The Green Bay Packers enter next week’s draft with immediate needs at inside linebacker and defensive line and long-term needs on the offensive line and outside linebacker, among other positions.
However, with general manager Ted Thompson calling the shots for his 12th draft, the focus will be on a three-word phrase-turned-cliche.
“Well, we try to draft the best player available,” Thompson said during Wednesday’s predraft news conference. “I say this every year and everybody says, ‘Yeah, right.’ We think it’s important to stay focused and try to take the best player.”
Thompson, however, said there’s some wiggle room in the best-player philosophy. Part of that’s obvious. The Packers wouldn’t take a quarterback with their first-round pick even if a quarterback was the best player available. Given an example of there being three players rated slightly better than a player at a position of need, Thompson admitted he’d consider filling the need at the expense of bypassing a higher-rated prospect.
“I suppose there is (some wiggle room),” Thompson said. “I would never tell you there is. If you asked me, I would say, 'Well, that's not the way I wanted it.' But, yeah, I mean, it's not really in stone. And you don't know — there are four players you're talking about, there was three that you wanted and then the one — you don't know how their careers are going to work out. Somebody could get a sprained ankle and have a completely different career than you thought. But if we can take the best player available in our minds and be honest about it and stay true to form, that's the way that we want to try to do it.”
With Clay Matthews moved back to outside linebacker, the Packers’ predraft depth chart at inside linebacker would have Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan as the starting duo and Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford in reserve. Neither Barrington nor Ryan have shown they are up to the task of playing on third-and-long situations — Thomas, released at the end of camp but plucked off Dallas’ practice squad a few weeks later, handled those chores last season — and the lack of depth is obvious.
“We’re not playing anybody tomorrow,” Thompson pointed out.
Sticking with his longstanding philosophy of not saying anything specific about any prospect or position group, Thompson didn’t sound concerned about the inside linebacker group.
“We think it’s a pretty good group,” Thompson said. “They’ve been able to get some experience, and Sam’s experience got thwarted a little bit with the (season-ending ankle) injury. But we think we’ve got a pretty good group.”
A potential down-the-road need exists on the offensive line. While the starting five and top three backups return, left tackle David Bakhtiari and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are entering their final season under contract. Thompson, however, said their contractual situations wouldn’t impact his thinking in the draft.
“Not at all,” he said, noting it’s possible to sign those three to extensions.
With one pick in each of the first three rounds, three in the fourth, and one more in each of the final three picks, Thompson is scheduled to have nine swings at the bat to find the best player available to fill needs both known and unknown.
“I think from a personal standpoint, in terms of common sense, it makes sense to me that you would want to take the best player because the situation about needs is normally a temporary one,” he said. “What you think you might need is not necessarily what you’re really going to need next week because things are going to change between now and next week. So, as long as you’re taking really good players and taking the best players you can identify as being the best players available, then you are, in some respects, able to stay a little bit in front of the curve.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.