A LOOK AT DAY 1 OF THE NFL DRAFT
by Jerry Gilbert
One way to look at the approach of the Green Bay Packers to the first day of the NFL Draft is that they evaluated some current or recently departed players at certain positions, and General Manager Ted Thompson drafted some replacements. In the first round defensive tackle Justin Harrell, a tackle with quickness to penetrate and the strength to clog the middle, will be the backup and possible replacement for Corey Williams. Williams' rookie contact will expire soon, and defensive tackles who can rush the passer can be hot commodities in free agency. On the other hand, Williams is not worth big money to the Packers unless he begins to show up on an every down basis. At the same time, if he plays at a Pro Bowl level in 2006, he could easily become too expensive. Justin Harrell will back up at both tackle positions this season, and this year or next, he could become the starting tackle along side Ryan Pickett.
In the second round, Green Bay selected Nebraska running back Brandon Jackson. Jackson was drafted to replace long time starter Ahman Green, who, coincidentally, also attended Nebraska. Jackson now weighs about 212, which is similar to Green's size when he entered the league. Running backs seldom become every down players in their rookie season, but if Jackson is the good receiver and blocker he is expected to be, he could be, at minimum, a third down option while Vernand Morrency handles most of the carries. In a running back by committee situation, Jackson will be part of the replacement for Ahman Green.
The first of two third round choices, James Jones, a tough receiver and special teams performer from San Jose State, is a candidate to replace the oft injured and under performing Robert Ferguson. As we heard the coaches describe how Jones goes up for a ball and people bounce off, and how he snatches the pass out of the air, what occurred to me is that this is what we have asked of Ferguson and he has not produced. Robert Ferguson is a tough guy and a good special teams player, but he is not a reliable receiver. If Jones can get open and win fights for the ball while also showing Ferguson's qualities, he will be more of an asset as the third receiver. Jones only had one big year in college, but he could be an upgrade.
The second third round selection, Virginia Tech strong safety Aaron Rouse was drafted to replace the under performing Marquand Manuel. Rouse is a physical phenom whose play tailed off in his senior season. At 6-4 223 he has the speed and agility skills of smaller players. A Milwaukee writer used the totally inaccurate clich that he "looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane". To the contrary, Rouse, who was benched because of too many personal fouls, but who also received a team award for "outstanding leadership", is a guy who looks and plays like Conan. For Packer fans who fondly remember Chuck Cecil, this guy is a bigger faster Chuck Cecil who also has the agility to cover receivers. The coaches will have to channel his emotions and bring out his skills, but Rouse could be the enforcer that the Green Bay defensive backfield has lacked for many years.
There is another way of looking at the first day of the Packer draft, and that has to do with the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring Randy Moss to Green Bay. After the New England Patriots spent millions adding name free agents to its already talented roster, it is not surprising that Randy Moss elected to sign there, reasoning that he would have a good chance to play in a Super Bowl. However, I recall a rumor a few weeks back that had Randy Moss and an Oakland tight end coming to Green Bay in exchange for Corey Williams, possibly Robert Ferguson and a draft choice. The article said that the Raiders were high on Williams. If a deal of that sort was being discussed, it made perfect sense that the Packers would draft a replacement for Williams in the opening round and also a substitute for Ferguson. Ferguson clone James Jones arrived in round three to fill that need. The plot thickened as the Raiders selected tight end Zach Miller in the second round. Of course, this deal never happened and might never have been seriously discussed, but rumor followed by actions consistent with that rumor lead to a possible deeper explanation for what happened on day one.
The process employed by Thompson on day one was not stellar. He did complete his inevitable trade down to add an extra pick; however, other teams that traded down seemed to get more in return. It is not fair to charge, as some have, that Justin Harrell would have been available in, for example, pick 20 and the Packers should have traded down a picked him there. No one can know when Harrell may have been taken, and who, if anyone, would have traded with Green Bay for pick 16. Statements to the effect that a given team chose a particular player a few picks too early simply ignore the reality of a draft. When it is time to make your choice you have to select an available player. You cannot unilaterally move your own pick. Someone has to be willing to give you more choices than you are relinquishing., and even then nothing is certain. In the highly secretive world of the NFL draft, it is virtually impossible to move down a specific number of places and know that your player will still be available. That sort of precise positioning of picks is impossible.
At the same time, it is fair to suggest that a player chosen in round 2 should have been given a 4th round grade. That is a true reach. It is also a fair criticism that other players at the same position were available when the Packers selected. At running back, several backs still on the board had a consensus a rating higher that Brandon Jackson. The Packers preferred Jackson. For Packer fans, the classic second-guessing of this type is the example that Chris Chambers was available when Robert Ferguson was chosen. For this comparison, subsequent experience tells us who has been a better pro. History will also tell us about Brandon Jackson, but not yet. For now, Ted Thompson gets a pass.
Regardless what he says about "best player available", Ted Thompson drafted on day one to fill specific needs on his team. He has added players at specific positions. Time will tell if they were good choices.