So here is part II of the reasons behind the draft picks (see part I here) Again, I’m not assigning grades to the draft or to the players because I don’t believe you can tell whether or not a player will pan out within the first 30 something days. What I am interested in is what the Packers were thinking of when they decided to draft a player; with that in mind, this is what I think the Packers want to accomplish with each draft pick and which player each rookie could be potentially be replacing.
Jeron McMillian – Projected Strong Safety – Round 4, Pick #38 (#133 overall) – Replaces Pat Lee
Rationale: First off let’s be honest here, I don’t think we have the next Nick Collins in McMillian; I was actually very surprised that McMillian was drafted at all by the Packers simply because he doesn’t fit into the mold of what the Packers look for in safeties. The Packers are probably more interested in playing two free safeties (which there really wasn’t one this year in the draft), consider their preferred pairing of Collins and Morgan Burnett (who ironically never really played together): both have good ball skills and the ability to jump passing routes. What McMillian does best is run support, which is almost the exact opposite of a ball hawk. Then again even if McMillian is the next Collins I highly doubt that the Packers can afford to stick him out there in his first year, which is even more reason why I think Woodson will have to make the move to safety.
What McMillian can do, and almost immediately, is play on special teams. One of the less covered bits of news in the offseason was that cornerback Pat Lee was not resigned by the Packers but was curiously signed by the Oakland Raiders; many assumed this was just because of new Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie’s background knowledge of Lee, but I think its apparent that Lee is always going to be a liability in coverage so more realistically McKenzie wanted his special teams ability. Lee actually was the gunner opposite of Jarrett Bush and it’s an important position, just look at who was the Packers priority signing this offseason (and it wasn’t Matt Flynn). My assumption is that the Packers are hoping that McMillian contributes immediately to special teams as a gunner while refining his coverage technique and perhaps becomes a starter on the defense in the future, but anything more than special teams ace in his first couple of years is probably wishful thinking.
Terrell Manning – Projected Inside Linebacker – Round 5, Pick #28 (#163 overall) – Replaces AJ Hawk (sometimes)
Rationale: While Manning played weak side linebacker in college, the Packers have stated that he’ll most likely move to inside linebacker and presumably backup AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop with D.J. Smith. What’s a little more interesting is that again Manning really doesn’t fit the mold of what the Packers look for in middle linebackers. The thing that strikes me as the forte of Bishop and Smith is that they tackle so well, especially in the run game (you could also say that it’s Hawk’s “strong” suit as well as it sure as hell isn’t rushing the quarterback or dropping back in coverage). Manning on the other hand has shown glimpses as a nascent pass rusher and in what I’ve seen of him he has also dropped back into coverage quite a bit.
People were pretty happy with the backup combination of Smith and Francois last season, so why draft another backup middle linebacker? It again goes back to the nickel package. While Desmond Bishop emerged as essentially the #2 option for rushing the passer behind Clay Matthews, Hawk has never shown much acumen for the getting to the quarterback (though I do feel when the Packers run the double A gap rush, Hawk is the one who usually holds up the blockers for Bishop, so really it probably wasn’t his job all that often to rush the quarterback) and Hawk has never been all that great at dropping back in coverage (see 8 interceptions in 6 years) so if Manning really shines during the preseason, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bishop take over play calling and line up next to Manning in the nickel, who can either rush the passer or drop back into coverage. Presumably Manning isn’t going to be able to fill this role in his first year, so figure to see him contribute immediately on special teams (as most rookie linebackers do) and slowly work his way into certain packages and maybe in the future take over for Hawk.
Andrew Datko – Projected Right Tackle – Round 7, Pick #34 (#241 overall) – Replaces Marshall Newhouse
Rationale: With Chad Clifton’s release due to failing a physical and Marshall Newhouse presumably getting first crack at taking over as the starter the Packers were in need for a back up right tackle to play behind Bryan Bulaga and drafted Datko, a talented but oft injured tackle that conceivably could play both edges. I like this pick since Datko’s stock obviously dropped due to his injury history and the Packers were able to get a quality player at a bargain price; much like James Starks, who was another potential high draft pick who missed his senior year due to (ironically) a shoulder injury was scooped up by the Packers and became the starting running back in his second year. Regardless of whether or not you think Starks is the back of the future, he has definitely lived up to his draft status as a 6th round pick.
If anything I would expect Datko to receive a “medical redshirt” if he indeed makes the 53. My reasoning is that offensive linemen are essentially useless on special teams (where the majority of rookies make their living for the first couple years), the fact that there’s no indication that he can play any of the interior line positions (though I’m sure we’ll see Campen give him a shot as per tradition), and with so much invested in 1st round pick Derek Sherrod, who will almost definitely be the backup swing tackle if healthy. If Datko makes it to the 53, I’d be willing to bet that he’ll be one of the first players inactivated every game and in all honesty, it might be for the best. With more time to properly heal and the benefit of a NFL weight room and training staff, Datko might finally have the luxury to full regenerate from the shoulder injury that has dogged his career.
B.J. Coleman – Projected Quarterback – Round 7, Pick #36 (#243 overall) – Replaces Graham Harrell
Rationale: The Packers have always believed in the principle of “draft and develop” and nothing epitomizes that more than at the quarterback position. Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for 3 seasons before becoming the starter, Matt Flynn sat behind Aaron Rodgers for 3 seasons before becoming a starter (presumably in Seattle) and Graham Harrell has sat 2 seasons behind Rodgers and Flynn and now has a chance to take over as the #2 quarterback. B.J. Coleman becomes the next quarterback on the ladder, and again is another low-risk, high-reward pick by Thompson since Coleman likely fell due to shoulder injury he sustained during his senior season.
One way or another either Coleman or Harrell will likely be the backup to Rodgers next season, with the other likely spending time as the “3rd quarterback” stashed on the practice squad (and going along with the current trend in the NFL, only two quarterbacks will likely be kept on the active roster). My assumption is that Harrell will likely win the spot, not only does he have way more experience with the Packers offense than Coleman, but Harrell also impressed during the pre-season last year and I would think that the fact that the Packers did not sign serious competition for Harrell likely means that they are happy with Harrell’s development so far. On the negative side, if Coleman is kept over Harrell, Harrell likely will not stay on the practice squad; Harrell already has turned down offers from other teams to stay with the Packers (and was rewarded by landing a roster spot near the end of the season), but Harrell is near the end of the 3 season practice squad maximum, so he needs to make an impact now. Unfortunately, Harrell is also in the last year of his contract, so if Harrell does end up lighting it up like Flynn did in his last year, the Packers may be in the same spot again in 2013. The Packers do have one advantage over Harrell that they didn’t have with Flynn is that Harrell will be a restricted free agent, so it’s likely that Harrell will be here for at least another 2 years.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.