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. I’ve also included who I think the rookies will be replacing, keep in mind I don’t necessarily think that a rookie will take a veteran’s spot (for instance I have Casey Hayward replacing Charles Woodson) only what type of role that rookie is like to take.
Nick Perry – Projected Outside Linebacker – Round 1, Pick 28 (#28 overall) – Replaces Erik Walden
Rationale: With no pass rushers taken until #15 (Bruce Irvin to Seattle), Ted Thompson probably just sat on his hands and waited for players to drop to him. From a schematic standpoint I think Perry offers a good foil for fellow Trojan Clay Matthews III; Perry showed impressive strength (which is supposed to translate to explosion) at the combine with 38.5 inch vertical (tied for 2nd among defensive linemen and linebackers) and 35 bench reps (tied for 6th among defensive linemen and linebackers, though really he’s tied for 1st when you exclude defensive tackles) and while that didn’t translate to much of a power game on the field (though it could be argued when you are as fast around the edge as Perry is you’d probably neglect the power game as well), rookies typically get much “functionally” stronger with NFL weight rooms and trainers so Perry could be very good at setting the edge in the future.
With Perry now in the mix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matthews switch back to right outside linebacker, where he wouldn’t be up against traditionally stronger right tackles/guards. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Matthews play more middle field “spy”/late blitzer like he did in 2010; my feeling is that Capers was forced to always keep Matthews on the edge all of last season because there simply wasn’t any other consistent source of quarterback pressure, but now with the threat of Perry on the other side, Capers can go back to being a “mad scientist” and concoct outrageous defensive schemes to confuse offenses. Keep in mind, you don’t need another “Clay Matthews”, because you already have a “Clay Matthews” in Clay Matthews (this might be the best sentence ever); while it would be great if Perry ends up as an offensive terror opposite of Matthews, as long as he forces offense to account for more than just Matthews in terms of pass rush, Perry is a good pick, just look at what Cullen Jenkins did.
Jerel Worthy – Projected Defensive End – Round 2, Pick 19 (#51 overall) – Replaces Jarius Wynn
Rationale: Actually, I’ll admit that it’s debatable if Cullen Jenkins was solely responsible for the defensive collapse last season, but what isn’t debatable is that the combination of Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson certainly didn’t help matters; not that it’s entirely their fault considering that Mike Neal was supposed to take over but never really managed to see the field due to injuries. Worthy is an interesting pick because he isn’t your traditional 3-4 defensive end; he’s best trait is his ability to beat the snap count, which is more helpful for breaking through to the backfield than holding up offensive linemen and setting the edge against the run (which is the traditional role of a 3-4 defensive end).
Where I think Worthy will truly shine, and probably why the Packers favored him over Devon Still is the sheer amount of time spent the Packers spent in the “corner okie” package, which is the Packers’ nickel package where a down linemen is substituted for an extra defensive back (usually a cornerback). Before Cullen Jenkins left for Philadelphia he and Raji would often be the two down linemen left in the nickel package since they were best at splitting gaps and rushing the passer; last year without Jenkins teams were able to focus on Raji specifically which not only wore him down but also made him less effective. Considering the evolution of the passing game and the fact that the Packers were in their nickel formation more often than not and it becomes paramount to be able to generate pass rush with only two down linemen. While the coaching staff has vowed to play more base 3-4, they might not have a choice since so many teams are now putting 4-5 receivers out on the field at a time so having a effective pass rush while in the nickel is still very important.
Casey Hayward – Projected Cornerback – Round 2, Pick #30 (#62 overall) – Replaces Charles Woodson
Rationale: First and foremost I should state that the Packers aren’t going to cut Woodson, but Woodson’s time as a cornerback are likely over. Woodson is already essentially playing the strong safety even when there are two safeties on the field because it’s his strong suit. When you think about it, what are strong safeties supposed to do? They come up on run support and cover tight ends and slot receivers. What does Woodson do really well? Come up on run support and cover tight ends and slot receivers. Frankly he doesn’t have the quickness or top end speed to match up on the outside anymore so it’s a logical progression to finally move him over to strong safety. Add to that Nick Collins is no longer on the team and the fact that Morgan Burnett is more of a ball hawk free safety and you can see that the Packers don’t have much choice at the moment. I think it’s a given that Woodson is always going to be on the field, so if Hayward is a better player than any of the backup safeties it wouldn’t make any sense to keep Hayward on the bench and an inferior player at safety just to keep Woodson at cornerback, which he isn’t really playing anyways.
Where Hayward comes into play is that with Woodson finally moving to safety someone needs to take his place at cornerback, specifically as the 3rd cornerback. Actually I think there can be a couple of permutations, either Tramon Williams moves into the “slot” corner (which he played for the majority of his career with the Packers) or they could stick Hayward directly in as the slot corner or alternate the two, for instance in normal packages Hayward would cover the typically inferior slot receiver inside while Williams stays on the edge but when facing an elite slot receiver they could swap positions with safety help pushed towards Hayward’s side.
Mike Daniels – Projected Defensive End – Round 4, Pick #37 (#132 overall) – Replaces B.J. Raji (sometimes)
Rationale: Mike Daniels is a little bit of an odd pick simply because he doesn’t really fit any of the defensive linemen positions in a 3-4, he simply isn’t big enough to take on double teams as a 0/1 technique nose tackle nor is he big enough to really set the edge as a 5 technique defensive end. His strong suit is being able to split gaps and disrupt into the backfield, but again that’s not the premier skill of a 3-4 defensive end, so what does Daniels bring to the Packers? Again it comes back to the nickel package.
Simply put B.J. Raji is one tired guy. Physics and physiology simply dictate that a man who weighs 300+ pounds running into 600+ pounds of linemen play after play is going to get tired no matter what level of conditioning the player has. Surprisingly Raji has survived remarkably well all things considered, but the Raji and Packers know that they have to give Raji a break at some point or something is going to give and unfortunately its likely to be Raji. Ryan Pickett can sub in at nose tackle in the base 3-4 but one of the strange things about the Packers last year was that Raji was the “starter” at nose tackle while Pickett was the “backup” but Pickett was the “starter” at defensive end while Raji was the “backup”, so really both were always playing regardless of where they were and that means both never got off the field. Add to that Pickett and Raji were often also in for the “okie” package and you start to see that Raji and Pickett probably played way more snaps than is realistically healthy for men their size. So while Daniels is most likely not going to be a very good 5 technique defensive end, he might be a good situational pass rusher from the 3 technique. Obviously Worthy will be part of that rotation while also presumably playing 5-technique defensive end, but Daniels can be added to the D-line rotation in certain situations (i.e. nickel formations) and hopefully let Raji and/or Pickett get off the field.
Stay tuned for next the next installment where I go through the rest of the Packers 2012 draft class.