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Packers GM Has Eye For Talent

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General Manager Ted Thompson has a keen eye for talent. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
General Manager Ted Thompson has a keen eye for talent. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Since taking over as Green Bay’s general manager in 2005, Ted Thompson has made his living by targeting undervalued talent in the NFL Draft. As a result, ESPN analyst and former Colts GM Bill Polian named Thompson one of the five best talent evaluators in the league.

Thompson, who hired head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, has proven especially adept at selecting star wide receivers from unheralded schools that often don’t fit the mold of a prototypical NFL wide out.

The list includes: Randall Cobb (64th overall, 2011), JerMichael Finley (91st, 2008), James Jones (78th, 2007) and Greg Jennings (52nd, 2006).

Last season, Thompson’s draft choices accounted for over 75 percent of Green Bay’s receiving yards and 35 of Aaron Rodgers’ 39 touchdown passes.

Who would’ve thought that the 5-foot-10, 191-pound Cobb out of Eastern Kentucky would emulate Percy Harvin’s triple-threat ability in just his second season? Jordy Nelson was hardly a sure thing when the Packers took him 34th overall in 2008, but that selection continues to pay dividends.

Thompson and his scouts clearly have a knack for selecting high-level talent at a discounted price. Since Rodgers took the starting gig from Brett Favre in 2007, Green Bay has surrounded him with talented pass-catchers. Fear not the loss of Jennings, Packers faithful.

Thompson’s talent evaluation skills don’t reside solely on the offensive side of the ball. Thompson has drafted defensive stars such as Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in the first round, but has also nabbed defensive starters and system players later in the draft.

Free safety Nick Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, played a key role in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run. As a rookie last season, Casey Hayward took over the starting cornerback role and hauled in six interceptions. His early success made Charles Woodson expendable this offseason.

The proof is in the pudding with Thompson. Six of Green Bay’s projected defensive starters came through the draft, four of which were chosen after the first round. Outside linebacker Brad Jones, who recently inked a three-year, $11.75 million extension, was taken during the 7th round in 2008.

Thompson’s ability to stockpile talent on the both sides of the ball allows the team to eschew overpriced free agents and conserve valuable cap space. The available funds should come in handy when the Pack sign Rodgers, Matthews and Raji to massive contract extensions in the coming months.

Of course, I’d be remiss without mentioning Thompson’s career-defining draft choice of Rodgers in 2005. In his first three seasons, Rodgers attempted just 59 passes, but took over the starting job when Favre left town.

As you well know, Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl win in 2010 before taking home the NFL’s MVP award in 2011.

All of that started with Thompson’s bold draft pick. As it so often does.