Harrell a risky pick for Packers

Selection of injury-prone defensive tackle from Tennessee a big surprise

The Green Bay Packers ranked 25th in the NFL last season in scoring defense, despite improved play over the last month. Apparently the Packers are focused on maintaining the defensive play they had the last month of the season as they selected defensive tackle Justin Harrell from Tennessee with the 16th pick in the first round of the NFL draft today.

Most who pay attention to the draft were surprised by this pick. Michigan cornerback Leon Hall was on the board, as was Florida safety Reggie Nelson, Miami (Fla.) tight end Greg Olsen and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe (LSU) and Tennessee's Robert Meachem.

Each of these players would've been better received by the Packers' faithful, but GM Ted Thompson had no problem picking Harrell. Thompson's first interview after the pick was the at Atrium at Lambeau Field and the pick was greeted by some boos by the draft party crowd.

He didn't care.

"It's just the way the draft went," Thompson said at the Atrium. "There would've been several players we would've been happy with."

If there's anything consistent with Thompson, it's that he stays true to his draft board, always selecting the best player available. And despite being limited to three games in 2006 because of a ruptured left biceps injury, Harrell was Thompson's guy.

Harrell (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) will add depth to a position the where the Packers weren't exactly thin. The Packers already have Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, Colin Cole, Johnny Jolly, Corey Williams and Kendrick Allen, who play defensive tackle.

This was not a need pick for the Packers, but it was for Thompson, who needs the best player on his board to be a Packer.

What bothers me about this pick is Harrell didn't even get through two games last season before getting injured. He suffered his biceps injury in the second game, but played one more week against rival Florida. He then sat out the rest of the season.

So, the last time Harrell played a bulk of games was 2005. It's obvious the Packers put considerable stock in Harrell's junior year, when he was second-team All-SEC. In 11 games as a junior, he recorded 21 tackles, 18 assists and 7.5 tackles for loss (including 2.5 sacks). He batted down five passes, forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes, returning one seven yards for a touchdown.

Harrell's also had multiple ankle injuries in college and a leg injury, which required surgery. Yet, this was Thompson's guy.

"He's fine," Thompson said in regards to Harrell's health. "It's (injury history) likely why he didn't go in the top 10."

I agree. Teams picking in the first round, for sure, don't want players with an injury history. You're counting on these players to be starters, impact players and be a player who can last a good amount of time with your team. If Harrell, the No. 2-rated defensive tackle in the draft by Scout.com, didn't get through college, what will happen in the NFL?

Although many are skeptical about the pick, what we need to remember is Thompson and his scouts have done their homework on Harrell, who was ranked the 34th-best player in the draft by Scout.com. They have seen him work out, they've interviewed him, they've talked to others about him and they've watched his game film. They have more information than anyone on Harrell.

"Amongst our people upstairs (in the draft room), it was unanimous (to pick him)," Thompson said.

Still, when the Packers picked Harrell, myself, like many of you, said, "What in the name of Jamal Reynolds in going on here?!"

Hall was there, Bowe was there, Meachem was there, Olsen was there, and Nelson was there, and Thompson picks a guy who spent more time on the bench with an injury last season than on the field?

Packers fans would prefer to feel more certain about their pick, but now that Harrell is a Packer, there's no going back. You have to trust the Packers, who have invested a lot in picking Harrell. They didn't pick him to be a backup, they picked him to be an impact player.

If there's any sign he will be that, guess what number he wore at Tennessee? No. 92, which was worn by the late Reggie White. Not that Harrell can ever match what White did as a pro, but after questioning this pick, we need to hang onto something.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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