The Green Bay Packers enter next week’s draft with glaring needs at inside linebacker and cornerback.
Don’t expect general manager Ted Thompson to force the issue, especially in next Thursday’s first round or next Friday’s second and third rounds. Do that, and you run the risk of missing out on a gem like Randall Cobb, who certainly didn’t fill an immediate need with the final pick of the second round of the 2011 draft but has emerged as one of the league’s top young playmakers.
“Who thinks he’s going to be there at the end of the second? Sometimes it just works out,” Thompson said during his predraft news conference on Wednesday.
Thompson, of course, is the man who makes it work out. It will be up to Thompson to fill needs at inside linebacker, where the team’s top three players on last year’s season-opening depth chart are no longer on the roster, and at cornerback, where two of its top performers departed in free agency, without reaching and missing out on a better prospect.
“You factor everything in,” Thompson said of considering need when stacking his draft boards and, ultimately, making his selections. “But that doesn't carry as much weight as it might with other organizations because they go about weighting those things differently than we do. There's a certain amount of weighting in terms of need, but I am adamant that that's not the way to draft.”
So, Thompson said he will be eyeing the best player available rather than drafting the best available inside linebacker or cornerback when the Packers are on the clock. That philosophy was evident last year, when inside linebacker and safety were considered two of the primary needs. He got his safety in the first round but didn’t pick an inside linebacker.
“The way to draft is to take the best player,” Thompson said. “You don’t know what you’re going to need. You think you need something, but this isn’t play time or anything like that. This is real life. People get banged up, injuries happen. Life happens. What you think you’re strong at, you’re not necessarily strong at. If you take good, solid players that you know can contribute, albeit at a position that’s maybe a little bit heavier, as long as you’re taking good, solid players, you’re getting some value there. If you reach and take something that’s not quite as good, then you may not be getting the same value. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s true. That’s what we do.”
Thompson said there was “no more pressure on our part” to bolster problem areas on the roster. That’s because, as Thompson embarks on his 11th draft with the club, he trusts his way of doing things.
After subpar drafts in 2011 (only Cobb remains) and 2012 (only Mike Daniels started last year), Thompson and his scouting department have been on top of their game the past two drafts.
Part of that is the byproduct of a veteran scouting staff — a group Thompson made sure to thank before fielding questions. For instance, college scouting director Brian Gutekunst joined the team in 1998 and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith was hired in 1999.
So, with eight days until the draft begins, Thompson and his staff weren’t in panic mode or frantically trying to put the finishing touches on their boards.
“We've been all together for a long time, especially if you count going back into the '90s, so we've kind of got this down,” Thompson said. “We know what takes time, what doesn't take time. Most of the grind stuff is over with. We have different things going on. There are relationships with other teams, there are relationships with agents, those kinds of things. Finishing up with boards. Going back through the board again and again. But as we get closer, that all starts to die down pretty good.”
The only thing certain about the draft is that nothing is certain. And there becomes even less certainty when you’re a team like the Packers, who own the 30th pick in every round of this draft. Maybe a player will fall into the Packers’ lap, as was the case with Cobb with the 64th pick of the 2011 draft.
“The beauty of this particular business is the uncertainty,” Thompson said. “Because there’s always that gasp when a name is called and they go, ‘He picked who?’ And you hope that you don’t do that, so that other teams go, ‘Who’d Thompson pick?’ You don’t want that kind of criticism.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.