DIG­GING DEEPER

Thomp­son has se­lected re­ceivers de­spite pro­duc­tion, depth at po­si­tion

Packer Plus - - Extra Point - By ROB REISCHEL

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.

RICK WOOD/ RWOOD@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

Greg Jen­nings (left) and James Jones played well in 2007, but the Pack­ers took a re­ceiver in 2008.

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