By Guest Author, Thomas Hobbes
So now that the NFL draft is officially over, tons of fans will converge on Packers web sites to air their grievances about not drafting a particular player or reaching for another. They will hand out grades to teams and players alike; argue with other fans about what should have happened, and how the analysts have no idea what they are talking about.
I frankly am uninterested in such things; you’re typically not going to find out how good a draft class or a player is for 3-5 years and a player’s success has a lot to do with the team and the environment they get drafted in.
Nevertheless, every team drafts a player with a role in mind, and in this article I hope to analyze what role I think each player was drafted for; I am not concerning myself with what I think will likely happen, I have not placed a grade or an analysis of each player’s potential for a reason.
Bryan Bulaga – Projected Left Tackle – Round 1 – Pick 23 (23)
Rationale: A no-brainer pick for the Packers. Unfortunately, the pick is so enticing and so logical that it gives Thompson no chance to maneuver in the 1st round. Fortunately the Packers didn’t over think the pick and grabbed a top 10 talent in an area of huge need without having to overspend.
I’m curious as to what Thompson would have done in hindsight if he had known that Charles Brown from USC would be available in the 2nd round. I doubt Thompson could have drafted both, since Brown is projected only to be a left tackle.
Obviously Bulaga will have every opportunity to play left tackle; his position and contract will entitle him to that much, but Thompson could have gone to rush linebacker (Jerry Hughes of TCU or Sergio Kindle of Texas) in the 1st instead. My personal opinion is that Thompson made the right choice, the value was simply too good to pass up.
Mike Neal – Projected Defensive End – Round 2 – Pick 24 (56)
Rationale: Probably the most contested pick of the draft for the Packers, the response on Bleacher Report was almost immediate starting with “who?” a huge amount of googling, followed by “I don’t get it” and then finally “uh ok, I get it but I don’t like it”.
Many fans criticized this pick, since Neal had a 5th round projection, but to me even if this was a reach this made sense; going by the big board over at www.DraftTek.com (a site I really started to like due to its draft prediction algorithm), Neal was the 8th best 3-4 DE. Of these, 4 were drafted above Neal (Ndamukong Suh, Jared Odrick, Carlos Dunlap and Joesph Linval), so he was one of the top 4 3-4 DE when the Packers selected.
Since very few teams play the 3-4 in college, projecting players will always be vague and different teams will project players differently. Also, there was a run on DTs which might have forced Thompson to pull the trigger a little bit sooner than he had wished. This is by far the most interesting pick in my opinion as it actually says a couple of things about the Packers at the moment.
For one, Thompson is thinking about the economics ahead of team needs. Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly are both at the end of their contracts, both started out as DT in a 4-3 defense and were not entirely thrilled to being demoted to “team players” (like guards) with the conversion to the 3-4.
Obviously going 11-5 and having the #2 rated defense has a lot to do with them not speaking out, but I have a feeling that they still might want to get back to the “premium” position of a 4-3 DT, not to mention that other teams will likely offer more money to play 4-3 DT. Jenkins is certainly going to attract a lot of attention if the Packers don’t resign him during the season, but Jolly on the other hand might make it back, the drug possession charge is a scare.
In the event that one or both of them leave the team at the end of the year, I assume Neal will be a starter in 2011. Furthermore, the second thing that this pick says to me is that Neal will obviously be in the rotation at DE, which allows BJ Raji to focus on NT, where he and Ryan Pickett can rotate instead of having Raji rotate from NT to DE.
I assume that means the Packers are grooming Raji to be the starting NT (as expected) and that him playing DE was only a stopgap until they could actually get another 3-4 DE, which might be another strong reason why they drafted a DE so early. What does this mean for Justin Harrell? Actually I don’t think it means anything for Harrell; he was on his last shot anyways with the team and its not like Neal was drafted to replace Harrell’s production.
Morgan Burnett – Projected Strong Safety – Round 3 – Pick 23 (71)
Rationale: A very sensible pick considering our lack of depth at safety and Atari Bigby’s perceived fall from favor with the Packers (not to mention his contract expiring next year). He’s probably the strong safety of the future, but he might make his appearance as a nickel corner in the event that Al Harris is unable to start.
This pick I think shows that the 11-5 record and having the #2 rated defense covered up the fact that the Packers are still converting to the 3-4. Most of the players on the team were drafted as 4-3 players, specifically in the bump and run scheme employed by Bob Sanders, which is markedly different from the 3-4 defense that Dom Capers runs.
When you think about it, its actually quite surprising that the players managed to transition as well as they did. With that being said, Atari Bigby doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a strong safety in the Capers’ 3-4; safeties are less of the typical “box safeties” and instead are asked to cover slot receivers or tight ends more often, so being a ballhawk is more important than being a hard hitter.
Atari Bigby is known for his hard hitting, and to an extent that’s probably the reason why he is hurt so often. The Packers responded by drafting Burnett, who is a natural ball hawk and is 2 inches taller and faster (4.42 vs. 4.57 seconds) but not as good in run support.
I personally don’t think that Bigby has fallen from favor with the Packers, as it was obvious that the secondary was uncomfortable without him during the times he was out with injuries. Nevertheless, like Aaron Kampman, Bigby didn’t really fit the scheme and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Burnett start over Bigby in the season opener.
Andrew Quarless – Projected Tight End – Round 5 – Pick 23 (154)
Rationale: Perhaps stemming from the success of Jermicheal Finley, the Packers select another “mismatch” tight end. Actually I think this is a pretty smart pick. One of the biggest problems that the Packers had with Finley is that his forte is his speed and height, which can be problematic when it comes to inline blocking.
As a response, many times where Finley was inline another tight end was also inline as a blocker. This is disadvantageous since the defense knows Finley can’t block so they cover him and leave the blocking tight end open. Now, instead of asking Finley to block, the Packers instead add another mismatch tight end on the other side in the double tight end sets.
The defense can’t really clue in on what’s going to happen; either one would be a mismatch problem if the run a route, and neither is going to be a good blocker so the defense can’t clue in on which one will be staying. Or of course, both tight ends could be running routes in which case it will lessen the blitz as defenders will have to cover both tight ends.
Naturally the running game declines a bit as a result of the tight ends not being able to block, but the Packers are a west coast pass first team anyways, so I think that is a decent trade. In my opinion, if this works the way I am imagining it this was maybe one of the cleverest picks of the draft.
Marshall Newhouse – Projected Offensive Lineman – Round 5 – Pick 38 (169)
Rationale: It’s interesting that Newhouse was drafted without the Packers having established what they wanted to do with him (apparently they are debating whether he should be a guard or a tackle). This means that he’s definitely an athlete who has yet to master the technical side of the offensive line.
This may be a little bit of a reach of reasoning, but I think this pick might have something to do with Daryn Colledge, who was unhappy with his second rounder tender after a disastrous attempt at left tackle. For one, no GM is happy with a player publicly speaking out about not getting enough money especially when he didn’t warrant it.
Second, Thompson has always valued offensive lineman who can play multiple positions (including Newhouse), and Colledge lost a little bit of value in Thompson’s eyes when rookie TJ Lang outplayed him at left tackle. Then add to that Jason Spitz lost his job at center to Scott Wells and is now going to compete for the starting left guard position.
As well as the fact that Mike McCarthy thinks that TJ Lang projects best at left guard, and Colledge quickly is becoming expendable or tradable. Finally, Colledge was considered an athlete and less of a technician with a strong combine showing and the cheaper athletic Newhouse replacing him starts to make a little sense; my projection is that Newhouse will be a backup guard and Colledge might be on his way out.
James Starks – Projected Running Back – Round 6 – Pick 24 (193)
Rationale: A running back that was projected in the 2nd or 3rd round before a surgery derailed his senior season. I believe that this pick is directly tied to the economics behind Ryan Grant’s contract. After Grant held out during the 2007 training camp, the Packers were forced to resign Grant to a very incentive laddened deal.
Due to his production this year Grant was awarded $6 million, and if he rushes for the same amount of yardage again, he will be due $9 million next year (for a comparison JaMarcus Russell is due $9.5 million this year). Obviously the Packers are going to try to avoid paying him so much, and they have several options; in the worse case scenario Grant could be cut or traded.
The Packers could ask Grant to restructure his contract or take a pay cut, but again that’s unlikely that Grant will agree, he knows that the Packers have no leverage against him since there is no one on the roster that could replace him. Finally in a subtler move, the Packers could acquire another running back to “steal” yards from him so that he doesn’t hit his escalators.
Initially, you might assume that the Packers would draft a player with complementary skills to Ryan Grant, like a change of pace back or a speedy or shifty back. But instead, the Packers chose a running back that actually appears to be very similar to Grant; both have roughly the same size, weight and speed and appear to have very similar running styles as a one cut downhill runner.
So why draft a player that resembles Grant? My feeling is that Starks is a direct competitor to Grant; best case scenario is that it pushes Grant to become a better back (its been reported that Grant does better when he is pushed with competition) and Starks manages to steal enough yards away from Grant to fail to hit his escalators (it will also increase Grant’s career since he won’t have to carry the load by himself).
At very worse, Starks might be the next starter, which isn’t impossible since productive running backs are easier to find in the later rounds than other positions and if you remember that Grant was initially an unsigned rookie free agent with the Giants.
C.J. Wilson – Projected Defensive End – Round 7 – Pick 23 (230)
Rationale: Probably another no brainer pick; at round 7 everyone is a developmental pick, and he probably was Thompson’s highest rated player; it creates a little bit of a log jam at DE, but wasting a 7th round pick and having to cut Wilson is not a huge loss. This is just Thompson sticking to his BPA approach, nothing more.
Also sometimes what doesn’t get picked is often just as telling as what was picked.
No Pass Rush Outside Linebacker:
Rationale: While it looks like the Packers have signed a couple of undrafted OLBs, my feeling is that they were happy enough with Brad Jones to not have to draft an OLB. I personally was also happy with Jones, but the fan consensus seems to be that the Packers should have added a dynamic pass rush OLB to the mix. Again this goes back to the fact that the Packers haven’t fully transitioned to the 3-4 defense, so OLB is probably a target next year.
On a more interesting note, there has been some talk about either Brandon Chillar or AJ Hawk being moved from MLB to OLB; that could explain why Chillar got such a large contract. Most assumed that Chillar was resigned due to his coverage ability, but apparently Chillar is being tested at the OLB (apparently McCarthy believes he’s got a shot).
AJ Hawk on the other hand played OLB at Ohio and was initially an OLB with the Packers, so him moving back could make some sense as well. Finally that would give Desmond Bishop more of an opportunity to play MLB, since I believe he has warranted a shot from his pre-season outings. My personal feelings are that Chillar and Hawk probably won’t be able to cut it as an OLB in a 3-4, but the Packer might think differently.
Rationale : Many fans were expecting a cornerback to be drafted. Charles Woodson is getting older, and 3 CBs are coming back from knee injuries, including starter Al Harris. I didn’t actually think that CB was much of a need and apparently neither did the Packers. Charles Woodson was defensive player of the year so I’m sure he will be at worst passable this year. Al Harris managed to come back from a ruptured spleen, so I wouldn’t count him out just yet this year, and at very worst, I think Tramon Williams is a serviceable starter.
What was really of concern was the depth behind Woodson, Harris and Williams, but Burnett could be asked to play nickel should the event arise. I also think Brandon Underwood has a chance of being a solid backup and Trevor Ford and Pat Lee are in my opinion, unproven.
No Special Team Players:
Rationale : Ironically, this was the most surprising development in the draft for me. I thought for sure that a punter was going to be drafted. There is absolutely no depth at punter and I thought the Packers were terrible enough to maybe be forced to reach for a player (even if this year was considered a bad year for punters).
As of yet no other punter other than Tim Masay and Chris Bryan has been linked to Green Bay. A little less surprising is that a return specialist wasn’t drafted; fortunately it has been reported that the Packers are going to sign a couple of returners, most notably WR Sam Shields out of Miami. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash, and was the special teams player of the year for Miami. Returners are rather hard to quantify, so seeing the Packers grab one in free agency is not all that surprising.
So there you go, maybe in 5 years I will go back and assign grades to the draft class and its players. The things that I took out of this draft was that Thompson does in fact draft for need. Not need for talent, which Thompson has been very adamant about not doing, but need for economics and need for scheme.
In other words, Thompson drafted for need considering the financial situation of his players next year and considering the transition to the 3-4 defense, which isn’t complete. Of course, all my analysis is pure conjecture based on what I think is logical and the historical tendencies of the Packers organization and Ted Thompson.
What do you think?
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.