The 4 NFL Draft Strategies of Ted Thompson
While the Packers may be the only American professional sports team owned by the fans, the last handful of years have proven the team isn’t run by the fans.
Against the backdrop of fans begging for Green Bay to go “all in” with superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the front office has remained steady in its approach. The Packers view the NFL Draft as their primary means for player acquisition, dipping into free agency only when the value and risk is right.
During the lead up to the draft, The Power Sweep will take a high-level view of Green Bay’s draft strategy to help you see the forest from the trees.
How we’re evaluating NFL Draft strategy
Let’s first lay down the foundation. For the purpose of this post, we aren’t evaluating how a specific player performed but rather where in the draft they were selected and what position they play.
In order to simply view the data, we assigned a score to weigh each selection in every round of the draft. We’ll call these Value Points:
1st round pick - 10 Value Points
2nd round pick - 7 Value Points
3rd round pick - 5 Value Points
4th round pick - 4 Value Points
5th round pick - 3 Value Points
6th round pick - 2 Value Points
7th round pick - 1 Value Point
Every year, each team starts with one selection in each round for a total of 32 Value Points. Through trades or compensatory picks, teams are able to increase or decrease their available Value Points in a draft.
Ted Thompson has been the general manager of the Packers since 2005, a total of 11 years. With the average NFL career lasting around three or four years, Thompson’s tenure encompasses at least three iterations of Green Bay’s roster.
Green Bay Packers draft strategy under Ted Thompson
Positions with the most Value Points: Wide receiver (64)
Average Value Points per draft: 43
Position with the highest average Value Points: Safety (5.8)
Over Ted Thompson’s tenure as general manager, he’s been able to add on average an extra 10 Value Points to every draft through a combination of compensatory picks and draft day trades.
When Thompson acquires extra picks, they generally are in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Green Bay has selected 39 players in the first three rounds of the draft and 55 players in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.
Strategy 1: One Last Push for Favre (2005-2007)
Position with the most Value Points: Wide receiver (28)
Average Value Points per draft: 46
Position with the highest average Value Points: Quarterback (6.5)
Ted Thompson’s greatest accomplishment in the draft may very well end up being his first pick – quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2005’s first round.
After Mike Sherman stepped down as general manager, Thompson spent his most valuable picks on defense in the final three years of Brett Favre’s Packers career. Though he selected 18 offensive players against 16 defensive players over the span, ILB A.J. Hawk and DT Justin Harrell were the team’s top picks in 2006 and 2007.
This era also represents by far the largest investment Thompson made at middle linebacker. despite Green Bay lining up defensively in a 4-3 defense with only one inside linebacker. The Packers invested 21 Value Points into inside linebacker from 2005-2007, and from 2008-2016 have only invested 16 Value Points at the position.
Strategy 2: Get Aaron Rodgers Weapons (2008-2010)
Position with the most Value Points: Offensive tackle (24)
Average Value Points per draft: 35
Position with the highest average Value Points: Defensive tackle (10)
After the strangest offseason for any team in modern history, the Packers entered 2008 with Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback. Thompson invested heavily in protecting Rodgers, drafting future offensive line starters in tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard Josh Sitton, and guard T.J. Lang.
2009 marks the first time under Thompson’s leadership the Packers invested more Value Points into defense than offense. The team was in the midst of a defensive scheme transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and Green Bay picked two defensive players in the first round (B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews). Raji was the only defensive tackle selected by the Packers in this three-year span.
Green Bay alternated between focuses on offense and defense in subsequent years, patching holes on defense and preparing offensive weapons for Rodgers to use in the future. Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley joined the team during this era.
Strategy 3: The 3-4 Switch (2011-2013)
Position with the most Value Points: Running back (16)
Average Value Points per draft: 38
Position with the highest average Value Points: Defensive end (6.5)
The Packers won Super Bowl XLV and continued to invest in weapons for Rodgers. Their first two post-championship picks were tackle Derek Sherrod and wide receiver Randall Cobb.
After the defense melted down in 2011, Thompson’s draft strategy appeared to shift. The Packers spent 35 of their 37 Value Points in 2012 on defense, but only defensive tackle Mike Daniels developed into a top-flight starter.
Three defensive positions received more than 10 Value Points of investment – defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. All three positions rush the passer; the Packers had been struggling with sacking the quarterback.
Strategy 4: Rebuild the Secondary (2014-2016)
Position with the most Value Points: Tie, wide receiver and cornerback (19)
Average Value Points per draft: 37
Position with the highest average Value Points: Safety (10)
Cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Davon House and Casey Hayward left Green Bay in free agency, and the team hadn’t yet sufficiently replaced retired safety Nick Collins. As a result, Thompson invested a third of his Value Points (29) in the secondary over this stretch.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the second MVP of his career in 2014, thanks to Thompson’s continued investment in offensive weapons. Over these three years, the Packers selected eight skill position players – five wide receivers, two tight ends and one fullback.
By 2016, Thompson had recalibrated his draft strategy again. With a majority of the starters on the offensive line approaching free agency, the Packers invested a second-round pick in tackle Jason Spriggs and a sixth-round pick in tackle Kyle Murphy. Before 2016, Thompson had only selected one offensive lineman (center Corey Linsley in the fifth round) in the previous two drafts.