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Pressure's on Thompson

Eleven days from today, the Green Bay Packers will be on the clock. No doubt, they'll take the world-famous "best player available."<p>

Some teams' idea of the "best player available" is better than other teams', as evidenced by the last three drafts.

If you want to know why the Packers are losing their dominance over their NFC North brethren, just check out the recent drafts.

While the Minnesota Vikings have shot up the power rankings to become legitimate Super Bowl contenders due to a series of big-time free-agent signings this off-season, the core of the Vikings was built through the draft.

In Green Bay, meanwhile, coach Mike Sherman is no longer general manager in large part because of what he did during his drafts.

The problem is two-pronged. First, Trader Mike drafted fewer players than his rivals. Second, he drafted fewer impact players than his rivals.

Sherman frequently traded up, costing the Packers later-round picks. In the last three seasons, the Packers had just 20 picks, compared to 22 for Minnesota, 26 for Detroit and 29 for Chicago.

That's all well and good if the trades pay dividends, but too often Sherman moved up to get players that looked like chicken but tasted like feathers. Last year, Sherman wheeled and dealed to move up for defensive tackle Donnell Washington and punter B.J. Sander in the third round and defensive lineman Corey Williams in the sixth. The year before, Sherman traded up to get defensive lineman Kenny Peterson in the third round, nose tackle James Lee and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer in the fifth round and cornerback Chris Johnson in the seventh.

Of those seven players, only Lee and Williams garnered something close to regular playing time last season. Washington was injured early in training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. Sander's follies, of course, are Exhibit A on why you shouldn't draft a punter on Day One of the draft.

Peterson is in danger of being a big-time bust. Sherman moved up to draft the super-smart Hillenmeyer but cut him in favor of the, umm, intelligence-impaired Torrance Marshall. Johnson has all the speed in the world but hasn't been healthy enough to show it.

All told, 75 percent of Sherman's 20 draft picks are on the roster today. Of those 15, however, only 2002 first-round pick Javon Walker has blossomed into a star and only four of them are starters. With a new coaching staff, perhaps Ahmad Carroll and Nick Barnett can live up to their first-round billing.

Sherman's 75 percent success rate ranks third in the NFC North, ahead of Detroit's 69.2 percent but well behind the 81.8 percent of Minnesota and 82.8 percent of Chicago.

Of Detroit's 26 picks in the last three seasons, 18 remain on the roster. The Lions' paltry success rate is misleading because they missed on all four of their seventh-round picks in 2003.

Meanwhile, 2004 first-round picks Kevin Jones and Roy Williams are budding stars. Same for second-round pick Teddy Lehman, who ranked second on the team in tackles. Their top two picks in 2003, wide receiver Charles Rogers and linebacker Boss Bailey, could be impact players if healthy. In all, Detroit has harvested nine starters from the last three drafts, tops in the North.

In Minnesota, 18 of their 22 picks in the last three drafts are on the roster. More importantly, unlike the Packers' selections, Minnesota's picks have made an impact. In 2004, Kenechi Udeze started nearly every game, Dontarrious Thomas finished seventh in tackles, Darrion Scott was a regular contributor in the defensive line rotation and Mewelde Moore provided a spark out of the backfield and returning kicks.

In 2003, first-rounder Kevin Williams is a stud, linebacker E.J. Henderson led the team in tackles, Nate Burleson's emergence gave the Vikings the ability to trade Randy Moss and Onterrio Smith led the team in rushing. In all, the Vikings have nabbed seven starters in the last three drafts.

In Chicago, 24 of its 29 picks are on the roster. These players are the centerpiece of what should develop into a rugged defense. Last year's top picks, defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, are formidable. While the Bears missed on first-rounder Michael Haynes in 2003, second-rounder Charles Tillman and third-rounder Lance Briggs are superb and fourth-rounder Ian Scott is active.

The heat is on new general manager Ted Thompson to do what Sherman couldn't: Draft players who can make an immediate impact. With three of the first 58 picks, Thompson is in position to do just that.

Editor's note: Huber is a copy editor for The Green Bay News-Chronicle. Contact him via e-mail at packwriter@hotmail.com.

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