I have absolutely no idea which player the Green Bay Packers will choose in the first round, and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Ted Thompson is as tight-lipped as any general manager in the league and his staff is every bit as secretive. Therefore, nothing he does should really surprise anyone. In fact, I’d only be surprised if our picks actually turn out to be the same. So for whatever it’s worth, here’s my annual exercise in futility:
Picking so late in the first round is good if you’re a fan of the Packers, but it’s brutal if you’re also a writer trying to predict which player Thompson will select. This is no exaggeration – in the past week I’ve had nine different players going at 28. Offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler, defensive linemen Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson and Kendall Reyes and linebackers Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Andre Branch have all at one time or another been my choice. And in each case, doubt quickly crept in and I changed my mind. I’ve been the epitome of indecisiveness for the past week. In short, I’ve been to this particular mock draft what Mike Tice and the Vikings were to the real one in 2003.
On second (and sometimes third and fourth) thought, I came to the conclusion that Upshaw and Hightower aren’t going to be available and that Worthy, Still and Reyes simply don’t rush the quarterback well enough to merit being picked at No. 28. That left Zeitler, Thompson, McClellin and Branch. I dismissed Zeitler because of the position he plays. I just don’t see the Packers spending a first-round pick on an offensive lineman for the third year in a row. And while McClellin and Branch both look the part, I didn’t see enough on video to think either would be an impact player at the next level.
And then there was one. I originally dismissed Thompson because of the school he attended and his size. As I said before, there are more busts at Clemson than at Hooters. And at 6’2, 315, he projects more to nose tackle than end in a 3-4. But the more I watched him play, the less I cared about those things. What I saw was a powerful and explosive defensive lineman – basically the type of player Justin Harrell was supposed to be. The difference is that Thompson has a much cleaner medical history and far more potential as a pass rusher. In Green Bay, the 22-year-old would start immediately at defensive end and move inside in the nickel. The fact that he could also take snaps on the nose only makes him more valuable.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY:
National Football Post’s Wes Bunting: A guy who should be able to come in and be a lineman who can win inside vs. the run game. Looks a bit limited as a pass rusher, but will be able to push the pocket and threaten gaps off the ball. A starting caliber 4-3 nose inside.
NFL.com: “Thompson brings value to the NFL in that he can play both defensive tackle or nose tackle at the next level. With his size and athletic ability, Thompson has been a disruptive force for Clemson. He plays stout against the run and will plug the hole well for an NFL team. He is able to find the ball as a defender and is effective after the snap in making plays in the backfield. He doesn’t bring a ton of pass-rush ability, but he will be able to serve as a strong presence up front. He has the talent to warrant a late first or early second-round pick.
Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki: “Thickly built, powerful, versatile defensive tackle with starter-caliber size, strength and quickness… Disruptive pass-rush skills – can win with quickness or bull his way to the quarterback…Is best-suited on the nose in a 4-3 paired with an attention-demanding three-technique, but also could draw interest as a 3-4 five-technique given his stellar run defense.”
Lindy’s: “Penetrates through gaps, often forcing running backs to elude him or the back end of the offensive lineman he’s pushing before they even reach the line…Explodes out of his stance, demonstrating a burst upfield to slip gaps and the lateral agility once past the line to chase down quarterbacks.”