GREEN BAY – True to form, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t reveal anything about the Green Bay Packers’ plans for the 2012 NFL Draft. He barely acknowledged that the draft begins next Thursday.
But while he may not have delivered many answers Thursday, at least he dodged questions in an entertaining way. And he provided a good anecdote or two to boot.
That’s not to say that Thompson wasn’t himself. Unlike many of his GM counterparts, who at least will talk about which positions are deepest in the draft or which positions on their rosters are thin, Thompson steadfastly refuses to discuss such matters. So when he was asked about this draft’s deepest areas, his answer was predictable.
“Um, those are kind of the questions I don’t answer,” Thompson replied. “I’m not trying to be slick but … from a league-wide standpoint, this is a really good draft and everybody will be happy and all the teams will draft well. I think that’s what the message everybody wants. There’s always areas going into the draft that you think are strong and other areas that you think might not be as strong as they were before, but it all works itself out. Most drafts will wind up being about the same in terms of quality and how those players eventually impact the league and individual teams. I think year to year, it’s usually about the same.”
Among the topics Thompson did address – sort of – were:
> On lessons he’s learned about the draft as a GM: “You can’t predict it. You can worry yourself sick about what’s going to happen, who’s going to be there when it’s our pick and that sort of thing. The more you’re in this, the more you get back to the base that (retired GM) Ron (Wolf) taught us is to evaluating players individually, don’t get too whacked out one way or the other in terms of position, just make sure you have the players ranked correctly in terms of what you think they can do in the NFL. And that’s easier said than done. I’m guilty of it just like everyone else. You get anxious, you want to help the team, you want to add some stuff to your team and to your locker room.”
> On the value of the Packers’ four compensatory picks: “Well, we’re certainly glad to have them. It’s always good to have extra picks, I think, you know? Like Ron said, the more swings you have at the plate, the better off you usually do. We’re hopeful that we’re prepared come next Thursday, Friday and Saturday that we can help the team with all those picks. We’ve had some success in the later rounds with the more picks.”
> On his mantra of taking the so-called best player available and not drafting for need: “We won’t do it (draft for need) intentionally. Maybe subconsciously. We don’t draft that way. You draft for the long-term investment for your team. We don’t draft for the immediate need or perceived immediate need.”
> On if he learned anything from drafting disappointing and oft-injured Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell 16th overall in 2007: “No. We did our research with that pick, too. The fact that it didn’t work out is my responsibility.”
> On drafting players who come out early: “I do think there’s a difference. That’s not to say the juniors can’t come in and play because a lot of them do and a lot of them have long careers and do just fine. I think as a rule, most people in my position would prefer that everybody fulfill their entire playing time in college. We feel then we get a more mature, more developed person to add to the organization. But we’ve taken juniors and we don’t hold it against them. A lot of times, they’re coming out because they’re really talented, so that tweaks your interest a little bit, too.”
> On the backup quarterback situation, with unproven Graham Harrell and Nick Hill vying to replace Matt Flynn: “I’m fine with it. It’s good.”
> On undersized Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson: “I don’t know how to say this without violating one of my rules. I think people make compensations for certain things as they go along in life and I don’t think you can ever say never. There are defensive linemen that come into the league and they happen to be 6 feet tall and people say, he can’t play, and they wind up having a long career and going to the Pro Bowl every year, and same way at linebacker, same way at other positions. ‘You’re too big, you’re too tall, you’re not tall enough.’ I don’t think Russell Wilson’s worried about any of that. … There are people, probably around the league, that would have thought DJ Smith’s not tall enough to be a linebacker. We think he’s a pretty good linebacker.”
> On if he prefers players from big schools: “It’s a little bit easier to make a projection on how a person’s going to do coming from college to professional football if they played in a larger college against higher-quality competition. There’s more competition for them, even at their schools. When they’re freshmen, they have to compete harder, they have to work harder to get to play when they’re sophomores. There’s always recruits coming in behind them, so they’re competing the whole time. Sometimes, with a smaller college, if you’re a skilled athlete, then maybe there’s not the same kind of competitive pressure. The one thing that you see with a lot of rookies that come in the NFL, larger schools from larger conferences fare better is that, from the first day of rookie minicamp on, it’s a competition. It gets worse when you get all the veterans come back in here. I think the whole having-to-compete-for-four-or-five-years-at-a-major-college (thing) gives you a little bit better background. It doesn’t mean that we shy away from him but maybe it’s a little bit easier to project.”
> On why he traded up to take Clay Matthews in the 2009 NFL Draft, given his usual M.O. of trading back: “We thought it was an opportunity to get a pretty special player. We started earlier than when we got him, but we kept plugging away and were fortunate and lucky that he was still available. That’s just the way it worked out. We’ve gone the other way probably more, going up not going backwards, but you know if you identify something that you see that fits a lot of the criteria that you’re looking for, that’s a different thing. (It was) a little bit of a surprise that he was still there.”
> Thompson shared a story about Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who used to offer some unsolicited input when Thompson was running the Seahawks’ drafts for Mike Holmgren: “Mr. Allen was very interested in the draft. He liked watching the process. He used to send emails to me back and forth — ‘What do you think about this article?’ He’d talk about a mock draft or something like that. So he was very into it. There was no interference in Seattle with ownership and us picking. Coach Holmgren was the general manager and the head coach at that time. We were free to make football decisions. It’s no different here. (Packers president/CEO) Mark (Murphy) is in the draft room and is supportive but there’s no real interference.”
> In explaining how the team calls would-be draftees before the pick is turned in, Thompson explained that administrator Matt Klein calls a player and “makes sure he’s healthy and hasn’t been in a car wreck and feeling good and that sort of thing.” Thompson then talks to the player, and then the team’s representatives at the draft in New York are told which card to turn in.
Then Thompson shared a story from one particular would-be draftee, who remained nameless: “That’s always the big fear that you call them and you can’t get in touch with them. Matt’s been in that position where he’s called a cell phone, nobody answered. He called the home, nobody answered. Sometimes we have to get (vice president of football administration) Russ (Ball) to call the agent to make sure the kid gets in touch because we actually want to talk to him before we turn in the pick because there’s always something that could happen.
“There have been stories where – and this is several years ago back before I was in the business – where there was a team that drafted a player and they weren’t able to get in touch with him, and they finally got in touch with him, and he was in the hospital and he had back surgery the night before, emergency back surgery. They weren’t very happy about the fact that they didn’t know that, but the guy turned out to be a really good player. That was the story. It could’ve been made up. It’s not my story, I’m relaying something that was told to me.”
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