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.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Packers Sign Ricky Jean Francois and Christine Michael

I wasn't sure the Green Bay Packers were going to wade into the free agent waters again, but they did lose several veterans this offseason. Plus the DT Letroy Guion suspension saps their main source of depth on the defensive line. Typically the Packers don't sign veteran free agents like these two players or like Martellus Bennett and Davon House, but they need depth and these two signings are some pretty safe.
Without Jean Francois, the top backup behind Daniels and Clark (to start the season while Guion is suspended) is former practice squad player Brian Price. I don't think the Packers had any interest in bringing back Mike Pennel, who wasn't good last season after he returned from suspension, and he's signed with the Jets. There's no upside with Jean Francois but he's played in all 16 games in 6 of the last 7 seasons, so he's a reliable veteran. He's a different type of Letroy Guion, which is all they need as a rotational tackle behind Daniels and Clark. And he brings no risk on a one-year contract. They did draft Clark and Lowry last year, so a high draft choice seems unlikely, but they'll bring in at least a couple more rookie for depth.
Weeks ago, I thought it would be Eddie Lacy that the Packers would re-sign as the veteran depth behind Ty Montgomery and whoever the Packers select in the draft. But Lacy received too much money from the Seahawks and he might have not been a good choice anyway if he's still rehabbing his foot and overweight. I can't recall injuries every being a problem with Christine Michael, so he too is a reliable veteran, who they must like well enough if they brought him back after his late season stint with the team. The contract terms weren't disclosed but it's likely to be under $1 million on a one-year contract, so he too brings no risk too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: They're Letting Everyone Go

After the initial flurry of free agency and the signing of TE Martellus Bennett, the Green Bay Packers spent the next week watching as their unrestricted free agents signed with other teams. Two players signed for reasonable one-year deals that maybe would have been good deals for the Packers. But they did have one signing of their own.
I was hoping GM Ted Thompson would go after one of the top free agent corners who could take over on the outside across from CB LaDarius Gunter, but instead he brought a familiar face back who was released after two seasons in Jacksonville. House is far from a comparable replacement for CB Sam Shields, but his one-year, $2.8 million deal comes with no risk. And House has played like a No. 1 corner, sometimes. They had to add someone to compete with Russell and Rollins, and they at least did it. While House basically takes Hyde's roster spots, they didn't play the same role when they were with the Packers (House typically outside, Hyde in the slot or safety) but the Packers might prefer Rollins in the slot anyway. They at least know what they're getting with House, who spent his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay. However, they still have to address this position early in the upcoming draft.

Now for two players I thought they'd re-sign:
Based on the above, it looks like they just let their top pass rusher walk to the Vikings on a reasonable one-year "prove it" deal, similar to the one they gave to OLB Nick Perry last year. In Perry's case, he proved himself with a big 2016 season and received a multi-year deal as his reward, and their stats through their first four seasons are awful similar. Jones could easily have a breakout 2017 season with double digit sacks. PFF is a great resource but the Packers have their own charting and apparently didn't believe that Jones was twice as good as Perry last season. Jones has bounced around in his first four seasons, first at DE, then at OLB, and he even played over the center a lot last season on passing downs. Maybe he's not a good fit for Capers's scheme, but he's a good player and it's too bad they couldn't have worked something out to keep him.
The Bob McGinn report being referred to is the one that said RB Eddie Lacy was weighing 267 lbs. when the Seahawks signed him. There are two problems here: 1) Lacy isn't a good player when he's overweight, and 2) he's still hurt. I had hoped the Packers would re-sign him as a low-cost candidate for next season but the Packers rarely (never?) sign injured players. He's not technically injured, he passed his physical, but still going through rehab on his injured foot so that he can't keep his weight down is a bad sign. I'm not at all surprised they didn't get him back.

It wouldn't be a shock to see the Packers sign another free agent between now and the draft on a low cost deal, but it's just as likely that they're finished. This was a worst offseason than usual with a couple more departures than I was expecting. But they might have upgraded the tight end position, which was the secret to their late season offensive success, and kept their best pass rusher. QB Aaron Rodgers will miss Lang, but I'd imagine he's happy with the addition of Bennett. This offseason has made them a little worse but it can also be viewed as a wash.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: The Good and The Bad

Every year GM Ted Thompson waves good bye to one or two members of the Green Bay Packers who played a significant role in the past. And next year the Packers usually return to the top of the NFC North anyway. There isn't anyone essential that's been lost but they do have to figure out who's going to replace Hyde, Lang and Peppers. In order of the players that they've lost:

TE Jared Cook. Technically he's still a free agent but he's not coming back because the Packers signed Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Cook transformed their offense when he returned from injury mid-season but so can Bennett who I've gotten used to as an annoying match-up problem when he played for the Bears. I also had some concerns about Cook because of the occasional drop and fumble. Also, Bennett's a real TE while Cook was more like an oversized WR. This is a swap for a better player and a good move.
DB Micah Hyde. I've been a big fan of his but obviously the coaches had some reservations. He was never in the mix to start at corner or safety in four seasons and even when they were falling apart last season at corner, he only played on the outside in the playoffs when the Packers were completely out of options (he did pretty well). It's OK to let a free agent walk if the coaches don't view him as a starter, especially when a deep cornerback draft is on the horizon. Unfortunately I've recently lost some faith in their front office's ability to scout corners (see Randall, Rollins) or know when they should keep a free agent DB (see Casey Hayward).

RG T.J. Lang. He's the loss that hurts the most but I've been bracing for it the minute I saw him being carted off during their playoff loss in Atlanta. The Packers were in the bidding but they didn't match the Lions' price. There were a lot of signs that Lang was soon to be a former Packer. GM Ted Thompson has a long history of letting interior offensive lineman leave in free agency (Wahle, Rivera, Wells, Dietrich-Smith) and you can add the release of Josh Sitton last year too. There are good reasons not to give offensive lineman their third long-term contract once they're over age 30 and none of those departures listed above came back to haunt them. The concern is that they don't have a replacement on hand because they also let JC Tretter leave in free agency. The remaining free agent guards are the sort of older veterans, major injury concerns, or disappointments that the Packers never sign, or might sign on a minimum contract, and none of them could be considered a realistic replacement anyway. This is not a good year to draft a guard either. OL Don Barclay was re-signed on a one-year deal if no one else works out, but I'd have to imagine they'll give second year players Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy the first opportunities.

OLB Julius Peppers. He had a great three year run in Green Bay. He's an athletic freak who doesn't seem to have missed a game due to injury since 2007. His stats were down a little but they tried to play him less while also asking him to do more than just rush the passer. Carolina was going to have the hometown pull over him that the Packers couldn't match and it's unrealistic to pay him several million per season when he's not playing starter's snaps. But he can still play for a couple more seasons and he'll be missed. Luckily this is a pretty strong draft for edge rushers.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The Packers Are Going To Draft Running Backs!

The NFL combine is happening this weekend in Indianapolis. GM Ted Thompson and his coaches are saying the usual stuff about wanting this or that free agent back, which usually means nothing in of itself. Most of the skills being tested don't amount to much, but sometimes a legitimate warning sign emerges. However, some of the statements being said make more sense than others:
The 2016 running back position was like the 2015 offensive line. After every offensive line starter missed at least some time during the 2015 season, and they were forced to play Don Barclay at left tackle in a disastrous game in Arizona, the Packers responded by drafting two offensive lineman in 2016. 

Right now, the only running back on the roster is Ty Montgomery, though former practice squad players John Crockett and Don Jackson finished the season on I.R. I'm a big Montgomery believer but he's only one guy and is often hurt or trying to return from injury. They can't rely on him exclusively. They are thin! Where do they go from here?

Free agency. GM Ted Thompson's least favorite place. I'm not a fan either. There are some big names available (Adrian Peterson! Jamaal Charles!) that I can't imagine Thompson pursuing. At least one former player has said Peterson's a really bad idea, and he certainly knows the Packers' front office better than we do. James Starks is already gone, and I haven't seen any interest in re-signing Christine Michael. It's really easy to see them re-sign Eddie Lacy, who's exactly the type of running back Mike McCarthy prefers, but after two injury filled seasons, he's not someone they can rely on. So maybe Lacy (depending on whether a market emerges for him) and probably no one else.

The draft. Since the roster is bare and free agency is a no-go, this is really the only option. If they want to draft a new version of Eddie Lacy, runners like D'Onta Foreman and James Conner will be available in the mid-rounds. The Packers have previously drafted versatile backs like Johnathan Franklin in 2013, Alex Green in 2011, and Brandon Jackson in 2007, but none of those players were very successful. I'm not sure if they've given up looking for those types of backs but a bigger back seems much more likely.

If Jackson and Crockett return (exclusive rights free agents are usually brought back) to go along with Montgomery, and then the Packers re-sign Lacy on a one-year deal, they can draft a big McCarthy type back with a mid-round pick (Foreman, Connor, whoever) and give themselves five running backs. It's almost a given they'll sign at least one undrafted rookie back after the draft, but because of their concerns surrounding Lacy and even Montgomery, I could see them wanting to draft a better caliber player so they aren't forced to started an undrafted rookie again, like they did last season with Jackson. If the Packers do draft multiple players at any one position in 2017, running back might be the spot.