This will be Ted Thompson’s 13th draft running the Green Bay Packers. Dusting off a series we wrote in 2015, we look back on his previous 12 drafts and try to find trends that might be worth remembering as we look ahead to this year’s draft. We continue this series with the inside linebackers.
Note: Green Bay changed to its 3-4 scheme in 2009.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
2006, 1st round — A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (6-1, 248; 4.65 40; 40-inch vertical; 3.95 20-yard shuttle; 6.82 3-cone; 24 bench-press reps; 32-inch arms; 9 1/2-inch hands): One lasting memory of Hawk came at Minnesota late in 2014, his final season with the team. He was beaten so badly in coverage by tight end Kyle Rudolph, it was as if he had concrete in his cleats. It’s hard to remember that he crushed the 2006 Combine with the numbers listed above. His shuttle and 40-inch vertical jump would have ranked No. 1 in this year’s draft class. Steady and dependable, Hawk finished with a franchise-record 1,118 tackles. There’s something somehow underrated about showing up and doing your job week after week and year after year. The big plays were few and far between, though. Right? Well, of the 30 linebackers selected, Hawk ranked No. 1 in sacks and No. 2 in interceptions. On the other hand, 29 players were selected for Pro Bowls and nine more were picked for one. Hawk, the No. 5 overall pick, was not among them. Seven players taken in the next 15 picks were selected for multiple Pro Bowls, including tight end Vernon Davis (No. 6), safety Donte Whitner (No. 8), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (No. 12), linebacker Chad Greenway (No. 17), cornerback Antonio Cromartie (No. 19) and outside linebacker Tamba Hali (No. 20).
2006, 3rd round — Abdul Hodge, Iowa (6-0, 236; 4.79 40; 31 vertical; 4.33 shuttle; 7.09 3-cone; DNP bench; 32 1/2 arms; 8 1/2 hands): Hodge started one game as a rookie but missed all of 2007 with a knee injury. He wound up playing 26 games for the Bengals and Panthers from 2008 through 2010. Hodge was the ninth of 30 linebackers taken at No. 67 overall. At No. 88, Carolina took James Anderson, who played in 116 games with 71 starts. At No. 116, Tennessee took Stephen Tulloch, who has played in 157 games with 112 starts. Of the next 15 linebackers, nine started at least a dozen games, including five with at least 40 starts. Grade: D-minus.
2007, 6th round — Desmond Bishop, Cal (6-1 7/8, 239; 4.77 40; 32 1/2 vertical; 4.65 shuttle; 7.14 3-cone; 33 bench; 32 arms; 10 3/4 hands): Bishop was the 26th of 33 linebackers selected and seemed to be on his way to a good career when he jumped into the starting lineup and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in 2010. He started 13 games and led the team in tackles in 2011, but missed all of 2012 with a hamstring injury and was released in June 2013. He played a little for Minnesota in 2013 and San Francisco in 2014. No defensive player in the final three rounds finished with more tackles than Bishop. Of the seven linebackers taken after Bishop, only one beat Bishop in games (Marvin Mitchell) and starts (Zach Diles). Grade: B.
2011, 6th round — D.J. Smith, Appalachian State (5-10 5/8, 239; 4.88 40; 31 vertical; 4.53 shuttle; 7.35 3-cone; 20 bench; 32 arms; 9 3/4 hands): Smith is the case of Thompson valuing collegiate production (FCS-high 525 career tackles) over measurables (short and slow). He was the 23rd of 34 linebackers selected and started three games as a rookie and the first six in 2012. Smith’s 2012 ended with a torn ACL and MCL and he was released before the 2013 draft. He played one game for Houston in 2013 and Carolina in 2014. Of the 11 linebackers taken after Smith, four started more games, led by former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (Seahawks, No. 242). Grade: C-minus.
2012, 5th round — Terrell Manning, N.C. State (6-2 1/8, 237; 4.79 40; 32 1/2 vertical; 4.43 shuttle; 7.18 3-cone; 222 bench; 32 1/4 arms; 9 1/4 hands): Manning’s rookie season was doomed by an illness that sent his weight crashing. He failed to make the team in 2013. Reading his “Career history” under Wikipedia practically crashes the Internet. Following his time in Green Bay, he collected pay checks for the Chargers, Vikings, Giants, Dolphins, Bears, Giants, Falcons and Dolphins. He was cut by Miami just before the 2016 draft and his career appears to be over. That’s nine stops and a total of 11 games played. Manning, taken at No. 163, was the 25th of 33 linebackers selected. Denver got a defensive standout with Danny Trevathan at No. 188. Grade: F.
2013, 7th round — Sam Barrington, South Florida (6-0 7/8, 246; 4.84 40; 32 1/2 vertical; 4.25 shuttle; 7.16 3-cone; 22 bench; 32 1/4 arms; 10 1/4 hands): There’s a lot of focus on 40-yard times, and for good reason. For a linebacker, it’s one of the top measuring sticks. Barrington, however, was one of the slowest linemen at the Combine. That’s one reason why he was the 24th of 26 linebackers chosen and lasted until the 232nd selection. Barrington, however, forced his way into the lineup in 2014 and wound up starting seven games with 68 tackles. He emerged as the three-down linebacker to start the 2015 season but sustained a season-ending foot injury in the opener. He was cut at the end of training camp in 2016, played in seven games with the Chiefs and Saints and remains in New Orleans. Grade: C.
2015, 4th round — Jake Ryan (6-2 3/8, 240; 4.65 40; 34 1/2 vertical; 4.20 shuttle; 7.11 3-cone; 20 bench; 31 arms; 9 3/8 hands): Ryan was the 18th of 36 linebackers selected. The Packers bypassed the likes of Stephone Anthony, Benardrick McKinney, Eric Kendricks and Denzel Perryman in the first round, Jordan Hicks in the second round and Paul Dawson in the third round. Green Bay took Ryan at No. 129 overall. Ryan’s done well, with more tackles than first-rounders Shaq Thompson and Anthony, third-rounder Dawson and fourth-rounders Ramik Wilson, who went 11 picks ahead of Ryan, and Ben Heeney, who went 11 picks after Ryan. None of the linebackers drafted after Ryan have more than his 15 starts. Last season, Ryan led the team in snaps per tackle and finished sixth among NFL inside linebackers in run-stop percentage. He might never be a three-down player, such as Kendricks and Hicks, but he is a quality starter. Grade: C-plus.
2016, 4th round — Blake Martinez (6-1 5/8, 237; 4.71 40; 28 1/2 vertical; 4.20 shuttle; 6.98 3-cone; 22 bench; 31 5/8 arms; 10 hands): Martinez was the 17th of 34 linebackers selected and tied for sixth with nine starts. The Packers have no complaints about first-round defensive tackle Kenny Clark, but they could have had Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Reggie Ragland, Deion Jones and Su’a Cravens. Taken ahead of Martinez in the fourth, Atlanta has a potential star with De’Vondre Campbell and Chicago got a promising starter in Nick Kwiatoski. None of the linebackers drafted after Martinez, however, started more games as rookies. He needs to step up his game in coverage and tackle better — issues that led to him being replaced in the lineup by Joe Thomas. (Premature) grade: C-minus.
Overall grade: After drafting Hawk in the first and Hodge in the third in 2006, Thompson has tried to build the inside linebacker corps with nothing but Day 3 picks. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Packers have received such so-so play at the position. But you have to wonder what might have been had Hodge, Bishop, Smith and Barrington not had their careers torpedoed by injuries. The key for the present group is Martinez. Is he a potential three-down linebacker? Or is he not good enough to even be a starter? Grade: C.
What it means (if anything) for 2017: It might not seem like it, but Thompson seems to have put a bigger premium on athleticism at this position. His last three selections were Barrington, Ryan and Martinez, who recorded 20-yard shuttle times of 4.25, 4.20 and 4.20 seconds, respectively. For context, of the 17 linebackers who did the shuttle at this year’s Combine, only six ran a 4.25 or faster. Shuttle times are key as they measure change-of-direction agility. But Thompson’s not going to sacrifice size to get that athleticism. Martinez and Manning were the lightest at 237 pounds; even the diminutive Smith weighed 239 pounds.
With that as a backdrop, who could the Packers consider in this year’s draft?
— Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt (6-3 1/2, 234; 4.67 40; 4.29 shuttle)
— Jarrad Davis, Florida (6-1, 238; 4.62 40; 4.29 shuttle)
— Duke Riley, LSU (6-0 1/2, 232; 4.58 40; 4.21 shuttle)
— Kendall Beckwith, LSU (6-2, 243; didn’t test due to torn ACL)
— Alex Anzalone, Florida (6-2 7/8, 241; 4.63 40; 4.25 shuttle)
— Ben Gedeon, MIchigan (6-1 3/4, 244; 4.75 40; 4.13 shuttle)
— Ohio’s Blair Brown (5-11 1/2, 238; 4.65 40; 4.18 shuttle)
— Brooks Ellis, Arkansas (6-1 7/8, 240; 4.79 40; 4.25 shuttle)
Three notes: First, in the last 10 drafts, Thompson hasn’t invested anything more than a fourth-round pick in this position group. That history alone probably rules out Cunningham, Davis and Riley, who were among the eight who met our weight and shuttle requirements. Second, that history probably rules out Temple’s Haason Reddick, a Top 50 player with inside-outside versatility. He turned in a 40 of 4.52 but a shuttle of 4.37. Third, all eight of Thompson’s picks were invited to the Scouting Combine.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.