Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, many experts believed the Green Bay Packers biggest need was to address depth behind Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews. So, Packers longtime general manager Ted Thompson spent his first two selections on... defensive backs?
Indeed, the Packers had a glaring hole in the secondary with veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House bolting during free agency. But Thompson’s picks, Arizona State safety Damarious Randall (No. 30) and Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quinten Rollins (No. 62), weren’t expected to be the two newest Packers.
Nevertheless, based of Thompson’s previous draft success and the talent-level of both players, it appears Green Bay made some deft decisions.
Thompson’s success as the GM started with his very first draft. In 2005, Thompson chose quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a late first-round pick, which seems to have worked out just fine. His second-round pick wasn't too shabby, either. Thompson used the No. 51 pick on safety Nick Collins, who would go on to make three Pro Bowl appearances.
In the subsequent 10 years, Thompson’s been lauded for his stellar work in the draft, hitting home runs in the first round like defensive tackle B.J. Raji, Matthews, tackle Bryan Bulaga, and providing Rodgers weapons like running back Eddie Lacy and receivers Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Randall Cobb in the second round or lower.
That’s an eye popping success rate and a big reason why the Packers have made the postseason in seven out of the last 10 years, while claiming the NFC North the last four seasons and the Super Bowl in 2010. Thompson’s work falls in line with the legendary Ron Wolf and his vaunted success in Green Bay during the 1990s, when he brought in Mike Holmgren and traded for Brett Favre.
It also might be enough reason to believe both Randall and Rollins will succeed at the pro level, while improving a Green Bay pass defense that was No. 10 overall last season and ranked seventh in the league with 18 interceptions. The most immediate benefits should be that the Packers could be even stronger in the secondary, despite losing Williams and House.
Randall spent only two years at Arizona State, but that proved to be an excellent sample size of his much-lauded talents. In 2014, Randall was named to the All-Pac-12 first team after tallying 106 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, and three interceptions paired with nine passes defensed.
Ranked by some as the best safety of the 2015 class despite his less than ideal 5’11 frame, Randal wowed scouts at the combine with a 4.46 40-yard-dash time and a 38-inch vertical leap, both the third-best among safeties.
Because of his size and last year’s first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix playing so well in 2014, it’s possible Green Bay asks Randall to shift to cornerback for some more depth behind veteran Sam Shields. But Thompson doesn’t foresee the switch being an issue with Randall’s skill set.
"He was the starting safety for them and a good one," Thompson said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "He would've been their best corner, which was what was told to me, but in their defense, the safety play is so important and crucial to the production of the defense that they had to play him on the inside, but he ends up in the slot and that sort of thing."
Rollins, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same amount of football experience as most rookies. Primarily a basketball player at Miami, Rollins played one season of college football but was nonetheless very impressive. He racked up 73 total tackles, seven interceptions and nine passes defensed over 12 games.
The Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst saw Rollins' skills up close early in the 2014 college season, and also told The Journal-Sentinel how well he thought Rollins adapted to football after such a short amount of time.
"He was really, really impressive," Gutekunst said. "Great-looking kid, great body, good length, great ball skills. I think he really improved as the season went along, but he played good the entire time he was there. I think he was probably their best player in Week 2 of the season and the guy had only played since that spring. I thought he was fairly easy to evaluate."
Right now, Rollins faces an uphill battle behind corners Casey Hayward and Demetri Goodson on the depth chart. But that will allow him more time to learn the system under veteran cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., while providing the Packers with some much-needed help against the likes of Detroit Lions' star receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, or the Chicago Bears' trio of Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and speedy rookie Kevin White.
And it’s not like Thompson completely whiffed at linebacker either. He plucked versatile linebacker Jake Ryan (Michigan) in the fourth round (just eight picks shy of the fifth round), despite some mock drafts projecting him to go in the third. A two-time team captain, Ryan totaled 45.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks in four years, and was praised by scouts for his football IQ and ability to overcome an ACL tear in 2013.