Tough choice: Crabtree or Raji

The general manager was in a fortuitous position with two of the best players in the draft on the board, as well as left tackle Michael Oher.

General manager Ted Thompson admitted he needed to step away from his draft board.

Not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the choices staring him in the face with the Packers on the board with the ninth pick of the first round on Saturday.

Brian Orakpo, the best of the hybrid linebackers, was on the board. So was left tackle Michael Oher, who has the talent to be a superb starter at the offensive line's most important position. But those were mere afterthoughts to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and nose tackle B.J. Raji. Crabtree was arguably the best player in the draft. Raji was clearly the best defensive lineman in the draft and was one of the players mentioned for Detroit with the No. 1 overall pick.

"I didn't expect the board to look like that when we got to nine, so I had to kind of take it all in and then talk it over with some of the guys and that sort of thing," Thompson said. "It wasn't like we were searching our minds of what to do. I just wanted to kind of think it through because I hadn't really got to that scenario, quite frankly."

The scenario: Draft the pivot man for his new 3-4 defense, or select a gifted wide receiver with the ability to keep the offense flying high when Donald Driver finally begins to act his age.

In the end, as the risqué saying goes, size mattered.

"It's just all things being equal, you guys know how much we value big people, both on the offensive and the defensive line," Thompson said. "The good ones are really hard to find, and it gets to be a supply-and-demand thing. It doesn't necessarily take away the value of another player at a different position. It's just that we have always put a lot of emphasis on that."

The decision will stick with Thompson for as long as he remains in Green Bay. While no decision will ever trump rebuffing Brett Favre's comeback last year, this one could impact the franchise for years.

Orakpo or even Aaron Maybin would have provided a playmaking outside linebacker opposite Aaron Kampman. But neither was in the debate with Oher, Crabtree and Raji in the mix.

With Chad Clifton's creaky knees becoming an issue – not just on game days but at practice – Oher would have been a key addition. He allowed just one sack over the last two seasons while playing in the rugged Southeastern Conference. And for as well as he played, scouts said he had a large upside. He could have played right tackle – where the Packers have a void at the moment with Mark Tauscher a free agent and coming off of a torn ACL – or waited his turn behind Clifton, who will be a free agent following the 2009 season. Simply, a passing team can't function without an above-average left tackle.

Crabtree, the record-setting receiver from Texas Tech, has superstar potential. He scored 41 touchdowns in his two seasons, and scouts said he had the best hands in the draft. With Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Ruvell Martin, the Packers already had one of the finest receiving corps in football. But Driver can't remain an upper-echelon receiver forever, and there's at least some question whether Jennings will thrive after Driver's attention-grabbing days are over. Plug in Crabtree, and Aaron Rodgers would have a pair of go-to starting receivers for years.

But at the end, Raji's combination of size and athleticism, run-stopping ability and pass-rushing production, were too much to ignore.

"He's genuinely a powerful, powerful man, especially in his lower body," Thompson said. "He has the ability to take people backwards where they don't want to go. He also has the quickness to go around them. He is a very powerful player against the run. It's unbelievably hard to find the combination of skill set that he brings. The good Lord just didn't make many people like this."

Everything in the 3-4 defense is dependent on the nose tackle. He must take two blockers, or the inside linebackers will be sitting ducks. If he can't command a double team, offenses will be in too many favorable positions and the defense won't be able to unload its bag of tricks at the quarterback.

"You really have to have that center cog, that nose who is a beast in the middle who can command a double team," linebackers coach Kevin Greene said.

So, Thompson went with Raji, finally adding a key piece to a new defense that had largely been ignored this offseason. There's a bit of a gamble with Raji, who allegedly failed a drug test at Boston College, but Thompson was satisfied after he and his staff did background checks and talked to ex-Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, the former Packers offensive coordinator.

"We feel confident that we did the right thing," Thompson said.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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