Perhaps Ted Thompson's best skill as a general manager is his ability to identify a position of need a year ahead of time. Nowhere has this strategy been better implemented than the wide receiver position.
In 2011, Green Bay selected Kentucky's Randall Cobb in the second round despite returning 1,200-yard wideout Greg Jennings and three 500+ yard receivers. One season later, Cobb lead the Packers in catches and receiving yards while Jennings and his contract demands were shown the door.
Similarly in 2008, Jordy Nelson was drafted into a passing attack led by Donald Driver in his prime and a young but productive Jennings. By the 2010 championship run, Nelson had supplanted the aging Driver as the team's top deep threat, leading the Packers in receptions and yards in the Super Bowl.
Now in 2014, starting wideout James Jones enters free agency while Nelson and Cobb each begin the final year of their current deals. While Thompson may sign each to a new contract, it's highly possible one or more depart from Green Bay by this time next year. It appears that once again, Thompson could look to draft another receiver a year before he's needed.
Enter Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews. The two-time All-SEC, 2013 First-Team All-American receiver certainly looks the part. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Matthews measured in at 6-3, 212 with massive 10 3/8" mitts. Wide receivers won't workout until Sunday, but Matthews is expected to run between 4.45 and 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. If those measurements sound familiar, it's because they align perfectly with those of current Packers receiver Jordy Nelson.
That's no coincidence either, at least according to NFL scouts.
Acme Packing Company asked three team scouts to pick the best NFL comp for Jordan Matthews. Two named Jordy Nelson, citing similar size, smooth stride, and advanced route running as chief reasons for the comparison. Like Nelson, Matthews projects as a prototypical outside receiver who can also move into the slot to create matchup problems.
But it's not the shared physical and football traits alone that tie Matthews to Green Bay.
James Franklin, Matthews' head coach for most of his career at Vanderbilt, served as the Packers' wide receivers coach during Thompson's first year as general manager. Thompson highly values Franklin's opinion when it comes to receivers. It was largely due to their relationship that the Packers selected Kevin Dorsey, another Franklin disciple from his time at Maryland.
The track record dates even further back, however. In his final season as Kansas State's offensive coordinator, Franklin tipped off his old employer to one of his receivers who blew up his senior year but had yet to generate much draft buzz. The Packers selected that player, Jordy Nelson, with their top pick in 2008.
History would suggest that if Thompson picks another receiver early in this year's draft, it would be Franklin's latest pupil.
But Matthews' Green Bay connections extend beyond his college head coach.
From 2011-2012, Matthews was on the receiving end of pass thrown by Jordon Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The elder Rodgers regularly mentioned on his radio show that he spent his Saturdays watching Vanderbilt football. During the Packers' 2012 bye week, he made the trek down to Mississippi to watch the Commodores in person. On that day, Jordan Matthews led all receivers with nine catches and 153 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown catch and run. While Rodgers doesn't possess decision-making power in Green Bay, it can't hurt Matthews to have the quarterback in his back pocket.
Matthews' ties to the Packers don't guarantee that he'll end up in Green Bay. Certainly, his standout SEC career has attracted the attention of other NFL teams. However, Matthews' projected draft range aligns with where the Packers are selecting. Given the depth of his connections with Green Bay, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Thompson tab Matthews as his next potential star receiver.