has had an uncharacteristically busy March, successfully keeping the current roster mostly intact, with the exception of Aaron Kampman, who just didn’t fit anyway. The organization would not have retained all of these veteran players if they felt they were a few years away.
No, the Packers think they can win THIS year. And as such, their first draft pick needs to be at a position that would help their run at the Super Bowl most. They need to take a speedy running back or pass-rushing outside linebacker, positions of SUDDEN IMPACT.
Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com. You can find more of Jersey Al ’s articles on several sports web sites: NFL Touchdown , Packers Lounge , Packer Chatters , & Bleacher Report .