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.
15

April

Packers Prospect Profile — OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA

1. Profile

Akeem Ayers

College: UCLA

Position: Outside Linebacker

Height: 6’4”    Weight: 255 lbs

Birthdate: July 10, 1989    Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

2. High School/College highlights:

In high school Ayers was named a Super Prep All American and was chosen as a four-star recruit at defensive end by scouts.com and rivals.com .  Also played on offense in high school catching four passes for 132 yards.  At UCLA, he was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2009 and placed third in voting for the Dick Butkus award honoring college football’s best linebacker in 2010.  Ayers also was a team captain in 2010 and finished as a second team All-American.

3. College stats: After three seasons: 183 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for a loss and six interceptions

4. NFL Scouting Combine results:  4.81 40 yard dash, 7.49 three cone drill, 4.28 20 yard shuttle, 18.0 bench press, 31.0 vertical jump, 116 broad jump.

5. Strengths/Weaknesses: Ayers plays a very fast brand of football, as can be seen in his 40 time despite his size.   He has a very good burst and is an excellent pass rusher.  As a rookie, he would bring immediate impact to any team looking to significantly improve its blitzing ability.   He also has strong intangibles and was very honest about where he needed to improve during interviews at the NFL Combine.    College players that enter the NFL not expecting to light the world on fire right away often have a higher success rate than those who think they will take over the league in their first year.

On the down side, there are concerns with Ayers’ lower body.  With a smaller body mass in his legs, Ayers is forced to tackle high and that could be a problem when it comes to stopping NFL backs.    He developed a reputation in college as more of a pass rushing specialist so it will more than likely take time for him to acclimate to the running game in the NFL.    There also are some doubts about his ability to learn complex defensive schemes.  His performance at UCLA dropped off in 2010 slightly, leading to questions that once he was figured out he had a hard time adapting to working around some double teams.

9

April

According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Defensive Ends (Defensive Linemen)

Defensive Ends (Defensive Linemen): Here’s the seventh of a series of articles and first for the defense, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight ends here for offensive tackles and here for offensive interior linemen).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what defensive ends are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two defensive ends in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of offensive interior linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
Mike Montgomery 6’5” 276.00 5.05 7.39 4.33 34.50 115.00 19.00
Johnny Jolly 6’3” 310.00 5.41
Justin Harrell 6’5” 300.00 5.04 7.63 4.79 30.50 108.00 24.00
Jarius Wynn 6’5” 273.00 4.94 19.00
Mike Neal 6’2” 294.00 4.95 7.53 4.53 33.00 113.00 31.00
C.J. Wilson 6’4” 271.00 4.93 4.77 33.00 116.00 32.00
Average 6’4”
287.33
5.05 7.52 4.61 32.75 113.00 25.00
StDev 1.26
16.24
0.18 0.12 0.22 1.66 3.56 6.28

 

What the Packers are looking for: Obviously one of the biggest differences between the offense and the defense in regards to drafting is the switch to the 3-4 defense under Dom Capers in 2009.  As a result some players were slotted into other positions, such as Aaron Kampman moving from defensive end to outside linebacker.  Ideally this article would only analyze players drafted from the 2009 season and beyond, but unfortunately there haven’t been enough drafts and picks to make a good analysis.

8

April

Packers Prospect Profile — DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State University

1) Profile:

Cameron Heyward

College: Ohio State

Position: DE (3-4), DE (4-3), DT (4-3)

Height: 6′5″   Weight: 295 lbs.

Born: May 6, 1989 From: Suwanee, GA

2) High School / College Highlights: In Heyward’s senior year of high school, he totaled over 100 tackles and 16 sacks. For his efforts, he was voted Georgia Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year.

Scout.com rated Heyward as their No. 20 defensive end and 15th best prospect in Georgia, and he was ranked No. 13 and 7th in those same categories on Rivals.com. Heyward was also a good high school basketball player and graduated with a 3.25 GPA.

Once at Ohio State, Heyward got right to work. He started eight games his freshman season and had 2.5 sacks, earning him freshman All-American and freshman All-Big Ten honors. He continued to start his sophomore year, but Heyward’s production leveled out. In 13 starts, he accumulated just 36 tackles and 3 sacks.

However, Heyward put his name on the draft map with a solid 2009 season. In 13 starts for the Rose Bowl Champions, Heyward had 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for losses. He was a Lombardi Award nominee—given to the nation’s best defensive lineman or linebacker—and was voted Second Team All-Big Ten.

Heyward had the option to put his name in the 2010 NFL draft, but he came back to Ohio State for his much-anticipated senior season. Many pegged Heyward as a top-10 pick before the season, but his production in 2010 didn’t match the hype. Heyward tallied just four sacks and 13 tackles for losses, but he did look like a dominant player in the Sugar Bowl against Ryan Mallett and Arkansas. He was voted First Team All-Big Ten.

3) College Stats: 51 games/46 starts, 162 tackles, 15 sacks, 37.5 tackles for losses, 4 forced fumbles, 1 interception

4) NFL Combine Results: 30-inch vertical jump (did not partake in any other workout at Combine). Pro Day: 4.95 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical.

5) Strengths/Weaknesses: While not your classic speed rusher at defensive end, Heyward is an agile and explosive player for a man his size (6’5″, 295 pounds). His main strength, however, is rushing the passer with power. He’s strong in the upper body, and uses his hands well to disengaged blockers. This kind of power also makes Heyward a disruptive force against the run.

7

April

Packers Prospect Profile – LB Von Miller, Texas A&M

1) Profile:

Von Miller

College: Texas A&M

Position: Defensive End/ Weak Side Linebacker (Hybrid)

Height: 6′3″   Weight: 246 lbs.

Born: March 26th, 1989 From: DeSoto, Texas

2) High School / College Highlights: Von Miller joined the Aggies in 2007 as the Rivals 29th ranked weak side linebacker in high school but first saw action as a defensive end in the 4-2-5 defense and was voted Freshmen All-Big 12.

After a disastrous 2007 season lead by head coach Dennis Franchione which was headlined by a newsletter scandal and several crushing defeats, Franchione resigned midseason and subsequently former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman was hired.

Sherman installed a 4-3 defense and Miller was moved to weak side linebacker under defensive coordinator Joe Kines.  2009 was his break out season, where Miller played in all 12 games, leading the NCAA with 17 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss (4th in the NCAA) and garnering First-team All-America and First-team All-Big 12 honors.

After 2009 Joe Kines retired and was replaced with Tim DeRuyter, who installed a 3-4 defense where Miller played the outside linebacker position.  Miller suffered a foot injury but still managed to record 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss as well as garnering First-team All America, First-team All-Big 12 and the Butkus award, given annually to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker.

Miller also leaves for the NFL in the strange position of being one of the plaintiff’s in the lawsuit between the NFL and the player’s union on the current lock out situation, the sole draftee to be included; he also is planning on being at Radio Music City in New York for the annual NFL draft

3) College Stats: 4 year starter.

4) NFL Combine Results: 4.53 40-yd dash, 21 bench press, 37 vertical, 126 broad, 6.7 3-cone, 4.06 20 yard shuttle, 11.15 60 yard shuttle.

5) Strengths/Weaknesses: Miller’s strongest asset is his pass rushing ability; he great speed around the corner and the displays good ability to dip under the pads of tackles and get skinny when shooting an inside gap.  Miller also has great closing ability to the quarterback.  Miller has a wide array of moves at his disposable including spin moves, change up and arm over moves.