PACKER DRAFT 2009 WIDE RECEIVER AND TIGHT END Jerry Gilbert 4/9/2009
Most observers would agree that wide receiver is not a position of need for the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 College Draft, but most of us said that last year and the Packers drafted 2 wide receivers and a pass catching tight end. Partly because of the high pick used last season for Jordy Nelson and the continued availability of seventh round selection Brett Swain, we may say with confidence Green Bay is highly unlikely to choose a wide receiver before the late rounds of the draft.
Greg Jennings is a rising star and Donald Driver remains good enough to serve as a high quality number 2. In his second season, Jordy Nelson should be more of a factor in the offense and may reveal whether he can be a replacement for Driver in the next year or so. If he can stay healthy, James Jones is another wide receiver with the ability to be a starter. Only Ruvell Martin would seem to be vulnerable to be challenged for a roster spot by a talented rookie.
Restricting to second day selections, there certainly will be some young men who can contribute as wide receivers and on special teams for the Packers. The offense could certainly use some help in the red zone and speed is always welcome.
A player with a size and speed combination unique in this draft is Ramses Barden 6-6 229 Cal Poly. Barden did not stand out at the Senior Bowl nor run a fast time at the combine, but the kid has great hands and the ability to catch the high pass. Last season, he dominated inferior competition, catching 67 passes for 18 touchdowns and averaging over 100 yards per game. He also scored 18 touchdowns and had a higher per game yardage average as a junior. At the Senior Bowl, he did prove to be a willing an effective blocker. Although his speed is suspect, Barden could be a force in the red zone and in a variety of special team roles.
In addition to seeking a tall receiver, Packer General Manager Ted Thompson may be looking for outstanding speed in a wide receiver. Two candidates stand out. Johnny Knox 6-0 185 Abilene Christian, ran a 4.29 40 on the slow track at the 2009 Combine. The issue for Knox has always been whether the track star is skilled enough as a football player. At his recent pro day, Knox displayed solid route running and hands. These were both issues during his college career. If Knox is coachable, he could be a great special teams and receiver addition to any team.
The other speed burner who should be available about Round Five is Mike Wallace 6-1 199 Mississippi. Knox ran a 4.3 forty and added a 40" vertical at the Combine. He also appeared to have good hands and route running at his Pro Day. Wallace has the solid build that the Packers seem to prefer. Again the issue will be whether he is coachable. He remains a track guy trying to improve as a football player. That type of player can contribute on special teams.
The tight end position is more clearly a position of need for Green Bay in the 2009 Draft. Donald Lee is the starter, but he almost disappeared from the passing game last season. It did not appear that passes to Lee were part of the game plan. Rookie Jermichael Finley was featured more and more as the season progressed, and toward the end of the season he began to flash some ability on third down and in the end zone. Finley is not at present an every down tight end, but he could be a significant part of the plan to improve success in the red zone. The other tight end, perpetual tease Tory Humphrey was recently re-signed for next season. There is a possible opening for a tight end on the roster.
Generally considered to be the most ready to go blocker among tight end prospects, Richard Quinn 6-4-260 North Carolina runs about a 4.8 40. He is not an accomplished receiver, but is the type of player who can improve the running game and get lost in coverage from time to time to make a chains moving or touchdown catch. There are issues about whether he can adjust to poorly thrown passes and whether he can elude coverage. If satisfied on those issues, the Packer scouts could look toward Richard Quinn to wear Green and Gold.
One tight end who has been listed as on the Packer radar is Shawn Nelson 6-5 242 Southern Mississippi. Nelson was a 4-year starter at Southern Miss. Running a 4.5 forty at the combine put Nelson among the elite, and he said at the time that he thinks he can run faster than that, although he did not offer to run again at his pro day. In his first three seasons Nelson caught about 35 passes per year for an average of about 14 yards per catch. As a senior, the number of catches went up to 53 , but the yards per catch and touchdowns came down. This suggests that defenses tried to stop him last year and could only slow him down a little. He still averaged 10.5 yards per reception, which equates to a lot of first downs. A willing blocker, Nelson is built long and lean and will need some time in the weight room before he can be an every down tight end. Nevertheless, Nelson is the complete package of size speed and hands to contribute immediately as a pro.
My Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin produced the tight end with perhaps the most potential in this Draft, Travis Beckum 6-3 239. Beckum was a primary focus of the Badger offense for three seasons, and no one could consistently stop him until he was put out of action in his final season. Beckum surprised many people at the combine by throwing up the most bench presses by a tight end. He ran slow, but he is still returning from injury. Assuming a full recovery, Beckum is an elusive route runner who makes both the easy and tough catch. If as reported, he is adding weight without losing speed, this former linebacker could be more than a pass catching specialist at the next level. With his speed and strength, he is almost certain to be a force on special teams.
A similar athlete also missed last season due to injury. Cornelius Ingram 6-4 246 Florida ran one 4.5 forty at his pro day. In 2007, the last year he played, Ingram caught 34 passes for 508 yards and 7 touchdowns while averaging an impressive 14.7 yards per reception. Considered the best athlete on the Gator roster, Ingram arrived as a star high school quarterback, and played some wide receiver before bulking up to play tight end. This background gives him an unusual blend of skills as a receiver. Though not asked to block very much in college, he has strength and desire to learn. If Beckum is not available, Ingram could be a good choice as well.
A potential all around tight end in the late rounds is Bear Pascoe 6-5 251 Fresno State. Pascoe did not excel in the East West Shrine practices, but the big tight end was a force in the game, both as a blocker and receiver. Pascoe caught 45 balls as a junior and 40 as a senior for Fresno, scoring 4 touchdowns each year and averaging over 10 yards per catch. He was also one of the best performers on special teams and holds the school record for blocked kicks.
A small school project with great size is Brian Mandeville 6-7 255 Northeastern. At his lower level of play, Mandeville could get down field and make the big play. The opposite of Pascoe, Mandeville opened some eyes in the East West Shrine practices as he effectively blocked defensive ends and linebackers, and caught the ball consistently. A hands catcher, Mandeville appeared at the Shrine event to have good football speed for his size, and that combination would be welcome on a team that struggled in the red zone last season.
Ted Thompson may sit for both days of the draft and not choose a single tight end or receiver. However, that is not his history, and given the need to improve in the red zone, he is likely to take a stab at finding at least one more potential playmaker.