Packers GM Ted Thompson: Drafting late can be 'gut-wrenching'

Aaron Rodgers is one of the many gems that Packers GM Ted Thompson has uncovered late in the first round of the NFL draft. Rob Carr/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Some three hours will pass and 26 players will come off the board before Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers go on the clock Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft.

As agonizing as it may seem -- and to hear the Packers general manager describe the wait, it sounds excruciating -- it’s a familiar position.

Thompson's 12th draft in charge of the Packers will mark the 10th time his team has held a pick in the bottom third of the first round. Seven times, he made a pick at his assigned spot. Once he traded back and out of the first round. Another time he traded up higher in the first round.

Chances are Thompson will make his pick at the No. 27 slot, and he almost certainly will see a player or three who he genuinely hoped would fall to him get snatched up before his turn.

“There are gut-wrenching times when you’re so close to getting what you think is the perfect player for your team, and then that player might get picked right in front of you or something,” Thompson said last week when discussing the draft. “But oftentimes when that happens, it turns out in the long run that you were better off with that happening in the first place. I do a lot of praying, and sometimes I think the good Lord looks down on us and helps us out.”

Thompson’s history shows that he is just as likely to hit on a pick in the back half of the first round as he is in the first half, if not more so.

He has picked in the top 16 three times. Two of those picks, linebacker A.J. Hawk (No. 5 overall in 2006) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (No. 9 in 2009), made Pro Bowls. Each did it only once, with Hawk going only as an alternate.

Hawk played nine seasons with the Packers and remains in the league with the Cincinnati Bengals, but many would consider him a disappointment given that he was the fifth pick of the draft. Raji never quite got back to his production level from his first few seasons and is currently out of the NFL by his own choice, taking a hiatus for the 2016 season. Thompson’s other top-16 pick was a complete bust: defensive tackle Justin Harrell (No. 16 in 2007).

Thompson picked two multiple-time Pro Bowlers in the back half of the first round: quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 24 in 2005) and linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 26 in 2009, the trade up). Plus, he found a longtime starter in tackle Bryan Bulaga (No. 23 in 2010) and two up-and-comers in safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 21 in 2014) and cornerback Damarious Randall (No. 30 last year). Two other players remain on the roster: Outside linebacker Nick Perry (No. 28 in 2012) and defensive end Datone Jones (No. 26 in 2013). Only tackle Derek Sherrod (No. 32 in 2011) is no longer with the team.

So which does Thompson like better?

“It’s more enjoyable when you pick 32nd because there’s nothing that can be done to you to make your smile go away,” Thompson said. “Seriously, we can’t lose sight of that. This is about winning. If you can win, everything is good. Where you pick and that sort of thing is immaterial. But, to answer your question, there are challenges with either. I’ve always been of the option that, in a perfect world, we’d pick 32nd, meaning we were world champions, and then in the other rounds we’d somehow have the first pick in that round. If we could do that, that’d be perfect.

“I enjoy the challenge of either, and the challenge of one is different than the challenge of the other, obviously.”

Here’s a look at how many games each of Thompson’s first-round picks has played for the Packers:

Top-16 picks

  • A.J. Hawk, No. 5 (2006): 142 career regular-season games

  • B.J. Raji, No. 9 (2009): 91

  • Justin Harrell, No. 16 (2007): 14

Picks 17-32

  • Aaron Rodgers, No. 24 (2005): 126*

  • Clay Matthews, No. 26 (2009): 101*

  • Bryan Bulaga, No. 23 (2010): 64*

  • Derek Sherrod, No. 32 (2011): 20

  • Nick Perry, No. 28 (2012): 46*

  • Datone Jones, No. 26 (2013): 44*

  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, No. 21 (2014): 32*

  • Damarious Randall, No. 30 (2015): 15*

*Still active with Packers