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 outside linebackers.
Note: Green Bay changed to its 3-4 scheme in 2009.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
2005, 4th round — Brady Poppinga, BYU (6-3 1/8, 259; 4.72 40-yard dash; 4.38 20-yard shuttle; 7.27 3-cone drill; 26 reps on 225-pound bench press; 31 1/8 arms; 9 1/2 hands): Poppinga started from 2006 through 2008 and played in 81 games (44 starts) with the Packers in six seasons. He was tough as nails, a quality run defender and a fun guy in the locker room. In eight NFL seasons, he finished with five sacks. Poppinga was the 17th of 32 linebackers selected. Of those taken after him, only Michael Boley (fifth round) played in more games. However, taken within seven picks of Poppinga were longtime starting tackle Todd Herremans, electric running back Darren Sproles and productive defensive lineman Chris Canty. Taken 19 picks after Poppinga, Philadelphia nabbed Trent Cole, who has 90.5 sacks. Grade: C-plus.
2005, 7th round — Kurt Campbell, Albany (6-2, 228; NA shuttle; 4.43 40; 6.99 3-cone; 19 bench; NA arms; NA hands): Campbell was drafted after a remarkable pro day performance that included a 42.5-inch vertical. He didn’t make the roster and never played a snap in the NFL. Campbell was pick No. 245; tight end Billy Bajema (No. 249), quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (No. 250) and fullback Madison Hedgecock (No. 251) carved out lengthy careers. Grade: F.
2008, 4th round — Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest (6-4 3/8, 264; 4.75 40; 4.23 shuttle; 6.97 3-cone; 25 reps; 35 3/8 arms; 10 hands): Thompson was drafted as a defensive end under the old 4-3 scheme but made the move to outside linebacker in 2009. He played in 15 games in two seasons, with all three career starts coming as a rookie. He retired due to a neck injury sustained at a practice late in 2009. Thompson was the 11th of 20 defensive ends selected. Taken one pick later by Tennessee, fellow defensive end William Hayes has played in 124 games with 34.5 sacks (and counting). In fact, four of the next 12 picks were still in the league in 2016. Grade: D.
2009, 1st round — Clay Matthews, USC (6-3, 240; 4.67 40; 4.18 shuttle; 6.90 3-cone; 23 bench; 32 1/4 arms; 9 1/2 hands): Matthews is a six-time Pro Bowler. The other 29 linebackers have combined for five Pro Bowls — including none by the 25 linebackers taken after Matthews. In fact, Matthews was picked for more Pro Bowls than any player in the draft. Matthews has 72.5 career sacks; Brian Orakpo has 57.5, Connor Barwin has 50.5 and no other player in the draft has even 40. Matthews needs to be that type of player again — or the one he was in 2014 and 2015, when he saved the defense by splitting his time between inside linebacker and pass rusher. Last year was his worst in the league, with career-low totals of five sacks and 24 tackles in 12 games. Unbelievably, Matthews’ prior worst season in terms of tackles was 50 in 11 games in 2013. Grade: A.
2009, 7th round — Brad Jones, Colorado (6-2 7/8, 232; 4.54 40; 4.21 shuttle; 6.75 3-cone; 19 bench; NA arms; NA hands): Think back to Jones’ time in Green Bay for a moment. Did he ever play to those impressive athletic times listed above? Not even close. That’s not to say he was a bad pick. He started 36 games in six seasons — 13 at outside linebacker in 2009 through 2011 and 23 at inside linebacker in 2012 through 2014. After Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith went down with injuries in 2012, Jones recorded 100 tackles in 10 starts. He added 98 tackles in 12 starts in 2013. He started the 2014 opener but played only occasionally after that and was released following the season. Of the 30 linebackers selected, Jones ranks ninth in starts (36). After Detroit took DeAndre Levy at No. 76, only one linebacker had more tackles than Jones. Grade: B.
2011, 6th round — Ricky Elmore, Arizona (6-4 1/2, 255; 4.95 40; 4.32 shuttle; 7.25 3-cone; 26 bench; 31 arms; 9 3/4 hands): Do workout numbers matter? Sometimes. Elmore had 21.5 sacks during his final two seasons at Arizona but ran in 4.95 at the Scouting Combine. He had stints with five teams but never was on an active roster. Taken within the seven picks after Elmore, linebacker Jacquian Williams and tight end Virgil Green became full-time starters for at least one season. Grade: F.
2012, 1st round — Nick Perry, USC (6-2 3/4, 271; 4.64 40; 4.66 shuttle; 7.25 3-cone; 35 reps; 33 arms; 9 1/2 hands): In his first four seasons, Perry started 16 games and recorded 12.5 sacks. Brought back on a one-year deal, Perry had 12 starts and 11 sacks in 2016. That got Perry back with a five-year, $59 million contract. It also made the pick look better, too. Safety Harrison Smith, taken a pick after Perry, and running back Doug Martin, taken three picks after Perry, are two-time Pro Bowlers. Taken seven selections after Perry, Baltimore grabbed Courtney Upshaw, another touted 3-4 outside linebacker candidate. Perry has 23.5 sacks; Upshaw has only 5.5. A pick after Upshaw, Denver took defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who has 22.5 sacks. Among all defensive players selected after Perry, only Olivier Vernon (third round, 37.5 sacks) has more sacks. Grade: B.
2013, 6th round — Nate Palmer, Illinois State (6-2 1/8, 248; 4.70 40; 4.37 shuttle; 6.98 3-cone; 20 bench; 33 1/2 arms; NA hands): With 17 sacks in two seasons at Illinois State, Palmer was worthy of a late-round pick. Because of injuries, he played a lot as a rookie — eight games and two starts. He was moved to inside linebacker late in training camp in 2014 but suffered a season-ending knee injury. Palmer rebounded to start 10 games in 2015, when he finished third on the team in tackles. The Packers released him before the 2016 draft. He played in 14 games for Tennessee last year. Palmer, the 21st of 26 linebackers selected, was pick No. 193. The next linebacker off the board, taken 13 picks later, was Vince Williams by the Steelers. He has 17 starts and more than twice as many tackles. Grade: C-minus.
2014, 4th round — Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6-0 3/4, 250; 4.76 40; 4.30 shuttle; 7.25 3-cone; 23 reps; 30 1/4 arms; 9 1/2 hands): Measurables are important. Bradford was a flat-out dominant defender at Arizona State with 21.5 sacks, 44 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and six recoveries in three seasons. His short arms, however, made him completely ineffective at outside linebacker. A move to inside linebacker failed to salvage the pick, and he was released in December. Bradford was the 14th of 35 linebackers selected and the 121st overall selection. None of the next three linebackers selected in the round have set the world on fire, either, with a Khari Fortt, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Prince Shembo combining for four starts. The first linebackers selected in the fifth, Telvin Smith by Jacksonville and Avery Williamson by Tennessee, have combined for 82 starts. Super Bowl hero James White, a running back from Wisconsin, was taken at No. 130 by New England. Bradford signed with San Francisco late last season. Grade: F.
2016, 3rd round — Kyler Fackrell, Utah State (6-5, 245; 4.72 40; 34 1/2 vertical; 4.36 shuttle; 7.34 3-cone; 15 bench; 33 arms; 10 1/8 hands): In 13 games, Fackrell had nine tackles, including two sacks on defense, and nine more tackles on special teams. The Packers took Fackrell at No. 77 instead of another outside linebacker, former Wisconsin star Joe Schobert, who went to Cleveland at No. 99 and started four games. Taken one pick after Fackrell, Pittsburgh grabbed a starting defensive lineman, Javon Hargrave. Only three defensive players selected after Fackrell had more sacks, so it’s not as if the Packers missed out on an impact rusher. (Premature) grade: D.
Overall grade: A 3-4 scheme revolves around the big plays from the outside linebackers. Since the move to the 3-4, Thompson has drafted seven outside linebackers. Four aren’t on the roster (Jones, Palmer, Elmore and Bradford). Three of them (Jones, Palmer, Bradford) switched to inside linebacker before the Packers cut bait. For most of their tenures, Matthews was great and Perry was so-so. They reversed roles last season. If they could be great together, the defense would follow suit. Something out of Fackrell would help, too. However, the production of Matthews and Perry outweigh the duds. Grade: C-plus.
What it means (if anything) for 2017: The Packers will have to select an outside linebacker or two after losing Datone Jones and Julius Peppers in free agency. Neither player was a big loss from a production standpoint, though Peppers had 7.5 sacks and Jones a team-high 16 quarterback hits. But the Packers’ pass rush wasn’t that great with them, Fackrell didn’t do much as a rookie and McCarthy wants to move Matthews around the defense. That means Thompson must fortify this group — likely at least once with an early pick. A deep draft class awaits.
Thompson’s history, once again, suggests the 20-yard shuttle is an important measuring tool. Thompson has drafted nine outside linebackers. That list includes two players who transitioned into 3-4 outside linebackers: Poppinga, who was a 4-3 outside linebacker, and Thompson, who was a 4-3 end. The list does not include Campbell, who was drafted as a 4-3 outside linebacker and didn’t last to the scheme switch. Of the nine, eight ran their shuttles in 4.38 seconds or faster. The average for an edge-rushing prospect is 4.42, according to MockDraftable.com. The group of eight blew that away with an average of 4.29 seconds. The lone exception was Perry, though he made up for his 4.66 shuttle with size (271 pounds), speed (4.64 in the 40 was the second-fastest of Green Bay’s outside linebackers) and strength (35 reps on the bench were nine more than runner-up Poppinga). Eight of the nine ran their three-cone drills in 7.27 seconds or less, with Fackrell (barely) the exception at 7.34.
Most of the 3-4 outside linebacker candidates in this draft class make the grade, with the notable exceptions of UCLA’s Takk McKinley, Alabama’s Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, and Missouri’s Charles Harris.
Prospects who could be available at 29 and beyond if you do an unscientific combination of production and elite athleticism, are Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis and Auburn’s Carl Lawson in the top 50 picks, Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson, Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel and Houston’s Tyus Bowser in the middle rounds, and the Utah duo of Hunter Dimick and Pita Taumoepenu late in the draft.
Without Peppers and Jones, the Packers have lost their elephants. Should they want a player to fill that role, easily the best option is Michigan’s Taco Charlton (6-5 5/8, 277; 4.92 40; 4.39 shuttle; 7.17 3-cone). Other considerations are Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker (6-3 5/8, 280; 4.88 40; 4.71 shuttle; 7.91 3-cone), Michigan State’s Malik McDowell (6-6 1/4, 295; 4.85 40; 4.53 shuttle; 7.69 3-cone), Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-6 3/4, 289; 4.83 40; 4.62 shuttle; 7.46 3-cone) and Arkansas’ Deatrich Wise (6-5 1/4, 274; 4.92 40; 4.36 shuttle; 7.07 3-cone).
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