Monday, May 02, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Packers Select Seven Players at Four Positions

The Green Bay Packers' 2016 draft didn't exactly work out like I expected (I thought they'd select a cornerback and tight end in the mid-rounds) and I got a big surprise when GM Ted Thompson traded up in the 2nd round for one of the best offensive tackles in the entire draft.

It wasn't a flashy year and it won't get any high grades from the pundits who grade every team's draft the day after, but they filled a three gaping holes on the roster and they added a lot of size.
Defensive line. They had to replace NT B.J. Raji and they got DT Kenny Clark (who could be another Mike Daniels) in the 1st round before selecting Northwestern's DE Kyle Lowry at the end of the 4th round. Lowry's selection was a bit of a surprise because I thought the Packers were done with DE types who eventually became converted LB (Mike Neal, Datone Jones). Jones hasn't officially converted to OLB so maybe nothing's changed yet with their defensive scheme. Lowry seems like an early down, 3-4 DE who can play the run and record the occasional coverage sack.

Offensive tackle. I didn't think they'd spend a high pick on an offensive lineman when the starting five are already set, but instead they moved up to the middle of the 2nd round to draft Indiana's OT Jason Spriggs, who could have been selected at the end of the 1st round. After all the injuries last season, and all the fail by their backups (Don Barclay in particular), they had to do something, and I'd rather they'd error on the side of too much when it comes to protecting QB Aaron Rodgers. For good measure, they also drafted Stanford OT Kyle Murphy at the end of the 6th round. Before the draft, I was hoping they could select Murphy in the 4th round to take over as their top backup, so getting him in the 6th round as their 2nd backup OT is a great value. It's looking like Lane Taylor or JC Tretter will find themselves in a training camp battle to be the top inside backup because Spriggs and Murphy should both make the team.

Linebacker. I liked Utah State OLB Kyler Fackrell before the draft as a poor man's Clay Matthews. He had a lost 2014 season to a knee injury and he's old for a rookie (he'll turn 25 during the 2016 season), but he's good in coverage and he should be able to help take off some of the load from Matthews and be an upgrade over LB Joe Thomas. Stanford ILB Blake Martinez's draft profile is very similar to the one for Jake Ryan last year and that's a good thing. At worst, Martinez will push to Ryan and play on special teams. Neither Ryan or Martinez are great in coverage but the Packers need early down starters like Martinez and Ryan to play against the run.

Wide receiver. They needed another receiver for developmental purposes, and they grabbed a 5th round speedster in Cal's WR Trevor Davis who they can stash on the practice squad next season. If he's fast and has good hands, then he's got something they can work with and we check back in on him in 2017.

They didn't address all their needs, but they added multiple players at the three positions where they needed depth. I don't expect any of their draft choices will be starting Week 1, but the defensive lineman should find themselves in the rotation right away and the linebackers might not be far behind, once they figure out their roles. Neither tackle will win a starting job but they're very welcome. Just a solid draft to add some size and depth where they needed it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Packers Select UCLA DT Kenny Clark in 1st Round

I couldn't believe it as the Top 2 inside linebackers in the 2016 NFL draft, UCLA's Miles Jack and Alabama's Reggie Ragland, were still available when the Green Bay Packers were on the clock. And then they made the pick for UCLA DT Kenny Clark.
Initially I was disappointed, but in the end the Packers drafted one of the defensive tackles I expected them to draft. Clark looks like Mike Daniels v.2.0 (though he's slightly bigger) which would be a home run if he becomes as good as Daniels. In the clip above, he's sacking No. 1 overall pick QB Jared Goff, so he's made big plays in important games. The Packers have missed on two recent Southern California products (LB Nick Perry, and DE/LB Datone Jones) but they did hit the USC jackpot with LB Clay Matthews in 2009.

So what happens in the 2nd round? Maybe Ohio State's LB Joshua Perry would be a solid selection. It seems too early to draft a TE (at least too early for GM Ted Thompson). They really need a linebacker and they've already passed once on the two best linebackers who are rehabbing from serious knee injuries (Jack, Notre Dame's LB Jaylon Smith) so they're probably looking for someone healthy, like Perry. They already have one inside linebacker returning from a major knee injury (Sam Barrington) who is expected to start next season.

On the other hand, I really expected them to draft a linebacker early last year, and they waited until the 4th round to select LB Jake Ryan. One of GM Ted Thompson's most common draft traits is to draft a defensive lineman in the 1st round, and then go CB or WR (maybe even another DL) in the 2nd round. This draft is deep on the defensive line and at wide receiver (though there isn't an obvious elite WR at the top of the draft) so if there's a position left with a high draft grade, it's probably at one of those positions. Who knows what talent might fall on the defensive line (the two tackles from Alabama are still available). Penn State DT Austin Johnson should be available, and he'd fill the role of a run stuffer to replace NT B.J. Raji (and DT Mike Pennel during his suspension).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Final Look At The Packers Upcoming Picks

This post isn't so much about who the Packers will pick over the next couple days but at what position.
1st round. GM Ted Thompson started out his GM career in 2005 with the selection of QB Aaron Rodgers in the 1st round, and he's only selected offensive tackles or defensive players every year since. I don't see why this year should be any different but offensive tackle and defensive back seem unlikely. It'll probably be Alabama LB Reggie Ragland (if he falls to them) or a defensive tackle. Reed's picture is above but there are several DT who could be drafted in the mid-to-late 1st round (Sheldon Rankins, A'Shawn Robinson, Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings, Kenny Clark). Any of them would fill a need though I'd rather see them select someone like Billings, who brings more of a pass rush.

2nd round. I thought about a wide receiver, but it doesn't make sense to draft one early when that would force them to release both Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis, instead of setting up a competition between the two in training camp. If not receiver, then there are a lot of outside linebackers expected to be drafted in the 2nd round. Utah State's OLB Kyler Fackrell wouldn't be much of a pass rusher but his ability to drop back in coverage might be very useful. He had a serious knee injury in 2014 but that probably wouldn't scare the Packers, who selected LB Jake Ryan last year despite his collegiate injury history.

If the Packers pick a defensive lineman and outside linebacker with their first two picks, they still need another linebacker, along with a defensive back, offensive tackle, and tight end. They might still draft a late round wide receiver and a late round quarterback to stash on the practice squad.

3rd round. This might still be the place to take another defensive lineman. Players like South Carolina State's DT Javon Hargrave and Nebraska's DT Maliek Collins aren't going to be available later in the draft.

4th round. The Packers are going to be busy at the end of this round because they have three picks during a period of 12 selections. Maybe Stanford OT Kyle Murphy is still available because he was limited by a quad injury during the combine workouts. Georgia Tech's DB D.J. White is about the same size as former Packers Casey Hayward and might be a future replacement as the nickel CB. Wisconsin's OLB Joe Schobert or Arizona's ILB Scooby Wright might be available for depth/future starter at linebacker.

5th round. Western Kentucky's TE Tyler Higbee might be another Richard Rodgers type of TE (he played as a receiver and TE in college). They could use another TE/FB for depth (it looks like John Kuhn is not coming back) or a future RB replacement for James Starks.

6th round. Maybe it's WR Moritz Boehringer time! He's almost the perfect candidate to draft, and let him spend a year or two on the practice squad learning how to play football.

7th round. Back in 2008, Ted Thompson probably didn't need to draft QB Matt Flynn in the 7th round but he liked his arm and didn't notice a bad thing about him. But otherwise he doesn't just select a QB at the end of the draft because he wants another arm in camp. He'd actually have to like a someone. Stanford's QB Kevin Hogan could be an option, if he falls in the draft due to legitimate concerns about his mobility and weird throwing motion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Looking at the Positions Where The Packers Need Players

With nine draft picks, seven rounds plus two compensatory picks in the 4th round, the Green Bay Packers are set to add depth at multiple positions, though no position is exactly barren of talent. Typically GM Ted Thompson spreads out his selections across every position, though sometimes he does load up at a specific one (CB in 2015, WR in 2014).

This year, their greatest need is at linebacker, mostly inside but outside too, followed by their defensive line. They could use another cornerback. What these positions have in common is that they've lost starters at them (CB Casey Hayward, NT B.J. Raji, LBs Nate Palmer and Mike Neal) and they will be missing players to suspension (DT Mike Pennel, B Demetri Goodson). Another position that could use some more depth is their offensive line, where injuries were a major problem last season and Don Barclay and JC Tretter both showed their limitations, though its unlikely they'd use another high draft choice on either an offensive lineman or defensive back.

The problem at linebacker is that after Alabama's ILB Reggie Ragland (who should be long gone by the time the Packers are on the clock), the draft is very thin at inside linebacker. While selecting an outside linebacker in the 1st round would hardly be a wasted selection, it would probably prevent them from moving LB Clay Matthews back outside, so it doesn't seem like an outside backer would be their preference.

They might even consider trading down, if the mock drafts are true that the Packers are interested in a defensive lineman, because that's a deep position in the draft and they could probably get a quality DT anywhere in the 2nd round. A couple of quarterback needy teams might be looking to trade into the late 1st round:
If they do find themselves with multiple 2nd round picks (after trading out of the 1st round), in addition to drafting a defensive lineman, they might also consider selecting another wide receiver. While WR Jordy Nelson is back and they have a number of young receiving options already, most of their young wide receivers played poorly last season. WR Davante Adams was pretty much a disaster last season and things weren't much better for either WR Jeff Janis or WR Jared Abbrederis, who both showed promise but also received negative DYAR ratings from Football Outsiders. It's very rare to have one of Aaron Rodgers's receivers score a negative DYAR, and it was the first time that three of them did it in a single season. If a receiver has a high draft grade and he's available in the 2nd round, I'd have to think they'd seriously consider it.

It's also a deep position with 10 wide receivers currently ranked in the Top 80 players according to CBS Sports (all 1st or 2nd round grades). One interesting receiver is Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard, because of his "quickness and balance to change directions in a flash" along with his good hands. If he was 6-2, 220 lbs. he'd probably be talked about as a Top 10 pick, but at 5-10, 194 lbs. he's about the same size as WR Randall Cobb and he'll probably be drafted in about the same spot (late 2nd round). The Packers need help on defense but they have to make sure the offense is better next season too.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Packers Sign Two Players: OL Don Barclay and LB Lerentee McCray

The Green Bay Packers do occasionally sign street free agents to minimum contracts (former Giants DB Kyle Sebetic was signed in 2015, and he spent the year bouncing on-and-off the Packers' roster). Sebetic wasn't a very interesting signing, it's not a good sign when the DB starved Giants let you walk, but this year is different.
While Barclay had some good moments pre-ACL injury, he was a disaster last season. He reportedly received zero guaranteed money, so it's worth taking a look at him this offseason to see if he looks better in his second season back, but I don't expect he'll make the team in 2016.

However McCray is an interesting signing. He was undrafted out of Florida in 2013, likely due to a shoulder injury he suffered his senior season, and he was signed by the Broncos. He wasn't tendered a contract in March as a restricted free agent and the Packers signed him for one-year and $800,000. The Broncos have a lot of talent at outside linebacker and McCray was at the bottom of their depth chart, so I can understand why the Broncos wouldn't tender him at around $1.7 million when he's unlikely to do more than play on special teams. But Bronco fans liked what they saw of him, in limited action:
Lerentee McCray is the guy in the unit that easily gets forgotten on the depth chart, but honestly I've been impressed with him as well. He's got that "playmaker" look to him when he's on the field and with a team as stacked as ours it is unfortunately hard to stand out enough.
We haven't seen enough of it, but I remember in earlier preseasons being pretty darn impressed with his pass rush speed. As a OLB he's got a role that really plays to his strengths.
As good as all of this sounds (a cheap, young playmaker who might have just gotten lost on the Broncos's deep depth chart) there is of course a reason why he's only signing now, on the eve of the draft, and he might have not received any offers from another team.

Injuries. He was hurt often in college, and he missed almost all of training camp last year with a groin injury. McCray didn't receive any guaranteed money, but he received $125,000 in bonuses if he makes the roster and stays on it all season. If he's healthy, he might have a very good shot of receiving those bonuses. If he has another injury, like his groin injury last year, I'd expect the Packers will make him one of the first players released out of camp, especially since there's no dead money involved.

I don't expect McCray's signing will effect their draft plans much, though they might feel less pressure now to draft an extra linebacker later in the draft for depth. McCray effectively slides into Mike Neal's old roster spot, for now, and the Packers still need at least one more inside LB and another outside LB to fill out their roster. And that's just for depth, they could still use a high draft choice on a linebacker to challenge Sam Barrington and/or Jake Ryan inside, and one outside to challenge Nick Perry.

McCray doesn't solve any major offseason problem at linebacker but he's an interesting prospect who could become a part of next season's linebacker rotation, if he can stay healthy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Packers Are A Week Away From Drafting Someone In The First Round

I've been terribly neglectful of the Green Bay Packers 2016 draft plans. GM Ted Thompson just made his annual announcement that he'll draft the best available player but in reality that decision is usually shaped due to need. The idea that the Packers would draft anyone other than a defender to play on the front seven seems unlikely.

They really need an inside linebacker, but only one (Alabama's Reggie Ragland) has a 1st round grade, and he should be long gone by the time they're on the board. Even at outside linebacker, the top three projected players are not expected to be available at No. 27 overall. I hate trading up, but this year I'd love to see them trade up for Ragland, if he was available in the early 20s. With two compensatory 4th round picks in hand, trading a 3rd and their own 4th to move up several spots would be worth it. Though I doubt it'll happen.
Mel Kiper appears to love Correa but I'm less smitten with a college DE who has to move to outside LB to make it in the NFL. Maybe as a late-round developmental project but not as a reach with their 1st round pick.

There's a lot of love going around for Alabama DT Jarran Reed and Baylor DT Andrew Billings. But I don't feel like the Packers need to draft either one. Despite NT B.J. Raji's kind-of-sort-of retirement, they've re-signed NT Letroy Guion, DT Josh Boyd is returning from injury, and DT Christian Ringo made progress behind the scenes as a rookie on the practice squad. It's not an elite unit, but they have plenty of bodies, which is maybe all that they need. It's a great year for defensive tackles and maybe one of these guys is the best available player, and I'd lean towards Billings, because he's more of a pass rusher than Reed (Billings had 5.5 sacks last year) and versatility would be more important.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Packers Make A Move In Free Agency: Sign TE Jared Cook

I was just writing about the Green Bay Packers' underwhelming 2016 free agent period and they go out and sign TE Jared Cook to a one-year deal that worth $3.6 million only if he reaches certain incentives. While I'm still disappointed they didn't re-sign WR James Jones, Cook brings an element to the offense that's been missing since TE Jermichael Finley retired.
The deep ball down the seam is one thing, but he'll be a difficult match-up in the middle of the field because he's too big for slot cornerbacks and too quick for most linebackers. He's been a disappointment with both the Titans and Rams over the last several seasons, but he's still under 30 and he's never played alongside a good NFL quarterback. Arguably the best QB he's ever played with was Matt Hasselbeck in 2011. Now he'll get a one-year prove-it contract while catching passes from a two-time MVP. There's nothing but upside for both the team and player.

And once again GM Ted Thompson shows the NFL how free agency is done. It's crazy that teams can't first meet with players signed right at the start of free agency. The Packers waited out the initial frenzy and then scheduled a visit with Cook to get to know a player, which was a very good idea because Cook's underperformed in the past and they probably didn't know what he'd be like in the locker room. They gave him a couple weeks to figure out his options and let him discover that the Packers were his best choice, and they acquire a player at a fraction of the price that a similar player (TE Coby Fleener) signed for with the Saints.

As a bonus, signing Cook won't cost the Packers any compensatory draft picks because the Rams released Cook and players released by their former teams don't count in the calculation. The Packers had cap room available to sign another player, and they got a younger player with upside on an affordable one-year deal. There's nothing not to like here.