In Ted we trust

Green Bay Packer General Manager Ted Thompson has had more than his share of critics despite masterminding a Super Bowl championship roster. He has steadfastly, some might say stubbornly, held on to draft picks when players were available via the trade route. However, he has earned his reputation as a superb talent evaluator and NFL draft expert long before the team attained championship status.

The 2011 NFL Draft will be held April 28-30 in New York. As is the case every year, there will undoubtedly be football analysts that will question Thompson’s maneuvers and selections. What fans have learned over the years is that there is always a method to his madness, even if it is not clear at the time.

Thompson’s history shows he is more likely to trade down in the draft than up. The lone exception was his astute analysis of the potential of Clay Matthews. He traded up to get the player some thought was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 in only his second season.

He also appears to be better than most at projecting potential several years down the road after the team “coaches them up” and refines their talents. This process has lead to success with mid to low round draft picks as linebacker Desmond Bishop, offensive guard Josh Sitton, tight end Jermichael Finley and defensive lineman Johnny Jolly.

Thompson learned much of his craft through his work with former Packer GM Ron Wolf who received much of the credit for assembling the Packers last Super Bowl champion in 1996.

These two have a definite history regarding selections that one can analyze to possibly predict where Thompson will try to improve his team with his first-round selection.

Don’t expect Thompson to draft an offensive guard in the first-round as he seems content to develop projects down the road with selections in the middle rounds. He has followed his mentor Wolf in lessening the importance of guards compared to tackles. Besides not drafting guards in the first-round, Wolf and Thompson have shown a willingness to let free agent guards leave the Packers. Darryn Colledge will most likely be gone next year via free agency just as almost every guard has over the past two decades from Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera, Aaron Taylor to Adam Timmerman. If Thompson decides to go the offensive line route early on, it will most likely be a tackle as this position is deemed vital for protecting the quarterback.

Wide receivers and running backs offer the highest risk as first-round selections. These two areas have seem far more busts like Troy Williamson and Ki Jana Carter than studs like Sterling Sharpe and Adrian Peterson. Thompson has had better luck finding wide receiver talent in the second and third-rounds with the selections of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Wolf even found a star in Donald Driver in the seventh-round. There also seems to be a growing consensus that quality running backs can be found later in the draft, such as James Starks in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft.

You will most likely not see Thompson or many other teams, select a safety in the first round as the consensus again is general managers can find safeties easier than one can find top cornerbacks.

The prospective NFL draft boards are top-heavy with potential first-round prospects that can be classified into four distinct groupings. Thompson and other general managers place priority on finding top-notch talent at these spots.

Everybody is looking at either acquiring a franchise-type quarterback or protecting the franchise QB that is already in place. Quarterbacks are always in high demand in the first-round, as are offensive tackles that protect the blue-chip investment at QB.

On the opposite side of the ball, there is always a scramble to acquire premier pass rushers whether they come from the defensive line in a 4-3 or as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation. The final grouping deemed worthy of a first-round selection is a “shut down” cornerback.

It is obvious from this emphasis that the passing game has become the dominant factor in the present-day NFL. It is also obvious that the Green Bay Packers of 2010 excelled in these areas.

Given the Packers order in the draft as Super Bowl champions, it would appear that all positions would be in play as potential picks due to the late selection. However, unless Thompson trades down again, it still would appear that he will select from one of the main groupings, with the exception of QB, but he did select Aaron Rodgers in the first-round when he unexpectedly slipped down to the 24th pick of the first-round despite having Brett Favre on his roster. Look for a selection of an offensive tackle or an outside pass rusher, with a cornerback as an outside possibility.

Whatever the outcome of the draft displays, one would be wise to trust in the proven expertise of Ted Thompson in the drafting process. In Ted we trust, at least for now as defending champions.

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