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June 22, 2017

Ted Doesn’t Know Linebackers

Considering he played the position for a decade in the National Football League, you’d think Ted Thompson would know a good linebacker when he sees one. But that hasn’t been the case. Here’s a look at the longtime general manager’s hits and mostly misses at linebacker since returning to Green Bay in January 2005:


A.J. HAWK (2006) – I’m being extremely generous here. While the former Ohio State star had a solid nine-year run with the Packers (142 games and over 600 tackles), he never came close to living up to expectations. Solid is not what a team expects from a player picked fifth overall in the draft.

DESMOND BISHOP (2007) – The former Cal star lasted until the sixth round and then languished on the bench for three seasons before finally getting a chance to play. Injuries ended his time in Green Bay prematurely, but not before he played a major role in helping the team win Super Bowl XLV. Thompson’s second-best pick.

CLAY MATTHEWS (2009) – This is far and away Thompson’s best pick. He uncharacteristically traded up into the first round to get the former walk-on at USC, who paid instant dividends with 10 sacks as a rookie. The following five seasons provided another 51 sacks and four trips to the Pro Bowl.

NICK PERRY (2012) – He wouldn’t have been on this list a year ago. The former No. 1 pick was an injury-plagued mediocrity in his first four seasons in the league, but everything came together in 2016. Now he’s one of the highest-paid outside linebackers in the league and one of the team’s best defensive players.


BRADY POPPINGA (2005) – Picked in the fourth round, the former BYU star had a decent six-year career with the Packers (81 games and nearly 200 tackles). Of course, the ridiculous $17 million extension he signed in 2008 will go down as one of Thompson’s biggest misses, but that’s a post for another day.

BRAD JONES (2009) – Very similar to Poppinga in that he enjoyed a decent six-year career with the Packers that also included a way too pricey second contract ($11 million for 3 years). Still, it’s hard to be critical of any seventh-round pick who starts 36 games.

NATE PALMER (2013) – The former sixth-round pick from Illinois State started 10 games for the Packers in 2015, and while he wasn’t very good, he did plug a gaping hole on the inside. That’s about as much as one should ever expect from a player drafted 193rd overall.

SAM BARRINGTON (2013) – What I just wrote about Palmer also applies to this seventh-round pick from South Florida. The only difference is the number of starts (7) and the year (2014).


ABDUL HODGE (2006) – Injuries played a part in making this third-round pick a bust, but he didn’t play all that well even when healthy. While the former Iowa star packed a punch at the point of attack, he lacked the athleticism to adequately function in space.

D.J. SMITH (2011) – It’s hard to kill Thompson for missing in the sixth round, but he didn’t even come close in this draft. The undersized former Appalachian State star simply wasn’t big enough – pun intended – for the NFL. And sadly, he wasn’t even the worst linebacker drafted that year.

RICKY ELMORE (2011) – That dubious distinction goes to this former Arizona star, also selected in the sixth round. He was a complete non-factor from day one. Nevertheless, his measurables got him chances with five more teams before his career finally ended for good in 2013.

TERRELL MANNING (2012) – Thompson traded up into the fifth round to select the talented former North Carolina State star, but he never challenged for playing time during a very disappointing one season stay in Green Bay. He could run and hit, but the mental part of the game – which many scouts questioned prior to the draft – proved to be his downfall.

CARL BRADFORD (2014) – The coaches did him no favors by lining him up outside as a rookie, and while he looked better after moving inside in 2015, it wasn’t enough. Despite good size and speed, he never showed much in the way of instincts. Thompson finally gave up on the fourth round pick from Arizona State last December.

It’s still too soon to know about recent picks Jake Ryan, Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez, but the odds are against any of them finding great success. Thompson drafted 13 linebackers between 2005 and 2014 and only four of them made the “hit” list, and that charitably includes Hawk. That’s certainly not the percentage you’d expect from a quality GM, especially one who played 146 games at the position in the NFL.

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14 Responses “Ted Doesn’t Know Linebackers”

  1. Nerd
    April 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I’m high on Fackrell. I think he’s got a pretty good ceiling.

    Had to take a shot on Ricky Elmore. He produced in college. Had to see if he could do it with intangibles.

  2. Madfan
    April 11, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Yes, a rather uninspiring group, with a few exceptions. But, it seems that it is also a sign of not placing much emphasis on the ILB position. Hodge was a question from the start since it didn’t appear that he fit the defense. But most of the others are 3rd day picks. Little should have been expected from Palmer, Barrington, Smith and probably Manning. Elmore and Smith were part of a one-year deviation in drafting philosophy to productive players even those they had less than average measurables. It seemed that TT slipped back in that mode for Bradford.

    TT should stick to the position descriptions. He may also need to use a first or second day pick.

  3. speakeasy
    April 11, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Ugh. Yeah, this is an area where TT has really struggled. Really defense overall he’s been quite poor.

    Amazing for a GM that played defense (as MR noted), he has had so many more hits on the offensive side of the ball.

    That’s why I respect Belichick. Go look at his drafting of WRs. It’s terrible (he’s hit of course on a few TEs). He’s brought in free agents like Moss, Edelman, Welker, Amendola, et al) to augment an area where he has been a poor drafter.

    I don’t understand why TT struggles with that concept (other than keeping his d@mn comp picks). Add a Hankins on DL as MR alluded to in his other article. Fill a few holes (like he did with TE). This team desperately needs more pass rushers.

  4. Descartes
    April 11, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    I think TT is getting reaping what he sows — and in effect getting what he expects. Lets look at it this way:

    1sts (3) — 3 hits
    2nds (0) — no picks
    3rds (1) — 1 miss
    4ths (2) — 1 neutral, 1 miss
    5ths (1) — 1 miss
    6ths (4) — 1 hit, 1 neutral, 2 misses
    7ths (2) — 2 neutrals

    The miss in the 3rd is at least balanced-off by finding a hit in the 6th and, given that, it seems to be about what we, he, and most other GM’s should expect. I don’t think the problem is an inability to identify talent as much as it is the value assigned to the position. Clearly he doesn’t want to try very hard to find LB’s, especially ILB’s, as he now has gone over a decade without investing either draft choices or free agent money in the effort to secure them.

  5. Thorny
    April 11, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Considering draft position Hawk is in the “misses”group and Brad Jones is in the “hits” group. The way Hawk hit people you could put him in the “missus” group.

    The most curious thing about Ted is his ratio of 1st round defensive picks to offensive. He curiously addressed that in his combine or owners meeting comments. He’s probably hit on more offensive players in each of the 2nd and 4th rounds than his 9 or 10 defensive players in Round 1.

    His inability to draft the LB position applies almost across the board to the entire defense. That inability is often overlooked when judging him in the whole. I find it hard to call him a great GM when he’s failed mightily to put together a defense with all the resources he’s allocated. It’s fine to blame Dom but Ted seems to get a free pass when he’s being labeled as a great GM.

    I hope against hope the fortunes change this draft season. Would really like to know who is responsible for these failures? Is it all Ted, or is it on the scouts he trusts like Sam Seale?

  6. Jason
    April 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Got to meet Terrell Manning. Did a job for him and he came to my house once and went wine shopping. Seemed to be a class act and was hoping he would stay in GB.

  7. Nerd
    April 11, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    This team needs book ends.

  8. CJS
    April 12, 2017 at 1:51 am

    One minor quibble is that I’d put Hawk in your middle tier ranking. Even at the height of his career, AJ Hawk was not a “hit”. Solid steady and slowwwww. I’ll bet Speakeasy could have outrun him.

  9. Steve
    April 12, 2017 at 10:20 am

    The majority of his picks are in the fourth round and later, and many are in the 6th and 7th rounds. Any hits out of these selections are just gravy. It’s clear TT does not value the position. But, Michael, your point is still valid. LB’s have been a weak spot for TT, which is surprising given he’s played the position.

  10. TJV
    April 12, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Maybe the problem is Thompson was a mediocre LB who mostly contributed on STs (if I remember correctly), so he’s mostly drafted LBs he can relate to? Just kidding. The point that Thompson should augment positions he’s had trouble drafting with free agents is often repeated because it makes so much sense. Several years ago I read Thompson say something like ‘free agency should be used to fill immediate needs’. I haven’t been able to find that quote but if he said it, he didn’t mean it. Hell, maybe I dreamt it.

    I have trouble calling the Hawk pick a “hit” considering where he was drafted: The earliest pick Thompson ever exercised in the draft would have been a good pick if he were a third rounder. But go back and look at Hawk’s college tape – you can see why he was picked where he was. I think we all know – or strongly suspect – why his play dropped off in the NFL… If only Thompson had traded down…

  11. Jon
    April 12, 2017 at 11:27 am

    The Steelers run pretty much the same defense and they seem to draft a linebacker in the first round every year. The 3-4 is all about linebackers and yet Ted’s drafted only 3 in the first two rounds since 2005.

  12. TJV
    April 12, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    To be fair, the Packers switched to the 3-4 in 2009. In the 8 drafts since then, Thompson has used 2 first rounders, 1 third, 2 fourth, 1 fifth, 3 sixth, and 2 seventh rounders on LBs. And a first rounder on a DE (Dante Jones) who eventually switched to OLB. And he signed free agent LBs Julius Peppers and Lerentee McCray.

  13. Jon
    April 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Fair points, but Ted needed to do more at linebacker even before Dom showed up. I think Brady Poppinga was starting in ’08.

  14. Saguaro
    April 14, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Hawk was really the only option at that slot in that draft. Davis at TE was a head case who might never have done anything in GB. He was the only other option, and I am sure TT was holding a fire sale to trade down but couldn’t because everyone else could also see the crummy options in that draft.
    The real problem with TT and LBs is his decisions to re-sign at inflated salaries. Injuries can’t really be blamed on him unless the draftee had a prior history, and that doesn’t seem to be the case with this list. Maybe more telling would be the guys he passed on?

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