Among the highlights were the selections of tackle Bryan Bulaga, surprisingly falling to the Packers at a position of need, safety Morgan Burnett, a big-play defender acquired in a third-round trade up, and tight end Andrew Quarless, a talented player with a checkered past.
Only time will tell what results this draft class brings, but as far as first-year production goes, the seven players chosen by Ted Thompson have the makings of his worst group since taking over general manager duties in 2005.
Because Thompson generally has shied away from free agency, he has almost always had rookies play major roles. In 2005, safety Nick Collins and guard Will Whitticker were regular starters. In 2006, five draft picks started at least 10 games, led by A.J. Hawk, who started all 16 games. In 2007, seven draft picks made at least two starts, not even including kicker Mason Crosby. And in 2009, Clay Matthews became a fixture at outside linebacker.
Only the 2008 draft class lacked the punch of the others. Jordy Nelson played in all 16 games (just two starts), but none of the other eight draft picks made a real impact.
The Packers were coming off their best season ever headed into the 2008 draft (13-3 and trip to the NFC Championship), so it came as little surprise that the rookies found it tough to crack the lineup. Such was not the case in 2005 and 2006, when the Packers were a team in transition.
The parallels between the 2008 offseason and the current one for the Packers, as they head into organized team activities next week, are evident. The Packers are coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff appearance with a roster that features good depth at almost every position. So, if everything works out well and the team remains relatively injury-free, not a single draft pick will play a prominent role in 2010. That would be sure to fire up the Thompson haters who are short on patience and long on making a Super Bowl run this season.
On paper, only Burnett seems to have a chance to crack the lineup. The inconsistent and injury-riddled career of four-year veteran Atari Bigby has a starting safety spot at risk. But Bigby should put up a battle. The Packers tend to be a better team with him in the lineup and the communicative nature of his position in the 3-4 scheme makes it unlikely that a rookie could step in and start right away.
Other than Burnett, Bulaga is stuck behind Chad Clifton, whom the Packers re-signed this offseason with a sizable contract. Second-round pick Mike Neal and seventh-round pick C.J. Wilson are at best fourth on the depth chart at defensive end. And Quarless (fifth round), offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse (fifth round) and running back James Starks (sixth round) would have to make some serious waves to even contend for a backup spot, if not a roster spot as a rookie.
Of course, injuries can play a part. They can create opportunities where there appears to be none. Such was the case for Matthews and Brad Jones as rookies in 2009, Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn in 2007, and Tony Moll in 2006. At least four of five of those players were given only a passing chance upon being drafted.
Many believe the 33-year-old Clifton and his often-ailing body will not make it through a full season again. Should that be the case, Bulaga would move into the spotlight. Other draft picks could take a similar path, though together they stand little chance of equaling the output of past Packers drafts under Thompson.
Looking back, Thompson's 2006 class made the biggest impact as a rookie group by combining for 66 starts among the 10 draft picks that made the roster (109 games played total). The 2005 class was a distant second with 32 starts among nine players (90 games played) followed closely by the 2007 class with 31 starts among nine players (99 games played).
Over the last two classes, the Packers have gotten just 29 combined starts among 15 players. Matthews alone accounted for 13 of those starts. In 2008, the low point, eight rookies combined for just eight starts.
Such might be the case again in 2010 considering the circumstances. As good as Bulaga and the boys might become, the realistic expectation is that they will see much more time on the bench than on the field in year one.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org