Thompson has selected receivers despite production, depth at position
In April 2008, the Green Bay Packers were just three months removed from playing in the NFC Championship Game. Their top three receivers — Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones — had combined for 182 receptions and 2,646 yards in 2007. Tight end Donald Lee was coming off his finest NFL season (48-575-6).
So what did Packers general manager Ted Thompson do? He selected wideout Jordy Nelson in Round 2 and tight end Jermichael Finley in Round 3.
Fast-forward three years when the Packers had just won Super Bowl XLV. Green Bay’s wideout group was as deep as any with Driver, Jennings, Jones and Nelson.
But Thompson still took wideout Randall Cobb in the second round and a pair of tight ends later in the draft.
No matter how deep or how gifted Green Bay’s pass-catching group appears, Thompson loves giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers another toy to play with. That’s why it would come as a surprise to absolutely no one if Thompson tries to once again bolster his wideout group during the NFL draft.
“Well, we try to draft the best player available,” Thompson said last week. “I say this every year and everybody says, ‘Yeah, right.’ We think it’s important to stay focused and try to take the best player. I think from a personal standpoint, in terms of common sense, it makes sense to me that you would want to take the best player because the situation about needs is normally a temporary one.
“What you think you might need is not necessarily what you’re really going to need next week because things are going to change between now and next week. So as long as you’re taking really good players and taking the best players you can identify as being the best players available, then you are, in some respects, able to stay a little bit in front of the curve.”
Thompson has always done that when it comes to wide receivers. In seven of Thompson’s 11 drafts, he’s taken a wideout in the top three rounds. For the most part, it’s paid off in spades. Let’s examine: 2005: Second-round draft choice Terrence Murphy had a sensational summer and looked like the real deal. But after a Week 4 injury in Carolina, it was learned Murphy had spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spine near the neck. Murphy never played again. 2006: Thompson used a second-round draft choice on Jennings, who ranks seventh in Packers history in career receptions (425) and receiving yards (6,537), and fifth in receiving touchdowns (53). 2007: Thompson plucked Jones in the third round. Jones was a huge contributor during his rookie season, steady throughout his time in Green Bay, and ranks ninth in team history in career receptions (360) and touchdowns (45), and 12th in yards (5,195). 2008: Thompson traded out of the first round and used his second-round pick (No. 36 overall) on Nelson. Today, Nelson ranks eighth in franchise history in career receptions (400) and receiving touchdowns (49), and ninth in receiving yards (6,109). 2011: Despite having arguably the best quartet of receivers in football, Thompson selected Cobb with the final pick of the second round. Cobb has 31 career touchdowns and at least 79 receptions in three of the last four years. 2014: Thompson used a second-round pick on Davante Adams, a fifth on Jared Abbrederis and a seventh on Jeff Janis. Adams slumped in 2015 after a promising rookie campaign, while Janis and Abbrederis are emerging players. 2015: Thompson used a third rounder on Ty Montgomery, who was off to a solid start in 2015 before an ankle injury ruined his season. As the 2016 draft nears, Green Bay has major needs on its defensive front seven, as well as the offensive line. Like many seasons under Thompson, Green Bay’s pass-catching group once again seems stacked. Nelson is ahead of schedule rehabbing from a torn right ACL that cost him the 2015 season. It’s unclear how much Nelson will take part in next month’s OTAs — or even training camp for that matter. But Nelson and the Packers are optimistic he’ll be his old, dynamic self when the season begins Sept. 11. “I’ve attacked the rehab the way I wanted to,” Nelson said last week. “It’s progressed the way I wanted to. I continue to workout the way the coaches and trainers want me to. We’ll do everything we can to make sure I’m ready to go.”
If Nelson returns to form, it should make life easier for Cobb to operate in the slot. Youngsters Janis, Adams, Montgomery and Abbrederis have all flashed potential and will be in a fierce battle during training camp to earn snaps this fall.
“They’ve got to improve in every aspect,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Green Bay’s young receivers. “I think that’s the natural progression. They start to learn where the windows are at in the zones and how to use their bodies to get off of press and create separation in little ways. But the great thing for those guys is they’ve got two of the best veterans to learn from in Jordy and Randall.
“I think that was one place they missed last year was not having Jordy out there. Because the way he practices really sets the tempo and gives you a great look of what greatness looks like in practice every single day. And much like I had watching Brett (Favre) and the young receivers had watching Donald (Driver) when he was an older player, those practice habits are really invaluable to a younger player making those jumps from Years 1 to 2 and 2 to 3.”
Despite what appears to be impressive depth among the wide receiver group, Thompson could certainly use another high pick on the position.
He’s done it many times before. The results have been sublime. Don’t be shocked if Thompson travels down that
path one more time this week.
Greg Jennings (left) and James Jones played well in 2007, but the Packers took a receiver in 2008.