Packers XLV

Time Will Tell Whether This Draft Is Special

Posted May 3rd, 2015 @ 03:05pm

You can say one thing about the Pack's 2015 draft: it was unpredictable. It was kind of goofy. Unconventional. A bit intriguing. OK, that's four things.

Thompson wasn't in need of immediate starters this time around. He could afford to go after guys that he projected big upside, and that's what he did. He also took versatile, accomplished athletes who will provide an immediate impact on special teams--a unit that was miserable last year and one that has lost a good amount of players this offseason.

You could argue that the only starting position up for grabs is the other outside corner, opposite Sam Shields. Casey Hayward will try to prove he can play there, but there's no one else on the roster. Clay Matthews, for now, is the presumed starter at inside linebacker along with Sam Barrington. It would be nice to move him back outside, but I like the idea of him inside--you can move him outside on passing downs.

So it would make sense for Thompson to grab a taller, fast corner early, to compete with Hayward. Instead, leave it to Ted to take a guy at #30 who was literally not on any of our radar. What are the chances of that happening? The only defensive position you figured he'd avoid is safety, a position that was as bare as a Vikings trophy case a year ago, but is now robust. And that's where former Sun Devil Damarious Randall was listed, as a safety, his position in college. But he came to Arizona State from junior college as a corner--the team needed help at safety, so he switched. Thompson says he will be a corner so we understand why he made the pick.

Randall shot up draft boards in the final week--you never really know why that happens. Peter King had him going to Philly at #20. While a bit undersized at 5'11", Randall is fast (4.41) and as former baseball player in junior college (till an arm injury caused him to focus exclusively on football) he will have the spatial instincts to be a good defensive back. Most likely he'll be the Pack's nickel corner, if not on opening day then at some point before the weather turns. He could also step into the punt returner role on day one. A few scouts have called him a bigger Honey Badger. I'll take that.

As the second round got started, most of us watched to see if any of the inside linebackers would be there at #62. As expected, they pretty much all came off the board--all except TCU's Paul Dawson, a tackling machine who didn't like to attend meetings, pay attention and listen to his coaches. Thompson elected to pass (Dawson went to Cincinnati in the third) and instead decided to select another guy we've never heard of.

I'll say this, no one in the league is beating the Pack in a pickup basketball game. Quentin Rollins was a four year starter and point guard at Miami (Ohio), before a Ravens scout suggested he give football a try in his final season. 12 games later he was the MAC defensive player of the year, picking off seven passes, breaking up nine more and collecting 72 tackles. He showed amazing instincts for the position and was not afraid to hit. There will be a learning curve here, but barring injuries, the Pack can let him soak things up. There is a lot of upside here and he plays a position where you always want to be deep.

OK, so it's getting late on Friday night and you figure Ted has this diamond in the rough inside linebacker he's going to pluck at the bottom of the third round so we can all go to sleep easily. Nope, he nabbed former Stanford WR Ty Montgomery, a guy that ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd has been talking about for weeks as his sleeper in the draft. We know this, Ted loves him some pre-weekend wide receivers. In 7 of 11 drafts he's picked one in the second or third round.

Montgomery is like a well-fed, larger version of Randall Cobb. He's a guy who looked like a top ten pick after his freshman year with Andrew Luck. As the QB play fell off there, so did his production. But Montgomery is another potential playmaker, one who can line up anywhere on the field, including as a returner: he was second in the nation as a kick returner and averaged 20 yards per punt return.

Now you can wring your hands about the linebacker position--more on that in a moment--but when you're as close as the Pack was to the Super Bowl, you look at where you're lacking and where they're lacking most egregiously is on special teams, where they ranked dead last in 2014. These three picks should provide an immediate infusion to those units. It will likely take Cobb off the punt return unit, which I think we'd all like to see.

Ted went into the final four rounds armed with six picks and here's where we figured he'd grab a couple of linebackers, a couple of linemen, maybe a TE and a RB. The fourth round pick was textbook: Jake Ryan was a big time player and outside linebacker at Michigan until an ACL zapped him of much of his quickness. His play inside last season opened eyes and Thompson pounced on him. A two-time team captain, Ryan is tough, smart, instinctive and can tackle. The Pack think he can be a three-down player. If he can step right in, Clay can move back outside.

And then it got really interesting. What? The Pack traded up in the fifth round? Way up in the fifth round? Who could they be looking to grab? Another linebacker perhaps? A running back they fell in love with. Or maybe a QB who thought he'd be the third or fourth guy off the board, one who figured to know by Friday night where his career would start?

When Brett Hundley continued to plummet, you know he was silently steaming--having been told by his advisors that he was a second rounder, or at worst a third. A 3-year starter at UCLA, Hundley had a so-so junior year and many scouts, while marveling at his measurable and athletic ability, wondered about his decision-making, accuracy and converting from a spread offense to a pro style one. He's built like Colin Kaepernick and can run like him too, gaining more than 2,500 yards on the ground with 30 TDs as a Bruin.

Many Packer pundits are scratching their heads over this pick. Not me. First, it cost the Pack virtually nothing. They surrendered their 7th round pick near the bottom of the draft, knowing they had three 6-rounders and that whoever they might have taken would likely be available as an undrafted free agent.

Hundley will get to sit and learn at the teats of McCarthy, Clements and Rodgers and as a #3 guy this season will be an NFL redshirt. If he can become a legit backup in a year or two, we may not step out onto the ledge if Rodgers goes down with an usury. Not to mention, the Pack may find a team willing to part with a high draft pick if he looks like the real deal. I love this pick. Handley comes in with a chip on his shoulder. Even if it's a 50-50 proposition, I'll take my chances in the fifth round any day of the week.

In the sixth round, the Pack opened with John Kuhn successor Aaron Ripkowski, a fullback out of Oklahoma. You gotta figure either the kid unseats Kuhn this season or he's a practice squad guy with a chance to take over in 2016. He's a former walk-on, so he's worked his butt off to get where he is. He's another guy who could earn a roster spot on special teams--played all four units in college.

Ted finally returned to defense with his next pick. Christian Ringo has the right name to wear Green and Gold. I don't see a future Hall of Famer, like Jim Ringo, but this Ringo was super-productive at Louisiana-Lafayette, with 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season. At six feet, he's an undersized defensive end, but he has a high motor and figures to have a good chance to push some of the up and down guys ahead of him on the depth chart (I'm talking to you, Datone Jones).

The Pack finished up with an athletic tight end, another former basketball player. Kenner Backman is unusual as a new breed tight end in that he likes to block as well. He joins an uninspiring unit that is looking for someone to step forward. Rodgers and Quarless will be counted on to take charge this season but Backman could take the vacated Bostick role. Another possible special teamer, or practice squad guy this season.

The Packers won't likely be getting A's from the draft experts because there is a lot of the unknown with some of the guys Thompson grabbed early. He seemed very pleased to get the guys he got in the first three rounds in particular. He's built up enough of a draft cache to earn the benefit of the doubt.

When you're as talented as the Pack, a top three Super Bowl favorite, you can grab guys at the bottom of rounds that you think have big upside and roll the dice a bit. I think Ron Zook and the special teams coached are ecstatic with the players they will be adding.

In a few years, we'll find out just how special this draft class might really be.

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Presenting My Seven Round Packer Mock Draft

Posted April 27th, 2015 @ 07:04pm

And here it is: my annual exercise in futility where I try to get inside the mind of Ted Thompson and predict what happens over draft weekend. We know it is likely that he will orchestrate a trade or three, perhaps moving out of the first round and most assuredly not moving up.

It stands to reason he will focus on the defensive side of the ball, since the offense is locked and loaded for another high octane season. He won't ignore that side of the ball, of course, but I'll be surprised if he addresses offense before the weekend.

Round 1 (30): Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida St. Repeat after me: you don't draft for need in the first round. Yes, the Pack could possibly grab the top ILB or the fourth or fifth corner in this spot--positions of greater need, but the best value and the best player left on the board is Goldman. Raji and Guion are back, but are signed for 2015 only. Goldman would likely allow them to move on from one or both and secure the NT spot for years. He may still be there at #30 because he doesn't project as a pass rusher. But he's a stud against the run and will clear the way for the OLBs behind him to get to the QB.

Round 2 (62) Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson We may find ourselves holding our breaths on Friday night as the Pack's pick approaches, hoping Anthony falls into the Pack's laps. He would step right into the starting lineup opposite Sam Barrington and would likely allow CMIII to move back outside most of the time. Anthony is a rare athlete and one who will cause any residual AJ Hawk fans to put their jerseys away for good.

Round 3 (94) Ronald Darby, CB, Florida St. The Pack grabs Goldman's teammate here to fortify a position that lost two key contributors in free agency. Darby is a former track star who may be just scratching the surface when it comes to potential. His tackling ability and hands are the reason he's still on the board. The Pack will figure those can be taught. Speed can't.

Round 4: Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB, Louisville The run on defense continues with the productive linebacker who can beat tackles and is strong against the run. Mauldin has come a long way, living in 16 foster homes as a kid to become an all ACC performer and leader of the Cardinal defense. With Nick Perry and Julius Peppers sure things for this year only, Mauldin has a chance to step in and challenge Mike Neal for playing time beyond 2015.

Round 5 (166): Wes Saxton, TE, S. Alabama I almost put converted Oklahoma QB Blake Bell, a tight end who could be the John Kuhn of the future (or present) here, but if Saxton is still on the board he's the pick. His numbers decreased last year as his team changed its offense, but the talent is there to be a Finley-like pass catcher at tight end. He's not going to be an in-line blocker, but he will have the ability to get separation in the middle of the field and be a downfield threat down the road.

Round 6 (206) Mark Glowinski, G, West Virginia The Pack finally address depth on the O-line with Glowinski, who was projected to be a 4th or 5th rounder. He's a converted tackle who's a beast in the weight room and is an ultra-competitor. Look for Sitton and Lang to teach him on a day to day basis how to play the position.

Round 6 (210) Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas With Hawk and Jones gone, and backups Carl Bradford, Adrian Hubbard and Joe Thomas beyond unproven, the Pack can afford to select a second inside guy. Heeney has Chris Borland written all over him (minus the concussions): he's undersized with a huge motor and a coach's dream. He's a tackling machine and given the opportunity the Packers present, could challenge for playing time this season.

Round 6 (213) Austin Shepherd, T, Alabama A prospect with upside, scouts think he has a chance to be a solid backup and the Pack could use one at tackle. Yes, Don Barclay returns from a lost season, but beyond that the team is thin and could use another developmental guy.

Round 7 (247) Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri Ted uses his final pick on a potential DuJuan Harris replacement, one that could spark the Pack's new-look special teams. Murphy is a return guy first and foremost, taking 7 to the house at Mizzou, both via kickoffs and punts. He could also become a weapon as a receiver on third down, with lots of juke-ability. Think Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster.

This is my fifth Packers mock draft and I have nailed exactly one pick: Randall Cobb. Tell me dear readers, as you mock me in your comments below, if I hit on one of these picks, which one do you hope it is?

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A Look at the Schedule, by the Numbers

Posted April 22nd, 2015 @ 03:04pm

The schedule has been released and we can all finally work our way, game by game, through the schedule and determine what the Pack's record might be. Never mind the fact that we haven't even gone through the draft and the likely surprise cuts, additions and injuries that will alter things a bit.

So let's take a look at the schedule, by the numbers:

7: Players and coaches will always tell you that the first thing they look at is when the bye falls. For the Pack, it's week seven this year. I'd have to think the sweet spot for NFLers is weeks 7-9, so they have to be pretty happy with a week seven bye. It's also a natural spot the way the schedule falls for the Pack. Barring injury or anything crazy, the Pack will be favored to win its first six games. The next two games after the bye are road games against 2014 playoff teams, Denver and Carolina. The Pack could easily start 6-0, with four home games and road games in Chicago and SF,  take a week off ,and then get set for a tough stretch, beginning with those two road tests.

6: An odd quirk about the Pack's schedule is that it features just six noon kickoffs. Call me old fashioned (I prefer to think of it as old school), but I think a perfect schedule would be 12 noon starts and four games under the lights. But in a year where the Pack plays the West in both the NFC and AFC, you're going to get late starts--there are five 3:25 kickoffs on this year's slate. They will play no noon games starting with the epic Thanksgiving night game until the season finale vs. the Vikings.

5: Following that thought, the Pack will once again play the maximum five prime time games this season, including the first two home games, in weeks two and three. The Week 2 Sunday night affair with the Seahawks is the most anticipated game on the schedule. Making it the home opener in prime time just adds some sizzle to a game that didn't really need it. If the Pack can exorcize a few demons and take down the 'Hawks, they can take a deep breath and get down to the business of trying to earn the top seed in the conference. The Sunday night game at Denver should be great theater as well--most likely the second and final Rodgers-Manning duel. As huge as the Week 2 matchup is, most Packer fans would prefer to be at the Bears game, if they had to pick one. A Thanksgiving night dessert at Lambeau between the Pack and Bears and oh, by the way, Favre's number will be retired that night? I'd get in line right now for that one.

4: While the schedule is very favorable early, it toughens considerably after the bye. Once those two road games in Denver and Carolina are over, the Pack will be staring at four straight divisional games. The Pack will come out of this stretch with four games left, with home games against the Cowboys and Vikings and west coast road games in Oakland and Arizona. The way Green Bay has dominated the North in recent years, a record of 3-1 seems likely, splitting the road games and winning the home games.  If that happens, they should be set up nicely heading into the final quarter of the season.

3: Woven into those four straight divisional matchups is a 12 day stretch where the Pack will have to play three games, starting at Minnesota, then Bears on Turkey Day and at Detroit. Mike McCarthy is already bemoaning the fact that the team will have only seven days after the Thanksgiving game to prepare for the Lions the following Thursday night. But the Lions are in the same boat, and it is a division game, so you know the team well. They'll come out of it with ten days to get ready for the home game against the Cowboys, a nice little edge.

2: The Week two matchup against the Seahawks will have everything you hope for in a game. Like the Cowboys in the '90s, the Packers seem to always play this team on the road. Now they get them at home. A win here cements any potential tiebreaker scenarios a few months later and will likely do a lot to salve the psyche of the players and coaches, many of whom are still not over it, no matter what they tell us publicly. Most fans aren't over it either. But getting them in the home opener in prime time is just what the doctor ordered. Will the Pack be more aggressive offensively? Can they stop Jimmy Graham? Will special teams step up and hold their own? We'll know a lot about the 2015 team after this one.

1: Finally, here's one guy's ridiculously early attempt at figuring out the Pack's 2015 results, game by game. I think they win the first six. Four home games: those are Ws. The opener at Chicago may be tougher than expected since they have a new coaching staff and the team will have only the relatively meaningless preseason games to use as tape to figure out what they are like this season. Expect an offense led by the legs of Matt Forte, not the arm of Jay Cutler. But the Bears will still be figuring things out as well, so expect the Pack to win this road game, as well as the week 4 game at the Niners. This team has lost too much defensively and the Pack is ready to finally beat them.

So they come out of their bye at 6-0, staring at road games against 2014 playoff teams. I'll say they split those two and enter that tough divisional stretch at 7-1 at the halfway point. As I said earlier, I would think the Pack can go 3-1 in this four game test, winning at home, losing at Minnesota and beating the Lions in Detroit (it's not Thanksgiving Day, so the Pack can handle them).

The final quarter of the season features two gimmes: at Oakland and at home in a revenge game against the Vikes and two toughies: Dallas (seeking revenge for the Dez non-catch) and at Arizona. I'll give the Cardinals, and their tough defense, a win in this one--provided that Carson Palmer is still healthy (a big if).

That computes to a 13-3 record, which should be good enough for the top seed in the NFC. Wanna sign up for that right now?

Coming Monday: my annual seven-round Packers mock draft.

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