For those of you who were crestfallen when the Packers missed out on free agent Steven Jackson, I hope you’re feeling a lot better now. The story of this draft for the Packers is the acquisition of two of the top five running backs and what it means for the offense.
We all know the offense has been one dimensional the past two seasons. We got a glimpse of what a legitimate running game could mean in that magical January run in 2011, when James Starks caught lightning in a bottle and the Packs steamrolled to the Super Bowl.
Two years later the team will be waving good-bye to Starks and Alex Green, as the position gets a make-over, with a pair of legit starters with loads of upside. When Eddie Lacy was passed over three times in the second round (by the Bengals, Steelers and Broncos) he fell into the Packers’ lap at #61 and the team pounced. He was regarded by most as the best back in the draft, but lingering injury concerns scared some teams (as did the fact that his o-line at ‘Bama was filled with NFL talent).
But no one can deny the talent Lacy has when healthy. He’s big, tough and will be a punishing runner between the tackles. He’s also got quick feet for a guy his size and has shown he has a burst. His signature spin move may need to be toned down a bit, or he’s likely to get leveled by someone.
So, when the Pack traded out of the third round on Friday night, we headed into Saturday knowing the team had added a big, tough, pass rushing defensive end and the top back in the draft. Armed with ten picks on Saturday, you figured Ted Thompson would use them to move up if he saw a guy he couldn’t pass up.
He used his two fourth rounders on offensive linemen. Colorado’s David Bakhtiari sounds like a guy who could be in the mix for one of the tackle spots, if not this season in the near future. Cornell’s JC Tretter could eventually land at any of the interior spots. A maligned position added some depth and will increase the competition among the group.
Then Thompson found a reason to move up, trading a fifth and sixth rounder to move back into the fourth to grab a player to whom they had given a second round grade. That guy was Johnathan Franklin, the dynamic UCLA running back, who reminds many of Warrick Dunn. Go watch his highlights on you tube. This kid is exciting and he’s the whole package: besides being a tough, nifty runner, he’s a good receiver out of the backfield and handles pass protection well.
Can you say thunder and lightning?
Now the team has protection if Lacy gets nicked up. Now the Packers have two legitimate blue chip running backs and now the Packers offense is ready to move to another level. Teams can no longer drop their safeties 10-15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and dare the team to run. No longer will we be forced to watch the hand off to John Kuhn on fourth and one. This team will be able to run the ball and it will make the passing attack even deadlier. Why, the Pack may even be able to legitimately run play action pass plays.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what these two backs bring to the table. The picks in round five through seven are for the most part works in progress. Most will need to show they can play special teams if they want to stick. Iowa’s Micah Hyde was the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year. There are questions as to whether he has the speed to play corner in the NFL–he may get a look at safety.
That’s my one disappointment about this draft: the team didn’t add a big-hitting safety to compete with MD Jennings and Jerrion McMillain. The latter was a fourth rounder last year and maybe they expect him to make a jump in year two. Maybe they will watch as teams waive veterans and they’ll pick one up this summer. I still believe this team needs a talent infusion at free safety and we didn’t see them go that route over the weekend.
The three other day-three defenders are defensive tackle Josh Boyd out of Mississippi State who is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher, and two outside linebacker prospects: Nate Palmer from Illinois State and Sam Barrington from South Florida. With Walden and Zombo moving on, one or both will have a chance to earn a roster spot if they show something in training camp.
The last two picks were wide receivers, another position I thought the team would address earlier, but have no issues because of the way the draft board fell. Charles Johnson is the more intriguing prospect: a journeyman who spent six years moving from school to school, he ran a sub 4.4 40 at his pro day and has size and a lot of speed. He may have a chance to turn heads. Maryland’s Kevin Dorsey put up no numbers because his offense was so wretched, but earned a look because scouts like his measurables.
As of now the team has brought in ten undrafted guys, including former Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, who could compete for the Crabtree spot. The team also added QB Matt Brown from Illinois State.
The takeaway from this draft: Datone Jones will step right in and have a chance to make an instant impact on the defense at a spot that desperately needs it. The team has lacked a pass rushing defensive lineman since Cullen Jenkins left and Jones fits the bill. The additions at offensive line should add depth and competition to a unit that needs it.
But what everyone around the league will be talking about is the Packers’ brand new backfield toys. Lacy and Franklin. Thunder and lightning. Aaron Rodgers is smiling, and not just because he keeps staring at his new contract. This team will be able to run the ball now. That will make the offensive line look better, that will keep Rodgers from running for his life so much. And that will make the Packers offense even more deadly.
You say the Super Bowl will be played in New York next year, outdoors in the cold? Suddenly the Packers’ offense seems ready for that. What we’ll find out next season is whether the defense is too.