Packers’ 1st-round focus on defense fails to pay off

Packers' 1st-round focus on defense fails to pay off

Packers’ 1st-round focus on defense fails to pay off

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers’ plan this spring to rebuild a bewildered defense certainly isn’t new.

It started five years ago this month. General manager Ted Thompson set a mandate after watching his defense surrender the most yards in the NFL, preventing a team that finished 15-1 in the regular season from advancing to the 2011 NFC championship game.

The Packers had to change.

Since, Thompson has pumped his most precious assets — first-round draft picks — into building a defense that could win a championship. For five straight years, the Packers have used their first-round pick on a defensive player.

“Did we?” asked Thompson, professing ignorance at last month’s NFL meetings.

Thompson knew the answer to his question. In the NFL, the Packers’ draft investment on defense is almost unmatched. Only the New York Jets (seven straight years) selected a defensive player in the first round as often.

Chances are the Packers will select a sixth straight defensive player in the first round later this month after their NFC championship game meltdown in Atlanta. Once again, an overwhelmed defense kept their red-hot offense out of the Super Bowl, allowing touchdowns on six of the Falcons’ nine possessions.

Take your pick at No. 29 overall in the draft: edge rusher or cornerback. Both are big needs. The question is whether the Packers can use the draft to build a top defense.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

“I’m not sure I would characterize that exactly the same way,” Thompson said. “We feel like we’ve gotten pretty good return on our investment. But having said that, I wasn’t aware that we drafted that many defensive players. So obviously it doesn’t mean very much to us, and I don’t think we’ve done it intentionally.”

A “pretty good return on our investment” can be subjective. It depends on perspective.