No one in their right mind would ever say Ted Thompson isn’t a good GM. Plain and simple, the Green Bay Packers‘ chief’s just one of the best in the business. Perfect evidence of that is his perennially strong draft classes. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Josh Sitton, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Rodgers, BJ Raji, AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews are just a few of the many terrific selections by Thompson in recent years.
Then there’s the ‘but’.
But as well as Thompson has drafted, he still hasn’t been able to ever replace Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton as bookend offensive tackles. Both offensive tackle spots have been major weak links ever since they’ve retired a few years ago. But don’t say Thompson hasn’t tried to find solutions to protecting his star quarterback. He’s invested two high picks in recent drafts to remedy the problem but without much success.
First came Bryan Bulaga (1st round, 2010), who was the latest stud tackle from Iowa a few years ago. He’s struggled to handle the speed of the game ever since he was drafted, and now just tore his ACL, meaning he’ll miss all of 2013. Derek Sherrod (1st round, 2011), after a few very forgettable months into his rookie season, injured his leg, and hasn’t been back since. Granted, he’s close to practicing again, but we don’t know if he’ll ever be the same, or even if he’s cut out to protect the edge in the NFL anyway, since he was sub par before being injured.
So now Green Bay, armed with the greatest arm in the league and no one to protect it, is in a quandary. David Bakhtiari and Marshall Newhouse are currently running with the first team, but those two aren’t long-term answers. Newhouse is fantastically underwhelming and Bakhtiari, a rookie, is undersized and really better suited to play inside at guard.
Don’t worry cheeseheads, Green Bay will find a way to make it work. That’s just how good Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy are. But Thompson is going to have to be bold when this season ends.
I usually love Thompson’s rugged stance of either staying put or trading down and always taking the best player available. Nine times out of 10 I’ll agree with that philosophy. But the DEFCON numbers keep getting lower and lower in Green Bay, and the pressure is mounting on Thompson to find a real solution on the edge to both ensure Rodgers’ health and assist a morbid ground game.
Luckily, the 2014 NFL Draft is shaping up to be incredibly deep at tackle, similar to last year where three out of the top four picks were edge protectors.
Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), Antonio Richardson (Tennessee), Cameron Erving (Florida State), James Hurst (UNC) and Zack Martin (Notre Dame) all figure to be in the mix for first round selections, especially the first four guys. Thompson is going to have his chance to find a real blindside protector, but he can’t miss like he did with Bulaga and Sherrod.
Should Thompson trade up? We can assume GB will have another strong season and the accompanying late first round selection where a few of the top tackles will still be available. But this might be one of those instances where Thompson has to bite the bullet, trade away some of his enormous draft capital, and draft one of the true studs like Matthews, Lewan or Kouandjio. I know this normally goes against the grain of Thompson, but he has moved up in the first round a few rare instances before (like trading up to snag Clay Matthews), and this could be the perfect opportunity again.
Yes, it’s still super early before really examining potential moves in the 2014 draft, but I think Thompson should be prepared to move up and finally find the solution to blindside protector.