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.
NEITHER HITS NOR MISSES
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.