The Green Bay Packers' general manager never ceases to befuddle fans every April.
This past weekend was no different.
Drafting a player at the richest position on the roster, where two Pro Bowl talents, a rising No. 3 sophomore, a 6-foot-4 No. 4, and a No. 5 who used to be a No. 1 were entrenched as arguably the best WR unit in team history?
But Ted Thompson doesn't care. He doesn't Google mock drafts, he doesn't pre-gauge fan reaction and he's not into marketing ploys. He listens to scouts, emphasizes his big board possibly more than any other general manager and conservatively maneuvers through the draft to pluck the "Packer People" he wants, with minimal regard for the team's existing depth chart.
Nelson ranked second in catches (122) at the highest level of collegiate competition last season, the Big 12. Nelson's 1,606 receiving yards are second in Big 12 history. Just browse through YouTube and examine the sheer athleticism (a one-handed grab on a poorly thrown drag pass vs. Baylor), speed (68-yard dust-eating go route over the 20th overall pick, Kansas' Aqib Talib) and high character (a mic'd-up segment for K-State Inside Sports).
It was a unique package Thompson couldn't ignore – the type of player he'd regret not taking. That's how Thompson speaks. He doesn't discuss speculation for how a particular prospect fits into the current team as so many front office execs do on Live Cam throughout the fill-any-space-we-can second day of the draft on ESPN. Thompson drafts on instinct and intestinal fortitude. Stockpile talent, not need. and everything is going to be all right.
Loaded teams can afford to be cute. They can afford to trade out of the first round – avoiding a multimillion contract in the process – and cherry-pick upside. Drafting based on need can be sorely overrated.
As the maverick of NFL general managers, Indianapolis' Bill Polian, has proved for two decades, it's impossible to have too much of a good thing. Polian has become immune to media and fan pressure by following his gut. Why should regurgitated mock drafts be a guiding light, anyway?
Polian plucked Dallas Clark with the 24th pick in 2003, even though starter Marcus Pollard was fresh off of two straight career years (90 receptions, 1,217 yards and 14 touchdowns) and the Colts' rush defense was 20th or worst for the third straight year. That's a tough sell to a frustrated fan base thirsting for defensive star power.
But over the next five seasons, Pollard has had only season of more than 40 catches while bouncing around with four teams, and Clark diversified Indianapolis' offense to a new level. Peyton Manning won two MVPs, the Colts' run defense got hot in the 2006 playoffs and Polian's franchise won a Super Bowl.
Last season, the Colts did it again by drafting Anthony Gonzalez with the last pick in the first round. With Marvin Harrison sidelined most of the year with a knee injury, Gonzalez filled in admirably with 567 yards and three touchdowns in nine starts, along with a 55-yard touchdown against San Diego in the playoffs.
Polian's done it everywhere, with indisputable results.
As Buffalo's architect from 1986-1993, he stockpiled weapons with regularity. He inherited a franchise fresh off of back-to-back 2-14 seasons and made them an instant Super Bowl contender by continuing to add talent where talent was abundant.
In the 1987 draft, Polian slid down from the third to eighth pick and drafted linebacker Shane Conlan. A few months later, he acquired another stud at LB in Cornelius Bennett in a blockbuster three-team deal that involved Eric Dickerson and Buffalo's RB Greg Bell. Bennett and Conlan combined for eight Pro Bowls and anchored a four-time AFC champion.
Once the Bills' nuts ‘n bolts were fortified, Polian went wild adding offensive firepower. He drafted Thurman Thomas (1988, 40th pick), even with a serviceable RB-by-committee group, and Don Beebe (1989, 82nd pick) — even after five receivers had at least 30 receptions the year before.
All of the moves paid off. The Bills won an unprecedented four consecutive AFC championships.
Heck, his strategy on steroids nearly vaulted an embryonic franchise to the Super Bowl. In only two drafts, Polian reeled Kerry Collins, Tim Biakabutuka and Mushin Muhammad into Carolina along with a slew of veterans, including Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon. Carolina advanced to the NFC title game at Lambeau Field, before getting steamrolled by a hell-bent Packers team. Even then, skeptics criticized Polian for not building the Panthers inside-out like Jacksonville did with high picks Tony Boselli and Kevin Hardy. But in two seasons of spiked management, Carolina went 7-9 and 12-4.
Nobody knows how Nelson will fit in with the 2008 Packers. Everyone is trying to reason the peculiar pick from any possible angle. (Maybe Thompson sees that Donald Driver is 33. Maybe he's upset James Jones hit the rookie wall last season. Maybe he sees Nelson as a return specialist.) But all logic-twisting scenarios are stretches. Thompson took Nelson because he's another weapon, another talent that was too rare to pass up.
The Packers' passing game has the potential to be dominant next season – even after losing a three-time MVP. It's nearly impossible for Aaron Rodgers to fail with Green Bay's stock of wideouts that Thompson has compiled in four drafts.
At a go-for-the-jugular position, the rich got richer. Capitalism, gotta love it.
Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.