GREEN BAY—The Packers would no doubt love for the No. 26 overall pick to produce the same charm it did four years ago.
That’s when Green Bay traded back into the first round and took linebacker Clay Matthews in the 26th slot. All Matthews has done is become the first player in franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons, and last week he signed a contract extension making him the highest paid linebacker in the league.
The 26th pick is the one the Packers own in the first round of this year’s draft, which begins Thursday night. The Packers enter the 2013 draft with eight picks overall – one in each round plus a compensatory selection in the fifth round.
For whatever reason, the 26th pick for Green Bay has been associated with trades and linebackers. In 1980, George Cumby was taken at No. 26, while two years earlier it was John Anderson. Both had lengthy stays in Green Bay, and both picks became the Packers’ via trades. The last time the Packers actually owned the 26th pick entering the draft was 1968, when guard Bill Lueck was chosen.
This year, while inside linebacker is a position of considerable depth for the Packers, another pass-rushing outside linebacker like Matthews isn’t out of the question in the first round. That’s where the Packers went last year in selecting USC’s Nick Perry, whose rookie season ended after just six games due to injury.
The more acute needs on defense are likely defensive line and safety, two positions in which the Packers have invested recent draft picks as well.
On the line, 2012 second-round choice Jerel Worthy will be attempting a comeback from a late-season knee injury, so his status for 2013 remains uncertain. Lineman Mike Daniels and safety Jerron McMillian were both chosen in the fourth round last year, but neither is a sure-fire starter just yet.
If there’s an anomaly in General Manager Ted Thompson’s eight drafts (2005-12) running the Packers, it was last year’s. Not only did he trade up a personal-record three times, he also spent the first six of his eight picks on defense coming off a year in which the Packers ranked last in the league in yards allowed.
There’s no denying there was attention paid to need, but the trades indicated Thompson was fitting players to the value of their slots. Finding a way to match value and need is the ideal scenario for any GM, but if that doesn’t happen, Thompson is a best-available drafter, not a needs-based one.
He proved that in 2008, when he traded away his late first-round pick and then, six slots later at the top of the second round, chose wide receiver Jordy Nelson, even though the Packers appeared set at that position, with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones.
That was the only time in the last 26 drafts – there’s that number again – that the Packers didn’t actually select a player in the first round, but in a draft lauded for its depth in the second or third rounds, a trade out of the first round remains possible.
Thompson is always watching for big guys because, as he likes to say, there are only so many of them out there. Prior to Perry last year, the Packers’ first picks in the previous three drafts were nose tackle B.J. Raji (2009) and offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga (2010) and Derek Sherrod (2011).
With Sherrod’s health still a question mark – he hasn’t played since breaking his leg late in 2011 – and versatile interior lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith slated to start at center, the offensive line is likely to get reinforcements from this draft.
Thompson has taken at least one offensive lineman in every draft, and for six straight years (2006-11) he did so in the fourth round or earlier. Four of those years he took a second offensive lineman by the end of the fifth round.
Running back has been at the other end of Thompson’s draft spectrum, adding intrigue to all the talk about the Packers taking one this year, and possibly high. Thompson has drafted only four running backs in eight years, and just two prior to the sixth round – Brandon Jackson in 2007 (second round) and Alex Green in 2011 (third). More pre-draft coverage