As General Manager Ted Thompson, his scouts and Head Coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff go about their business in Indianapolis this week, they will have the admiration of their peers. Thompson, McCarthy and the Packers are the toast of the league after finding a way to overcome injury after injury and string together six consecutive wins en route to the Super Bowl XLV title.
How did they do it, their peers are left to wonder? How did the Packers amass such young talent and depth while picking from the bottom of the draft order?
“We stay true to our philosophy in what we’ve been taught. We’ve been taught by one of the best personnel guys in the business, Ron Wolf. We’ve been together, we all understand each other and we’ve all been brought up through the system,” Packers College Scouting Director John Dorsey said.
What the Packers were taught by Wolf and what the Packers continue to embrace is the notion of acquiring value in the draft. Dorsey says the team is committed to drafting the best available player.
Is that scoutspeak or does he really believe in it?
“Best player available. We live it,” Dorsey said. “Our job is to find the best player we can possibly find to improve our roster. I think that’s what we do. If we can make our roster as competitive as we possibly can, that’s all you can do. We’ve always been taught to stay true to the board, whatever you do, and we stay true to the board.”
The Packers stayed true to their board in the 2005 draft when they selected Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall pick. Rodgers was available to the Packers because so many teams above the Packers in the first round order had decided they didn’t need a quarterback. Oakland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Carolina and, yes, Minnesota all decided they didn’t need a quarterback. At the time, Brett Favre was the Packers’ quarterback.
Drafting last in the first round this year, the Packers will similarly be looking to select value the teams ahead of them might have missed or ignored because, after all, they didn’t need that guy. Hey, why draft the better player if you don’t need him, right? Yeah, right.
The league’s 32 teams are assembling in Indianapolis this week to review the talents of 230 draft prospects. This is Dorsey’s baby. The combine is the crowning event of a year’s worth of work.
“It’s the first time the NFL gets to see 230 players eligible for the draft in one setting. It gives you a chance to do a thorough medical evaluation. You get to meet the kids one on one. It’s your time to spend some quality face time and find out what makes them tick and what makes them who they are. Finally, you get to see them move with their peers and against their peers in a competitive situation,” Dorsey said.
Players begin arriving on Wednesday. Measurements, medical examinations, psychological testing and team-player interviews begin on Thursday. Punters, kickers and special teams players work out on Friday. Offensive linemen and tight ends work out on Saturday. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs are Sunday’s headliners. Defensive linemen and linebackers show their skills on Monday and the defensive backs conclude the week with their workout next Tuesday.
Most personnel guys consider the medical examinations and interviews to be more important than the workouts, as a prospect’s performance in game action usually outweighs what he did in “underwear” at the combine.
“I’d rather get medical examinations than traveling all over the country to 230 different places,” Dorsey said.
In recent years, a lot of GM types have weighted the interviews more heavily. Emphasis on character has never been greater.
“Every team is going to approach those 15 minutes a little differently. I think you can get a basic feel for who he is, but I think these guys are so prepped and so trained today that there’s too big of a wall in that setting. If you can create it like a locker room, because that’s where they’re going to have to exist, I think you can find the five factors it’s going to take to succeed,” Dorsey said of the intangibles he seeks in a prospect.
What are those five factors?
“One, are they a good guy? Two, do they work at their craft? Three, do they love football? Four, are they going to be good in the locker room? And five, would you like to have them as your neighbor?” Dorsey answered.
What kind of draft class is this?
“Average,” he said. “The strength of the draft is probably running back, defensive ends, offensive tackles, the top side of the (wide receiver) position. I think (cornerback) is good; I don’t think it’s great. I think safeties are down. I think tight ends are really down.
“The big unknown is the quarterback position. There’s no clear cut (number) one, yet. There are four, five guys who have a chance to establish themselves if they do that right,” Dorsey added.
It was expected that this would be a banner year for quarterbacks. Some scouts think it still is, but Dorsey is skeptical.
“Spread option offense,” he said. “How do you transfer a quarterback from a spread option offense to a pro system?”
Fortunately, the Packers don’t have to worry about that. After all, they really don’t need a quarterback, right?