GM Ted Thompson reached by taking DT Justin Harrell at pick 16, but this is a position that the Packers needed to upgrade and he is a solid player.
If this was a typical draft, it would be pretty easy to criticize Thompson for not trading down, adding an additional pick or two, and drafting Harrell later in the 1st or maybe even the early 2nd round. However it is amazing that there have been no draft day trades in the 1st round until the 22nd pick. Are teams so concerned about depth that they don't want to give up any of their picks? Do they think this is such a deep draft or that there are so many players of similar ability that they can sit tight and still select a quality player?
With RB Marshawn Lynch going to Buffalo at 12, which was always a possibility since they had a need at running back too, but had always seemed unlikely since Buffalo has lost two starting linebackers this offseason. Maybe GM Mary Levy switched gears once Mississippi LB Patrick Willis was taken one spot ahead of Buffalo? Buffalo Rumblings likes Lynch but really sees their major need at linebacker too. However Levy made things interesting last year by drafting S Donte Whitner early so it isn't surprising that Levy made a pick that few expected him to make.
Why not draft Michigan DT Alan Branch over Harrell? He's got health concerns, although Harrell is coming off a torn bicep himself, and he's in free fall. Time will tell on that decision.
There are no other running backs worth drafting in the 1st round with Lynch and RB Adrian Peterson off the board, but why not draft the best tight end, Miami's TE Greg Olson or the best remaining wide receiver, Tennessee's WR Robert Meachem? Olson didn't produce in college, he's number one because of a fantastic performance at the combine, and Meachem only produced for one season at Tennessee. It was legitimate to have concerns about both of them.
They could have picked someone for the secondary, but the best available cornerback, Michigan CB Leon Hall, might be best suited for a cover-2 defense while the Packers play man-on-man, while Texas S Michael Griffin would be a reach and Florida S Reggie Nelson is a bit of a project.
There are a lot of reasons to love Harrell. The Packers defense finished the 2006 season very strong, but they had trouble stopping the run all season long. NT Ryan Pickett played well on the strong side, but teams often avoid running at Pickett and DE Aaron Kampman and preferred the weak side, where DT Colin Cole was the other primary defensive tackle on running downs. Harrell immediately improves the run defense at the point of attack, at the very least he adds depth to a position that has little of it, and his profile at NFL.com pointed out that Tennessee's pass rush also suffered during 2006 after his season ending surgery. He played in the tough SEC, came away with 2nd team SEC honors in his last full season (2005), was team captain in 2006, and still managed to start 25 games despite missing most of his senior season.
The Packers had needs of greater priority than defensive tackle, but it was definitely a position of need. Probably any player selected at this spot would have been somewhat of a reach, with the exceptions of Branch and Hall. I was not expecting or considering them to select Harrell at any point this offseason, but still I really like this pick and he will help the team immediately in 2007.
That's what I get for trying to watch the draft and watch the kids at the same time; I miss the Carolina/NY Jets trade and the Denver/Jacksonville trade. Jacksonville was right after the Packers and they added a 3rd round pick to move down to 21. Harrell would probably have still been available.