I am going to predict that Ted Thompson is going to trade out of pick #9. You heard it here, first.
Now, of course, now that I’ve said it aloud, it probably won’t happen (I’ve noticed Ted loves to blow my predictions out of the water), but let me go through what I have learned over the years. Of course, it is that “doing the unexpected” that has made want to figure out why he does things in that way.
But, I do think he will trade down. And when he does, I am not going to throw my foam brick on the television and curse his name (again). Because, slowly, I've figured it out. I get it.
First of all, I am the furthest thing from a draftnik. At best, I review a couple of scouting reports for the first round. I have never made a mock draft and pray I never resort to doing so. I am as much of a greenhorn as you will find.
But, watching Thompson draft over the past few years has made me have to study and learn a little more about the draft and how he (and others approach it). If you are a draft geek and endlessly over-analyze and pontificate about it, you’ll probably want to dismiss this as the ramblings of a beginner’s dawning awareness. No offense taken.
Listening to Patty at PackerChatters over the years, I’ve realize that the prospects aren’t just grouped by position in some massive pool. Most scouts and GMs organize them into groups of talent, referred to as “tiers”. It’s those levels of talent that the scouts look at to progressively impact your team, and they do not neatly organize themselves in exact groups of 32, so that every team in the first round gets a first-round caliber player.
In other words, the last pick in the first round isn't necessarily "better" than the first pick of the second. While it sounds obvious, there is still always that cheated feeling when you don't get a first round pick, like last year.
Each draft is different, but going back to 2006, the first “tier” of players seemed to end at about the top 6-7 players. You may remember the names pretty well: Bush, Williams, Ferguson, Hawk, Young, Davis..and then a tweener in Huff, which marked the end of that particular tier.
After that, the prospects were still good players, but organized into a second tier of talent, somewhat interchangeable in their grades. Every draft is different, and every evaluator is different, but usually that second tier tails off between the 17th to 25th pick. And so it goes.
It’s been an interesting learning process for me, especially with Ted Thompson’s draft approach. Like most everyone, I questioned his penchant for trading down constantly, asking why you’d want two lesser players instead of one higher-quality player.
And understanding those tiers helped me put a finger on it. For example, in 2006, the Packers picked at #5. This means that they were going to be able to pick a first-tier player, no matter who fell to them. And since they were at the tail end of the tier, it was unlikely that Thompson would trade back, because in doing so, he would trade out of that first tier of players.
Go back a year, and you understand it even more. In 2005, the second tier of players started running out around pick #21-22. This would have positioned the 24th overall Packers’ pick at the beginning of a larger group of third-tier players. At the time, I saw the draft as your “turn” to pick, and it made total sense that Thompson stayed there.
But divining what I’ve since learned about Thompson, I believe he would have likely traded back from #24 in 2005. The reason he did not is because of the “Tier Drop” of Aaron Rodgers, a first- or second-tier player who fell into the third tier. Had Rodgers not been there, Thompson would have had essentially the first pick of a large group of perhaps 15 or more players that all graded out at a similar level, a tier that would have extended into the start of the second round.
And that’s where I see the wisdom in the trade-backs that I didn’t see before. Had Rodgers been taken by another team at #23, it would have been logical for Thompson to trade back ten spots, pick up another draft pick, and still gotten a player in the that tier….quite possibly the same player he might have been hoping for earlier.
Conversely, had Thompson traded back from #5 in 2006, he would have traded out of the first tier into the second tier of players, and that’s where you lose a level of talent, at least in the sense of what you’ve scouted and graded out.
In 2007, I think Thompson found himself in no-man’s land. At pick #16, he was right around the middle of the second tier and might have discovered that a trade-back would have placed him out of that level of talent. So, he reached for his second-tier player of choice, Justin Harrell.
And last year, he traded out of the first round. Had he done that a few years ago, I might have howled about the drop in talent, but understanding now that tiers don’t adhere to the round numbers, I get it. He traded back several picks and still got the third-tier player that he wanted in Jordy Nelson, a player he could have had at pick #30, but was able to get at pick #36, too.
Now, mind you, this doesn’t mean that because I understand it that I subscribe to it or would do it myself. And, judging from the number of teams willing to trade up with Thompson over the last four drafts, Ted isn’t using a strategy that every single other team uses. But, it is his strategy, and overall, he has stuck to it.
For example, instead of trading back for Nelson last year, I would have likely taken FS Kenny Smith at #30, as I would be looking more to fill a need rather than looking for the best value at each pick. But, if you use a tier-based approach, the trade-backs allow Thompson to try and get the most value at each pick.
So, when I look at this year’s draft, with the Packers picking at #9, you would think that it would place the Packers either at the end of the first tier or at the beginning of the second tier. As we’ve heard before, this draft has been far more difficult than others to get settled into tiers. What one draftnik thinks are the top players seems to be different from others.
Some have suggested that this draft doesn’t even have a top tier: that it simply starts with a much wider second-tier or only has a top-tier of a couple of players. But it isn’t my opinion or the draftnik’s opinion that counts, it’s that of Ted Thompson and where he thinks those talents fall.
Which is why I think we hear so much talk of Larry English, a guy predicted to fall closer to pick #20 than pick #9. The example I can come is where you have this group of tweener DE/LBs that are all projected in the first round and would seem to fit in a 3-4 OLB role. If all those players are at roughly the same level, or all fit in the second tier, I think Thompson might be more willing to pass on Everette Brown at #9 and be content to pick Larry English or Aaron Maybin at #15 instead.
Which means, as in the case of Aaron Rodgers, we have to see if there are any “Tier Drops” that fall to Thompson at #9, a guy that is clearly grading out higher than what we’d expect from the large group of second-tier guys.
What players might those be? You have to think high on Thompson’s board at #9 must be Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Earl Monroe, and Malcolm Jenkins. I think BJ Raji may be on that short list, also, but it depends on how the Packers are reacting to the allegations of failed drug testing, and if they think he also would fall farther back in the second tier of players.
If any of those players (or, more properly put, the players on Thompson’s list of first-tier players) sneak through to him at #9, I think the Pack will take him. If not, however, it places the Packers #9 pick likely at the start of the second tier of players, a tier that, likely goes back into the twenties.
If that is the case, and if Thompson holds true to his philosophy, we’ll see Thompson actively try and shop that pick and move back to get a second-tier player that he has graded out similarly as many of the other players that are available at pick #9.
What might make it interesting is if one of the first-tier players at a position of non-interest to Thompson falls through. If QB Matthew Stafford or WR Michael Crabtree were to fall to #9, you would think that the trade offers would be coming to Thompson. If that happens, it will be interesting if he takes them up on it, or selects the Best Player Available, regardless of position, because he would be passing on a first-tier talent with a trade.
My prediction? Thompson will trade back into the teens and end up taking one of the tackles (Oher, Smith) or one of the OLBs (Orapko, Brown, English, or Maybin), and potentially Jackson, the DE.