Breaking down cost of Clay

Packer Report examines the major gamble Ted Thompson made to draft the USC linebacker in Round 1. Who was on the board, and did that group of players make the risk outweigh the reward? We have the answers you need to know.

The pundits love what the Green Bay Packers accomplished in this past weekend's draft.

From Mel Kiper's head-of-the-NFL-class "A" to the mostly glowing reviews from e-mailers and in the forums, most of the so-called experts and armchair experts believe general manager Ted Thompson did a fine job of adding talent.

It would be totally out of Thompson's character to have hopped out of the bed on Monday morning with a big know-it-all grin while gloating about his eight selections and the praise being heaped upon him by ESPN's big-haired draft guru.

And for good reason.

Obviously, none of his eight players have so much as put on a green-and-gold jersey, much less sweat through a series of training camp practices or delivered a clutch play in a real, honest-to-goodness NFL game.

Thompson likes such folksy saying as, "The proof is in the pudding." And there's no more pricey and important tub of pudding in this draft than outside linebacker Clay Matthews III.

To be sure, big nose tackle B.J. Raji is a critical piece to the puzzle. And with the ninth overall pick in the draft, he'll be a pricey piece to the puzzle, as well.

But no player will cost more than Matthews, and it will be his success or failure that will determine the ultimate grade on Thompson's 2009 draft. By giving away a second-round pick and two third-round selections to move back into the first round, Thompson basically mortgaged the meat of the draft on one player who is less of a sure thing in a draft full of not-so-sure things.

Sure, Matthews' genes are terrific — father Clay Sr. played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and others for 19 years and uncle Bruce is a Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle who also played for 19 seasons. But how much did those genes help Matthews at USC, where he started a grand total of 10 games in five years?

So, keep these names in mind this year and in the coming years.

Had Thompson simply played it straight, here are some names who were on the board with pick No. 41: Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler (No. 41), Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd (No. 42), Florida State outside linebacker Everette Brown (No. 43), Virginia outside linebacker Clint Sintim (No. 45), Cincinnati outside linebacker/tight end Connor Barwin (No. 46), Oregon center/guard/tackle Max Unger (No. 49).

With pick No. 73 of the third round, some of the possibilities would have been: Ball State offensive tackle Robert Brewster (No. 75), Alabama center/guard Antoine Caldwell (No. 77) and Maryland cornerback Kevin Barnes (No. 80).

At No. 83 of the third round, cornerbacks Asher Allen (No. 86), Lardarius Webb (No. 88) and Christopher Owen (No. 90) were available, as was tight end Chase Coffman (No. 98) and nose tackle/defensive end Dorell Scott (No. 102).

Thompson has struck gold (or silver) several times in the second and third rounds during his tenure in Green Bay, highlighted, of course, by second-rounders Nick Collins and Greg Jennings.

So, why the bold move from a general manager who values draft picks like TNT's Craig Sager values mismatched suits? Part of it was Thompson liked Matthews a lot. But beyond that, scouts saw this draft having about a dozen really good players, with a second tier stretching from about 13 to 45 and a third from 45 to 70. That drop-off after the third tier is evident in the players listed as third-round possibilities. Anyone really tempting on that list?

"I think it is a point — and we have talked about this before — the way you look at your board, so you have to kind of evaluate who you think you might get at your later picks against the player that you are talking about taking," Thompson said on Saturday evening.

From that perspective, the high cost of acquiring Matthews is easier to swallow. And having offensive tackle Jamon Meredith fall into the Packers' lap with the fifth-rounder acquired in the trade was a nice bonus, too.

All of the positives will be forgotten, though, if Matthews doesn't perform as well as the eight outside linebackers chosen between picks Nos. 26 and 83. That makes the boldest draft-day decision in Thompson's tenure in Green Bay a defining moment.


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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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