Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Thompson People": Watch Out For Johnson

With Ted Thompson at the helm, watching the draft is almost no fun. At least, not in the traditional sense.

I mean, the way it is supposed to work, we fans are supposed to get worked up over high-profile players and hope one falls to us, or even more irrationally, hope that we trade up to get that guy we want.

Ted has ruined all that for us. Unless you are a complete draft nerd, poring over every single player available, you are likely to be surprised when Ted sends a card up to Roger Goodell. You see, Ted doesn't approach the draft like Mel Kiper and the rest of us.

Which is possibly a good thing, if Ted Thompson's scouting and draft board is better than Kiper's and ours. While that is certainly still up for debate, I am going to make my bold prediction for the 2008 NFL Draft, just a day away.

I am not, however, going to try and predict who the Packers will take at #30. It is an impossible task.

#1: We have no idea who will still be available when pick #30 comes up.

#2: We have no idea what Thompson's draft board looks like.

#3: It is just as likely that Thompson will trade down as he will actually pick at #30.

#4: While the general consensus has us taking a cornerback like Antoine Cason, Thompson has proven he doesn't draft for need, doesn't draft big names for the sake of drafting big names, and doesn't really have any discernible pattern to his drafting until we look back on it and many of his advocates justify every pick made as the most genius move ever made.

It's possible Thompson could draft Cason or another of the more popular players in any of the 12,849 mock drafts published just yesterday, but I am not going to try and do that. Because, no matter who I try to pick at a position or a spot in the draft, you can't do it with any level of success, even with a predictable GM.

So, the goal is to think like Ted Thompson. As much as I have avoided doing this over the course of the last three years for fear of losing my mind, I think that I have finally gleaned enough information to pick a player that I think Ted Thompson is going to pick at some point in the draft, quite possibly on the first day.

This is a far more rewarding journey for the draft watcher, because Thompson tends to look at his board, and he has shown a propensity for taking a player early if he thinks he is the one he wants. Plus, this way of thinking also leads to his penchant for trading down: get that player you want 10-15 picks later, and another pick to boot.

Agree with it or not, this is the way Ted Thompson has shown he likes to operate. So, given that information, I am offering this name as a player I think that Thompson will take at some point in the draft.

Josh Johnson, quarterback, San Diego.

A lock? Far from it, but he seems to have many of the qualities that Thompson tends to like in many of his picks. For one, he's a sleeper that many have noticed, almost so much that you tend to think he's risen on the charts simply because he's "the" sleeper. But, he still has enough rough edges that make you think he will easily be available for any of the Packers later picks on the first day.

* He's a raw talent that has room to improve over time. Ted Thompson has, other than AJ Hawk, never really looked at the draft to "fill holes" for the present, but as investments for the future. He has taken risks on raw talents in the past, and while some have worked out, others were miserable failures (Corey Rodgers, Mike Hawkins, Ingle Martin). But, the pressure isn't on Johnson to start now, but to develop his frame (which has room to grow), and like Aaron Rodgers, to develop his comprehension of the playbook and slow the game down.

* He's a small-school talent that has excelled at a Division II level. Nick Collins, Greg Jennings, and James Jones are yearly examples of players taken from lesser schools that have gone on to have success, despite initial protest that the players were unknowns. There is the overriding belief that when you take players from a big Division I school, you are more likely to get a player ready for the NFL. Ted Thompson, however, doesn't appear to subscribe to that theory, and lets other team pillage the Florida States and Ohio States year after year.

* He's considered football smart, though perhaps not necessarily a rocket scientist. According to CBS Sportsline, his Wonderlic score was a 15/24, far behind the 28/32 of Matt Ryan and the 32/45 of Brian Brohm. However, drafting smart players has never been a priority of Ted Thompson. Nick Collins is a good example of a good player who isn't necessarily a high-Wonderlic kind of guy, but has a good "football IQ", a term often applied to Johnson.

* Needs development to digest a playbook and work on NFL-level mechanics, and the Packers have Mike McCarthy, who has taken the time to not only develop Aaron Brooks and Aaron Rodgers, but to rein in and bring veteran Brett Favre back to a MVP level in his final year with the team. When you know you have the coaching staff to handle a developmental project, it makes selecting such a player less risky.

* Most of all, he has the tangible and intangible tools you would love to see from a quarterback. He has a live arm, is relatively accurate in his throws, is confident and tough, and has a solid mechanics. If you were to apply those descriptors to a prospect from a Division I school, he'd be a first-round draft choice. Ted Thompson, though, is willing to get those same skills from players from smaller schools.

* Like Aaron Rodgers, Johnson adds the potential of being a mobile quarterback with good speed and the ability to be a threat on the ground. I personally am not a fan of the running quarterback, and would much rather see them manipulate the pocket rather than open themselves up to hits downfield. However, the threat of being able to run can handcuff a linebacker into a spy position, leaving someone else in single coverage or wide open in the pass.

In several publications, Josh Johnson compares favorably to many other mobile quarterbacks in the past, such as Randall Cunningham. As far as that goes, no mobile quarterback other than Steve Young has ever won a Super Bowl, but as a backup, Johnson seems to fit the bill.

So, in conclusion, I am making the bold prediction that Josh Johnson is going to be in green and gold by the end of this weekend. Is he "Packer People"? I don't know about that, but he is definitely "Thompson People", fitting the model of what Thompson tends to look for in his late first-day picks: a small-school raw talent that might end up being taken a round or two early from what the draft "experts" would suggest.

I have sworn I wasn't going to make any mock drafts this year, a process involving usually guessing what talent will still be available in a slot and looking at the biggest needs of the team at that point. Making a mock draft with Ted Thompson as the guy actually pulling the trigger is an adventure in frustration on draft day, who is just as likely to trade the pick as make it.

So, to avoid another Justin Harrell jaw-drop, the goal is to look at what players Ted Thompson is eyeballing, regardless of round or need. My guess is that Josh Johnson, or a player just like him, is going to end up in the fold this weekend.

No comments: