25

February

The Packers should choose a different flavor of tight end

At the moment there are 3 “flavors” of tight ends; everyone’s favorite at the moment is chocolate and that would be the “oversized wide receiver” tight ends like Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron, who are players who can take the top off of a defensive secondary while posing a size match up for cornerbacks and safeties while causing speed problems for linebackers.  These types of players are what the NFL craves right now and with the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl with bigger more physical corners, the most logical response would be for NFL offenses to counter with big and fast tight ends who can beat bigger corners at their own game.  Strawberry would be the “move” tight end, much like Aaron Hernandez or Jordan Reed, who while aren’t the biggest or fastest have the most utility of the group, being able to operate decently as a inline tight end, out in the slot or even as a fullback in some situations (the Packers in particular love this kind of tight end).  Finally, there is vanilla, the old and boring standby of inline or “complete” tight end such as Jason Witten or Todd Heap who were capable inline blockers but could also operate as a safety value for a quarterback in the short passing game.  Each flavor has its own advantages and disadvantages and that’s fluctuated over time as offenses and defenses have evolved in the NFL.

When looking at the Packers under the Mike McCarthy/Ted Thompson regime, the flavors that appeal most have definitely been chocolate (Jermichael Finley, Brandon Bostick) and strawberry (Tom Crabtree, Spencer Havner, Ryan Taylor, DJ Williams) with almost no emphasis being placed on blocking.  And it’s easy to see why, with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm, plays could be extended, wide receivers got the majority of the attention on offense and running backs, outside of a couple years of Ahman Green in his prime, took a back seat to the offensive passing game.  Add to that the aerial explosion that occurred starting around that time and it’s easy to see why the Packers, along with pretty much every other NFL team, starting looking at tight ends more as receivers than blockers.  However, we might just start to see Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson pick a different favorite flavor this coming draft.

9

May

Did the Packers Want to Draft Kyle Long?

“A couple of days before the draft, I heard the Cowboys were a threat to take (Kyle) Long in the first round, perhaps if they moved down from the 18th pick. I later heard from league sources outside of Halas Hall that the Colts (24th pick) and Rams (22nd pick) were very interested in drafting him. Some suspected the Packers (26th pick) also were in the Long market.” – Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune

This recent bit of news caught my attention claiming that Kyle Long was actually a very hot commodity in the 1st round with at least 4 other teams, including the Packers, were willing to take the multifaceted offensive linemen, who will begin his career as a guard.  The only reason that this struck me as a little odd was that this exact same story popped up after last year’s draft, again involving an offensive guard.  In 2012, Kevin Zeitler was selected 27th overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, one spot ahead of Nick Perry, who was selected by Packers with the 28th overall pick.  Again the Packers were rumored to be in love with Zeitler and were distraught when the Bengals stole him away with the pick before theirs that they dejectedly handed in their card for Perry (so the story goes).

From the offset, the question becomes what would the Packers do with a high draft pick guard in either 2012 or 2013?  General manager Ted Thompson seems to like his current two starters in TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, both who where signed to extensions without hitting free agency, which is perhaps the highest honor Thompson can bestow a player.  But again, with “the silver fox” you never really know what he’s going to do in the draft, sometimes he drafts heavy in positions of depth while ignoring positions of need, ostensibly under the “best player available” philosophy.  I don’t claim to know how Ted Thompson truly operates, but I’d assume that if a guard were the best player available, he probably wouldn’t hesitate to draft him.

1

May

Reminder: Don’t sleep on Johnathan Franklin

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

Much has been made over the Packers’ running game in recent years, and this year’s draft class proves that upgrading the ground game is a top priority headed into 2013.

No, the Packers may not have landed the No. 1 running back in the draft — last Giovani Bernard mention — but they may have gotten Nos. 2 and 3.

Bernard was the first back off the board, going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 37th pick. Former Michigan State power back Le’Veon Bell went to the Steelers at No. 48, and the Denver Broncos drafted Montee Ball ten picks later.

Prior to the draft, Eddie Lacy was expected by most to be the first back off the board. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock had Lacy as the 18th-best player in the draft.

But then draft day happened, and the Packers grabbed him with the second-to-last pick in round two.

As Bob McGinn put it, the Packers almost reluctantly turn in the card for the former Alabama standout when he was still on the board at No. 61. Most draft analysts loved the pick. Everyone (Mayock, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Matt Miller) had Lacy as the top running back in the draft, and the Packers — a team that lacked a running game — stole him with a late second-rond pick.

With a potential three-down back (Lacy) already in the fold, the Packers focused on the offensive line. After selecting linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter early on Day 3, Thompson made a trade for a third fourth-round pick. They had their running back in Lacy, but Franklin was still sitting on the board.

“I’ve watched Ted Thompson enough times in the draft room that when he goes up, it’s going up for something and it’s really good and that was definitely the case,” head coach Mike McCarthy said in a post-draft press conference. “Very dynamic player, I’m excited to work with him.”

It probably means nothing, but whereas the Packers moved down and took Lacy, they felt strongly enough about Franklin to trade up for him in the fourth round.

Both players should see carries next season along with DuJuan Harris. Which isn’t bad for a team that relied almost solely on Harris as its starting running back into last year’s playoffs. It’s pretty safe to say the days of almost-desperate Ryan Grant signings are over.

29

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Wide Receiver Prospects

Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson

Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson

There may not be a Julio Jones or A.J. Green at the top of this year’s wide receiver crop, but the position is among the deepest in the 2013 NFL Draft.

This year’s classes is led by former JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who played at Tennessee in 2012. Patterson, although raw, is a freakish athlete with seemingly limitless potential. He’s the No. 1 receiver on my board, and his college teammate, Justin Hunter, isn’t too far behind.

Along with Patterson, West Virginia speedster Tavon Austin also appears to be a surefire first-round pick. Austin is more of a Percy Harvin-type matchup nightmare than a true perimeter wide receiver, but he may be the most explosive offensive prospect in the entire draft.

Many have Calfornia’s Keenan Allen as a first-round pick as well, but I’m not 100 percent sold. To me, Patterson and Austin are clearly the top two guys at the position, and after them, Allen is one of a handful of guys that could sneak into the end of round one or fall to the middle of round two.

Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and Southern Cal’s Robert Woods fall into the same boat as Allen.

The Packers certainly have a need at wide receiver. On top of Greg Jennings leaving Green Bay for Minnesota, the team faces uncertainty with Jordy Nelson, whose contract is set to expire after 2014, and James Jones, who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.

Ted Thompson has done some serious damage on Day 2 of the draft since taking over as general manager. Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jennings were all selected in the second round by Thompson, while Jones was a third-round pick. It’s very possible that the Packers will look to address the position in either the second or third round.

1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (6-2, 216)

  • Draft stock: Early-Mid 1st
  • 40 time: 4.42, 10-yard split: 1.55, Vertical jump: 37″
  • One-year starter in D1; transferred to Tennessee in 2012.
  • There isn’t a “can’t-miss” guy at the top of the draft, but Patterson has a chance to develop into a pretty special player. He’s remarkable after the catch and was often given the ball in the running game at Tennessee. If he can polish up his route running, Patterson could very well end up being a Pro Bowl player.
13

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Packers Running Back Prospects

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

Running back can be a tough position to evaluate headed into the NFL Draft.

Take last year for example. Trent Richardson was considered a “can’t-miss” guy at the top of the draft, but Alfred Morris, the 173rd overall pick, had the best season of all rookie running backs last year.

This year’s draft doesn’t have a clear-cut top back. There isn’t a Richardson or an Adrian Peterson in this year’s draft class, but there are a handful of intriguing prospects that could step in and start for a team from day one.

Nearly all draft rankings have the same two guys at the top: Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard. Most have Lacy firmly entrenched as a first-round pick with Bernard projected to go in round two.

Lacy and Bernard are completely different backs. While Lacy is a physical, punishing runner, Bernard is a versatile player capable of doing damage in the passing game as well as between the tackles. In today’s pass-happy NFL, I prefer Bernard as a prospect slightly ahead of Lacy.

But beyond the top two guys, this year’s crop of running backs has some quality depth. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all have a chance to be selected on Day 2.

Perhaps the most interesting running back in this year’s class is Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. Lattimore suffered the most gruesome knee injuries I’ve ever seen last season, and concerns over his long-term health will likely cause him to drop to the third round.

It would be an upset if the Packers don’t add a running back at some point this offseason, whether it’s a veteran via free agency or a young guy through the draft.

1. Gio Bernard, North Carolina (5-8, 202)

  • Draft stock: Late 1st/Early 2nd
  • 40 time: 4.53, 225-pound bench: 19 reps, 10-yard split: 1.53
  • Two-year starter, declared after his RS Sophomore season.
  • The second round is likely where Bernard will be selected, but I really believe he’s the best running back in this class. On top of being a talented runner, he’s a dangerous return man and receiver. I see Bernard as Ray Rice 2.0, and I really think he’d be a natural fit in the Packers’ offense.
12

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking the Interior Linemen

Alabama OG Chance Warmack

Alabama OG Chance Warmack

Typically, offensive guards are not drafted very early in the first round. In last year’s draft, Stanford guard David DeCastro was thought to be one of the “safest” picks in the entire class, but he fell all the way to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th overall pick.

This year, Alabama’s Chance Warmack has a chance to crack the top ten. Warmack (6-2 317) is a throwback who will help a team immediately as a rookie.

He could go as high as No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals, so it’s unlikely that he’ll endure a DeCastro-type fall. But either way, Warmack is a surefire first-round pick.

Behind Warmack, the next-best interior offensive linemen in this year’s draft is Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina. Cooper is more athletic than Warmack but isn’t quite as physical. His versatility could help him on draft day, as he also has the ability to play center.

The center position lacks a true can’t-miss guy at the top.

Alabama’s Barrett Jones, Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick and California’s Brian Schwenke all figure to be drafted at some point on Day 2. Jones is the most versatile of the bunch, Frederick is the most physical, while Schwenke is the most athletic.

Warmack and Cooper will likely be first-round picks, but the depth at offensive guard doesn’t stop there. Larry Warford (6-3 332) of Kentucky is viewed as a starting-caliber guard, as is Syracuse’s Justin Pugh (6-4 307) who some prefer as a right tackle.

The Packers’ offensive line has been heavily debated. Aaron Rodgers may very well be the best quarterback in football, but he was sacked more than anyone else in the league. Rodgers deserves some of that blame along with the offensive line.

At guard, the Packers are set with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. Adding depth is always a possibility, as is bringing in a center, whether Evan Dietrich-Smith returns or not.

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama – OG (6-2 317)

  • Draft stock: Early-Mid 1st
  • 225-pound bench: DNP, Arm length: 34.68, 10-yard split: 1.83
  • Three-year starter at left guard.
  • The last time an offensive guard was drafted in the top ten was 1997 when the New Orleans Saints took Chris Naeole out of Colorado. Leonard Davis (2001) and Robert Gallery (2004) both have had long NFL careers at guard, but both players were drafted as tackles. Warmack is a guard, without a doubt.
1

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Packers Offensive Tackle Prospects

Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel

Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel

Offensive tackle is one of the the deepest positions in the top-half of the first round. Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel is the No. 1 player on my draft board and looks like a lock to be selected in the top five.

One of the most humorous parts of the time leading up to draft day is when offensive linemen are forced to run the 40-yard dash. Terron Armstead (4.71) and Lane Johnson (4.72) ran well, and for that reason, many people are moving them up their draft rankings.

Joeckel didn’t test particularly well athletically at the combine, but fortunately for him, he’s a really, really good football player.

The top three offensive tackles are all worthy of top-ten selections: Joeckel, Johnson and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. Alabama mammoth offensive tackle D.J. Fluker figures to be a in the mix in the latter portion of round one.

At this point, it looks like as many as five offensive tackles could be selected in round one.

Florida State tackle Melenik Watson is an interesting prospect that could crack the first round and develop into a franchise left tackle. But this class is deeper than the first-round prospects; there are a handful of players at the position that could help out an NFL team as rookies.

1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (6-6 306)

  • Draft stock: Top five
  • 225-pound bench: 27 reps, Arm length: 34.28, 10-yard split: 1.81
  • Three-year starter, declared for the draft following his junior season.
  • The last time an offensive lineman was selected with the No. 1 overall pick was 2008 when the Miami Dolphins selected Michigan tackle Jake Long, but Joeckel has a chance to be the Kansas City Chiefs’ pick at the top of this year’s draft.

2. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (6-7 306)

  • Draft stock: Top ten
  • 225-pound bench: 27 reps, Arm length: 34.48, 10-yard split: 1.70
  • Three-year starter, started at left tackle as a junior and senior after seeing time at right tackle and right guard earlier in his career.
  • Selected as a second team All-American by SI.com and a third-team All-American by AP.

3. Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6-6 306)

  • Draft stock: Top ten
  • 225-pound bench: 28 reps, Arm length: 34.28, 10-yard split: 1.61