Monday, May 01, 2006

Trading away Pro Bowl WR Javon Walker is the top story with the Packers 2006 draft. Teams do not improve when they let Pro Bowl talent leave in the prime of their career. Unless you draft a Pro Bowl performer with that 2nd round pick. The Packers have not improved themselves by letting Pro Bowl (plus alternates) CB Mike McKenzie, OG Mike Wahle, OG Marco Rivera, and FS Darren Sharper leave town.

You never know how players will turn out, but GM Ted Thompson did draft players at the positions that desperately needed help and depth. LBs Nick Barnett, Na'il Diggs, and Hannibal Navies were very good in 2003, but injuries in 2004 derailed Diggs and Navies' careers and the Packers started 6 different linebackers in 2005. 3 of those 6 linebackers are not available in 2006 (Diggs to Carolina, LB Paris Lenon to Detroit, and LB Brady Poppinga might not be available depending on his rehab from a knee injury). As a general rule, NFL teams should not expect their rookies to start, but 1st round pick LB A.J. Hawk is almost guaranteed a starting job and 3rd round pick LB Abdul Hodge could start by week 1 too. Hawk was almost universally regarded as the best linebacker in the draft. Hawk's talent, college accomplishments, and the Packers great need at the position made it almost impossible to pass him up. Hodge was very well regarded too, but he slipped from a projected 2nd round pick into the early 3rd round. If Hodge starts, it is likely that Hodge would play in the middle, with Hawk at the strong side over the tight end and Barnett at weak side. More likely the Packers will start Barnett in the middle, Hawk at strong side, and LB Robert Thomas at weak side.

With the loss of three starting offensive lineman in the last two years (C Mike Flanagan, Rivera, and Wahle) the Packers had to add more depth after Thompson's free agent replacements for Rivera and Wahle (OGs Adrian Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer) bombed in 2005. 2nd round pick OT Daryn Colledge appears to be type of offensive lineman that the Packers' new coaches want. ESPN's Mark Schlereth said Colledge was a great technician. Mel Kiper said Colledge was a great pass blocker, but he called him a project because he isn't a good run blocker. Depending on how well he plays in the first two minicamps, Colledge could easily be penciled in as the starting left guard. 3rd round G Jason Spitz is a little more surprising because it wouldn't seem likely that the Packers want big (313 lbs.) guards or centers for their new zone blocking scheme. Maybe Spitz is the ideal size the Packers want for a right guard over the nose tackle? Maybe neither Colledge or Spitz has a chance at starting in 2006 because 2nd year players G Junius Coston and C Chris White will step forward in minicamps and claim starting spots. T Tony Moll was drafted in the 5th round and sounds like an ideal sleeper candidate for a zone blocking team because he used to play tight end. Overall, the Packers really needed the depth at offensive line and drafting three offensive lineman really helps.

The Packers needed extra help at wide receiver with the ill-advised trade of Walker and the release of WR Terrence Murphy due to his career ending neck injury in 2005. Mel Kiper said 2nd round WR Greg Jennings was his mid-major sleeper pick. Unfortunately Jennings will not help QB Brett Favre in 2006 anywhere near as much as Walker or a healthy Murphy would have helped. Jennings was a surprising pick because he is only 5'11" and Mike McCarthy has stated his preference for taller wide receivers like resigned WR Rod Gardner and free agent WR Marc Boerigter. 4th round pick WR Cory Rodgers is only 6'0" and is about the same size as WR Donald Driver. The Packers needed depth at the position, but they didn't seem to draft players that the coaches prefer.

Although 6'0" is short or average for a NFL wide receiver, 4th round pick CB Will Blackmon is tall for a NFL cornerback at 6'0". Football Outsiders had a great article about when NFL starters are drafted. Positions like quarterback, defensive and offensive tackle, No. 1 wide receiver, running backs, and cornerbacks are usually drafted in the first three rounds. There aren't a lot (if any) cornerbacks starting in the NFL today that were drafted in the 4th round so there isn't a lot of promise that Blackmon will emerge as a starting cornerback either. However, Blackmon provides depth at a position that could need it in 2007. If CB Charles Woodson is only in Green Bay for one season to reestablish himself (his contract likely has few guarantees after 2006 and may only be intended for one season), then the Packers are looking at starting CBs Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll and a bunch of fringe players like CB Mike Hawkins behind them. If Blackmon can develop into a quality cornerback in time for 2007, he might will be needed next season.

There are only two quarterbacks on the roster so drafting 5th round QB Ingle Martin makes sense. The two most important factors in evaluating a college quarterback is how many games he started and his completion percentage. Martin started every game while he was at Furman and completed over 61% of his passes. Unfortunately he played against Division I-AA competition so it is hard to evaluate him. Martin was at Florida, but transferred to Furman after it became obvious he wouldn't start at Florida. As a bonus, Martin was a first team all Division I-AA punter and would be a unique challenger to disappointing P B.J. Sander.

The same article by Football Outsiders that charted the value of drafting a cornerback early if you want a starter said that there isn't much difference between a 6th or 7th round pick and an undrafted free agent. These players usually move around the league a lot and if they do catch fire and become a starter, it is just as likely they start for their 2nd or 3rd team as the team that originally drafted them. That being said, there shouldn't be great expectations that DT Johnny Jolly, S Tyrone Culver, or DE Dave Tollefson will become the next RT Mark Tauscher. All three players were drafted at positions where the Packers have some depth and it is possible all of them are released before the start of the season. I really expected the Packers to draft at least one kicker to challenge K Billy Cundiff in the 7th round, but there are already two other kickers on the roster to challenge Cundiff and apparently Thompson thinks that is enough.

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