It’s happened before, it may well happen again.
Last year, Ted Thompson spent his first draft pick on a position that many would say was rather stacked. Jordy Nelson added to a squad already stocked with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Ruvell Martin was considered by many to be a luxury pick. Furthermore, the first pick ignored what appeared to be severe needs at running back, quarterback, tight end, and defensive line.
This year, with the switch to the 3-4 defense, many pundits are predicting that the Packers are going to take one of the DE/LB hybrids, almost all of whom project to an OLB spot. Everette Brown, Brian Orapko, and Aaron Maybin are common names being touted for the #9 pick, seemingly good fits for the 3-4, and good talents all around.
But the question, like Nelson last year, comes with whether or not it is wise to draft at a position at which you are already “loaded”. Of course, since the linebackers were often cited as the most underperforming position group last season, we might question whether or not the linebacking coprps is indeed loaded.
I would guess that there was a drop in performance that somehow related to the apparent schism that rose between several of the defensive coaches, including linebacking coach Winston Moss. I often wondered why the guy who was the official assistant head coach would be the coach of the least productive unit on the field, but it is pretty clear that ousted defensive coordinator Bob Sanders may have contributed to it.
So, I offer that the defense is likely better than last year showed, and that our linebacking corps is as talented as they showed in 2007. In the hands of Dom Capers, I think our defensive players are going to be put in better positions to make plays, as well as having more clear leadership and communication.
So, looking at the players we presently have, do we really see adding another OLB as a need?
All of these players are signed and paid some good coin, but the transition to a 3-4 has placed some of the contributions of these players into some question. Can Kampman convert to a rushing linebacker role? Can Hawk take on the responsibilities of an inside backer?
Problem is, with these guys (and other players like Havner) and the coaching of Dom Capers, you have the think that the talent has to work out somehow. And, if the Packers are going to move forward with a hybrid 3-4/4-3, they likely won’t need to keep more than these seven on the roster.
Do you add a high draft pick to this group, simply because he’s the best talent on the board at the time? Do we take Everette Brown and hope he can take the other OLB spot opposite Kampman? Where does that leave our remaining four starting-level linebackers?
It seems like a luxury pick, but it feeds into the long polarized debate: do you draft for need or do you take the best player available? Like most issues, I like to find a middle ground: I think you should draft the best player available at a position of need.
And, there’s no shortage of needed positions that we could expend a first round pick on: TE, OT, DE, DT, CB…but I don’t see linebacker as one of them, especially if we are going to be transitioning slowly.
Which position seems most needy? I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree that not only is our defensive line shaky for the traditional 4-3, it is even more disjointed when switching to the 3-4 scheme. Ryan Pickett is the only name of note at NT, and most agree he’s far from the ideal stout player needed at the position. Cullen Jenkins, Michael Montgomery, and Johnny Jolly are all candidates on the outside, but Jenkins is coming off of injury and both Jolly and Montgomery are role players at best.
You would guess that if B.J. Raji is still on the board at #9 that Thompson would swoop in take him, as he is the best true NT in the draft and can play in both defensive schemes seamlessly. The chances of Raji still being there don’t appear likely at this juncture.
So, other than a bunch of quarterbacks and wide receivers, you would think the decision comes down to the aforementioned OLB hybrid players, Andre Smith (OT), Tyson Jackson (DE), Malcolm Jenkins (CB). The idea of trading back to pick up Michael Oher (OT) or Brandon Pettigrew (TE) isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Thompson, either.
But after the Justin Harrell selection, it isn’t hard to imagine that Thompson might take a reach for a player he really wants at the point, too. Tyson Jackson, an overall five-technique DE might be the ticket for swapping back a couple of slots in exchange for another third round pick. But, he might be the smartest pick even at #9, even if no one else might take him until pick 15.
Again, you balance that need pick versus the best talent available.
But, I am hoping that we do not continue to feed a rich position while starving another one that is in need. While I am certain, like Jordy Nelson, that any of the OLB guys available would be truly Packer People and solid players, there comes a point where you need to put you best talent in the neediest of places. I’m hoping for Raji if he is available, and Jackson, Smith, or Jenkins after that.
And, dare I say it, if we trade down, we trade down.