“Draft and develop.”
Chances are, you’ve heard that three-word associated with the Ted Thompson-crafted Green Bay Packers a time or two. Ted Thompson drafts them, the coaches work their magic and, voila, you get a roster of young – and cheap – players to build around the established stars.
So goes the theory, anyway.
The reality, however, is the Packers aren’t exactly overflowing with young talent. This may be an extreme example, but a look at the top 25 players in the league ages 25 and younger shows only one member of the Packers: 25-year-old receiver Randall Cobb.
What may be more troubling is the number of 25-and-younger starters on the team. The Packers have only 10. Of that group, only Cobb, running back Eddie Lacy and center Corey Linsley could be called upper-echelon performers. Maybe receiver Davante Adams becomes a consistent difference-maker. Maybe Casey Hayward shines in his first season as an every-down cornerback. Maybe left tackle David Bakhtiari, who’s only 23, takes another step forward after two quality seasons. Maybe tight end Richard Rodgers improves enough as a blocker to become an every-down performer. Maybe safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, inside linebacker Sam Barrington and nickel cornerback Micah Hyde emerge after flashing at times. But that’s just projection or wishing and hoping. Based on they’ve-proved-it production, the Packers simply don’t have a lot of young foundation-type players.
While the 2011 draft doesn’t entirely apply to this story because many of the players have past their 25th birthdays, that class left a major void in fifth-year talent. Of the 10 players they selected, only the 24-year-old Cobb remains on the team.
The Packers selected eight players in 2012. Only first-round outside linebacker Nick Perry (25), second-rounder Hayward (25) and fourth-round defensive tackle Mike Daniels (26) remain. Daniels has been excellent and Hayward has been excellent at times, but Perry hasn’t been good enough, second-round defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was a bust and Thompson went 0-for-4 with his final four picks (safety Jerron McMillian, linebacker Terrell Manning, offensive tackle Andrew Datko and quarterback B.J. Coleman).
Green Bay added 11 players in 2013. Eight remain on the team, with second-rounder Lacy (25), fourth-rounder Bakhtiari (23), fifth-rounder Hyde (24) and seventh-rounder Barrington (24) slated to be starters. The first-round pick, defensive end Datone Jones (24), hasn’t been good enough. That neither Perry nor Jones are even average starters is a black eye. It’s hard to find enough good second- and third-rounders to overcome three consecutive first-round misses (including Derek Sherrod in 2011).
The Packers drafted nine players in 2014. With first-rounder Clinton-Dix (22), second-rounder Adams (22), third-rounder Rodgers (23) and fifth-rounder Linsley (23), it is shaping up to be one of the better draft hauls in the league. And it’s this group that could give the Packers’ draft-and-develop mantra a brighter outlook.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.