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The Packers traded Jerel Worthy on Tuesday, the latest member of the 2012 draft to be shown the door.

Feeling a cold draft

General manager Ted Thompson says the buck stops with him on draft picks. While the team has certainly found success, it’s happened without many contributions from the 2011 and 2012 draft classes.

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY – When the 2012 NFL Draft ended, Ted Thompson stepped to the podium with a confession – and a joke.

The Green Bay Packers veteran general manager had gone against his normal modus operandi and traded up – not once, not twice, but three times – to select three defensive players: Defensive end Jerel Worthy (second round, No. 51), cornerback Casey Hayward (second round, No. 62) and inside linebacker Terrell Manning (fifth round, No. 163).

The 2011 Packers had followed up their Super Bowl XLV championship by going an astonishing 15-1, but with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense, they’d lost in the NFC Divisional Playoffs to the eventual champion New York Giants.

And so, Thompson spent his first six picks on defensive players, including the three he traded up to get.

To appreciate just how out of character this was, Thompson had made 19 draft-day trades in his first seven drafts at Packers GM. Only three of those trades were upward to pick specific players – Wake Forest defensive end Jeremy Thompson in the fourth round in 2008; USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round in 2009; and Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett in 2010.

So in one draft, Thompson traded up as many times as he had in the previous seven drafts combined.

“I’m not my father’s son anymore, because my father’s very frugal. It’s pathetic,” Thompson joked when this was pointed out to him as the draft was ending. “But in this case, I felt like it was appropriate. I felt like we had a good, solid team and I felt like we were getting quality, [so] we should try to do it. So we made three trades up.”

On Wednesday morning, Thompson was standing at the same podium, talking about that same draft, facing questions about the quality of it. The night before, he’d traded Worthy to the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round pick, essentially giving him away after he suffered a major knee injury at the end of his rookie season and a back injury that had kept him out of camp this summer. (The trade became official Wednesday afternoon.)

Before Worthy was traded, disappointing fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian was cut at midseason last year; Manning was cut at the end of training camp last year; and two seventh-round offensive players, tackle Andrew Datko and quarterback B.J. Coleman, were cut at the end of training camp last year after spending 2012 on the practice squad.

“You stumble and fall from time to time,” Thompson said Wednesday. “You don't what you think is the right thing for the team. And sometimes it doesn't work out.”

There is no perfect metric to measure at what level the 2012 draft did or did not work out.

But the reality is this: Just two years later, only three of the eight players the team selected that year remain with the team: First-round pick Nick Perry, who has been working with the third-string defense for much of camp; Hayward, who finished third in the NFL defensive rookie of the year balloting two years ago but missed all but three games last season with a hamstring injury; and defensive end Mike Daniels, a fourth-round pick who has been the best player from that draft.

After a 2011 draft that produced only four players (tackle Derek Sherrod, wide receiver Randall Cobb, cornerback Davon House and tight end Ryan Taylor) that are still on the Packers’ 90-man training-camp roster, the Packers now have only seven of their 18 picks from the 2011 and 2012 drafts on their team.

That 38.9 percent retention rate is the worst in the NFL over that two-draft span. (See chart, below.)

“I don’t know all the 2012 draft classes. But you can go back in history and look at draft classes for a lot of teams … and go, ‘This was good, this was bad,’” Thompson said. “If you can get a couple good [players], that’s usually a good class.”

The bottom line when it comes to personnel acquisition is whether the players on your team – however they were acquired – help you win. And over the past eight seasons, with Thompson as general manager and Mike McCarthy as coach, the Packers are 88-50-1, with one Super Bowl title, four division titles and six playoff berths. So the Packers have won.

And, undrafted free agency is one of the Packers’ preferred avenues of player acquisition, and four who signed with the team after the draft – offensive lineman Don Barclay, safety Sean Richardson, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin and linebacker Dezman Moses – made the 53-man roster that year. Barclay, Richardson and Boykin remain with the team and deserve to be considered when measuring that draft class.

“In terms of team building, we have put a bunch of work into and pride ourselves a little bit in the fact we take college free agents and made them part of our team and contributors,” Thompson said. “I think all of that is important. I think all of that is relevant. Sometimes you have draft choices and it doesn't work out, and that's my responsibility.”

Measuring merely the number of players who remain from a draft class doesn’t include the quality of each player that remains; it doesn’t factor in why those draft picks are still on the roster. Are those teams more patient with their draft picks? Do they not have enough talent on the roster to push them out?

The 2012 draft was, as a whole, a largely disappointing draft, with only a handful of teams having had strong drafts by subjective measure (Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Minnesota). And if Hayward regains his pre-injury form, he and Daniels – along with an emerging Richardson, who has had a terrific training camp – would give the Packers three defensive players who would qualify as quality picks. The jury is still out on Perry, who’s had his first two seasons derailed by injury.

“Guys come from all different places,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Whether you signed as a free agent or you’re a draft pick, you’re going to get opportunities to show what you can do. We’re going to select the best football players, guys that we think give us the best chance of winning. So I think that creates more competition.

“I’ll say this: On defense right now, we’ve got excellent competition at a lot of positions, that does nothing but make you better. Because guys know they have to be on top of their game every day. … We’ve got excellent competition. We’ve got more right now than what we’ve had.

In addition, while the 2011 and 2012 drafts have been less productive, the packers still have nine of the 15 players they drafted in 2009 and 2010 still on the team.

“This is an evaluation game and a production game,” Capers said. “And those who produce will eventually play.”

And those who don’t, won’t be here anymore.

It was impossible not to wonder if the members of the 2011 and 2012 draft classes were the ones quarterback Aaron Rodgers was referring to on Tuesday in an unprompted remark while talking about this year’s class.

“I think you're seeing it with this draft class, the maturity about them, the lack of the entitlement that maybe we've seen in some other draft classes," Rodgers said. "They've come in and worked really hard.”

That doesn't mean this year's class will be chock full of long-term Packers. Whatever happens, Thompson and his scouting staff will try to learn from their errors in this class, just as they are from 2012's group.

"The personnel game and certainly drafting young men to go from college where they’ve been sort of spoon fed into the NFL where you’re not spoon fed, it’s not an exact science," Thompson said. "We try to learn from where our mistakes are as we go along."

Team
2011
2012
Total
Denver
7/9 (77.8%)
6/7 (85.7%)
13/16 (81.3%)
Washington
9/12 (75%)
8/9 (88.9%)
17/21 (81%)
Houston
5/8 (62.5%)
7/8 (87.5%)
12/16 (75%)
Tennessee
7/9 (77.8%)
5/7 (71.4%)
12/16 (75%)
Baltimore
6/8 (75%)
6/8 (75%)
12/16 (75%)
Cincinnati
5/8 (62.5%)
8/10 (80%)
13/18 (72.2%)
Detroit
2/5 (40%)
7/8 (87.5%)
9/13 (69.2%)
New England
5/9 (55.6%)
6/7 (85.7%)
11/16 (68.8%)
Seattle
5/9 (55.6%)
8/10 (80%)
13/19 (68.4%)
Atlanta
4/6 (66.7%)
4/6 (66.7%)
8/12 (66.7%)
New York Giants
4/8 (50%)
6/7 (85.7%)
10/15 (66.7%)
Oakland
5/8 (62.5%)
4/6 (66.7%)
9/14 (64.3%)
New York Jets
4/6 (66.7%)
5/8 (62.5%)
9/14 (64.3%)
Minnesota
4/10 (40%)
8/10 (80%)
12/20 (60%)
Miami
4/6 (66.7%)
5/9 (55.6%)
9/15 (60%)
Dallas
4/8 (50%)
5/7 (71.4%)
9/15 (60%)
San Diego
5/8 (62.5%)
4/7 (57.1%)
9/15 (60%)
Tampa Bay
5/8 (62.5%)
4/7 (57.1%)
9/15 (60%)
Pittsburgh
4/7 (57.1%)
5/9 (55.6%)
9/16 (56.3%)
St. Louis
3/8 (37.5%)
7/10 (70%)
10/18 (55.6%)
Philadelphia
5/11 (45.5%)
6/9 (66.7%)
11/20 (55%)
New Orleans
2/6 (33.3%)
4/5 (80%)
6/11 (54.5%)
Jacksonville
2/5 (40%)
4/6 (66.7%)
6/11 (54.5%)
Arizona
3/8 (37.5%)
5/7 (71.4%)
8/15 (53.3%)
Buffalo
4/9 (44.4%)
5/9 (55.6%)
9/18 (50%)
San Francisco
6/10 (60%)
2/7 (28.6%)
8/17 (47.1%)
Kansas City
3/9 (33.3%)
5/8 (62.5%)
8/17 (47.1%)
Carolina
2/8 (25%)
5/7 (71.4%)
7/15 (46.7%)
Chicago
2/5 (40%)
3/6 (50%)
5/11 (45.5%)
Cleveland
4/8 (50%)
4/11 (36.4%)
8/19 (42.1%)
Indianapolis
1/5 (20%)
7/10 (70%)
8/20 (40%)
Green Bay
4/10 (40%)
3/8 (37.5%)
7/18 (38.9%)
Total
135/254 (53.1%)
171/253 (67.6%)
306/507 (60.4%)
Source: ESPN Stats & Information, DraftHistory.com, ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, ESPNWisconsin.com staff research.

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.