GREEN BAY – The Packers seemingly couldn’t go wrong.
Defensive line was an obvious target for Green Bay in the 2016 NFL Draft. The position was also stacked with top-tier prospects, a deeper crop than many draft analysts had seen in quite some time. That was already known.
What wasn’t was the number of quality choices that ended up being available to the Packers when they were on the clock with the 27th
pick of the first round on Thursday night. No mock draft predicted this.
UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark was Green Bay’s choice, and General Manager Ted Thompson was not asking for a do-over. He’s thrilled he got Clark, who’s practically a perfect fit following the sudden departure of B.J. Raji earlier this offseason.
But even Thompson had to be at least somewhat surprised that fellow linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed of Alabama, Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech and Andrew Billings of Baylor were all available at 27. With inside linebackers Myles Jack of UCLA and Reggie Ragland of Alabama also on the board, Thompson must have felt like he was closer to picking at 17 than 27.
“You sit there for two hours and you don’t even want to look at the names because you think you’re going to jinx something,” Thompson said moments after selecting Clark. “It starts getting closer and you think, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’”
Thompson didn’t comment on any of the other available players, but he did say the Packers fielded some trade offers. Denver traded up from 31 to 26, right in front of Green Bay, to take Memphis QB Paxton Lynch.
As it turned out, if the Broncos had traded with the Packers instead of the Seahawks, who got an extra third-round pick for moving back, Thompson still would have had his choice of every defensive front seven player mentioned here except Butler.
“We took a few calls, but we didn’t ever get to a position we wanted to pursue that,” Thompson said, an indication of one of two things.
- The calls came from teams too far down in the second round for Thompson to take the risk.
- Thompson really wanted Clark and wasn’t taking any chances at all.
The latter is as good a bet as any.
“Just the whole package,” Thompson said when asked what put Clark ahead of all the other defensive linemen there for the taking. “He’s a natural athlete.
“He’s got a really strong base. He’s not easily moved. He’s a five-flat 40 guy at 315 pounds.”
Clark appears capable of playing anywhere along the defensive line in Green Bay’s 3-4, but the bulk of his experience is on or near the nose. That’s where Raji was at his best, and while it’s not a given Clark simply steps in there – veteran Letroy Guion is a candidate as well – it’s perhaps no coincidence Thompson sounded a lot like he did seven years ago after he drafted Raji at No. 9 overall.
He gave a modified version of the “planet theory,” which refers to the notion that the planet only has so many 300-plus pounders with this level of athleticism, so a team must draft them when it can.
“Defensive linemen and offensive linemen, they’re hard to find,” Thompson said. “Linebackers and running backs are hard to find, too, but the combination of being big enough and strong enough and athletic enough to compete in the NFL, those are hard combinations to come up with.”
Given that Josh Boyd is returning from a nasty season-ending injury and Mike Pennel is suspended for the first four games of 2016, Thompson likely isn’t done selecting defensive linemen in this draft.
Depth at offensive tackle is a must as well. More big guys could be heading to Green Bay over the next two days.
“We’re glad we drafted the young man we did today,” Thompson said. “We think that’s a good start to this draft.”