Time Will Tell Whether This Draft Is SpecialPosted:May 3rd, 2015 3:39 pm
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.