TT Blows It, Yet Builds Contender

How has general manager Ted Thompson made up for blowing early picks on Justin Harrell and Brian Brohm? We look at the factors that have this team on the rise, from Ron Wolf and Mike Sherman, to good fortune and good scouting.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson blew it on Justin Harrell.

He also blew it on Brian Brohm.

Of his 13 first- and second-round draft picks since taking over in 2005, only three can be considered significantly above-average starters.

And he avoids free agency like a smart mouse avoids a piece of cheese that's on that curious-looking wood-and-metal contraption.

And despite all of that, the Packers have gone from afterthought to one of the chic picks to make a run at the NFC championship this season.

Just how do you make sense of that? How can a team on the rise have so many personnel black eyes?

Sherman and Wolf

A winning team, first and foremost, needs difference-makers, and Thompson inherited Donald Driver (1999) and Chad Clifton (2000) from Ron Wolf, and Aaron Kampman (2002), Nick Barnett (2003), Al Harris (2003) and Cullen Jenkins (2004) from Mike Sherman. It would be hard to build a list of the team's 15 best players and not have those six names on it.

Hitting home runs

No general manager is immune to making a bad draft pick. Even the great Ron Wolf blew a few. His first two picks as the Packers' general manager were Terrell Buckley and Mark D'Onofrio in the first and second rounds in 1992. Oops. His last first-round pick was Jamal Reynolds. In between came John Michels, the 1996 first-round pick with a Harrell-like list of injuries.

Wolf, of course, offset his bad picks with dozens of good ones. Thompson's first two picks as the Packers' general manager were Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins in the first and second rounds in 2005. In 2006, Thompson moved back in the second round and selected Greg Jennings and signed unrestricted free agents Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett.

While Pat Lee and Brohm are black marks against the 2008 draft, maybe third-round pick Jermichael Finley will be the home run that draft class lacks.

Good fortune

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. Who will forget watching Rodgers squirm in the Green Room during the 2005 draft? Rodgers, a contender to be the No. 1 overall pick, sunk like a stone through the first round until Thompson grabbed him at No. 24 overall.

Aaron Rodgers has the Packers on the move. Christian Petersen/Getty

"He was up pretty high (on the Packers' draft board), pretty close to the ceiling there," Thompson said after drafting Rodgers. "You kind of let the draft and the board just work. If things fall a certain way, then you have a decision to make. In this particular case, it fell a certain way where the decision was really pretty easy."

Cornerbacks are about as hard to find as quarterbacks, yet the Packers got a gem in Tramon Williams. The transaction barely made a ripple. When Green Bay signed Williams to its practice squad in November 2006, the press release was all of two paragraphs. Nobody could have possibly thought Williams would blossom into a starting-caliber cornerback.

Good scouting

"Who the heck is Brett Favor?" was the question after Wolf stunningly gave up a first-round pick for the unknown quarterback who languished on the bench as a rookie in Atlanta.

Nobody will confuse Ryan Grant with Brett Favre, but Thompson and his staff — most of which are Wolf protégés — had done their homework on the Giants' crowded backfield. For the price of a bargain sixth-round pick, the Packers landed their marquee running back.

Anyone with $5 can buy a draft magazine and have a reasonable chance of finding a starter in the first round. But scouting departments make their money by finding gems later in the draft. A whopping 37.7 percent of the roster — 20 of the 53 players — is made up of players selected in the fourth through seventh rounds by Thompson. That list includes starters Brady Poppinga, Johnny Jolly, Allen Barbre, Korey Hall, Mason Crosby and Josh Sitton.

The blueprint

Through thick and thin, through accolades and criticism, Thompson has stayed the course. Build through the draft. Keep turning over the roster in hopes that a rookie will develop into a better player than a four-year veteran who is only average. Stay away from free agency, and save that money to re-sign core players.

Go through the locker room, and not only are the 53 players staying off the crime blotter, but you'd feel comfortable having many of them baby-sit your kids. A team-first mentality permeates through the locker room, and it starts with leaders like Rodgers, Driver, Jennings and Woodson.

With the addition of brilliant defensive coordinator Dom Capers and with Rodgers a year older and wiser, there's an obvious feeling that the pieces are in place to make a run. Maybe 2007 contained a bit of fool's gold. Maybe 2008 suffered through Lady Luck's backlash.

From top to bottom, this team is the deepest since the 1996-97 Super Bowl teams. The only question is whether Thompson — after swinging and missing on Harrell and Brohm and getting only a bloop single or double on high choices A.J. Hawk, Daryn Colledge and Brandon Jackson — has enough high-end talent on the roster to make a serious run at a championship.

We'll start getting those answers on Sunday night.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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