TT Plays Against ‘Type’
In recent years, fans of the Green Bay Packers have become accustomed to seeing General Manager Ted Thompson defy ‘conventional wisdom’ in his approach to the NFL draft. Thompson’s draft picks have often mystified observers of the team when it comes to the relationship of the players he’s picked in regards to the perceived needs of the team by outsiders; seemingly always looking to find that ‘diamond in the rough’.
Apparently this year, with other teams in the NFC North division (particularly, the Bears) making bold moves in the offseason, Thompson decided to employ a bold strategy of his own. Of course, in his case, that meant doing something that fans actually expected him to do: drafting Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the 9th pick of the first round. Thompson himself acknowledged the departure from his normal m.o. when he jokingly accused fans who had gathered at Lambeau Field of “going soft” for not booing him when he entered the Atrium.
Even as the selection of Raji was popular with most Packer fans, it is not without some risks. Raji is considered a character risk by many which is primarily the reason he was still available to the Packers. He was academically ineligible for his junior year at B.C. and there are rumors that he tested positive for marijuana use while there. There are also concerns among scouts about his work ethic and weight issues.
Still, his ‘upside’ makes such risks worth it. Raji has been compared to Warren Sapp, the loquacious long time defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sapp, who’s own character issues regarding marijuana use coming out of the U. of Miami caused a fall in the draft, ended up being a disruptive force as an interior lineman as a future Hall of Famer for the Bucs and later the Oakland Raiders.
If Raji is only half as good as Sapp, he will probably be an upgrade over any of the Packers current defensive tackles. At the very least, he will be a Gilbert Brown-type anchor in the middle and provide immediate relief for current starter Ryan Pickett, who clearly wore down in playing too many snaps last season. That should result in a stronger defense against the run which was a major deficiency of the Packers defense in 2008.
With his second pick, Thompson again countered his reputation by trading up with the New England Patriots to take USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. with the 26th pick of the first round. In doing so, Thompson gave up the Packers 2nd and both 3rd round picks for the right to take Matthews along with New England’s 5th round pick. While I question the wisdom of giving up so much to move up in the draft (maybe Ted had a pressing engagement Sunday morning and knew he wouldn’t be available to pick ’til the 4th round), clearly Matthews, Jr. was someone they targeted as a player they had to have.
In contrast to many of TT’s selections in years past, Matthews is at least someone from a big-time program who’s name we’ve heard before (if only for his dad who once played for the Cleveland Browns). As a 3rd generation pro football player with an uncle who also was an NFL veteran offensive lineman, his bloodlines suggest that he should be a safe pick and a solid, if not spectacular, contributor. The Packers were also reportedly enamored of his ability and willingness to play on special teams; no small consideration after that unit’s backslide last season.
So Day One of the 2009 NFL draft ended up being a rare occurence under the Thompson regime; one in which the team addressed some obvious needs in the early rounds. Defensive Coordinator Dom Caper’s new 3/4 defense will no doubt be the better for it.