The Green Bay Packers' defense yielded 411.6 yards per game in 2011, most in the NFL. They gave up nearly 300 passing yards per game — also tops in the league — and couldn't stop a a Pop Warner offense. They went 15-1. Then were embarrassed by the New York Giants in the divisional round in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Three months later, general manager Ted Thompson tried to fix their putrid unit by using seven of their eight draft picks on defensive players. He didn't go offense until the 241st pick (tackle Andrew Datko).
It didn't work. Nor have constant draft investments in Dom Capers' defense worked since.
The overall defense-offense breakdown of draft picks between 2012-16 favors defense, although the numbers aren't overwhelmingly slanted — 24 of 43 total picks were defensive players. However, of their 11 first- and second-round picks, eight were defenders. They haven't drafted an offensive player in the first round since tackle Derek Sherrod (No. 32) in 2011.
“I’m not sure I would characterize that exactly the same way,” Thompson told USA Today when asked about their failure to fix the defense through the draft. “We feel like we’ve gotten pretty good return on our investment. But having said that, I wasn’t aware that we drafted that many defensive players. So obviously it doesn’t mean very much to us, and I don’t think we’ve done it intentionally.”
Sure, a couple of their picks have provided good return. After four underwhelming seasons, 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry became an impact player last year and earned a five-year, $60-million contract. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is now one of the better safeties in the NFC and has eight interceptions in three seasons.
MORE: Reuben Foster Hung Up On Saints When 49ers Called
Almost all of their high picks either had a serviceable year or two but were largely underwhelming for a multitude of reasons (e.g. Datone Jones, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward) or have been downright terrible (e.g. Khryi Thornton, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins).
Their inability to develop high-end defensive talent is staggering. If not for a couple mid-round hits in Mike Daniels (fourth round, 2012) and Micah Hyde (fifth round, 2013), Thompson would have almost nothing to show for the 23-pick parade the last five years.
But the Packers' longtime boss isn't scared off. He's still committed to head coach Mike McCarthy — who'd probably fire himself before firing Capers — and still committed to giving Capers the tools he needs.
For the second time since 2012, they selected defenders with each of their first three picks in the 2017 NFL Draft: cornerback Kevin King (No. 33), safety Josh Jones (No. 61) and defensive tackle Montravius Adams (No. 93). While it was a familiar tune for Packers' fans who have watched their defensively challenged team underachieve every season since winning Super Bowl XLV, at least Thompson went bigger and faster than ever before.
King is 6-foot-3 and runs a 4.43 40-yard dash; Jones is 6-foot-1 and runs a 4.41. Both players — by far — represent the most robust combination of size and speed that Thompson has drafted since arriving in 2005. Heck, even Adams (6-foot-4, 304 pounds) is bigger and stronger than similar players they've taken.
"King’s length and athleticism should help the Packers handle the tall, hyperathletic receiving talents spread out across the NFL in today’s game," said Zach Kruse of Packers Wire. He certainly could have helped last January, when [Dez] Bryant and [Julio] Jones combined for 312 receiving yards and four touchdowns [in the playoffs] against Green Bay’s outgunned cornerback group."
It's fair to remain skeptical. Until Thompson and Capers can prove they can develop elite college talent into elite NFL talent, they don't deserve the benefit. But at least they're trying something different.