"Do I take the best player available or do I help our team at a position of need?" each GM may ask.
To answer that question can be a major tug-of-war for some, and rarely does a player come along that so nicely fills an answer to both questions at the same time.
The Packers' Ted Thompson is one of a few GM's in the league that shuns any debate to such a dilemma. There are no internal mind games or last-second changes with his philosophy. Every year, he remains steadfastly the same. Take the best player available.
"I think a draft is a long-term investment for the organization," said Thompson at a Monday press conference addressing the media about this weekend's draft. "It's not that you don't go into the draft with blinders on and realize that you'd like to have another of this and another of this. I just think the draft is a long-term investment, especially the early-round picks, and I think if you take a lesser player... in your own mind, if you know player A is a better player and you wind up taking player B because he happens to play a different position, I think that's a mistake."
It is a mistake because no one can predict the future. What an NFL roster looks like today may be vastly different in two years, or at the beginning of this regular season, or even in training camp. There are injuries, contract disputes, and talented players who just fall of the face of the map. For those reasons and others, taking value over need is the only way to go.
The Packers have been built the past three years under Thompson through the draft. That they have gone from the edge of falling off a cliff at 4-12 in 2005, to 8-8 in 2006, and then 14-4 in 2007 speaks volume for building through the draft the Thompson way. Expectations for 2008 are for another NFC North division championship for the Packers, even without Brett Favre, and the Packers have yet to make their first draft pick.
Thompson's foresight to take quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2005 Draft was unpopular at the time because the Packers still had Favre, a more-than capable veteran. Favre wound up playing three more years, but now, with Rodgers ready to take the helm this coming season, there seems to be less doubt than before that he can get the job done.
Should Rodgers flop, he will always be known as a bad draft pick. While that is certainly an understandable assessment, it may not be totally accurate. Really, his selection would represent more an error in talent judgment than making a bad pick. The merits of how the Packers analyze talent can always come into question, but their philosophy more often than not wins out. The same can be said for other teams who choose value first, too.
Though Thompson emphasized the best available with early-round picks in his above comments, he has also found some late-round value. Kicker Mason Crosby (sixth round in 2007) and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (sixth round in 2006) were selected at positions the Packers were strong at, yet they were still targeted. Both were starters a year ago and figure to be this season.
Do not be surprised if Thompson pulls the trigger on a defensive lineman, wide receiver, or even quarterback with a high pick this weekend. If such a player at that position is special in the eyes of the Packers, he will be the pick everyone's talking about – like Justin Harrell a year ago.
"It might not be the best available player in everyone's eyes, but we'll try to stick to that (taking the best player available)," said Thompson. "We always think that's the best way to go. But oftentimes, it works itself out. The bad thing is we're picking at (No.) 30 (in the first round). The good thing is we're picking at 30. That way, 29 other teams have to make some decision for us, and that makes our decision easier."