GM tries to repair his defensive errors
In Ted We Trust.
That’s what the overly optimistic, the ultrapositive and the extremely cheerful souls continue to chant.
For some, Ted Thompson’s way is the only way.
But as Thompson began his 13th draft as the Green Bay Packers’ general manager last weekend, this much was clear: selecting defensive players is — and always has been — Thompson’s Achilles heel.
From Justin Harrell to Jerel Worthy, from Jerron McMillian to Khyri Thornton, Thompson has struck out with defensive players more than the obnoxious drunk whiffs at bar time.
Still, there was Thompson last Friday and Saturday trying to overhaul the rancid defense he’s assembled — the one that allowed 44 points and nearly 500 total yards when last seen in the NFC Championship Game.
For the sixth straight year, Thompson used his first pick on a defensive player, this time on Washington cornerback Kevin King. Now, watching King’s career vs. that of former University of Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt will be fascinating.
Thompson was on the clock with the 29th pick in the first round Thursday, and both Watt and King were available. Thompson traded back to pick No. 33, and Pittsburgh immediately gobbled Watt up at No. 30.
Much of the state went into full meltdown when the Packers passed on Watt.
“Great player,” Thompson said of Watt.
But it’s believed King was the player Thompson wanted all along, and he was still there for the taking four picks later. Whether Thompson’s evaluations of the two players was correct will provide great theater in the coming years.
“There’s always a risk when you move back that that player that you have targeted is taken by another team,” Thompson said. “It’s happened, it’s happened to me, it’s happened to everybody that’s tried to run a draft because there’s a finite number of players. At certain positions, it gets even a little bit more finite.”
Thompson wasn’t done trying to fix a secondary that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed last season, taking safety Josh Jones in the second round. Thompson then gave his defensive line a boost by adding end/tackle Montravius Adams in Round 3, then grabbed Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel in Round 4.
In theory, Thompson did the right thing and invested his most precious assets on a defense in disarray. The problem for Packer Nation is Thompson has done this before, and his failures to draft quality defensive players is why that unit is a mess today.
Green Bay ranked dead last in total defense in 2011, so Thompson used his top six picks in the 2012 draft on defensive players. Fourth-rounder Mike Daniels has been a standout. First-rounder Nick Perry had four injury-plagued seasons, then excelled in 2016, which just so happened to be his contract year. Secondround cornerback Casey Hayward was outstanding in three of his four years, then Thompson foolishly allowed him to leave for modest money in free agency. The three other players — Worthy, McMillian and Terrell Manning — all busted.
Thompson tried fixing his secondary in 2015 by taking cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the first and second round, respectively. Both players have been tremendous disappointments and are facing make-orbreak summers.
Thompson has also had early round misses such as Datone Jones in the first round in 2013, Pat Lee in Round 2 in 2008, and safety Aaron Rouse (2007) and Thornton (2014) in Round 3.
Eliot Wolf, Green Bay’s director of football operations, was asked why the Packers have struggled to find quality defenders.
“I don't know the answer to that,” Wolf said. “We continue to just try and add guys that we think can help us. The defense obviously wasn’t where it needed to be last year and we’re just doing our best to try and get it where it needs to be.”
Defense has always been a problem during Thompson’s tenure.
Green Bay has had a top-10 defense just three times during Thompson’s first 12 seasons. And three times since 2011 alone, the Packers have finished 25th, or worse, in total defense.
On the flip side, Thompson has continually assembled a high-powered offense, one that has ranked in the top-10 nine times in the last 12 years.
But Thompson and his people fully understand that without at least a serviceable defense, the Packers have littleto-no chance at greatness. Atlanta reminded Green Bay of that once again in January. In past postseasons, Arizona (2009), the New York Giants (2011), San Francisco (2012) and Seattle (2014) all drove that point home, as well.
So there Thompson was again last weekend, taking his swings and hoping to reverse a pattern of costly defensive mistakes.
When the draft ended, Thompson was asked if he felt the Packers were closer to a Super Bowl than they were 48 hours earlier.
“I sure hope so. I'd like to get one ... or two,” Thompson said. “I don't know, it's a hard business. We never make any bones about that.
“When you get to this point in the whole draft process, you understand the work and the ethic that your people that are working with you, you're working for, put forth every day. That's the thing I wanted to say, and I hope these guys hear it, that it's important and it's good for the Green Bay Packers that we have good people working here and doing stuff, trying to get to that point where you have a chance to win the Super Bowl. That's what you're looking for.”
That … and a few good men on defense.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson used his first four picks on defensive players in the 2017 NFL draft. Thompson, who has often struggled with his higher selections on defense, is hoping to reverse some mistakes.