17

February

Could Packers Trade Up in 2012 NFL Draft to Pick a Pass Rusher?

Ted Thompson Packers

Packers GM Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to take Clay Matthews in 2009.

The day was April 25, the Saturday of the 2009 NFL draft, and Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a franchise-altering decision staring him in the face.

As he sat in the Packers’ war room, having already acquired nose tackle B.J. Raji from Boston College with the ninth overall pick, there was a name he couldn’t shake and a need he knew he needed to fill.

The name was Clay Matthews, and the need was 3-4 outside linebacker.

Matthews, a wavy-haired overachiever with Hall of Fame bloodlines, remained available as the first round came to a close. A walk-on at USC who didn’t play full-time until his senior year, Matthews was an ideal pass rushing outside linebacker for his new defense. And Thompson knew that if there were two positions most important to making the Packers’ new 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers work, it was nose tackle and outside linebacker. Raji was the answer inside, Matthews could be the same on the edge.

In his hand was a weapon he rarely held, and uncharacteristically, Thompson pulled the trigger.

A man notorious for trading back in the draft to stockpile picks, Thompson sent a second and two third-round picks to the New England Patriots for the No. 26 pick in the first round and a later fifth rounder.

Shortly after, Roger Goodell announced Matthews as the Packers’ pick, and the rest, as they say, was history. Matthews turned into a superstar, registering back-to-back 10-sack seasons while helping lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers just less than 22 months later. Along with sticking with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Thompson’s decision to move up and get Matthews remains a defining moment in his building of a championship puzzle.

Fastforward to this April, and you could argue Thompson is in a similar state of need that he found himself in 2009.

Just a year after reaching the NFL’s peak, Thompson’s defense shattered in 2011. Better yet, it collapsed after under the weight of Thompson’s failure to find a starting-quality outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and his decision not to re-sign highly productive but aging defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles but was entirely open to returning to the Packers. Green Bay won 15 games during the regular season despite giving up more passing yards than any other team in NFL history, then threw away their opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions with an undisciplined effort on both sides of the football.

Throughout the season, one central deficiency on defense was painfully obvious. Armchair GMs put it at the top of the needs list almost immediately. Casual fans didn’t even need experts to help them identify the problem.

The Packers pass rush simply wasn’t good enough.

Matthews was consistently double- and triple-teamed without the threat of a pass rush on the right side. Pressure from outside linebackers Erik Walden, Brad Jones and Frank Zombo was few and far between. C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn and Mike Neal each did disastrous impressions of Jenkins at defensive end. In the end, it was too much for the Packers defense to endure.

Just a day after the Packers’ 37-20 loss to the Giants, linebacker Desmond Bishop painted a pretty clear picture about the lack of pass rush.

“It’s been evident pretty much all season. Pressure on the quarterback is probably the biggest stat that’s not written down, but is up there with turnovers on reasons for winning and losing. You can tell whenever you can rush four and get to the quarterback, and drop seven, you’re going to win the game for the most part.”

With such an obvious need to acquire an impact player or two on defense, denying that Thompson has to address it this offseason is no longer in question. There should be no more glossing over the problem with street free agents and guys that go over 260 picks in the draft without hearing their name called.

Looking for “hidden gems” is perfectly fine, especially considering how proficient Thompson has been in that regard as Packers GM. But it is now past due for the Packers to take a front seven player this April.

This reality begs the question: Could the 2012 NFL draft represent another opportunity for Thompson to move around or back into the first round?

While Thompson will likely be content picking the best player available at No. 28, he did show in 2009 that he is willing to make a big move up to get a player he desperately needs. And at this point, the Packers’ pass rush from both the aforementioned positions is bordering on desperation.

It’s mid-February, so we have almost zero idea of how the draft will shape up. Heck, there’s very little that’s certain deep into April. But if there’s a pass rusher that Thompson identifies during the next two months that he thinks his defense needs, and the draft board allows it, I wouldn’t put it past him to move up and get that player.

Also, don’t rule out Thompson doing what he did in 2009: Drafting where he currently sits in the first round but moving back into the first with his second pick. He could also move up in the second round from the 60th overall selection to get another pass rusher.

More than likely, Thompson and the Packers will have the necessary draft capital to make such a move.

Thompson should receive a number of decent compensatory picks for Jenkins, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Brandon Jackson, so trading a few middle picks (not including the comp picks, which can’t be traded) wouldn’t be as damaging to Thompson’s strategy of holding as many draft choices as possible. Back in 2009, the Packers held nine total picks heading into the draft. This April, Thompson should have a similar number.

It might take a move up from 28 to find a starting pass rusher, too. The NFL is a copy-cat league, and the Giants showed down the stretch that you can never have enough pass rushers. Now that New York has emphasized the “blueprint” for stopping the NFL’s pass-crazy offenses, you could see a run on the top pass rushers early in the first round before the Packers get a chance to pick at No. 28. Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) and Nick Perry (USC), just to name a few, may require a trade up to acquire.

Of course, without having a clue what Thompson’s draft board looks like now, the possibility of such a move or moves happening are still remote. Thompson’s draft history suggests that trading up is and should be a long shot. His strategy of stockpiling picks gives the Packers the best shot at hitting on a core player.

But he has made exceptions in the past under similar circumstances, and if there were ever a time when he might be willing to make another, it could be this April. The Clay Matthews of the world don’t always fall into your lap. Sometimes, you have to force your way to the player or players you want. Thompson might just have his finger on that trigger again.

Will he pull it?

If he does, Thompson can only hope his aim is as true as it was back in April of ’09.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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43 Responses to “Could Packers Trade Up in 2012 NFL Draft to Pick a Pass Rusher?”

  1. Ron LC says:

    Agree with you and everyone else in Packerland, they need to fix the defense. Priority #1 should be a right side rusher, who can also hold the end against the run.

    Unlike most, I think the #2 pick shold go for another good Olineman. My wish is Peter Konz of the UW. I’m hoping he falls into the second.

    The remainder of the draft should be focused on the defense. It is the area of need and can’t stand as it was. Neal better come to camp with fire in his belly. If he powder puffs this training camp let him go. It’s all up to him.

    In additon, I think the FA market should be considered for rush help.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Kris Burke Kris Burke says:

    Due to so many needs on defense could Donald Driver be trade bait for some additional picks?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  3. ScottS says:

    No matter who the Packers select with their first pick, it will be nice to see him holding that Lombardi trophy next February.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Zack says:

    I don’t know who we would trade… any takers on AJ Hawk? LOL. j/k. seriously though, who would we trade? I don’t think anyone would take driver for a first round pick. Maybe if we franchised flynn but then we don’t have salary cap room… The only other way I can think is franchise Finley then trade but I don’t like any of those ideas… plus he’ll take 8mil/yr if he’s classified as reciever which he probably would be. anyone have ideas?

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Draft picks. Trading players rarely nets a first round pick, and the Packers don’t have any options there. I wrote this thinking it would only be other 2012 draft picks traded.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. BubbaOne says:

    If there’s a trade up watch for it being pick # 22. Cleveland (Holmgren) has it now and it would cost TT his 1st and 3rd round picks. Cleveland may trade # 22 along w/ # 6 to move up to # 2 and take RG3. In that case, the Rams (Fisher) in a rebuilding mode may be willing to move back to 28 and pick up an extra 3rd rounder.
    It’s early in the process but as of now if Brockers, Cox, or Ingram are at 22 I think it may be worth it for TT to pull the trigger again.

    Re the Driver Q: I’m not advocating this but James Jones is the receiver that would bring back the most value in comparison to lost production.

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    • BubbaOne says:

      oops, Cleveland has picks 22 and 4 not 22 and 6.

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    • Zack says:

      Jones is a way better option as far as player trade. Good thought. I thought that the intent of the article was to get into the top 10 draft picks though. Is that even a vague possibility?

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      • BubbaOne says:

        No, please google “draft value table”. In it you’ll find to trade up to pick 17 from 28 would cost TT picks 28 and 60, his 1st and 2nd. To trade into the top ten would cost those plus next years 1st round and more. Not worth it!!!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Bubbaloo says:

          The 28th and the 60th for the 17th? Pull the trigger now if it gets us a quality right side “D” help. With all the compensatory picks GB could bundle some of their regular picks to trade back up!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Zack says:

          thanks for the site. didn’t know that existed, =P that should help.

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  6. Lucas says:

    Why jump ahead in the draft if we don’t need to? Several times the player has fallen onto our lap. Aaron Rodgers immediately comes to mind, but we sat and got Bulaga, Raji, even Cobb seemed to just fall to us. I’m not saying “don’t do it, TT” but I believe in his ability to react to the draft. Let’s not do any pre-draft trades. That may sound negative, but I agree with this article’s premise…we do need to do something.

    I would have liked to have seen in this article some commentary on which teams, especially 34 teams, ahead of us truly need olb help. My immediate thoughts of teams needing any olb go to Bills, Jets, Lions. They pick 10, 16, 23. To jump ahead of them will take a lot on the trade value chart, even a few spots with a rival Lions.

    It may be in our best interest to think of trading up for a DE since more teams ahead of us are in need of them. Draft strategy is a study of higher level mathematics. I think TT has a degree. At least an honorary one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Lucas says:

      Also, many 43 teams look at college DTs and draft them for that position. 34 teams look at some and think DEs/DTs. As many as 14 teams ahead of us could/should draft a DE/DT. Some of them are looking for pure rush DEs…but still. Supply and demand!

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      • Zack says:

        O.o I don’t understand what you mean by 43 and 34. Obviously there’s only 32 nfl teams so that’s not what you mean. What are you saying? it wasn’t very clear.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        • cow42 says:

          are you serious?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

          • BubbaOne says:

            Lucas, the Lions play a 43.
            Zack, 43 and 34 pertain to the D scheme they play 4DL’s and 3LB’s vs 3DL’s and 4LB’s.
            Cow, yes I think he was serious.

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            • Lucas says:

              Right, that’s why I wrote “any olb help” because some OLBs are 3-4 (sheesh!) only guys and some can play any scheme. My thoughts being, those teams, 34 or 43, may pick a guy we want for our 34. 34 teams would be more likely to take a guy we wanted.

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            • Zack says:

              i know what 4-3 and 3-4 are it was confusing because he mixed 43 and 34 in a discussion about draft position… plus I was a little tipsy when i read that. thanks.

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        • Bubbaloo says:

          Zack, what they’re trying to say is 3-4 vs. 4-3 defense.

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  7. lmills says:

    I would rather see TT take the BPA with the first round pick and maybe slide up early in the second to maybe grab someone who slid out of the first. That way we don’t have to give up as much and could still get first round talent for cheap(er).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Bubbaloo says:

      NOT ME! I want real defensive help now! Trade up, get us back to where we belong. The pack could have as many as 3 third and fourth round picks. or 2 of each and some extra fifths. Trade the 1st and 2nd to move up, then use your lower rounds regular picks to trade back into the second. You’ll still have the compensatory picks in the later rounds.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Mark says:

    I would like TT to use a BPA approach at pick 28, but limiting his player pool to a few positions–NT, DE, OLB OC at OT. After that, I would like to see him trade back up into the very early 2nd round (pick 33 overall) and take a player that they need on defense (DE/OLB) if there is value there (I’m thinking a Brockers/Perry combo would look nice). Otherwise, if GB could get a player at 28 that makes sense and another in at 60 like Ben Jones (OC) Markelle Martin (FS)Vinny Curry (DE) or Ronell Lewis (OLB), I don’t think GB can be too upset about their draft. Maybe at that point, and if there are players available that are good fits, they can trade into the late 2nd round (according to the trade chart that costs GB’s 3rd, 4th and 5th round picks) and take another guy that has a chance to be an impact player. GB will be getting at least (2) 4th round compensatory picks (maybe a 3rd and 4th instead) along with their 7th round compensatory picks, so they should still be able to make lots of value picks for guys that slide later on as well.

    I count 11 picks for GB right now (including the compensatory picks). Does GB really have room to sign all these guys or are they going to get picked off of the practice squad like last year?

    NE always likes to deal their late 1st-round picks so maybe that’s an option too…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    TT should wait it out unless a ‘special’ player becomes available (examples of AR, cm3, etc.. above are correct).

    We need DL, ROLB, S/CB, Possibly C help NEXT YEAR. This is a 15-1 team that has a lot of holes to fill.

    It’s doable because there are many, many great players to compensate on this team if 1 area is weak. But it’s going to take a lot of picks.

    Trust TT guys. Maybe we’ll even add a mid-tier FA? Please?? ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Lucas says:

      FAs seem to be a surprise from TT, but he is willing. Chillar and Pickett come to mind.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

        That’s the level of player I’m talking about. Someone in the mold of a Peprah who can fill in well for a little while when injuries become an issue.

        Capers problem this year was that NO ONE at DE/ROLB could do the job consistently. It’s an odds and numbers game.

        Top end DE’s/ROLB’s in the draft and mid tier FA for depth purposes.

        That’s the ticket.

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  10. marpag says:

    2009 really DOESN’T prove that TT “is willing to make a big move up to get a player he desperately needs.” Matthews was an extraordinary value at that spot. At the time of the draft TT said he considered Matthews instead of Raji at number 9… and he was right. If the 2009 draft were redone today, Matthews almost certainly goes top 5. Getting a guy to walk in day one as a double digit sacker on a low 1st round rookie contract is the very definition of a “Value Pick”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Oppy says:

      I agree whole-heartedly.. I’ve tried to put this idea into words recently, and probably failed. TT moving up to take Matthews wasn’t at all against TT’s philosophy, it was simply that the Packers had figured he was a top ten guy who way down in the draft. He was a huge value as far as their draft board was concerned.

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  11. Oppy says:

    The new rookie salary caps may actually make it more likely that TT may move up in any given draft, who knows.

    I do not believe the Packers go into ANY draft planning on moving up, trading down, or staying put. It is always fluid and everything centers around how they have their board arranged, and everything that transpires when things are underway.

    If a player they Packers had graded out as one of their top 10 talents slides into the 20-25 range somehow, you might see the Packers make a bold move up- but that would only be if they felt that player was significantly better than what would have probably been available at their original slotted pick position..

    Every draft is different in terms of overall depth of talent and the way the other 31 teams play it. I believe those are the two biggest factors in how the Pack attacks the draft- as opposed to offensive or defensive needs.

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    • marpag says:

      I agree with all of this, but there is a pretty big difference between this year and 2009. In 2009 the Pack was picking at 9 (their own) and moved up into the bottom of the first round for CM3.

      People on this board are talking about moving up near the TOP of the first round. A move like that is going to be MUCH more expensive to do, both in terms of money AND especially draft picks.

      Plus, it’s just a lot more difficult to say that a guy is “slipping” if you are only talking about the first dozen picks or so. If you thought a guy should go at 6 and he doesn’t go till 10, is he really slipping? Now if he goes down to 25,26 then it will be clear that he’s slipping.

      Thing is, mid-twenties is where the Pack is picking. If is guy is slipping he will come to the Packers, the Packers will not jump up to him. If the Packers have to move up, then the guy didn’t really slip.

      I’ll be stunned if TT trades up. Flabbergasted.

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      • Zack says:

        I’m pretty sure that the draft gurus on this blog put to rest any legitimate hopes that we trade up any higher than the 17th. I may have inquired as to whether or not it was possible to move into the top 10 and bubbaone gave info… so if you’re wondering why there was talk of such ridiculous possibilities blame my ignorance of draft policy and procedures, =P. everyone’s got lack of knowledge on something and I’ll admit mine in this cases.

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  12. Jay says:

    As for needs, I don’t think the offense needs anyone other than OL depth (one G, one T maybe). I think we need 2 DL (one to replace Jenkins’ production, one to groom to replace Pickett next year), 1 LB, 1 CB/S (2 if Collins retires). By my count that’s at most 7 places of need wit what projected 12 pick? I think we can do this…

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  13. [...] As my colleague Zach Kruse recently wrote, the obvious move for Thompson would be to perhaps trade up to get a pass rusher that can contribute immediately.  As Zach notes, Thompson did that in 2009 and got Clay Matthews after already selecting BJ Raji in the first round.  It was a move that took both Packer Nation and NFL pundits by complete surprise as such aggressiveness was unusual for Thompson. [...]

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  14. zeke says:

    my thoughts are that a standout outside linebacker and a dual purpose defensive lineman would be top choices. i have read where the packers will have 12 picks this year, and, if that is so, and with tt’s history, i could see the packers trading up as they did a few years ago and still come out of the draft with as many picks as they went into it with.

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  15. Zack says:

    Yeah let’s hope if they go for a LB we’re closer to the mark this time then the last time we drafted a stand out LB (AJ Hawk. I know, he’s an ILB but still, =P).

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  16. Lucas says:

    According to Draftmetrics, no difference in value exists between picks 14-28, so according to that, TT should NOT trade up. Even if “all” the choice OLBs are gone, that would mean other players of value would be dropping to us. I’d rather a top 2-4 rated DE instead of reaching with 5-7 rated OLB.

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