Friday, June 30, 2017

When Does The Packers 2017 Season Begin?

There's not much to write about with the Green Bay Packers until training camp begins on July 27. Looking ahead, there's no easy game to start the regular season, first they host the Seahawks on September 10th and then travel to Atlanta on September 17th. It'll be a huge game for the Falcons because it's their regular season home opener in their new stadium and the beer and food prices are expected to be insanely low!

Those first two games might not even be their toughest ones, looking ahead to road games at Dallas in October and at Pittsburgh in November. At least they get to travel to Cleveland in December.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Ballad of Letroy Guion, Hawaii Edition

Wednesday morning, the Green Bay Packers twitter account had the following message:
If only his birthday had been a day later...
I wouldn't expect this arrest alone would mean he's going to be released. He's already received a second chance after his arrest in 2015 while in possession of a lot of cash and pot, and he was still part of their 2017 plans though he's already suspended for the first 4 games of the season. Maybe this arrest will lead to an automatic longer suspension by the NFL but I'm not an NFL code of conduct guru.

According to Football Outsiders, Guion's 504 snaps last season were second only to DT Mike Daniels, so he was important to their defensive scheme. The Packers did sign free agent DT Ricky Jean Francois and drafted DT Montravius Adams in the 3rd round, maybe both were acquired with an eye towards replacing Guion anyway. But they already have to replace the snaps given last season to DT Mike Pennel, who's not a big loss but those snaps have to be taken up by someone, so releasing Guion would give them little depth behind Daniels and NT Kenny Clark if Adams isn't ready and/or Francois doesn't work out.

At least the Packers aren't in any bind if they have to release Guion. According to Over the Cap, his release would stick them with only $166,666 in dead money when they already have over $18 million in cap space.

It seems like the only time I write about Guion is when he does something stupid. Never trust a former Viking, I guess.

Friday, June 16, 2017

What Will The Packers Offensive Scheme Look Like in 2017?

It's been a roller coaster ride for the Green Bay Packers's offense over the past two seasons. The loss of WR Jordy Nelson in 2015 turned a high powered 2014 machine into an offense that produced the lowest completion percentage of QB Aaron Rodgers's career. Eventually the wheels were put back on last season when Nelson returned, but he wasn't the same until late 2016 which coincided with the return of TE Jared Cook and the emergence of Ty Montgomery as a running back. After all three players were in place and back in game shape, the offense clicked. Though Cook is now a Raider, the signing of TE Martellus Bennett should be an upgrade and they'll likely be even better next season.

I focused primarily on the defense this offseason and I've realized that I haven't written at all about the departure of associate head coach Tom Clements. It's telling that he hasn't caught on with another team this offseason when other top former Packer offensive assistants like Ben McAdoo and Joe Philbin have both had head coaches stints after leaving Green Bay. The injury to Jordy Nelson in 2015 took center stage that season, but it's dance partner was Mike McCarthy's decision to give away and then take back mid-season play calling duties. The departure of Clements but the return of DC Dom Capers seems like a sign that Mike McCarthy thinks bigger changes need to happen on offense than defense.
What makes the situation in Atlanta so much better than Green Bay? Here's what Doug wrote in his article:
It's just that he's operating with a schematic handicap, and it affects not only the entire offense but also Rodgers' faith in what he sees. And when a quarterback has to wait for receivers to get open on their own as opposed to with help from route concepts, it leads to extra defensive pressure as blocks break down over time.
Rodgers still averaged 8.1 adjusted yards per attempt last season, tying for fourth in the league. Watch him on tape and imagine how his stats would surge if he had, say, Atlanta's offense from last season. That's why he's this high on the list: He's a better player than his scheme allows him to be.
It's true, the Packers have been running a scheme that requires their skill players beat the other team's skill players on a weekly basis without much help. That might not be much of a problem in 2017 but it was a big problem in 2015 (and could be a problem in the future if injuries occur). I wasn't expecting them to change their scheme mid-2015 when Nelson was lost in the preseason but it wasn't changed over the 2016 offseason either. Maybe it was effectively changed when Tom Clements wasn't asked back in January.

The Packers haven't given anything away in public OTAs this offseason, and they might not even show any new looks this preseason. During games, the announcers sometimes talk about how many plays there are in McCarthy's playbook. Maybe the Packers intend to explore a different part of that playbook after the departure of Clements with more of the weekly offensive scheme in the hands of McCarthy and hold over OC Edgar Bennett (who as a player thrived in a West Coast style offense that might well suit Ty Montgomery). The offense might look a lot less like it did last season and more like it did when Rodgers was a two-time MVP.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Packers Return To The Practice Field During OTAs

I'm a little late to the party that started last week when the Green Bay Packers returned to the practice field for OTAs. While the rookies were on display immediately after the draft, last week was the first time that the veterans joined them in 2017 and gave us a look at what to expect on opening day.

There are some new free agent faces (TE Martellus Bennett, RG Jahri Evans) but they should be straight-up be taking over for the ones that walked away (TE Jared Cook, RG T.J. Lang). Despite drafting multiple running backs, it looks like it's Ty Montgomery's job to lose in the backfield. Some combination of Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel (when healthy) will take the snaps that last season went to Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. The names have changed but the roles they play are essentially the same.

The big change should happen in the secondary since it was a disaster last season. Maybe the scheme can remain the same or maybe it was the players, but probably it's a little of both. Two big names are gone (CB Sam Shields and DB Micah Hyde) and their top two draft choices (CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones) were brought in to take over their roster spots and maybe even their roles on defense.
King is still in school and not eligible to participate in OTAs. We'll know later whether he's going to take over for Gunter right away or whether he'll have to earn it during the preseason. The other two safeties in that opening lineup were Morgan Burnett and Kentrell Brice, so despite all the glowing articles I read about Jones last week, he's still at least 2nd team and apparently playing along side demoted CBs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Brice has replaced Hyde on defense in the slot, which isn't a bad thing because Brice had a strong 2016 preseason and played a role in the secondary last season, but should be a step back at first because Hyde was pretty good.

There are a lot of names and a lot of options, but it's not a top heavy group. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the big name, coming off his first trip to the Pro Bowl, but he was a weak selection. He had some great games last season along with a couple of really bad ones. Davon House is arguably their No. 1 corner and he played his way out of Jacksonville last season. LaDarius Gunter showed everyone his ceiling when he was torched in the NFC Championship game. Maybe Randall and Rollins can both rebound after off-season surgery, but their 2016 seasons were disasters. Both Burnett and Jones might find themselves playing more linebacker in the "nitro" package and maybe taking over for ILB Joe Thomas instead of helping the downfield passing game.

The early result is that the coaches aren't trusting their rookies (yet) as 1st team players in the secondary. Despite the changes to the roster, and all the optimism as a new season begins, the secondary is a suspect and unsettled group that has a lot to prove in 2017.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Packers NFL Draft 2017: Defense Early, Offense Late

Do you think the Green Bay Packers had some issues to address on defense? They used their top 4 picks on defensive players before taking some flyers on 6 straight offensive players.
After trading out of the 1st round (I'll get to that later) they filled a glaring and obvious need by selecting Washington CB Kevin King with the 1st pick of the 2nd round (33rd overall). He's fast (4.43 40 time) and tall (6'3") and could step into an immediate need at outside corner. He'll need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but the competition ahead of him is only CB Damarious Randall and CB Davon House. While starting him as a rookie is not an ideal plan, he could be ahead of those two sooner rather than later.

They certainly need defensive backs so selecting another one at the end of the 2nd round (61st overall) in N.C. State FS Josh Jones is no surprise, but it seemed more likely that they would have chosen another corner who could compete outside. Maybe they see Jones as a DB who could either be a safety or a corner and play various roles like DB Micah Hyde, though Jones seems more like FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix than Hyde. It's not exactly clear what role they have in mind for him. Do the Packers want to play more two-deep safety with Clinton-Dix and Jones in centerfield? The scouting report describes Jones as an aggressive hitter (maybe too aggressive) so maybe he'll take over SS Morgan Burnett's role and Burnett will play more linebacker in 2017? He'll provide depth, which is welcomed, but his role is yet to be seen.

This didn't seem like the year to go after defensive lineman, but in the 3rd round (93rd overall) they selected Auburn DT Montravius Adams. This was a weak defensive line class so a prospect at the end of the 3rd round is going to have some flaws (there are concerns about his motor and technique according to NFL.com). He's about the same size and height (6-4, 304 lbs.) as DT Letroy Guion, who's suspended for the 1st four games of 2017, so Adams fills an immediate need to replace Guion in the rotation temporarily and maybe permanently.

My favorite pick in the draft is their first 4th round pick, the 1st pick of the 4th round, Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel. A former Badger is always a pleasant surprise, and Biegel gives them another versatile LB who could be used inside like LB Jake Ryan or outside like LB Kyler Fackrell. He can rush the passer, play the run, or be asked to drop back in coverage. He fills a need because they let OLB Datone Jones leave in free agency. But none of that makes this my favorite pick. He's basically a free player in the middle of the draft, when there are still quality prospects on the board. The Browns have a million picks in 2017 and 2018 and they cashed in a little to move up a few spots into the late first round to draft a toolsy, project TE who the Packers would have never selected. They probably would have just selected King if the Browns hadn't called them. But GM Ted Thompson moved down a few spots (and saved some money on King's rookie contract as an early 2nd rounder vs. a late 1st rounder) which alone would have been worth it. But in addition, he negotiates for the top pick in the 4th round to pick up a solid player (Biegel) who could have been selected a round or two earlier.  While some teams looked like clowns (Bears) and handed away picks that they can't afford to lose, the Packers are picking up free talent (Biegel) while saving some money on their top pick. Not all of these selections will work out, but Thompson won the draft process on Thursday.

Onto the offense! The first 4 rounds are the most important, so it's obvious (and appropriate) that the Packers invested most of their draft capital to help the defense. But they gave a shot in the arm to the offense, which hadn't gotten much help in the 2016 draft, while addressing their most uncertain position on offense (running back). But don't get too excited, it's more likely that there are a lot of potential practice squad players here and not future starters.

With their own 4th round pick (134th overall) they selected BYU RB Jamaal Williams to replace Eddie Lacy in the role of running hard into the heart of the defense. He's not the biggest guy (6-0, 212 lbs.) but he'll earn a roster spot to run hard in-between the tackles.

With their 1st pick in the 5th round (175th overall) they drafted another former Big 10 receiver with size and not a lot of speed in Purdue WR DeAngelo Yancey, who seems similar to WR Geronimo Allison. Unless you're still keeping the dream alive that WR Jeff Janis or WR Jared Abbrederis will work out, or that WR Trevor Davis's tendency to drop punts is temporary, it seems like an open competition for the 4th and 5th WR spots (assuming Ty Montgomery is a running back now). Yancey could be in the mix or he could be trying to impress for a spot on the practice squad.

Hey another running back with Texas-El Paso's Aaron Jones in the 5th round at 182nd overall. He was a top performer in several combine drills, including the 3 cone drill. At 5-9, he's the undersized 3rd down back, great athlete to platoon with their earlier selection of Jamaal Williams who would be the bruising, early down back.

With their 6th round selection, 212th overall, it's OL Kofi Amichia from South Florida, who played tackle in college but should move inside in the pros. There's no roster spot for him after they signed Jahri Evans so he'll have to prove he deserves more time to develop on the practice squad.

There were rumors at the NFL combine that the Packers were interested in drafting multiple running backs and they didn't disappoint. Everything I wrote above about the great job they did at creating free draft picks applies here again (to a much, much lesser extent). They dropped back a few spots in the 5th round, selected the receiver they probably wanted anyway (Yancey) and received a free draft pick from the Broncos for their trouble. A 7th round pick, No. 238 overall, Utah St. RB Devante Mays isn't as big a prize as Biegel, and he appears to have trouble staying healthy, but he's got talent and they get to take a closer look at him instead of hoping he'll be available as an undrafted free agent.

Finally is LSU WR Malachi Dupre (247th overall) who's another receiver with some size (6-2, 196 lbs.) and a lack of speed. Still, this is a good spot for Dupre who could earn himself a roster or practice squad spot with a strong preseason and a wide open competition for the 4th and 5th WR spots.

This draft class turned out bigger than expected because some teams just can't ignore that analytics say don't trade up and GM Ted Thompson can take advantage of them in their panic. And they took players at all their positions of need. There's obviously no way to know who are busts at this point, but they didn't unnecessarily reach for any players and won a couple of draft trades, which is about as good as can be expected immediately after draft weekend.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Packers NFL Draft 2017: Jahri Evans Signs, Signals That They Won't Draft an Offensive Lineman Early

Previously I liked the idea of the Green Bay Packers selecting OG Forrest Lamp in the 1st round to replace T.J. Lang at RG and maybe provide them an eventual replacement for RT Bryan Bulaga. But GM Ted Thompson had other plans.
A few years ago, Evans was an All-Pro and arguably the best guard in the NFL. He's not that player anymore, but he can still play and he started all 16 games last season for the Saints. Every other free agent guard ranked higher than Evans who actually made the rounds in unrestricted free agency signed a big multi-year contract, making Evans the best of the rest. Also, Seahawks GM John Schneider openly admitted he blew it by releasing Evans in 2016 because he's such a great leader, which should make him a great fit in the Packers' locker room. This looks like a solid signing because he's a veteran leader who's coming to Green Bay to win a championship, he can still play, and he probably signed an affordable one-year deal for around $1 million.

This allows them to move Don Barclay to a backup role at center and guard, with Jason Spriggs as their backup tackle. They also have Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick around as young-players-with-upside. Evans is a solid signing and he addresses an obvious weakness, leaving them little room or need to spend a high draft pick on an offensive lineman, though I wouldn't rule out them selecting one in the mid-rounds because they can certainly find an upgrade over Barclay, Murphy or Patrick.

As for who they'll draft now, Justis Mosqueda pointed out 5 cornerbacks with potential 1st round grades who could all be available by the time the Packers are on the clock in round one. I don't know which of them would be the best fit, but cornerback is such a position of need that if they selected any one of them, I'd say it's a great selection and expect that they took the best of the bunch.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Packers NFL Draft 2017: Who Will The Packers Select?

I don't know which college players the Green Bay Packers should draft next week based on their talents. I watch just enough college football (mostly Big 10 football) to over (or under) rate certain players. But GM Ted Thompson drafts more for need then he would ever admit publicly. For example, selecting DT Kenny Clark last year after DT B.J. Raji decided to take a "hiatus". So I'm looking at a list of potential draftees based on the team's current needs.
Of the eight players listed above, three of them are cornerbacks. It's debatable that recently re-signed CB Davon House is their best outside corner, and that is a sign that they need some serious help. Watching Corey Hayward and Micah Hyde leave in free agency in consecutive years is another sign that they believe they'll find someone to play in the slot. Ohio State's CB Gareon Conley would have to slip a few spots, but LSU's CB Tre'Davious White and Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey should still be available. It's a very good draft for cornerbacks so if they want a good one at the end of the 1st round, they should have more than one option.

It'd be a very boring selection and it's not their greatest position of need (which is cornerback), but I'd love to see them draft Western Kentucky OT/OG Forrest Lamp. The current starter at right guard appears to be Don Barclay, which isn't good news but isn't quite as bad as it sounds either. If the Packers can survive with Lane Taylor at LG, they can probably get by with Barclay at RG. Also the right tackle position isn't entirely solid either though injury-prone RT Bryan Bulaga is coming off a mostly healthy 2016 season. Jason Spriggs looked good at times but he also looked lost at times during his rookie year. Having a player like Lamp who could be needed to start at right tackle in a year or two wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if he can start at RG in 2017.

Western Michigan's WR Corey Davis is an example of a player I'm not fully respecting because the only time I saw him play was in the Cotton Bowl, and he was relatively quiet until he caught a too-late TD pass with a couple minutes left in the 4th. It's really not a position of need for 2016 but it could be in a couple years if WR Davante Adams is allowed to walk as a free agent, and the Packers can never have too many wide receivers. Still, it seems unlikely that arguably the draft's best wide receiver would still be available at the end of the 1st round.

Oh God, Alabama LB Reuben Foster. Before the NFL Combine, it would have been a dream come true if Foster was still available at the end of the 1st round. His talent is there for everyone to see, and then the NFL Combine came and showed publicly all of his flashing red flags for everyone to see. Sometimes the Packers stick with troubled players who they believe in, but that's the exception to the rule. I can't see the Packers taking any chances with Foster.

I'm concerned about the edge position but I don't think the Packers would have let DE/LB Datone Jones walk to the Vikings on a one-year, prove-it deal, unless they weren't concerned about it. LB Clay Matthews should be healthy next season, LB Nick Perry's been re-signed, and the usual cast of guys with upside are their backups. So I can't see the Packers drafting an edge player with a high pick and that would rule out both Houston's Tyus Bowser and Wisconsin's T.J. Watt.

So that leaves one of the few corners who project at the end of the 1st round (and probably fit the Packers's preferences) and Lamp for RG, and I'd like to see Lamp, if he's still available. It'll probably be one of those cornerbacks.