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PACKERS TRY TO FILL NEEDS IN DRAFT

by Jerry Gilbert
Although Green Bay Packer General Manager Ted Thompson regularly insists that he always selects the best player available, Coach Mike McCarthy admitted that their Draft board has a horizontal component to go with the vertical rankings. If you need a tackle, the fourth rated tackle may go before the top rated safety. This is drafting for need, which is exactly what the Packers did this weekend. There were surprises, because Ted Thompson evaluates his needs, and, while not everyone agrees with his evaluation, Mr. Thompson makes the picks. Nevertheless, however much he may protest to the contrary, this was a draft that was designed to fill specific needs.

The first need he tackled was at wide receiver. All the pundits and many fans have been calling it a position of strength. That is why Ted Thomson is the General Manager, and the rest of us watch from afar. First, he remembered that when Donald Driver is not in the lineup, there is a noticeable reduction in performance. I suspect that Greg Jennings, by next season, will be able to fill that void, but who then replaces Jennings? Valuable as they were last season, James Jones, Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin will not make anyone believe they compare to Reggie Wayne. The way they played last season gives little confidence that one of them can totally replace either Driver or Jennings in the starting rotation. Starting receivers inevitably miss time with injuries, and Donald Driver is 33 years old. The Packers need to develop another difference maker at receiver. In time, second round draft choice Jordy Nelson could be that player.

It is possible that James Jones may advance in his second year as much as Greg Jennings did last season, but I would not bet the franchise on that. Koren Robinson has been a premier receiver in the league, and possibly could regain that form, but Ted Thompson is not counting on that. As for Ruvell Martin, we are talking about a great person, but he is not a starting receiver in the National football League. There is another relevant factor. As Jennings and Jones illustrate, almost no receivers make a major impact in their first season. Jordy Nelson, or some other potential starter, needed to be added this year to give him time to develop. If it works out, he will be ready to step in before Donald Driver begins to lose his effectiveness. Even if Jones, Robinson or another player should emerge as a go to receiver, the selection of Jordy Nelson still provides an additional candidate to fill that need.

Anyone who has not watched the Jordy Nelson highlights on You-Tube should do so. On a mediocre team, Nelson was the only offensive threat, and he came through nearly every week while overcoming defenses designed to stop him. At 6-3 217, he has the size, though not the speed of Javon Walker. It appears that he has better hands than Walker. Last season, Nelson caught 122 passes covering 1606 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also was featured as an option passer, which the former high school quarterback handled with ease.

The remaining second round selections were obvious need picks. First, Ted Thompson selected a quarterback who is generally acknowledged as being ready to contribute immediately as any signal caller available this season. Many observers believe that Brian Brohm of Louisville would have been a top ten pick had he entered the Draft as a junior. After his team had a down year, although Brohm himself registered better statistics in several categories, the experts downgraded him. Happily, he was available in the second round at pick 56.

With both his father and older brother having been quarterbacks and later coaches, Brian Brohm is already a mature quarterback. There will be an adjustment to the pro game, but the young man has seen most defenses and excelled in a variety of offenses and situations. Of course, Brohm may falter during training camp. More likely, he will learn the Green Bay playbook, and he will be ready to step in as a rookie starter if veteran Aaron Rodgers should suffer an injury. Given the uninspiring choices available as veteran free agents, players such as Daunte Culpepper, the selection of a potential backup quarterback fills a very important need.

Four picks later, the Packers addressed the need for a cornerback to fit into the rotation and possibly replace the aging starters in a couple of years. Many of us expected the Packers to pick a cornerback in round one. Ted Thompson hopes that Patrick Lee of Auburn will be the player needed at this position. Lee started for only one year, but he is a big bump and run cornerback who had a fine season in 2007.

Scouts really differ on Patrick Lee. There were reports that he was very tentative in the drills at the senior bowl. On the other hand, he had a string of important interceptions for Auburn last season. Thompson likes his 6-0 200 size and considers his 4.5 forty to be adequate. Lee is a bit of a gamble as a potential starter, but he should at least fill a role on special teams.

In the third round, the Packers selected a tight end, intending to fill the need created by the loss of Bubba Franks. They picked a red shirt sophomore from Texas, Jermichael Finley 6-5 245. Finley will enter training camp as a pass catcher who will need to learn to be a blocker. Last season he averaged 12.8 yards per catch on 45 receptions for 545 yards. Finley is viewed as a talented project. The fact that he already has two children was probably a negative for some teams. It could also help his maturation, because he needs to make the team in order to take care of those kids.

Given the importance that the media has put on the issue, the way Ted Thompson handled Round 4 was a shock to everyone except the sensible people who recognize that Thompson is very good at handling a draft. This year, for the first time in his tenure in Green Bay, the Packer General Manager traded up rather than trading down. Further surprising the local and national media, he traded up to select a comparatively unknown player, Defensive End Jeremy Thompson of Wake Forest.

Thompson, the younger brother of Green Bay tackle Orrin Thompson, was not a big time sacker of quarterbacks in college. Packer coaches point to his athletic ability and hope that playing in their system will produce more sacks than the read and react approach he was taught in college. The point is important because the need this selection is supposed to meet is improving the Packer pass rush. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was only adequate last season, and, in general, the pass rush was less effective later in the season. KGB also is overpaid in the role of part time pass rusher. and the Packers would like to trade his salary to another team. Moreover, Thompson may have the ability as an every down end, and could be an improvement over Michael Montgomery and KGB in the role as reserve defensive end.

The second selection of the 4th round and the first choice in the 5th produced the players drafted to help an offensive line deficient in run blocking, and, hopefully, they will prove to be good enough to replace at least one of the starting offensive tackles who are approaching, but have not yet reached, their declining years. Josh Sitton 6-4 324 Central Florida was a three-year starter at right tackle but slid over to fill in at both guard positions last season. Green Bay coaches describe Sitton as a strong run blocker and also effective in pass protection. Many draft experts viewed the pick as a reach. Time will tell, but based on stories about cutting his hand on beer bottles and showing up in Green Bay in March wearing a Hawaiian shirt tell me that this is a kid I will enjoy watching.

The fifth round offensive lineman is the second pick of the draft and the third Packer from Louisville, 6-7 303-pound offensive tackle, Breno Giacomini. Giacomini came to college as a tight end, bulked up and became a tackle. He started only one season at right tackle, but is universally described as aggressive and nasty on the field. Possibly having the skills to play left tackle, he is a candidate to fill the need for a future replacement at that position. In the sixth round, Green Bay selected a quarterback to develop for the future. Matt Ryan, who started one year at LSU after playing behind JaMarcus Russell. Though not a finished product as a quarterback, Ryan passed for 2407 yards with 21 passing touchdowns and 4 more on the ground last season, leading his team to the National Championship. As he did prior to his senior season, Flynn would be expected to be the player who can step in if the starter goes down. With the retirement of Brett Favre, there is no iron man playing quarterback in Green Bay. The team will require three quarterbacks, and Flynn was drafted to fill the need for a third stringer.

One may easily disagree with the trading up and down and the priority assigned to various positions. However, Ted Thompson went into the draft targeting a number of needs, and selected a player to fill them. A good case can be made that the team still needs a running back and possibly a safety and defensive tackle. However, as of now, the draft looks promising.

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