Can lightning strike twice?
Packers general manager Ted Thompson hopes so after selecting USC defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry with the 28th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. For the second time in four years, the Packers used a first round pick on linebacker from Southern California.
The other pick? A certain Clay Matthews III, drafted in 2009. Three years later, Thompson recognized his defense desperately needed another elite pass rusher to complement the Claymaker and once again took a player from USC.
Matthews has panned out very well for the Packers so far, so what does the future hold for Perry, who spent one season on the same team as Matthews at USC?
Well, to place Matthews-like expectations on Perry would be incredibly unfair. No one expected the results Matthews produced in 2009 and since he and Perry played for the same college, some fans may be expecting Perry to duplicate Matthews’ rookie season.
Perry is a different player than Matthews. Perry played with his hand to the ground, though Thompson said he wasn’t concerned about moving Perry to outside linebacker. It’s easy to understand why Thompson feels that way, too. Perry is a terrific pass rusher who has a good motor (not as strong as Matthews, but still decent) and explosiveness off the snap.
The concern with Perry is not his skill sit, but rather his size. At 271 lbs., he looks like he may be better suited as a defensive end in a 4-3 defensive scheme rather than a 3-4 linebacker. It remains to be seen what Perry’s coverage skills will be as the linebackers do play coverage in defensive Dom Capers’ scheme.
Capers has shown flexibility in his defenses, so he very well could limit Perry’s role in pass coverage. Regardless, his presence and abilities hopefully will take some attention away from Matthews who was swallowed up by double and triple teams in 2011 thanks to no help from the other outside linebackers. Even if Perry’s stat line isn’t impressive, if he can get Matthews back in 2010 form it would be hard to make a case against the drafting of Perry.
There’s also the issue of Perry going on the record at the NFL Combine about preferring to be in a 4-3 defense. Now that’s he’s been drafted by a 3-4 team, will Perry accept the change of positions? Judging by his post-draft press conference, Perry seemed fired up to play in Green Bay and said he was looking forward to forming a formidable duo with Matthews.
One quote does not a draft pick make. It will definitely be interesting to see what Perry can do on the field.
With Perry now officially the leader of the Packers’ 2012 draft class, what do the next two days hold for the defending NFC North champions?
Thanks to the recent release of Chad Clifton and Nick Collins, offensive tackle and safety are some of the bigger holes on the Packer roster. Thompson still has 11 picks to use but thanks to how thin the team currently at both positions, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Packers filled both positions by the start of the fourth round.
The Packers also likely could be looking to draft their center of the future. With Scott Wells gone in free agency, the Packers did sign Jeff Saturday but at 36 he only has a few years left and Thompson would be wise to draft Saturday’s heir apparent so the new player can learn the ropes behind one the best centers in recent league history. Peter Konz from Wisconsin (both the university and the state he grew up in) seems to be a popular choice here.
A backup quarterback is also another need thanks to the departure of Matt Flynn to the Seattle Seahawks. Could we see the Packers draft yet another former Badger and have Russell Wilson in Green Bay to back up Aaron Rodgers? Wilson is considered somewhat of a hidden gem in the draft so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him gone earlier than expected, but Wilson in Titletown would be a dream scenario for fans inside Wisconsin.
Finally, a cornerback could be coming as well. With Charles Woodson nearing the end of his career and/or possibly being moved to safety after Collins’ release, the team would be wise to draft a player to add to the Packer secondary. Sam Shields regressed and Jarrett Bush is by no means a shutdown corner, so the Packers need another player opposite Tramon Williams who needs to step up as well.
Overall, drafting Perry is a good start but the later rounds are where Thompson really begins to shine. He stockpiles draft picks like no one else in the league so seeing some trades out of Green Bay is to be expected. No one except Thompson knows what he’s going to do and that’s part of the allure of all seven rounds of the NFL Draft.
So the message to Matthews has been sent: the cavalry is on the way. The draft has only begun. This is Thompson’s Christmas, so Packer Nation would be wise to just sit back and watch one of the best drafting general managers in the league work his magic and suddenly reload the Packers for another run.
By the time Sunday rolls around, fans will have a pretty good idea of what the Packers will look like heading into training camp.
The 2012 season is officially underway.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke