Thursday, October 19, 2017

Checking In on The Packers' 2017 Defense Through Six Games

There's going to be a step-down on offense (hopefully just a small one) with QB Brett Hundley which is going to put pressure on the Green Bay Packers' defense to step it up.
The defense comes in ranked 23rd by Pro Football Focus, and 18th at Football Outsiders. But as the PFF article notes, injuries to key players (Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, Morgan Burnett) have held them back. Daniels and Perry played the past couple weeks, but while Daniels is not currently listed on the injury report and he hasn't since duplicated his Week 1 dominance against the Seahawks. Perry has been playing with a cast after hand surgery and he hasn't been as effective since his return, being one-handed. Burnett is still currently out of practice dealing with an injured hamstring.

Even at 100%, the defense has been limited by a lack of playmaking in the secondary and not much from either of their star edge rushers (though Perry's got a good excuse). Free agent OLB Ahmed Brooks hasn't made much of a difference yet (currently limited by a back injury). Though LB Blake Martinez has been outstanding at times, and so has rookie S Josh Jones. Their injuries at cornerback were ridiculous against the Vikings, though House, King and Randall all seem currently on track to play next Sunday against the Saints. They'll probably still be without Burnett, and even with their cornerbacks potentially returning, they'll need more from their safeties than they've been providing.

Meanwhile, the usually awful Saints defense has been much better this season, currently they're ranked ahead of the Packers by both PFF and Football Outsiders, in large part thanks to rookie CB Marshon Lattimore. It's not exactly a big test for Hundley, the Saints still have issues on defense and they'll be playing them at Lambeau, but it won't look good if he struggles at home with a week to prepare against a mid-tier defense, plus he gets back his starting tackles (both currently limited in practice).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Aaron Rodgers Will Have Surgery, Packers Sign Jerod Evans (of course)

The combination of having a broken collarbone on his throwing shoulder and the need to have surgery is probably the worst news for QB Aaron Rodgers that the Green Bay Packers could have heard. This isn't going to be like 2013 when he came back from a broken collarbone after having missed several weeks. Even then, when he did come back for the final two games of the season, he wasn't as good as usual because he'd been standing on the sidelines and not practicing for a while. Given usual cautiousness of Packers' training staff, I'm expecting his 2017 season is over.

So it was obvious that the Packers would sign QB Jerod Evans to replace him. Who's Jerod Evans?
I know there's a petition for them to sign QB Colin Kaepernick instead and it really is historically ridiculous that he isn't on an NFL roster. Rodgers himself thinks Kaep should be on somebody's roster, and I agree with him. But GM Ted Thompson, with only a couple exceptions, avoids signing veterans and looks for the youngster with upside. Signing Kaepernick would have not been a typical move for the Packers and signing Evans is.

It shouldn't be lost in this that there's a lot to like about Evans. He's big, fast, and he's got a strong arm. He was great for Virginia Tech last season and on the scout team he'll probably be good at pretending the opponent's QB, whether that QB is a traditional pocket passer or more mobile. And they wanted to promote QB Joe Callahan to the active roster now as the backup (no veteran was going to pick up the playbook in a couple days, it has to be Callahan this week) so it made sense that the new No. 3 QB should be eligible for the practice squad.

Speaking of things lost in this, to open a spot for Callahan they placed CB Quinten Rollins on injured reserve. I'm not a fan of Rollins, but I'd really like to see CB Josh Hawkins spend more time on the bench and losing Rollins doesn't help make that possible.

The big problem with Evans is that he's only played one season of FBS (he was previously at community college). Who advised him to leave for the NFL after only one year of college? After being signed as an undrafted free agent, he didn't even make it into training camp with the Eagles before being released in late May. The Packers have found arguably the least experienced QB possible.

Back in 2013, the Packers rotated Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn into the starting lineup to replace Rodgers. The situation is different this time, Hundley is established as the obvious replacement. But the offensive line is a wreck at the moment and it's possible that Hundley could wind up injured too. Then it's down to Callahan and The Least Experience Player in the NFL. There's no way they could be competitive in a game over the next couple weeks if the worst case scenario occurred and they had to turn to Evans, who's coming off an injury from last May. I expect they feel that the new No. 3 isn't someone they'll actually have to turn to, but that decision seems risky at the moment.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Packers Lose To The Vikings, Lose Aaron Rodgers

My first thought is that losing QB Aaron Rodgers for most of the season or the entire season is all that really needs to be said about the Green Bay Packers's loss to the Vikings in Minneapolis.
My second thought is that I'm a huge Packers fan, and I'll keep watching and rooting for them. Hopefully Bakhtiari and Bulaga can come back soon. Otherwise they'll be stuck with their 5th string LT and the dude they signed off the Cardinals practice squad at RT. And hopefully LG Lane Taylor can come back soon, otherwise QB Brett Hundley isn't going to have much of a chance (see the beating he took from the Vikings on Sunday) and they won't be able to run the ball much. It was like watching the preseason offensive unit all over again (except with the starting wide receivers) as the game wound down.

The defense held up surprisingly well after they were forced to give Lenzy Pipkins and Josh Hawkins substantial playing time at cornerback. They forced two turnovers that made the score a lot closer than the game on the field actually was. However it came against a non-juggernaut Vikings offense that was already without arguably their best three starters (Bradford, Cook, Diggs).

But at this point all the long-term hopes for this season can be put away. It's time to get as many guys healthy again as possible and fight like an underdog for each win.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Packers Fall Behind, Rally In 2nd Half For Overtime Win, 27-24

It wasn't pretty but the Green Bay Packers rallied in the 2nd half to give QB Aaron Rodgers his first career win against the Bengals (and first career OT win too).

What went wrong in the first half. As bad as everything went wrong last week against the Falcons, if it weren't for a couple turnovers, that game could have been close. In similar fashion, they fell behind against the Bengals in part because of another big turnover, this one an INT for a pick-six. The Packers' defense seems incapable of forcing any turnovers so any turnover on offense is magnified. 

The offense struggled by allowing 5 sacks in the first half. RT Bryan Bulaga returned but he didn't look right and left late in the game when his ankle started hurting again. LT Kyle Murphy looked awful, DE Carl Lawson abused him badly and it didn't get better until the Packers started chipping on Murphy's side with Montgomery or Bennett to give him some help. I don't know why it took until after halftime to figure this out.

What went right in the second half. CB Kevin King had another strong game but two guys really stood out on defense.

S Josh Jones. 2 sacks and a team leading 12 tackles is going to get you a game ball but Perry and Daniels out, he was one of the few players making plays. Same goes for ILB Blake Martinez, who was all over the field and in the backfield for a 2 yard loss on a Mixon run at the start of the OT period. One play for Martinez really jumped out, he got caught up in single coverage on WR A.J. Green and normally I'd expect a wide receiver in space to be able to get away from a linebacker, but Martinez closed quickly and tackled Green before he could turn up-field for a 1st down.

And, of course, QB Aaron Rodgers. Once his protection started holding up, he picked apart their secondary. Even while struggling with another drop from Bennett, and a couple of drops/off the hands passes to Allison and Adams, and nothing from the run game. He made so many great plays in the 2nd half, especially the long bomb to Allison in OT which set up the game winning field goal, but the game tying TD pass was something:
Just keep winning and hope for better health, unfortunately on a short week with a Thursday night game hosting the Bears coming up. And the Bears look surprisingly frisky after a win the Steelers in Chicago.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Packers Fall Behind Big Early, Lose In Atlanta, 34-23

Well that was a mess. After reading just before the game that Green Bay Packers' LT David Bakhtiari, to go along with RT Bryan Bulaga, were both out of the game and they were stuck with Kyle Murphy at LT and Justin McCray at RT, I pretty much put this game into the loss column. For good measure, 3rd string tackle Jason Spriggs was also injured. The entire offensive line was a mess but I'll give the three regular interior lineman a mulligan for this night. The offensive flow (and all the penalties) with a 4th and 5th string tackle were bad but it was actually better than my low, low expectations.
It was tempting to have given up on this game and spared Aaron Rodgers the beating he took but they never want to give up on a game. It was a long shot, but the Falcons are now known for giving up big leads, and the home crowd abandoned them long before the end, the stadium looked nearly empty in the 4th quarter.
After the disastrous NFC Championship Game last season, when the Packers were so banged up by the end of it that Letroy Guion had to finish out the game at RG, and now this one, there's something about injuries and games in Atlanta. Of the names above, losing Bulaga and Bakhtiari before it even started and made me pessimistic, and then losing Nelson and Daniels on consecutive series officially made me write this game off.
Damarious Randall has been trending downward ever since he started his NFL career strong in his rookie season (unbelievable now, but true). It started unraveling for him during their playoff loss to the Cardinals at the end of the 2015 season. A few weeks ago, Quinten Rollins was being written up as the best cornerback in training camp, but he looks two steps behind in coverage and he had trouble tackling. Kevin King looks like a rookie some of the times, but he actually makes plays (only he and Burnett were credited with a pass defense for this game). I thought they also benched FS Kentrell Brice for Josh Jones, Brice doesn't look like a difference maker in the secondary, but Jones was actually an injury replacement. It was hard to tell about Davon House because Matt Ryan spent so much of his time going after Randall and King. House should keep playing (depending if he's healthy next week) but it looks like it's time to let the rookies (King and Jones) play.
As bad as Randall was in the first half, Martellus Bennett might have been worse. On a team leading 11 targets, he had 5 catches for 47 yards. He also drew a stupid personal foul in Week 1. The offensive PI was weak because it was within 1 yard from the line of scrimmage but the rest of his night was bad enough. Hopefully he fits in better as the season goes on.
And yet the Packers almost managed to get back into this game. Even though they were missing their four best offensive starters not named Aaron Rodgers. And missing their best defensive player (Daniels). The Packers were living in Seattle's backfield last week, but without Daniels they rarely were disruptive behind the line of scrimmage against Atlanta.

Also the real reason they lost this game: 2 killer turnovers. I'm not sure if Rodgers felt like he had to do more without Nelson and his two best lineman, but the overthrown INT on a pass attempt to Allison (which led to a end of the half TD for the Falcons) and the reckless attempted pass/turned into a backward lateral to his right tackle on a busted play were not things I usually see from him. Those two turnovers led directly to 14 points and were the difference in the game. Almost everything went wrong but the turnovers are what lost it.

It's never helpful to lose a game to another NFC team but it's still just one game. The first order of business is to get everyone healthy. None of these injuries seem season ending (so far) and the Packers get a little breather with a home game next week against a struggling Bengals team.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Packers Defeat Seahawks By The Low Score of 17-9

It was pretty frustrating to watch the Green Bay Packers in the first half, when the defense was shutting down the Seahawks but the Packers' offense couldn't sustain anything to overcome some usually terrible starting field position.

The one thing I'd ask Mike McCarthy, if I ever had the chance to meet him in person, is please stop using your own timeouts late in the half in the hope that the defense will come up with a stop and Aaron Rodgers can get the ball back. It never works, the opposing offense always gets something going, and all he did was help the other team's clock management. In this case, he used his own time outs to help the Seahawks make a final drive that led to a field goal at the end the first half.
Their four man pass rush and run defense looked great, but Seattle's offensive line is a mess and they couldn't protect Russell Wilson or open up any running lanes for their backs. RG Jahri Evans struggled a little, and backup RT Kyle Murphy struggled a lot (he should get "credit" for allowing at least a couple sacks) but Seattle's defensive line is going to be a problem for all their opponents. OLB Nick Perry looked like a god to start the game but that probably had to do with Rees Odhiambo, who was making his first career start at left tackle.
Daniels was a beast, but he's not going to have the same success every week. How will the run defense and secondary hold up against a competent NFL offensive line? The nitro package, which is just their nickel package plus SS Morgan Burnett playing a roving DB/LB roll depending on the match-up, looked great this week but might look overwhelmed against a real rushing attack (like next week against the Falcons).

Same for the offense. Whichever receiver was lined up against CB Richard Sherman, in this game it was usually WR Davante Adams, didn't do much, but that's not going to be the case every week. Though the Packers' run offense hasn't been a big threat in a while, and it might be a struggle to get Ty Montgomery yards on the ground all season long.

Though they had the advantage of playing this game in Lambeau, this might still turn out to be their toughest game of the season.  Still it's just one win on the road back to repeating as NFC North champs.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Packers Set The 53-Man Roster With No Big Surprises, Sign Ahmad Brooks

Amongst all the roster moves made by the Green Bay Packers, the most impactful was the signing of veteran OLB Ahmad Brooks to effectively take over the role of former OLB Julius Peppers. Brooks isn't going to start, both OLB Nick Perry and Clay Matthews returned to practice this week, but theys didn't have any of the other OLBs step up to claim the role Peppers played last season. Brooks is on the wrong side of 30 and probably in decline, but he should still be good in a limited role and he's needed.
They traded OLB Jayrone Elliott to the Cowboys and claimed OLB Chris Odom. Eliott was hurt during the preseason and didn't impress as much as he had in the previous years. They didn't receive much for him, a conditional draft choice, and I'd expect whatever that condition is won't be met, so they'll get nothing. Odom had an impressive preseason, but he might not last much longer if they need a roster spot for WR Geronimo Allison after Week 1.

Released G Kofi Amichia, WR Malachi Dupre, and WR DeAngelo Yancey. These three are specifically mentioned because they are the only former draft choices that were released, and Amichia and Yancey were signed to the practice squad. Only Dupre is truly gone, which is kind of a quick fall for a player who opened some eyes early in camp. But he took a vicious hit in the first preseason game, and though he returned a couple weeks later, he didn't make much of an impression over the final couple games.

WR Max McCaffrey is released. There really weren't any duds amongst the wide receivers this preseason, and a couple of them had to go. He kind of fell into the same category as Dupre; they both looked like two of the smallest and slower wide receivers in camp. That's why Yancey and Davis are still around, while McCaffrey is gone.

QB Taysom Hill. I didn't understand all the love for Hill, who's main ability seemed to be his legs which isn't going to work for him in the NFL. Plus he's a 27 year old rookie who's gone through multiple season ending injuries while at BYU. Being healthy and able to take over an active roster spot when needed is key for someone on the practice squad. They released Callahan too, but Hill was claimed by the Saints. Would the Packers have chosen Hill over Callahan for the practice squad? It really doesn't matter when discussing the practice squad QB.

In the end, I'm not surprised by any of the final cuts they made to their roster. I like the Brooks signing and I'm ready for the regular season to begin.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Should The Packers Have Traded For Sheldon Richardson?

The Green Bay Packers pass rush is usually a concern and the idea of acquiring a defensive lineman who can play inside or outside, is great against the run, and has some pass rushing skills is an exciting idea. Instead the Packers watched as the Seahawks traded for Jets's DL Sheldon Richardson:
The Seahawks gave up WR Kearse and a 2018 2nd round pick for Richardson. I'll ignore the swap of 7th round selections (a small get for the Seahawks). The salary cap should not have been an issue, the Packers have over $21 million of space and Richardson's cap hit to the Seahawks is just over $8 million. Do the Packers have the assets to make a similar trade?

A 2018 2nd round pick. GM Ted Thompson doesn't trade picks but he did have that pick available, and just like with the Seahawks, it should be late in the 2nd round. It's against his nature to trade a pick for a player, but this was technically possible.

WR Jermaine Kearse. Is this a salary dump or do the Jets need a receiver? The Jets receiving corp is a disaster and if their front office thinks Kearse is the answer, I feel sorry for Jets fans. Kearse is terrible and overpaid ($2.2 million cap hit for the Jets). For the Packers to have surrendered a receiver like Cobb or Adams would have been an overpay (based on Kearse's value) and it's too close to the start of the season to mess around with one of QB Aaron Rodgers's top 2 or 3 receivers anyway. If this was just a salary dump, the Packers don't have any salary they're looking to dump, so the Packers might have made this trade look better by not asking the Jets to take anyone back.

DE Dean Lowry. He probably would have lost his starting spot to Richardson. Though he's currently nursing a sprained MCL, he doesn't need surgery and he should be back soon (maybe not Week 1), so the Packers didn't need Richardson to replace Lowry. Also, they're expecting big things from him in his 2nd season and might not have even viewed Richardson as even an improvement over Lowry.

Richardson "has been a headache off the field." I always think of him as the guy who pretended to be Rex Ryan and called a timeout in a game against the Packers. I think talent is much more important than the ability to be a great teammate, but he wouldn't be bringing any intangible people skills to the locker room.

Richardson is a free agent after the season. Would he even consider re-signing in Green Bay? Surrendering a 2nd round pick for one season of Richardson, who they might not even think is better than Lowry, would be an awful result.

I really like the idea of adding a Pro Bowl defensive lineman on a defense that could use some help and the cost of a late 2nd round pick isn't terrible, but digging deeper, if Richardson would only be a rotational lineman for one year at the cost of a high draft pick plus a useful WR (if the Jets required a receiver in addition to the pick) that would have been too much and more than the Seahawks paid. I was initially disappointed at the idea of missing out on Richardson, but standing pat was probably the better decision.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Preseason Week 3: Packers Lose in Denver, 20-17

Against the Broncos, there were some concerns about the backup offensive line and defensive front seven, but these aren't new concerns for the Green Bay Packers. The biggest problem in this game was that QB Aaron Rodgers didn't throw the ball well. He only played two series and completed 3 of 5 attempts, but one of those attempts should have been an INT if WR Davante Adams hadn't stole it away from the cornerback. But Aaron Rodgers isn't a real concern, not based on 5 attempts in a single preseason game, so there wasn't anything too bad with the loss.
The most disappointing thing about this preseason has been that I wanted to see more of the revamped secondary. Rookies CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones have played well, so the answer to the question about them is that they seem to be good so far. But other questions haven't been answered. Will Randall and Rollins be the starting CBs along with King or will CB Davon House start even if he ends up missing the entire preseason? Last season's starting CB LaDarius Gunter has been moved into a reserve role, which is good because King is a better player, and maybe even Gunter's roster spot is in jeopardy. The lineup in Denver with Randall and King outside, Rollins in the slot at cornerback, and Jones and Burnett all over the field at safety with Brice patrolling centerfield, appears to be the Packers' secondary to start the season. Then some combination of LBs Ryan, Martinez and Thomas will make up the back seven of the defense.
The second biggest disappointment is the EDGE position. Datone Jones and Julius Peppers left in the free agency, which is OK, and they added Biegel in the draft to go along with more from Fackrell. Unfortunately neither Biegel or Fackrell seem to be working out, and injuries keep appearing as Elliott has a bad back and Perry just hurt his ankle against Denver. Clay Matthews isn't known for his perfect health either, which unfortunately makes their interest in LB Ahmad Brooks seem legit. Fixing the secondary was more important this offseason but their step back at the EDGE position is a problem.

RT Bryan Bulaga missed the Denver game due to an ankle injury in practice and Jason Spriggs showed why he's still only a backup. Spriggs got beat badly a couple times by spin moves, once by Von Miller but another time by somebody else, and he hasn't shown that he's good enough to start. But maybe we're all wrong about what we see during the preseason. Last year, LG Lane Taylor had the worst preseason performance by any player I can recall. Instead of releasing him, they released Josh Sitton to open up a starting spot for Taylor, who went on to have a good 2016 season. And this is also nothing new for the Packers, who never seem to have a decent backup tackle on the roster, JC Tretter and Don Barclay in past seasons weren't the answer at tackle either. As long as Bulaga is back to start the season, maybe none of this matters.

So there's only one more preseason to game to go, though none of the starters should play and 53-man roster has probably already been decided on by the coaches and front office. Still, I'll never complain about watching more Packer football.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Preseason Week 2: Packers Defeat Redskins 21-17

I skipped writing a review of the Green Bay Packers' first preseason game of 2017 against the Eagles because I was busy at the time and many of the "problems" I saw in that first game seemed to be offseason rust (shaking off the cobwebs or pick a similar saying). And a lot of those things went away in their second preseason game, like I hoped they would.

I'm not going to write about the fringe roster battles yet (Will there be a 3rd QB battle? Which of the dozen WRs will they keep?). Right now, I'm watching to see that all the starters are all in place (they almost all are). For the bottom of the 53 man roster (and practice squad) there's still more up-and-down over the last two preseason games to see who will make the cut.

First team offense: QB Aaron Rodgers wasn't expected to play but he did (briefly). My guess is that he prefers playing on the road in the preseason, he played almost the entire 1st half back in 2015, during a preseason game in New England, one in which Tom Brady barely stepped onto the field. In any case, Rodgers stepped on the field for one drive and went 75 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. There wasn't a big strike, in fact the longest play of the drive was a 13 yard scramble on a busted play. It was a veteran quarterback at the top of his game taking apart a 1st team defense that wasn't scheming to stop him. TE Martellus Bennett ended the drive with a touchdown catch, split wide against a single LB in coverage. It was nice to see them connect, but there's no way a defense will let a LB go outside in single coverage during the regular season. Other defenses will switch a DB or safety over.

While Rodgers was sharp, so was everybody else on the first team offense. Rookie RB Jamaal Williams got the start while RB Ty Montgomery was hurt, and he found little room to run. Maybe that's a sign that they'll still have trouble running the ball this season (free agent RG Jahri Evans wasn't the problem, he actually looked good at getting to the second level) or maybe that the Redskins spent most of their time in their base defense which is probably better against the run with an extra linebacker or two. In any case, the first team offense looks ready for the regular season to begin.

First team defense: This got a little interesting because some players were held out.
It sucks that S Josh Jones missed the game. The Redskins left their 1st team offense on the field for the entire 1st half and Jones could have used the experience. I haven't been excited about the return of Davon House as the new No. 1 CB, I don't believe he's the answer, but his absence, along with Randall's, gave second year CB Josh Hawkins a lot of playing time with the first team defense and he delivered.
I have to admit that I wrote off Hawkins after his struggles last season. He had a strong couple games to start the 2016 preseason, but then faded in the final couple. He still made enough of an impression to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but when injuries left them looking for help at cornerback, he only made a brief regular season appearance, got burned badly, and spent the rest of season hidden at the bottom of the roster. I wasn't optimistic he'd earn another roster spot this year. Instead, he's become a fierce hitter and the most exciting CB to watch in their first two preseason games. House and Randall aren't going anywhere, but based on their past performances, the starting CB job should be an open competition. If Hawkins continues to earn the top grade, then he should win the job.

The rest of the 1st team defense looked good against the Redskins' No. 1s. They slowly pulled the starters, Matthews, Daniels, and Perry all left after the first series while others played most of the 1st quarter. Kirk Cousins had his best success throwing to TEs and RBs, who were covered by linebackers, but those players might have been covered by Burnett or Jones in the regular season. Rookie CB Kevin King looked much better in his 2nd NFL game, and he's playing with a big chip on his shoulder. He actually might need to calm it down, to make sure he avoids any taunting penalties.

That might have been the last preseason game for a number of veteran starters on the offense and defense, and that's fine because they look ready for the regular season on both sides of the ball. They still enter the season with the same concerns about pass rush and pass coverage that they had all offseason, but they look as good as they're going to get with the current roster. They still have two more preseason games to go and then finalize the 53-man roster, but I'm ready for the regular season to begin.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Did WR Malachi Dupre Break Out At Packers Family Night Practice?

I don't want to make a big deal out of the Green Bay Packers' annual Family Night televised scrimmage. It's not a real game setting which makes player evaluation almost meaningless, though it is fun to watch (when it isn't getting rained out). But it was interesting to see one of their rookies make a big play on Saturday night:
I'm down on CB LaDarius Gunter after last season, in some games he was a life saver when all the other CBs were injured but in other games his obvious weaknesses were completely exposed (see NFC Championship Game). I don't think he has a long-term future with the Packers. So outplaying him isn't a super-impressive feat of strength. But this isn't the first time Dupre's name has come up in training camp and he might be a prospect who was written off too soon.

Amazingly Dupre was thought of as a 2nd round prospect, and even a Top 10 1st round prospect, by some a year ago. But he committed the cardinal sin of having a worse college season than the year before (though he led LSU in receptions and receiving yards in 2015 and 2016) in large part due to a terrible quarterback situation. He also disappointed with his measurables at the NFL combine; he wasn't actually as tall as he was listed in college, he had "small" hands, and he wasn't the fastest receiver with a 4.52 40 time.

But he is a former five-star college recruit who was a high school state champion in track-and-field. And receivers can play a lot faster than they look if they're a great route runner,. Although he measured shorter than expected at the combine, he's still over 6-2 (above average for a Packer wide receiver) and he was the 3rd best WR in the vertical jump at the combine which might mean he'll play taller than his actual height.

Still, so far all he's done is look good in practice and training camp. It's how he does, and whether he can hold onto the ball, during their preseason games that'll really matter. But he should be in a good position to see a lot of playing time because there's no need to give a lot of snaps to Nelson, Cobb and Adams. I'm curious whether they'll hold Nelson out entirely considering he tore up his knee during a preseason game in 2015. Also, QB Brett Hundley missed practically the entire 2016 preseason so the Packers are probably eager to get him throwing as much as possible. Dupre hasn't proven anything yet, but he has become one of the players I'm most eager to see during the preseason.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Rookie DT Montravius Adams Has Foot Injury, Stress Fracture

I wasn't expecting a lot from Green Bay Packers' rookie DT Montravius Adams, who they just selected in the 3rd round, but they did need him for depth. Now it's unknown when he'll be available again:
OLB Vince Biegel had surgery for a break in his foot back in May and he's still currently out of practice. The two injuries might not be similar but Biegel is an example of someone who's been held back for a while due to a foot injury.

Adams wasn't going to start ahead of DT Mike Daniels or DT Kenny Clark. He wasn't going to be the first backup off the bench either, with that role going to DE Dean Lowry or DT Ricky Jean Francois. But with DT Letroy Guion going through whatever he's going through, he's been suspended for the first 4 games of 2017 anyway, the depth behind those top 4 has become thin. DTs Brian Price and Christian Ringo were around last season, but I wasn't expecting either of them to make the team in 2017. If disaster strikes and either Daniels or Clark miss time due to injury, Adams was/is the only player with upside as a future starter.

Still, I'm just writing about a backup who wasn't guaranteed to provide any help in 2017. The drop off from Adams to Ringo might be little, to nothing, this season. Hopefully Adams gets well soon.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Packers 2017 Season Started Today

It wasn't much, only the first practice of training camp, but it was the start of the Green Bay Packers' 2017 season. Except for watching out for injuries, having only two players on the PUP list is a good start, not much is going to change between now and the first preseason game.

The big thing to watch is new look defense as they try and fix the disaster that was the 2016 pass defense. So far it looks like the solution is to get rid of all the linebackers.
That's three lineman, two EDGE rushers, two CBs and three safeties. At under 230 lbs. Joe Thomas is a one of a new breed of players. Ten years ago he'd be way to small to be considered a LB and either bulk up to play inside or go small and play safety. I should correct myself and call him one too but he's a different type of inside backer.

The one glaring weakness is their No. 1 CB. Who should be covering the other team's No. 1 receiver? House and Gunter aren't the answer. The future should belong to 2nd round CB Kevin King but the present is not in his hands:
Ugh. Hopefully he's a fast learner during training camp.

It looks like they'll have good weather in Green Bay this weekend so hopefully everyone in attendance has a good time.

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.

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: Perry, Lang and Tretter

The Green Bay Packers took care of their most important free agent (LT David Bakhtiari) during the season. There are some starters and key rotational players about to hit unrestricted free agency, but I feel much less optimistic about re-signing them once that GM Ted Thompson allows them to test the market. There are plenty that he does re-sign, and maybe some of those players and agents just need the official start of free agency to confirm the market, but there are some players that he has no intention of re-signing.

He's sure to re-sign several of their free agents. But the first three ones I'm looking at are the trickiest of the offseason.

OLB Nick Perry. Since the Packers selected him in the 1st round he's been often injured, sometimes great as a pass rusher, and sometimes great against the run. In 2016, he put it all together for the first time in his career (even the injury part, as he played the final few games with a cast on his hand). After accepting a modest one-year, $5 million contract in 2016 (a pay cut from the cost of picking up his 5th year rookie contract option) he'll be looking for a big pay day this offseason. He's not good enough for the franchise tag, but he should receive a Jamie Collins type contract (four-years, $50 million). That's not too rich for the Packers, they have the cap room and he's worth that type of money based on his 2016 season. He missed a lot of time over his first two seasons, but he's played in 14 games or more in each of the past three seasons. He'll also be nearly impossible to replace in any way other than in the draft (and even then...) I expect he'll be re-signed.

LG T.J. Lang. I think his last time in a Packer uniform was, unfortunately, as he was being driven off the field in Atlanta with a leg injury. GM Ted Thompson doesn't often re-sign a drafted player to a 2nd free agent contract, and this would be Lang's 3rd contract with the Packers. Thompson also hasn't shown much interest in re-signing interior lineman to a new contract that would start or stretch into their mid-30s (Marco Rivera, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton). Lang's a great player who doesn't need to take a discount and should have many teams interested in him. He's been a great Packer and I don't want to see him leave, but I'd be surprised to see him return in 2017.

C J.C. Tretter. The stats love him and he's a quality young center in a free agent class that doesn't have any other ones:
If a team is making a free agent center a priority in free agency, they'll be targeting Tretter. And speaking of injury prone, Tretter's only played in 31 games in his first four NFL seasons, he ended the 2016 season on I.R. and had surgery in January. He's a good player but I only see him as a center, and he's not better then Corey Linsley. Another future compensatory pick for the Packers!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Way Too Early Look At The 2017 Fantasy Football First Round

The biggest bet game of the year (the Super Bowl) is over, the previous link is from Covers.com, so now I won't be losing any money until March Madness begins. But once again I also lost money on my fantasy football team last season, which was a disaster.

In my final game, I started Jonathan Stewart and Ryan Mathews, both barely ranked in the Top 25 for running backs last season. I had hoped my wide receivers would carry me but DeAndre Hopkins got hit with a case of the Osweilers and A.J. Green missed the last four games of the season. My best non-QB player probably was Stewart! What a terrible season.

My number one problem last year was that I didn't end up with any outstanding running back. I used to see maybe one wide receiver drafted in the first round, and now there were four drafted in the top 10, including my first round pick on Hopkins, because there weren't enough quality running backs to go around. But I expect we'll see a more traditional draft in 2017 because there are so many proven, young running backs available after the 2016 season.

Here's a look ahead based on Matthew Berry's early 2017 rankings. I'll look at the Top 13 players for Packer related reasons:

1.  RB1 Le'Veon Bell. He fell into my draft's second round last year because of an early three game suspension. It seems like a player who gets suspended once is a risk to get suspended again, and he's technically a free agent though the Steelers aren't letting him go anywhere. He's great but I'd prefer either of the next two players.

2. RB2 David Johnson. The Cardinals were awful last season but he was great, which is a good sign that he'll be great again in 2017 no matter what happens around him. His scary knee injury in Week 17, his knee was twisted up like a pretzel, might have been a good sign because it suggests he's close to indestructible. A couple weeks after his MCL sprain, he's stand jumping out of a pool. He's going to be great.

3. RB3 Ezekiel Elliott. Great things were expected from him as a rookie and he delivered. And Dallas is a great place to be with a great young QB, great young offensive line, and a No. 1 WR to distract the defense.

4. WR1 Antonio Brown. He didn't score in 2016 like a No. 1 overall pick, but Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement, and his return could make his 2017 look like his 2016 was supposed to be.

5. WR2 Odell Beckham Jr. Nothing against him as a player, or him as a side show, but QB Eli Manning was one step closer to finding a fork in his back last season. There aren't a lot of great skill players on the Giants besides Beckham but still, Manning should have been better. I'm not a big fan of Beckham in 2017 because of his quarterback.

6. RB4 LeSean McCoy. A change of coaching staff, change in quarterback, wondering whether WR Sammy Watkins ever be healthy, bad weather Buffalo during my fantasy playoffs... I'd love him in the NFC South, but I'm not sure about him in Buffalo next season.

7. WR3 Mike Evans. He's great and an unstoppable deep threat last season, but I'd have trouble selecting him at this point and passing on the next two players.

8. RB5 Jordan Howard. With a full season as a starter and a hopefully better quarterback situation, he could be outstanding next season. Or he could be a one year wonder and a huge bust. Who knows! I'd take a chance on him.

9. WR4 Julio Jones. How'd he only have 6 touchdowns last season? That seems like a fluke. Even if the Falcons offense takes a step back overall, he could easily double his TD receptions next season anyway.

10. WR5 A.J. Green. It didn't help that he missed 4 games but he wasn't a superstar for most of the season anyway. He'd get his targets and yards but he rarely found the end zone. The Bengals offense looked blah last season. Maybe a healthy Tyler Eifert will help but I'm not liking him as a first round pick in 2017.

11. RB6 Melvin Gordon. I love ex-Badgers but as much as it was fluke that Gordon didn't score a single TD as a rookie, his 12 TDs in 2016 felt like just as much of a fluke. I'm not a fan of him at this spot in the draft.

12. RB7 DeMarco Murray. He found a great place in Tennessee, and the offense could easily improve with some better receivers. I'd be completely happy with him at the end of the first round.

I'm going to No. 13 just so I can include a Packer!

13. WR6 Jordy Nelson. I'd rank him higher because he was so much better later in the season after he shook off the rust. I do worry about how much more punishment his 30+ year old body can take, but he's still great.

20. RB11 Devonta Freeman. I'm a huge fan so I'm including him. This ranking is too low. Ranking him behind Blount and Peterson? I understand the concern that he shares time with Tevon Coleman, but he's going to be great again next season anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Packers Free Agency: The Release of Sam Shields

My previous post was about how I considered whether the Green Bay Packers might change their typically cautious free agent ways if they decide to release CB Sam Shields and then go after one of the top corners in a strong free agent class. Step one happened on Wednesday, they released CB Sam Shields. Step two, an aggressive move in free agency, remains an option. How big a blow was his absence last season while the secondary was shredded on a weekly basis?
Huge. And his absence next season will be huge. From the stand point of on-the-field performance, this is a disastrous move. They can't sign Richard Sherman to replace him (and Revis isn't that player anymore) and basically anyone else is a step down.

But this roster move isn't about his football play, it's about the five documented concussions he's had during his career (along with who knows how many undocumented ones). This is like past ones with TE Jermichael Finley (never re-signed after a spinal injury) and FS Nick Collins (released after a spinal injury) and it hurts just as much as those roster moves. All three of them are great players, in the primes of their careers, and they were cut short due to serious injuries.

The defense has to sort out it's situation at outside LB with three players (Peppers, Perry, Jones) headed to free injury, but having an upgrade at cornerback (not from Shields, but from his replacements last season) is the more important task. There's always the draft but they tried that in 2015 and ended up with Randall and Rollins. Just like with Shields back in 2010, they did better job that year finding an undrafted corner (Gunter). With the salary cap room saved by releasing Shields, it would be best spent targeting a free agent corner who would fit in Capers's system.