Packers Thompson shows how to build an offensive juggernaut
August 9th, 2012 By Chris Lee
Five-hundred sixty points. Nearly 5,000 passing yards, with 51 touchdowns offset by just eight interceptions, and another 1,558 yards on the ground. Staggering numbers, numbers that were Green Bay’s 2011 offensive season.
Photo by: Mark Herreid
Here’s what makes what the Packers’ offensive achievements even more remarkable: every significant contributor was either a player whom the Packers drafted themselves, or an unheralded free agent that they acquired. Just two of those players were first-round picks.
Credit has to go to general manager Ted Thompson, who started laying the groundwork in his first draft as a GM, 2005. Many expected quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be the first pick of that draft, and yet he fell to Green Bay at No. 24. Knocks on Rodgers included accuracy, footwork and pocket presence, though his supporters praised him for the very same things, but you know how that one turned out.
The next big piece came the following draft with the selection of Western Michigan’s Greg Jennings in Round 2. This was certainly not a “no-brainer” pick since there were questions about Jennings’ size and his ability to block. He was viewed as a No. 3 receiver and had averaged just 12.9 yards a catch playing against Mid-American Conference competition.
It didn’t take long for Jennings to remove those doubts. He led the NFL in receiving yards in the preseason, and started his first game. By his third year, he started a streak of three-straight 1,000-yard seasons that was only interrupted by an injury last year in Week 13.
The next season, the Packers took another receiver from a lower-tier FBS conference in San Jose State’s James Jones. This time, Green Bay got a bigger receiver (6-foot-1, 207 pounds), but with a 4.6 forty time, the question was whether Jones could run.
But Jones turned out to be the prototypical “plays football faster than he runs” player who’s made several big plays and had the occasional huge game. His biggest issue has just been in catching the ball, but he’s talented enough that he’d see the field more for most any team not named “Green Bay.”
Green Bay got two more weapons in the second and third rounds next year in receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley. It wasn’t hard to foresee success in either guy.
Nelson had been the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after a 1,606-yard receiving season, plus, he was 6-foot-3 and ran a consistent 4.45 40. Finley was a little more of a gamble since he’d only played two years of college, but at 6-foot-5 with athleticism and sure-handedness, it was hard to argue that he merited a third-round pick.
The Pack also started a trend towards rebuilding its offensive line by taking Josh Sitton in Round 4. By the end of his rookie season, he was starting. T.J. Lang (fourth round) was selected in the next season, and Brian Bulaga (first round) and Marshall Newhouse (fifth round) came in the next draft. All four were starters for Green Bay last season.
You’ll notice an absence of running backs here. In 2007, the Packers addressed that need by trading a sixth-rounder to the Giants for the unheralded and previously undrafted Ryan Grant, who’d go on to average 5.1 yards per carry and just miss 1,000 yards before eclipsing that mark the next two seasons. They also signed a future Pro Bowl fullback in undrafted John Kuhn, whom the Steelers cut that same off-season.
Grant still seemed at the top of his game after averaging 4.4 yards per carry and gaining 1,450 combined yards in 2009. But in 2010, the Packers took his eventual replacement, James Starks, in Round 6. Starks may never be a great back, but with 4.3 yards per carry on 133 attempts last year, nobody’s complaining about the value the Packers got there.
In 2011, the rich kept getting richer. The Packers nabbed Kentucky’s all-purpose star, Randall Cobb, late in the second round. Cobb had 25 catches for 375 yards last year, and showed explosiveness with a 108-yard kickoff return in his first NFL game.
And despite Finley’s presence, the Pack took the reigning Mackey Award winner in Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams that same draft. Williams has yet to make an impact yet, but showed outstanding receiving skills at Arkansas.
All in all, it’s been a historic run for Thompson. Of last year’s offensive starters, he drafted nine of them, and Grant nearly fits in that category since Thompson exchanged a draft pick for him. The lone non-Thompson-acquired player was center Scott Wells, whom the Pack drafted the year before Thompson took over.
So, what can we take away from what Thompson did?
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