Packers Draft Recap: Size Does Matter

Posted May 1st, 2016 @ 03:05pm

My thought process going into this draft was threefold: 1) expecting the Pack to fortify its front seven; 2) an eye on addressing the offensive line (with four of the top six linemen set to hit free agency in 2017); 3) adding some skill position depth, particularly at RB and TE. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

In the end, Ted Thompson and his staff stocked both lines first and foremost, adding a couple of linebackers and a wide receiver who could take over kick return duties.

Let's break it down:

Two to count on: Super Bowl contenders like the Packers (currently the third favorite in Vegas to win it all) don't depend on the draft for a lot of immediate contributions. But two players will be counted on to step on the field and become immediate playmakers. First round pick Kenny Clark will be asked to assume the role of BJ Raji, anchoring the nose tackle spot and helping the Pack improve against the run. Though just 20, he seems mature beyond his years and seems to be up to the challenge.

Just like last year, Thompson waited until his first pick on the third day to address inside linebacker. I would have liked to see them identify a more highly regarded, athletic guy and use a day two selection at this position, but Thompson coveted his tackle and traded three picks to go up nine spots to get him (more on this in a moment). In drafting Stanford's Blake Martinez, Thompson and his army of scouts hope they found a guy who can step into the middle of the Pack's nickel coverage and become the unit's QB, tackling anything in his path, and covering running backs and tight ends. That might be a lot to ask--I still think the Pack will identify an available veteran in the coming months to compete for playing time inside.

The rare trade-up: Armed with three fourth round picks, Thompson was prepared to move up if he identified a guy he really wanted. I figured he might move up in the third round to grab a guy. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect him to trade three picks to move up nine spots in the second. But in doing so, he likely sniped the Pack's two biggest rivals, who undoubtedly were hoping Indiana's athletic, talented Jason Spriggs would be there when they picked. If all goes as we hope, Spriggs won't see the field in 2016, but will be a likely starter somewhere on the line in 2017.

We all saw what happened when one of the Pack's tackles got injured last year. Disaster--until they tried JC Tretter, who managed things adequately. With Tretter, Bakhtiari, Sitton and Lang in their final contract years, the Pack needed to prepare for a changing of the guard on the line. Spriggs will be ready to step in where ever he's called. It was an unusual move for Thompson, but one I believe we will all be very happy with, once Spriggs takes the field.

Thompson went back to the well with his final pick, grabbing his second Stanford guy, and fourth Pac 12 selection, tackle Kyle Murphy. He may end up moving inside, if that's where the free agency holes appear. At the very least, he provides depth at an invaluable position group and was smart and productive in college.

With his second compensatory pick at the end of the fourth, Thompson added another defensive lineman in former Northwestern Wildcat Dean Lowry, who has the measurables the Pack has lacked at DE since they brought in Dom Capers. With the defections and suspensions on the line, Lowry has a chance to contribute immediately, if he's up to the challenge.

What's a Kyler Fackrell? None of us likely had an idea what this was until Thompson selected him with his second compensatory pick in the fourth round. We found out he's a tall (6'5") outside linebacker who played four years in the 3-4 at Utah State. We also learned he'll turn 25 during the season, so he should be seasoned and ready to play with the big boys, despite playing for a smaller program. Reviews from scouts were positive and he joins a group that might look a lot different next year, with Peppers and Perry possibly playing in their final seasons for the Pack.

Ted just can't resist wide receivers: Has he ever gone through a draft without nabbing one? With six receivers returning from last season, the competition will be fierce for Cal's Trevor Davis to make the team, but he adds an element most of the others lack: speed. The Pack clocked him in the mid 4.3s, and he ran 4.41 at the combine. He started out at Hawaii, before joining Jared Goff and company at Cal and quickly became a legit kick returner and reliable receiver. We all remember how injury plagued this unit was a year ago, so adding one more makes some sense. If the other six are healthy at camp, he'll have to stand out to make the team, though his special teams ability might earn him a spot.

The Pack added 17 underrated guys immediately after the draft ended and we all know that if recent history is a clue, a few of these guys will make the final roster. A few that I'll be keeping an eye on: tight end David Grinnage. Thompson passed on this position in the draft, so the former NC State tight end should get a long look. He seems like a Richard Rodgers type--more bulk and less seam-bending ability. The Jared Cook signing lessened the need here, but Grinnage has a chance to stick.

The Pack added two running backs: Nevada's Don Jackson and Troy's Brandon Burns. Neither seem like the change of pace, third down receiving back the Packers need and I wouldn't be surprised if the Pack looks for a guy like that between now and training camp.

With Thompson ignoring the secondary this year, he signed four corners after the draft. The most intriguing to me is Northern Iowa's Makinton Dorleant, a Maryland transfer who had a big time career at UNI. There was a lot of post-draft competition for this guy but he clearly saw the path that fellow corners Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Ladarius Gunter have taken. At least one of the four has a real shot to replace Hayward and possibly the suspended Goodson.

All in all, a satisfying, if unspectacular draft for the Pack. If Clark and Martinez turn into capable starters and the defense takes a step forward after a promising year in 2015, the draft will be a resounding success, regardless of when Spriggs and the others are ready to contribute.

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Hey, Everybody, R-E-L.....

Posted April 29th, 2016 @ 02:04pm

OK, like most of you, my salivary glands began to work overtime as the first round moved into the early 20s. A run on wide receivers was beckoning, which meant Ted Thompson would likely have more options than Eddie Lacy has midday snacks.

I started to dream of Myles Jack plunked into the middle of the defense. Of course, in my dream, Jack's bones don't rub together at the knee every time he moves. I also dreamt that linebacker Reggie Ragland would fall into the Pack's hands and, while he may bring coverage concerns with him, he would have brought instant grit, toughness and an ideal inside linebacker on early downs, at the very least.

Maybe Ted would trade down. Maybe a team would freak out for a quarterback and allow Thompson to add a pick or two and slide down 8-10 picks and still get a defensive lineman he liked.

Or, he would do what he did. And it caused most of us to yawn (maybe a few of you said a naught word).

Sure, there were a million highly regarded defensive linemen on the board. But he had one he liked best. One he thought could step right in make us forget all about BJ Raji.

In Kenny Clark, Thompson saw a young (just 20 years old), talented, former wrestler who is strong enough and nimble enough to get into the backfield and stuff running backs. You could argue that finding a Raji replacement was a more critical need than inside linebacker, where Sam Barrington's return and Jake Ryan's development assure us that the cupboard is not completely bare. More on inside linebacker in a bit: I expect Thompson to find one tonight, preferably with his first pick.

The immediate reaction is: what, another UCLA guy? Great, that's four Bruins in the last three drafts The last couple Bruins picks haven't been very inspiring: Jonathan Franklin had to retire before he ever suited up and Datone Jones, another DL picked in the first round, is hoping to find new life at outside linebacker. OK, the jury is still out on Brett Hundley (early returns look promising).

Reaction #2: OK, if you're going to address the D-line, fine. But what about those 'Bama guys? Or Billings from Baylor, or Butler from La. Tech? Those are the guys we heard all the draft experts talking about.

When the Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn tabbed Clark as the pick in his mock draft yesterday, it should have prepared everyone. The guy is about as good as it gets in the nation when it comes to covering the draft. His top 100 picks are usually more spot on than anyone else's. He knew that Clark was Thompson's kind of player. One with tremendous upside, versatility and coachability.

His back story is also interesting--his father has been in prison since he was nine, serving 55 years for murder. There's a terrific story at espn.com, describing how inseparable father and son were before the fateful night. Clark's father has maintained his innocence from the start and the key witness who helped get him convicted has since recanted his testimony. The Clarks are hopeful he will be released soon. Clearly, this sad, tragic experience has caused Clark to grow up in a hurry and shaped who he has become.

So Clark will be needed to step right in and help the Pack's most decimated position, which will also be without Mike Pennel for the first quarter of the season. I expect Thompson to draft another lineman this weekend and bring in a couple more after the draft.

As for rounds two and three, I would be surprised, disappointed and aggravated if Thompson doesn't find an inside linebacker on Friday. My favorite is Temple's Tyler Matakevich, a four year starter and tackling machine. Other names to watch: Mizzou's Kentrell Brothers and Arizona's Scooby Wright (from Thompson's favorite conference).

The other Friday selection? I'd say it will likely be an offensive lineman or an outside linebacker...followed by tight end or running back.

Parting thoughts: deep breaths everyone. Let's look at the class as a whole after the weekend and remember that Thompson is pretty damn good at this. He's built a roster that's the envy of most organizations and his work on day three and after the draft is as good as anyone's.

Drafting Clark is a good start. Not a sexy start. But a solid, 'let's make sure we can stop the run and not allow teams to double team Mike Daniels all day' start. On to Day 2.

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Front Seven Will Get Thompson's Attention This Week

Posted April 24th, 2016 @ 10:04pm

It's time for my annual stab at a seven round Packers mock draft. We all know it's likely Ted Thompson will engineer a trade or two, moving up and down and ultimately adding 9-10 new players to the roster.

This year, I think there's a good chance he moves out of the first round if he feels he can get a similar player by moving back into the first part of the second round. A team like Cleveland or San Francisco could crave a QB and offer the Pack a sweet deal to move back.

In my mock, we will assume no trades and we will hope that the cards fall Green Bay's way so that their #1 target falls into their lap.

Round 1 (27) Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama: Sure, there's a chance he'll get snapped up anywhere in the ten picks before the Pack makes its selection. But he could slip as teams start snapping up wide receivers. If Ragland is there, I don't see how Ted passes on him. He's a throwback linebacker who would step right into the middle of the defense and add more nastiness in the mold of Daniels and Clinton-Dix. Yes, the Pack needs to beef up the defensive line, but if Ragland is there, they'll wait till round two. If Ragland is gone, look for the Pack to choose between Ragland's Bama teammate A'Shawn Robinson or Mississippi State's Chris Jones.

Round 2 (55) Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: I've seen mocks where Butler goes to the Pack in the first round, but I see him falling into the back half of the second. Thompson likes players from La. Tech and Butler will provide some much needed beef to the defensive line, with a chance to step right in and play alongside Daniels and Guion.

Round 3 (88) Joe Schobert, OLB Wisconsin: Thompson completes the front seven trifecta with the high-motored former Badger who will get to learn under two greats: Peppers and Matthews. A former walk-on, Schobert improved each year to become the Big Ten's best linebacker last season. He's a bit undersized, but was amazingly productive and always seemed to be around the ball. He can contribute immediately on special teams and work his way into the rotation at LB as the season progresses.

Round 4 (125)  Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame   With two compensatory picks in this round Thompson could trade this pick (along with one or two others) to move up into the third round. If not, he might roll the dice on Smith, who would have been a top five pick, if not for the gruesome knee injury he suffered in the Irish's bowl game. Another team with multiple picks may snap him up sooner, but if he's there, I have a hunch Thompson has his eyes on Smith, and is willing to redshirt him in 2016 with the hope that he will be able to resume playing in 2017. If he comes all the way back, he's the kind of player who can become the steal of the draft. Of course, if his nerves don't regenerate, he may never see the field.

Round 4 (131) Joe Thuney, G, NC State: With both starting guards set to hit free agency, Thompson will need to add re-enforcements. Thuney was a three year starter for the Wolfpack who has played all over the line, a trait Thompson covets. He played tackle primarily but is better suited to play guard in the NFL and will challenge Lane Taylor for the #3 guard spot in 2016.

Round 4 (137) Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois: If the Pack adds a running back in this draft, this is the kind of player I expect them to grab: a dual threat who is a scat back, elusive in open space and a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. He's a water bug, in the Ronnie Hillman mold, who could serve as a nice complement to Lacy and Starks. He does have fumbling issues, which obviously need to be addressed.

Round 5 (163) Bryce Williams, TE, E. Carolina: While Jared Cook was signed to be a short term solution, Thompson adds the lengthy Williams to see if he has what it takes to ultimately be the long term answer. He's 6'6" and a former fullback and a guy who was a walk-on twice, at Marshall and then ECU. He's a guy who can get open down the seam and be big red zone target.

Round 6 (200) Matt Ioannidis, DL, Temple: Thompson adds another strong tough, nasty lineman to the rotation in the former Owl, who has a great motor and will have an opportunity to step in and contribute.

Round 7 (248) Kevon Seymour, CB, USC: Injuries derailed his final season, but he has the speed and instincts to play the position at the next level. He can also instantly contribute on special teams, where he excelled. With Hayward gone and Goodson suspended, the Seymour has a chance to earn a roster spot and will likely compete against a couple of underrated corners as well.

At this point I should remind you that in five years doing this, I've nailed exactly one pick: Randall Cobb. I think it's safe to say that when the draft is over, Thompson will have added potentially two starters to the front seven and filled some depth at OL and most skill positions. Strap in, Ted's about ready to get to work.

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