It’s a different kind of offseason in the NFL this year, so it’s a different kind of draft season for the Packers.
The labor situation eliminates the annual scramble to sign undrafted free agents after the three days of formal selections conclude, so it’ll be awhile before the next Sam Shields is potentially in the fold.
There also will be no rookie orientation at Lambeau Field the week after the draft picks hear their names called. They’ll have to wait for their playbooks.
The biggest difference, though, will be Green Bay’s position in the first round.
“I love picking at 32,” said General Manager Ted Thompson, who is about to preside over his seventh draft for the Packers. “I love what that means.”
What that means, of course, is that the Packers are the reigning Super Bowl champions, which relegates them to the last pick of the opening round, set for next Thursday night.
It’s the position everyone strives for, though even Thompson admitted in his annual pre-draft press conference that the glory will wear off once the second round begins next Friday.
“The later rounds, it’s not quite as much fun because you’re sitting there and now you’re picking at 64 instead of 40, or 96 instead of 70,” he said. “So you have to watch 28 names come off, or 30 names come off.”
That part isn’t different, really. Excluding trades or compensatory picks, there are always that many names that vanish between a team’s picks.
That’s why Thompson emphasized that the scouting and personnel staff’s preparation for the draft was the same this year as any year. There may be a few players at the top of the first round they’ve assumed are out of reach, but otherwise the homework was done diligently and thoroughly, even if it was accomplished in a tighter time frame because the season itself lasted until that memorable Feb. 6 in Dallas.
“We tried to do everything business as usual,” Thompson said. “We are caught up. We’re ready to go and we feel good about where we are.”
They also feel good about their philosophy, another thing that’s staying the same. As he does every year at this time, Thompson reinforced his belief in taking the best player available versus drafting for need.
A GM’s dream is to see the top player on his board fit his roster’s biggest need when it’s his turn to pick, but barring that perfect marriage, value trumps need in part because it’s actually harder to project the latter.
“You don’t know what your needs are going to be,” Thompson said. “You might think you have a need at the end of April, or you may think you have a strong position at the end of April, but you don’t know where that’s going to be come August 1st, as we found out this season.”
The Packers have nine picks in all – their one allotted choice in each of the seven rounds, plus an extra fourth-round compensatory choice (for having lost free agent Aaron Kampman) and an extra seventh-round pick (from Carolina for the 2009 J.J. Jansen trade).
Modestly, Thompson said he doesn’t believe he and his staff work the draft any better than anyone else, but his track record doesn’t lie. Only one of his six first-round picks wasn’t a major contributor on the Super Bowl XLV champions, and no single round has failed to produce regular players during his tenure.
Should those trends continue, this draft season won’t be so different after all.
“There’s going to be a good player to pick every time it’s our turn to pick,” Thompson said. “Our job is to make sure we find that player and call his name.”