When your team drafts in the 32d position, a fan has many reasons to be happy. However with that honor goes the reality that at least 31 players will be selected before your team gets to choose. On the other hand, perennial winning squads such as Pittsburgh and New England seem to find top talent at the bottom of each round. This season, Green Bay General Manager seemed right at home drafting for the defending Super Bowl Champions. He spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday adding quality new talent to the Green Bay Packers.
The first round choice was Derek Sherrod OT Mississippi State. Unlike Brian Bulaga, who was selected in the first round last season, Sherrod is a prototypical left tackle who excelled at the position in the SEC for three seasons. At 6-5 320 he has good size and his wingspan is longer than all the tackles drafted ahead of him He did not allow a sack as a senior. The plan will be for him to learn for a season from Chad Clifton, the true pro who currently mans the position. If Sherrod is ready, I would expect him to spell Clifton from time to time to gain experience. On the other hand, should he advance quickly, he could be considered to start at left guard. He might also be considered to play right tackle with Bulaga moving to guard. In the film I've seen, Sherrod can drive defenders into the end zone, push a speedy rusher past the quarterback, and cut block a pursuing lineman. He appears to be an excellent first round selection.
Wide receiver is not exactly a weak position for the Green Bay Packers. The foursome of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson is as talented and productive as any in the league. Some argue that the team lacks intimidating speed, but Greg Jennings seems to get behind defenders. There is no tall physical receiver for the Red Zone, but tight end Jermichael Finley has better skills than most big wide receivers.
Counting Finley with the group, these receivers have no equals.
On the other hand, Driver is not getting any younger, Jones is a free agent, and Nelson, as shown in the Super Bowl, is capable of big games and many dropped passes. The Packers could use another talented receiver to compete for playing time. If he is convinced Jones is gone, General Manager Ted Thompson could select two wide receivers. Thompson is also likely to be searching for a kick returner, and that player could be a wide receiver.
It makes sense for the Green Bay return man to be a wide receiver. The current number five wide out is Brett Swain, whose only notable contribution to the team last season was on special teams. Moreover, a fast shift wide receiver could be brought into the offense even if he is not a polished receiver.
The two consensus first round picks will be long gone before Green Bay even considers whom to pick. Julio Jones 6-3 220 Alabama and A. J. Green 6-4 211 Georgia are highly rated prospects. Some others are mentioned in the first round discussion and could be available at 32 if the Packers are interested. Jon Baldwin 6-4 226 Pittsburgh is big strong and fast and may be a star in the league. His inconsistent hands scare me. Titus Young 5-11 174 Boise State is a very fast pass catcher who can also return kicks. He was a star at the Senior Bowl. I am also concerned about his hands.
A player to watch at the end of Round 1 is Torrey Smith 6-1 204 Maryland. Smith was an all league return man in his first two seasons, and showed his ability to play wide receiver last season. He is a big play waiting to happen. Smith also has a good story to tell. The oldest of seven children of a single mother he was the only father his younger siblings knew. In high school he was a highly rated running and passing quarterback who managed to catch some passes as well. Moving on to Maryland, Torrey Smith made an impression in the weight room as he ranked second on the team in the 550 pound squat and set a school record for receivers with a 355 pound clean. This was augmented by 4.4 forties. Smith is not perfect as a hands catcher, but he seldom drops the ball. He could fill the role of a return man immediately while he learns the fine points from Jennings and Driver.
The Green Bay Packer offensive line deserves some discussion. It clearly was good enough to win the Super Bowl, displaying a level of play most teams would gladly accept. On the other hand, it was a line that too often put its Pro Bowl quarterback in jeopardy. It was also a line that could not consistently support a running attack. From another point of view, the two best players last year were center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton. Neither was a serious candidate for the Pro Bowl. Add in the age of two tackles, and this is a unit that may, in the next and future seasons, be good enough, only if the team features a great quarterback and a fine defense that can carry the team.
The Packer offensive line could be better.
Looking ahead to the 2011 Draft, the team is set at four positions. Along with Wells and Sitton, tackles Chad Clifton and Brad Bulaga will be starting next season. The one open position is left guard, because Daryn Colledge was allowed to enter free agency. His number one reserve Jason Spitz may also be lost to free agency. Few Packer fans are losing sleep as these players leave. Colledge has never been consistent, and Spitz, a valuable reserve in past seasons, was a total failure when inserted last season.
Thanks to Ted Thompson, there is young talent in reserve, although each player has question marks. T.J Lang filled in adequately last season at left guard and with less success at left tackle. Beset by injuries, Lang did not progress as the coaches had hoped he would last year, but he remains a talented player who has shown that he will give his best effort on every play. We do not know if he can play guard at a high level all season. One complicating issue if Lang is to be the left guard is that he is also the best answer as a reserve offensive tackle. This creates an issue if he is starting at another position. Others in the mix at left guard are two rookies from last season Marshall Newhouse and Nick McDonald and free agent Evan Dietrich Smith. Some believe that the best position for Newhouse is left tackle, which could make him a valuable reserve at more than one position. Veteran tackle Mark Tauscher is still on the roster, but he is unlikely to be on the roster next season.
It is also worth a mention that the Packers are not always successful when it comes to drafting offensive lineman. Even without mentioning Mike Sherman, the names Breno Giocomini, Jamon Meredith and Allen Barbre remind us that all draft choices do not work out. Finally, Ted Thompson seldom drafts a pure guard. Only Josh Sitton played guard in college. Spitz was center and the others played left tackle.
What a year 2010 turned out to be for the Green Bay Packer linebackers. Entering the season, the team returned four starters in Clay Matthews and Brad Jones outside and Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk inside. Brandon Chiller had been a great situational reserve the year before and veterans Brady Poppinga and Desmond Bishop provided depth. General Manager Ted Thompson added no additional linebackers in the draft.
Injuries upset all plans. Jones went down first, followed soon by Barnett, Poppinga and Chiller. Suddenly, what had been a deep position became thin, and when Clay Matthews missed a game and a half, Green Bay lost both contests. Fortunately, rookie free agent Frank Zombo earned his way onto the roster, and he performed pretty well as the third strong linebacker opposite Matthews. Even more significant was the inside play of Desmond Bishop, who, as the season progressed brought as much to the defense as Barnett had been providing. A. J. Hawk also elevated his game. The interior defense had little depth, but Hawk and Bishop; played great in the second half of the season. The other contributor was Erik Walden, who as replacement for Frank Zombo, held down the position for several games, and had a big impact against Chicago with 3 sacks.
Looking ahead, Hawk, Bishop and Chiller have all been signed for the future. Barnett is trade bait. The Packers hope that from Jones, Zombo and Walden they can find one player who can defend the run and provide an effective pass rush from the other side. Most likely, there will be two pretty good reserves already on the roster, but the Packers may look to the draft to find a first or second round talent to add competition. In later rounds, they could go after a reserve inside linebacker to add depth. Last season proved that in the 3-4 defense, it is easy to run out of linebackers.
Fortunately, the 2011 draft is deep in players who have the potential to play outside linebacker in the 3-4. Some of the best will be taken long before Green Bay has a selection. Von Miller 6-3 246 Texas A&M will be one of the first players chosen. While a bad ankle impaired his senior season, a healthy Miller came back to dominate at the Senior Bowl which validated his outstanding numbers as a junior. Other candidates will be gone as well, but the experts are not in agreement as to which if any may be available at the end of the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.
One outstanding athlete who draws both rants and raves is Akeem Ayers 6-3 254 UCLA. Ayers is either a great talent with poor instincts or a perfect fit at 3-4 outside linebacker depending upon the commentator. He is a playmaker who produced 11 sacks in 2 years and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The concerns remain, but he will be a consideration if he drops far enough. Another highly rated linebacker likely to go in round 1 is Justin Houston 6-3 270 Georgia. One attractive feature of Houston is that he played in a 3-4 defense as a senior, and he has an advantage in making the transition to the NFL. His statistics last year, 67 tackles with 18 for loss and 40 hurries with 10 sacks suggest that he could be very disruptive for Green Bay right away.
With Cullen Jenkins likely to be playing for another team in the next NFL season, the Packers would like to add a quick defensive end to the mix who could help to replace the sacks and big plays that Jenkins has provided. It was very apparent at the end of the season that a healthy Jenkins added a unique element to the defense designed by Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers. However, staying healthy has not always been easy for Jenkins and he will be over 30 when his next season begins. The Packers will not overpay Cullen Jenkins, which makes it probable that the Green Bay defense will proceed without him.
The 2011 draft appears to have more some excellent candidates to play end in the 3-4 system. Some will be taken in the first round, but others will be available later. The Packers have used late round picks to select defensive end in recent years. Jarius Wynn was a sixth round choice in 2009 and C.J Wilson was added in the seventh round in 2010. How the Packers evaluate those two players will be part of the calculation of how high to take another Defensive End. Potentially, if Wynn can add some weight without losing speed and develop some skills, he could step in for Jenkins. Wilson also has some potential as a pass rusher Ifs do not always come true. The Packers will look for a Jenkins clone in this draft.
The logical candidate should be gone in the first 15 picks. Cameron Jordan 6-4 287 California, who ran a 4.74 forty at the Combine. Jordan was the talk of the Senior Bowl and was virtually unblockable for a group of offensive lineman who will all be high draft choices this year. Jordan. He will be gone too high to even think about trading up.
Another highly rated lineman that a few people believe may drop at least into the 20s is Corey Liuget 6-3 300 Illinois. Liuget will probably be drafted to play tackle in the 4-3, but could he be available late in the round, and he would be a consideration..
The Green Bay Packers build their offense around quarterback Aaron Rodger who is one of the best in the game and still improving. Ready to step in is Matt Flynn, who proved last season that he can lead the team against any opponent and give them a chance to win.
Most observers, including me, would not be comfortable with the situation if Aaron Rodgers were to be lost for an entire season. Losing Rodgers is a small but real concern because of his chance taking style of play along with a history of concussions. Matt Flynn is not even penciled in as a franchise quarterback.
That being said, Matt Flynn is probably good enough to start for some other team for a few years. He is likely to find out if teams agree with that statement because he will be a free agent next year. The situation is not the same as when Aaron Rodgers reached the end of his rookie deal. Aaron Rodgers is 27 years old. Flynn cannot wait till Rodgers is over the hill. Assuming Flynn will find another team after next season, the Packers will need to find another reliable number two signal caller. Whether or not Flynn leaves, there is a need to find a quarterback with the potential to be a starter. As of today, the other candidate is Graham Harrell, but we have no idea if Harrell can be an adequate back up much less a starting quarterback. He may establish that in the preseason next year. The question is whether Green Bay can wait past this draft to conclude whether Harrell is up to the task.
Even if the issue is a year away. The Green Bay Packers need to think about developing a reserve quarterback. This could be a good situation in which to sign a free agent, but that is not the usual way they fill a need in Green Bay. Since they are not likely to use a first round choice on a back up next year, selecting a player in this draft may make sense. However, it needs to be a player with some unrealized potential. With three quarterbacks already on the active roster, the new guy will have to be a quarterback that can slide through to the practice squad. That means he will be a low round selection.
This is fun. Year after year I have looked at the then current version of the Green Bay Packers, and I have, to the best of my ability, analyzed the needs they would have to fill in free agency and the draft in order to have a team that could compete for the Super Bowl. This year is different because the Packers already won the Super Bowl, and the players coming back are ready to play at a high level at every position. There are no glaring needs, except perhaps a dynamic return man, but there remains a desire to improve. They have, not a needs list, but a wish list.
From a general point of view, the Green Bay Packers want players to fill their basic approach to offense defense and special teams. The offense need to be able to run the ball particularly in the fourth quarter and the passing game must have enough playmakers to be effective against the best defenses in the league. On defense, the goal of having players who can defend the run is largely met, but the second half of playoff games showed that there is room to grow in defending the pass. The greatest area of emphasis should be special teams. If the team does not re-sign kicker Mason Crosby, there will be a need for a kicker. There is definitely a need for a dynamic punt and kickoff return man. These wishes and few needs may be filled by a combination of veteran free agents and rookies.
Since his first two years as General Manager, Ted Thompson has been a non-player in the free agent market. That could change. Even a strong team could benefit from the addition of a proven veteran playmaker, and players who fit that description now have a reason to consider Green Bay. First they would be joining the team that is the favorite to represent the NFC in the Championship Game next year. Second, they have seen the character of the players currently on the roster. These players overcome adversity and support each other, the type of players that most people would want as teammates. Moreover, the stigma of playing in a small venue is now balanced by the factors of a superior coaching staff, great facilities and the opportunity to succeed. With the media opportunities available for the super Bowl champs, other players will hear convincing testimonials extolling the advantages of playing in Green Bay.