That's obviously good news for Packers general manager Ted Thompson, whose build-through-the-draft philosophy has his team on the rise after an 11-5 season that marked a five-game improvement from last year. While Thompson stands front and center for personnel decisions, his director of college scouting, John Dorsey, has been in that role since 2000, and all of the area scouts have held their jobs from six to 17 years.
That scouting department assembled the best draft class in the NFL in Apriil. After failing to draft an immediate starter in 2007 and 2008, Thompson got a combined 24 regular-season starts from rookies Clay Matthews III (13), Brad Jones (seven), T.J. Lang (three) and B.J. Raji (one) from his promising Class of 2009. Raji and Matthews were named to the All-Rookie Team selected by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America.
In the five drafts, Thompson has selected three Pro Bowlers (Aaron Rodgers, Nick Collins and Matthews), two superior starters (Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley) and one well above-average starter (Josh Sitton). In all, he's drafted 12 starters, including Finley, whose nine starts trailed "starter" Donald Lee's 10.
This is exactly what the Packers needed after 2007 and 2008. With plenty of skill and a nonstop motor, Matthews looks like a Pro Bowler for the next eight to 10 years. Jones was a godsend after Aaron Kampman suffered a season-ending knee injury. Raji needs to stay on his feet and develop something resembling a pass rush but has plenty of potential. Lang could start at tackle or guard next season. Johnson, Wynn and Underwood all contributed. Meredith was the only draft pick who didn't make the team; he wound up doing OK in four starts for Buffalo.
Nelson could wind up being an OK starter, but Brohm was horrendous and Lee can't stay healthy. That's not much bang for the buck among three second-round picks. Fortunately, Finley and Sitton came to the rescue this season. Only Dallas' Jason Witten and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez had more catches among tight ends than Finley's 37 in the final seven regular-season games. Sitton arguably is one of the top five guards in the NFC. Giacomini hasn't taken a meaningful snap from scrimmage in two years but still is on the roster. Someone in the organization must like him. It wouldn't be a shock if Nelson, Finley, Sitton and Flynn are the only four survivors on the 2010 roster.
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This draft is an unmitigated disaster and could haunt this franchise for years unless other draft classes pick up the slack. Of Thompson's 11 picks, only Crosby has been a starter — and his job is on shaky ground. First-round pick Harrell has had infinitely more surgeries than impact plays. The Packers continue to wait for Harrell, who actually looked pretty good in training camp before his back problems resurfaced. Jackson and Jones have been inconsistent, they gave up on Rouse this summer and Barbre was a disaster when literally given a chance to start at right tackle. Bishop is a standout on special teams but can't break into the lineup on defense, even with impressive preseasons. Clowney has forged a career as a receiver for the Jets and Harris is the Bengals' long snapper. Put in that light, the player with the least impact among this class has been Harrell.
2006: A.J. Hawk (1st), Daryn Colledge (2nd), Greg Jennings (2nd), Abdul Hodge (3rd), Jason Spitz (3rd), Cory Rodgers (4th), Will Blackmon (4th), Ingle Martin (5th), Tony Moll (5th), Johnny Jolly (6th), Tyrone Culver (6th), Dave Tollefson (7th).
Hawk, Colledge, Jennings and Spitz were immediate starters (total of 55 as rookies). However, while Jennings is a star, Hawk is an average starter and a disappointment at No. 5 overall, and Colledge and Spitz never have taken the next step in their careers. Arguably the second-best pick has been sixth-rounder Jolly, who blossomed this year in his role as a defensive end. Blackmon is a superb punt returner when healthy — but staying healthy has been a battle for a player who has played in 32 of a possible 64 games. Rodgers and Martin are out of the league. Culver started two games at corner for Miami this season and played in all 16 games. Hodge played all 16 games as a reserve linebacker for the Bengals after playing in a total of 14 games in his first three years in the league. Tollefson is a reserve defensive end for the Giants who has registered 4.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Moll was shipped to Baltimore for special-teams demon Derrick Martin, an unsung transaction.
2005: Aaron Rodgers (1st), Nick Collins (2nd), Terrence Murphy (2nd), Marviel Underwood (4th), Brady Poppinga (4th), Junius Coston (5th), Mike Hawkins (5th), Michael Montgomery (6th), Craig Bragg (6th), Kurt Campbell (7th), Will Whitticker (7th).
By nabbing Rodgers and Collins with the first two picks, Thompson hit a home run — even though he essentially got nothing other than Brady Poppinga from the final nine picks. Really, none of that matters because the Packers have the kind of franchise quarterback that is the envy of much of the league. We'll never know what might have been had Murphy not had his career end with a spinal condition. Montgomery was a nonfactor in 10 games this year. Underwood's career worth of injury problems resurfaced this year in the United Football League. Coston (seven starts, 2007) and Whitticker (14 starts, 2005) never developed. Hawkins and Bragg were athletes that never panned out.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.