The Green Bay Packers go into the 2014 NFL Draft process with stability at four positions along the offensive line. Head coach Mike McCarthy has committed to his starting tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and the team has established starters at the guard positions in Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Only the center position remains up in the air, and even that position looks like either second-year pro JC Tretter or third-year lineman Don Barclay will likely end up winning the job.
Of course, with the draft approaching, our minds go to the possibility of the Packers drafting a rookie to compete for the starting center job with Tretter and Barclay, and that is entirely feasible. However, if the Packers do indeed draft an offensive lineman with the intent of playing him in the middle of the line, don't expect it to be someone who played center or guard in college.
You see, Ted Thompson likes college left tackles. He likes them A LOT. The track record of offensive linemen he has drafted in recent years seem to indicate that if you were not a starter for your college team at left tackle for an extended period of time, you will not be a Green Bay Packers draftee. To some of you who pay attention to this sort of thing (or have discussed it on Twitter), this will not come as a surprise, but it may still be startling how closely Thompson follows this trend.
Let's look in more detail at what I'm talking about. I have listed below the names of every offensive lineman who has been a draft pick of the Green Bay Packers during Ted Thompson's tenure as General Manager, starting with the 2005 draft. For each player, we have broken down the total number of games they started on the offensive line in college and listed how many of those starts were at left tackle (most of the numbers were taken from the players' bio pages at their colleges' athletics websites). As you can see, the trend is pretty clear.
|Year||Pick||Player||College||Total Games Started on OL||Games Started at LT|
|2012||7.241||Andrew Datko||Florida State||40||40|
|2011||1.32||Derek Sherrod||Mississippi State||35||35|
|2009||4.106||T.J. Lang||Eastern Michigan||36^||26|
|2009||5.162||Jamon Meredith||South Carolina||37||18|
|2008||4.135||Josh Sitton||Central Florida||43||0*|
|2007||4.119||Allen Barbre||Missouri Southern||36||35|
|2006||2.47||Daryn Colledge||Boise State||52||52|
|2005||5.143||Junius Coston||North Carolina A&T||41||0|
|2005||7.246||Will Whitticker||Michigan State||31||0|
* Sitton started 29 games at right tackle
^ Lang started one additional game on the defensive line, Giacomini started four games at tight end, and Moll started 13 games at tight end
As we go farther and farther back in time, the patten breaks down slightly, but the results from recent drafts are clear. Even players who the Packers either projected to move inside right away (like Tretter) or who eventually ended up at guard (Colledge and Lang, for example) were left tackles in college. Schlauderaff, a career guard in college, is one of the few exceptions in the past several years. He, Sitton, Giacomini, and Spitz are the only four draftees since 2006 who did not start at least 18 collegiate games at left tackle - Sitton and Giacomini were both right tackles in college. To give Meredith's numbers some more context, he had 18 starts at left tackle out of 37 games, but he started for two years on the left side before losing the job due to a suspension and injury during his senior season.
If you want aggregated data, we broke this down into three time periods, trying to reflect changes in Thompson's draft strategy over the years:
|Years||Total OL Starts||Total LT Starts||% of Starts at LT|
First, we dropped Ted's first draft, which featured two guards. The thought here is that after that first year, Thompson's draft strategy may have changed after learning some initial lessons from being at the helm for a first time. Losing Coston and Whitticker brought the Left Tackle start percentage up almost 8 points overall.
Then we dropped another three years worth of drafts to look at the most recent five drafts only. This saw the rate increase another seven points. Admittedly, these numbers are cherry-picked a bit, but the trend is there. You can see that over the last several years, Ted Thompson has tended to draft players who spent most or all of their college careers playing left tackle. This has stayed consistent regardless of what round he drafts in, as well, as he drafts left tackles and has only become more prevalent as the years go by.
This theory does not apply to undrafted free agents, however, as the team has brought in many college guards and centers after the draft is finished. However, that is a situation in which the team is not trying to rank players relative to other teams' draft boards.
My theory about this is not that Thompson ignores all other offensive linemen entirely, but rather that experience at left tackle is a factor that will drive a player up the Packers' draft board to a point where it matches or exceeds that player's value on other teams' boards. To put it another way, the Packers value left tackle experience as a more critical factor than other teams do; therefore, the only way a guard would land in Green Bay in the draft is if he took a highly unexpected tumble on draft day due to other teams' selections, which would cause his value to fall far enough that the draft position actually fit the Packers' value placed on him, despite him being "under-drafted" according to other teams' boards.
All that boils down to this: if you think the Packers will draft a lineman to challenge for the starting center job, you should probably narrow your focus to looking at prospects who played left tackle in college. If they didn't, the odds are that a college guard's draft value to other teams will be greater than his value to Ted Thompson, and he will already be off the board by the time Ted would even consider selecting him.