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Packers' draft approach? Go big or go home -- at least this year

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One of Ted Thompson’s longtime draft-day tenets is rooted in simple supply and demand. When it comes to offensive and defensive linemen, there simply aren’t enough good ones to go around.

“The good Lord only made so many [of them],” the Green Bay Packers general manager is fond of saying. It’s a line used both by Thompson’s former lieutenants (Seattle GM John Schneider and Kansas City GM John Dorsey each have their own versions of it) and by current staffers, such as Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, who used a variation of it while discussing the team’s top two draft picks.

“It's a good big-guy draft and we were able to add two of them. I think that was kind of a goal of ours,” Gutekunst said after the Packers took UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark with their first-round pick and traded up to nab Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs in the second round. “I just think that it’s the hardest thing to do at any level of football, [including] high school, college. God only made so many of them, and he only made so many of them that can move. We’re all looking for them at every level.”

In all, four of the Packers’ seven picks tip the scales at or near 300 pounds, and three stand 6-foot-6: Clark (6-3, 314), Spriggs (6-6, 301), fourth-round defensive end Dean Lowry (6-6, 296) and sixth-round offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (6-6, 305).

But the approach wasn’t just the result of Thompson’s big-guy credo. Packers coach Mike McCarthy believed adding size was the team’s overarching draft priority.

On defense, the Packers lost veteran nose tackle B.J. Raji to an unexpected retirement and will be without rotational defensive lineman Mike Pennel for the first four games because of an NFL substance-abuse suspension. On offense, McCarthy watched the line struggle through injuries last year.

“When you look at the big men that have been drafted, there's definitely, in my opinion, a desire to get bigger. So we've accomplished that,” McCarthy said after the draft wrapped up. “You can never have enough big men and that's definitely something that came out of this draft class.

“It's a big man's game. When you get into a season, when you look at challenges that you have during the season, you have to make sure you take care of things up front. We have a very good offensive and defensive line. The way the draft board laid out … this was definitely an opportunity to take advantage of that.”

That philosophy helps explain why the Packers yet again decided against spending a high draft pick on the inside linebacker position. If you believe big guys are harder to find, then it stands to reason you’d spend more draft capital on them. That’s why the top of the Packers’ current inside linebacker depth chart consists of 2013 seventh-round pick Sam Barrington, 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, 2014 fourth-round pick Carl Bradford and Stanford rookie Blake Martinez, whom on Saturday the Packers drafted in -- you guessed it -- the fourth round.

“Defensive linemen, offensive linemen, they're hard to find. Linebackers and running backs are hard to find too, but the combination of being big enough and strong enough and athletic enough to compete in the NFL, those are hard combinations to come up with,” Thompson said.

“You don’t have to be big to play in the NFL, but it helps. We were able to get some ‘bigs’ on both sides of the ball, and we think that’s a good thing.”