The draft-and-develop Green Bay Packers have surely produced as a team. Year-in and year-out they are Super Bowl contenders and this year will be no different. Only the Seattle Seahawks have better betting odds to win it all than the Packers.
Fortunately the Packers boast a potent offense largely responsible for such prolonged success. Looking at the Packers game-changers there are any number that jump out on the offense – Rodgers, Lacy, Nelson, Adams, and Cobb quickly come to mind.
Where would this Packers team be if only the so-so defense (18th in total yards, 19th in scoring), which until last seasons’ mid-year personnel changes was at times putrid, were to play as a top ten unit?
It is not as though General Manager Ted Thompson has ignored the defensive side of the ball. Not only has he invested in many early draft picks, but also signed big-name free agent Julius Peppers to add a key missing piece in order to get this defense over the hump.
Here are the Packers draft picks on defense rounds 1-3 since 2008:
2015 Damarious Randall (1), Quinten Rollins (2)
2014 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1), Khyri Thornton (3)
2013 Datone Jones (1)
2012 Nick Perry (1), Jerel Worthy (2), Casey Hayward (3)
2011 (none in first three rounds)
2010 Mike Neal (2), Morgan Burnett (3)
2009 B.J. Raji (1a), Clay Matthews (1b)
2008 Pat Lee (2)
Of the 13 picks, two are no longer with the club (Worthy and Lee), and two have yet to play as recent draftees (Randall and Rollins).
Only four of the remaining nine are starters; Clinton-Dix, Jones, Burnett and Matthews. The level of excellence is never-the-less a mixed bag. Burnett had a down year in 2014 after signing a multi-year contract extension. Clay Matthews played out of position for much of the year causing his individual effectiveness to suffer. Clinton-Dix was a rookie and played well enough in a starting role and should take a major step forward in year two.
It is step-up time for these remaining players in 2015.
Datone Jones was the nominal starter in 2014 yet he had marginal impact. Given that he was a number one draft choice with little competition in his way to become the starter, it is safe to say that Jones has been a disappointment. Nagging injuries and inconsistent play mark his tenure in Green Bay. It may be too early to label him a bust, but if he doesn’t string together more impressive games that fitting label won’t be far behind.
Casey Hayward after a stellar rookie season has been just okay since. He will be penciled in as a starter in Tramon Williams’ outside cornerback position going into training camp. Much will be expected of him as an every-down outside cover corner even though he has been used primarily inside on nickel formations. Challenging Hayward will be second year holdover Demitri Goodson and rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. He is at a crossroads in his career. It will be up to Hayward to show that he is every bit the player of 2012 and more.
B.J. Raji had what was assumed to be a breakout year in 2010 on the way to the Packers winning the Super Bowl over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing out of position along with various injures have left fans feeling disappointment over the lack of accomplishments of the one time Boston College tackle. Raji will be given every opportunity to regain the luster at his preferred inside NT position to open camp. The pressure begins early-on for Raji to not only start but produce game-in and game-out on his one-year prove-it contract. This is clearly his last shot with the Packers.
Mike Neal has shown flashes of being the player that Packers were so high on in 2009. The problem has been that between nagging injuries and inconsistent play Neal has failed to impress for any length of time. Neal is in the last year of a two-year extension and if his play doesn’t dramatically improve, it would be hard to imagine him returning to the team next year. If his pre-season performance disappoints – showing that he has reached his ceiling as a player – then it may be time for a young developing player to take his spot.
Nick Perry is an enigma. A physically gifted player there are just not enough notable plays being made by this former first-rounder. The fact that he cannot crack the starting lineup and, that the Packers thought so little of him that they went out and signed an aging Julius Peppers to take what should have been Perry’s starting position, speaks volumes about his importance to the team. He has proven to be a pure power player at a position requiring more finesse and athleticism. Unless he has a breakout year and regains significant playing time, it will be time to anoint him as a ‘bust’.
Khyri Thornton is only a second year player and will given one more chance to show his wares. After a poor training camp in 2014 he was injured and put on season-ending injured reserve. Basically the Packers chose to give him a red-shirt year. There is hope that an off-season of weight training, proper diet and conditioning as well as additional coaching would prove that he is a better player than he has appeared to be. On a cautionary note here is how respected Packers beat reporter Bob McGinn summed up Thornton at the end of last season: “Not only is Thornton on the short side (6-2½) for base end, he didn’t play hard, get off blocks or show pass rush using power or working an edge. If a year on scholarship can’t amp up his level of aggressiveness, he’ll be gone by late August. ” Ouch!
The Packers made the investment in defense and now it is up to the coaching staff and the players themselves to step-up in 2015. There is little doubt that the Aaron Rodgers led offense will again be dynamic. With a solid if not spectacular defense this team will have the makings of a Super Bowl Champion.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .