Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has built — and perhaps more impressively — maintained a perennial championship contender through consistently solid drafts.
The one position group, however, that has evaded Thompson’s magic touch is the defensive line.
With the first-round pick used on UCLA’s Kenny Clark on Thursday night, Thompson has used 12 draft picks on defensive linemen since the Packers went to a 3-4 defensive scheme in 2009. Of the previous 11, only Mike Daniels, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has exceeded expectations. Thompson missed badly on Jerel Worthy in the second round in 2012 and Khyri Thornton in the third round in 2014. Datone Jones, a first-round pick out of UCLA in 2013, has been a disappointment, as well.
Will the 2016 draft be any different? The season probably depends on whether Thompson made the right choice with his first pick.
This year’s group of defensive line prospects was considered one of the best in memory. Rather than teams grabbing one after another in a feeding frenzy, the opposite happened. With 10 players we considered worthy of a first-round pick, only two were selected before Green Bay went on the clock at No. 27: San Francisco took DeForest Buckner at No. 7 and New Orleans took Sheldon Rankins at No. 12.
Four wide receivers, four defensive backs, three offensive linemen and Denver’s trade up to get a quarterback later, a mother lode of defensive line talent fell onto Thompson’s lap.
Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, Baylor’s Andrew Billings, Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, Florida’s Jonathan Bullard, Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche and Clark all were worthy of being the pick. Thompson went with Clark.
Here are those prospects, by the numbers.
Other than Nkemdiche, whose college career ended with a fall out a hotel window, Clark has the best combination of strength and athleticism in this group. Thompson referenced that following the pick.
“A lot of stuff” stood out about Clark, Thompson said. “The hand use, the leverage — he’s very natural at that. He’s got a really strong base. He’s not easily moved. He’s a 5-flat 40 guy at 315 pounds. He had a marvelous workout at Indianapolis and at Los Angeles at (pro day). I know all the teams do exactly the same thing after this first day, but we feel good that we were able to do what we did today.”
Clark stacks up well here, too, in this data from STATS via Real Football. He ranked No. 1 in tackles, No. 2 in sacks and No. 3 in run disruptions (defined by STATS as a play that disrupts the run concept). However, Clark was well off the pace in two areas. First is quarterback pressures, with his 18 ranking ahead of only Reed. The other was stuffs (defined by STATS as a tackle on a running play at or behind the line of scrimmage), with Clark’s 6.5 placing him on the bottom of the chart.
“I think there’s been a lot said about his pass rushing,” Thompson said. “There wasn’t a lot of numbers there until this past year. But I think this past year he showed that he’s got that kind of ability and quickness. Always been a good run player.”
Given the state of Green Bay’s defensive line, which was dealt a one-two punch when B.J. Raji decided not to play and Mike Pennel was suspended for four games, Clark needs to be the rare hit among a series of defensive line misses by Thompson.
“I describe myself as physical and I consider myself as having a lot of power,” Clark said. “I’m one of those gritty guys. I’m going to stay in there and be stout and do my job to the best of my ability. I believe in teamwork and I believe in leadership, and that’s one of the reasons you have a great team. I’ll definitely work hard to show the guys that I can do a lot of things on the field.”
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.