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.

22

April

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Outside Linebacker

In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the outside linebacker position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.

CURRENT PLAYERS:

#52 Clay Matthews
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#51 Brady Poppinga
31 yrs. old / 6 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#93 Erik Walden
25 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#59 Brad Jones
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#47 Diyral Briggs
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#58 Frank Zombo
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

I can’t tell you how many times the past two years that I’ve heard or said, “Clay Matthews is a beast.”

He alone propels this defense to a new level. Opposing offenses work up their game plans in a concentrated effort to take him out of the equation, because he is the biggest threat to the quarterback. Matthews’ motor never stops running, his lightning fast break off the line is a nightmare to blockers, and there’s just something intimidating about that long mane of hair.

Okay, so maybe I made that last one up. But in all seriousness, Clay Matthews boasts 23.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Packers. Ted Thompson made one of the best moves in his career as a GM by trading up in the 2009 NFL Draft to grab him.

Now, despite the lack of a stud player “opposite Matthews” (as you so often hear), there is a lot of strength in the depth of this unit. The cliché may be that this team won the Super Bowl with the players, but they also made it through the season with them.