Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Packers Draft Targets: Eric Kendricks, Byron Jones, Jalen Collins

I haven't written a lot about the 1st round draft prospects for the Green Bay Packers. The subject hasn't had much interest for me this year. The obvious prospect looks like Eric Kendricks as a desperately needed inside linebacker but he looks more like a 2nd round pick.

Anyone they draft at the end of the 1st round will at least provide depth and he's going to be a good player. They need an inside linebacker right now, and the 2015 Packers might be better off with a decent veteran (or young veteran) who knows how to play rather than a talented rookie with a big learning curve. Drafting for need might not help them if they reach too high up for a lesser player.

SB Nation compiled a list of mock drafts from all over and came up with the most frequently named players linked to the Packers. GM Ted Thompson isn't giving away any information, so these are all just guesses and no team has as little consensus about a player than the Packers. There are three favorites depending on whether you want the Packers to draft for need or the best available player.
UCLA LB Eric Kendricks. He might be the most pro-ready, but no one really knows about that until he steps onto the practice field at training camp/OTAs. He's not huge for his position but he's got coverage skills that are essential at inside linebacker. He'd be a help even if he can only offer a part-time role in 2015.

UCONN CB Byron Jones. Here's your best available player. He blew away the competition at the NFL combine and is probably as good an athlete as any player in the draft. The downside is that he didn't play a lot of cornerback in college. 2013 was his first season at cornerback and he missed much of 2014 with a shoulder injury. He reminds me of Sam Shields, who should have been a big project at cornerback too but instead played a major role during his rookie season. If the Packers do select Jones, he'll probably be ready sooner rather than later. Cornerback is a big need as far as depth goes, but isn't a bigger need than inside linebacker. It might be better to draft the high ceiling cornerback in the 1st round than reach for a linebacker.

LSU CB Jalen Collins. He's not as athletic as Jones, but he's played a lot of cornerback in college over the last three years in the SEC. The NFL might not exactly know what they're getting with Jones but they have a lot of college film on Collins. He reminds me of Davon House, which isn't a bad thing, as a lanky, fast cornerback who might need some time to work on his techniques.

I don't have a horse in this race. If there was a great inside linebacker prospect available in the late 1st round (such as 2014 1st round pick C.J. Mosley) I'd be all over him, but that player isn't in the 2015 draft. They'll get a good player and they can always use help/upgrades at almost every position, so I'll probably like the selection, if it's one of these three players or someone else.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Packer News: Kuhn and Richardson Return in 2015

At least the NFL is finally releasing the 2015 schedule this week, and I can figure out if I can make it to a game at Lambeau this year. Unfortunately the NFL draft is still over a week away which brings another week of complete guess work about prospects and what the heck GM Ted Thompson might be thinking.

But there was some actual news last week.
Re-signing FB John Kuhn for the veteran's minimum was a no-brainer. He's never hurt and his run blocking was solid last season. He can also be trusted in pass blocking and he's useful as an occasional short yard runner. That he can provide all of this while only carrying the salary cap charge of a late round draft choice is a bargain.

S Sean Richardson is costing more than the Packers expected, the offer sheet he signed with the Raiders (and the Packers matched) was about a million more than the Packers' original offer, but to let him go could have been a disaster. He's their only backup defensive back with experience (I'm considering their top 5 defensive backs as all starters since Dom Capers has them in the nickel package so often). He's not good in pass coverage and much better as a sort of linebacker, but they can probably expect he'll play on about 400 snaps next season (depending on what happens in the draft) and if any player on the team can be deemed a critical backup at this time, he's it.

It was the right choice to bring both players back in 2015.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Will The Packers Match Sean Richardson's Offer Sheet?

My first thought agreed with that ESPN article below, and $2.5 million for a backup safety is too rich for GM Ted Thompson. Over The Cap says the Packers only have around $5 million in cap room, which they still need a chunk of for their upcoming rookie class. But I'm having second thoughts:

Their defensive backfield depth is nothing without Sean Richardson. If he did leave, then there's no one behind their top five defensive backs currently on the roster that even played one snap on defense last season. The cost of an extra $1 million (Richardson's tender is already on their cap at $1.5 million) might be well worth it for a reliable defensive back.

Nick Perry and Datone Jones would have about the same cap charge as Richardson next season. While both are former 1st round picks and more a part of the regular defensive rotation than Richardson, both of them had play counts last season below at least three other players at their positions. In 2014, Richardson had about a third of the snaps that either Perry or Jones had, but it's not a stretch to imagine a larger role for Richardson in 2015 with Tramon Williams and Davon House now gone.

He'll cost more than they wanted him to, but I bet they keep him for next season. Otherwise they'll have to kick the tires on a current street free agent or two to find someone who can replace him.

Monday, April 06, 2015

2015 NFL Draft and Packers Expected Targets

The Green Bay Packers are arguably the most tight lipped (especially GM Ted Thompson) organization in the NFL, so no one has any idea who they might draft. But in recent years, their first round pick is usually at a position where they urgently need help. For example, last year they badly needed a replacement for FS M.D. Jennings and they drafted HaHa Clinton-Dix in the 1st round. The mock drafts might not get the actual player right but they could very well chose the correct position.
Currently, CBS Sports has four mock drafts posted, one of which also selects UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks and the other three have cornerbacks. I think all four might have selected someone at inside linebacker if their were more (any) inside linebackers with a first round grade. Even Kendricks might be more of a 2nd round caliber player.

There aren't as many players listed as having met with the Packers as there are for other organizations, but Walter Football does list 14 players. There are only a few positions listed, but there are three positions where the Packers have met with three or more players:

1. Running back. I didn't see that one coming. While this isn't a need position, they can't afford to have their skill positions understocked, which is why drafting three wide receivers and Davante Adams in the 2nd round last year made sense. Maybe they'd consider using the 2nd round pick again (RB Eddie Lacy in 2013) this season on right running back.

2. Defensive back. I'm lumping two cornerbacks and one safety together, but the departure of Tramon Williams, Davon House, and probably free agent Jarrett Bush has left them thin in the secondary. Micah Hyde could play cornerback full-time which would then make drafting a safety important too. While they are set with their top five defensive backs, depth is needed but maybe not in the 1st round.

3. Defensive tackle. This might not be as important after re-signing both Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji but they still could use an upgrade over those two veterans. Also, recent draft picks Khyri Thornton and Josh Boyd might not be keepers. They met twice with Washington's Danny Shelton, who shouldn't be available at the end of the 1st round but would be a great addition if he did slip that far.

They have also met with two TEs (Minnesota's Maxx Williams was one) and Miami's Clive Walford twice. Reading the evaluation on Walford is like reading a description of TE Richard Rodgers, so I can see why the Packers might have interest in a player like Walford. He has a 2nd/3rd round grade, so it's more likely they'd be looking at him in the late 2nd.

I'll be happy as long as they address inside linebacker, defensive tackle, and defensive back at some point in the draft so I don't have a particular favorite. But inside linebacker still stands out as such a glaring need, Sam Barrington is the only player on the roster who looks like a favorite to start at either inside position (assuming Clay Matthews isn't staying inside), so that position still looks like the biggest need.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Packers Bring Guion and Raji Back For 2015

The Green Bay Packers had to do something at defensive tackle and still do need to address the position in the upcoming draft. But the draft doesn't always go like expected so bringing back two familiar faces should at least keep their depth in decent shape for next season. Also, both NT B.J. Raji and DT Letroy Guion are returning on one-year deals that aren't going to cause any future salary cap problems if they don't work out.
DT Mike Daniels is arguably their best defensive player and Datone Jones was very good as a situational pass rusher, but after them their defensive line depth was bad. They have three young players who could still develop (Mike Pennel, Khyri Thornton, and Josh Boyd) but they can't count on them for anything more than a part-time role.

I'm shocked Guion avoided any serious legal troubles from his recent arrest, but the Packers obviously have no concerns about bringing him back so he shouldn't be a problem in the locker room. He was forced into the role of nose tackle last season after Raji was hurt, and it's not his best position, but he wasn't terrible against the run and occasionally provided some pass rush. If he's getting close to the $1 million he received in 2014, he'll be worth the money.

Raji was terrible in 2013 and he was hurt for all of 2014. The Packers still think well of him and will pay him $3 million in 2015 but I'm not sure he's worth it anymore. I don't know how many more chances he'll receive but so far the answer is "at least one more."

So I'm not a fan of either signing but something needed to be done at defensive tackle. This assures that they won't be scrambling for depth during training camp and gives them some veteran options. I can't argue with the safe move even if it doesn't make them all that much better in 2015.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Packers Compensatory Picks To Be Announced This Week

Later this week the NFL will announce which teams will receive compensatory draft picks for players lost in free agency during 2014. When you see the actual trades for players (for example, the Saints recently received a 5th round pick for OL Ben Grubbs), the idea of receiving two 6th round picks for the free agent departures of C Evan Dietrich-Smith and WR James Jones, plus a 7th round pick for OT Marshall Newhouse (which is laughable that he's worth anything in trade) is a pretty sweet deal. Especially when it was time to move on from some of them (Newhouse especially) anyway.

It also helps that GM Ted Thompson has found some of his best players with compensatory picks.
While he doesn't always select players as good as Daniels, or former compensatory pick LG Josh Sitton (the book is still open on his 2014 compensatory selections of TE Richard Rodgers and WR Jared Abbrederis) it sure doesn't hurt to give him more picks to work with. I'm not enough of a draft nut to know which sleeper picks might be available in the late 6th and 7th rounds, but odds are that at least one of them will turn into a useful player.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tramon Williams Leaves For The Browns

I'm more sentimental about players than GM Ted Thompson. CB Tramon Williams played more snaps on defense last season than any other Packer defensive player and was still one of their most valuable players last season. But that was last year and it's important to consider what you think he'll be worth in a couple years. Thompson considered it and thought Williams was worth $4 million annually over the next two years. This is probably the reason the Packers often don't give their own players a second multi-year contract after their rookie deals are over. The market inflates the value of older players based on past performance (see WR Greg Jennings as a recent example) while Thompson has a much better understanding of their future value.

Williams also visited with the Saints and was thought to be pursued by the Seahawks, the Patriots had interest too, but none of these typically better run organizations were willing to pay as much as the Browns, who just made one of the worst free agent decisions of 2015 by betting on QB Josh McCown.
He's been a great player for the Packers and I'm glad he's going to get paid, but that contract is based on his past performance. Thompson was praised by Bill Barnwell for negotiating only $8 million in guaranteed money for RT Bryan Bulaga (who almost certainly could have gotten a lot more from the Bills) and I bet Williams will have more guaranteed dollars in his new contract than Bulaga.

Like I said, I'm sentimental and I wanted him back for next season, but if the Packers had matched the Browns then his contract could have been a problem as soon as next season. Without Williams, depth is a major concern that will have to be addressed in the draft, but the Packers should be fine for next season with CB Micah Hyde sliding over into Williams's role.