Photo credit: Packers Insiders
NFL draft experts often say it’s not fair to grade a particular draft class on draft day. It’s better to reassess the picks three years into their careers.
Much has already been written about the perceived failures of the Green Bay Packers’ general Manager Ted Thompson and his maligned 2011 draft class. With the former 2011 first-round pick, tackle Derek Sherrod, being released this week, more gasoline has been added to the already burning inferno.
Now, we are three years removed from the Packers’ 2011 draft class and can make a fair assessment. Was it as bad as everyone said? Is there any redemption to be found? Let’s take a look.
Coming fresh off winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers seem stocked at almost every position. They were drafting in the last slot, which is a rewarding double-edged sword. If you’re drafting in the 32nd spot, it usually means you just won a title and are set at all key positions. But, it also means your chances of landing a perennial Pro Bowl player are lowered and immediately improving the starting lineup is very low.
Since the Packers were defending champions, they approached the 2011 draft as one to build immediate depth and to develop players that could compete for starting jobs in a few years. The Packers were one of the youngest rosters during 2010 and were poised to only become stronger after the 2011 draft. The future looked bright and the starting lineups could have been setup to be reloaded in a few short years.
However, this mostly never happened.
1. Derek Sherrod (T)
Sherrod was drafted to be the left tackle of the future, essentially being hand-picked to take the torch from the aging rock Chad Cliffton. On draft day, he was instantly being heralded as the “protect the franchise” pick by Packers fans since he would eventually be trusted to block Aaron Rodgers’ blindside. However, other more objective pundits claimed he was not of starting caliber and had a day 3 grade. Essentially, he may have been a reach, but a good training camp could have shown why he was chosen so highly.
But, his career got off to a very bad start. He was immediately bounced along the offensive line during his first training camp, being tried out at both tackle positions and as a guard as well. He may have had the physical talent to play at those positions, but doing that to a young rookie can’t be very good in terms of confidence and consistency. That game of musical chairs can severely stunt development. He looked completely lost during training camp and it became quickly obvious that he wasn’t as polished as a first-round pick should have been. Consequently, the Packers were trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. His first season never seemed to gain much traction.
Then, he suffered a devastating injury against the Kansas City Chiefs when he shattered his leg. That injury was not only a career-changer, it may also have been a life-changer. Non-athletes suffering that injury may have lingering problems for years and may never walk the same again, let alone perform athletic skills. Subsequently, Sherrod never got to showcase his talents and further develop himself. It’s often said the most important development time for young players is between their first and second seasons. This was completely lost for Sherrod because he was rehabbing his injury for over two years. Unfortunately, we’ll never know just how good Sherrod could have been because the injury changed everything. Time ran out for him and he made virtually no contribution to the Packers. It’s not fair to say this is a wasted pick, because injuries happen, but the Packers have nothing to show for their first-round selection.
Grade: Incomplete. We’ll never know what he could have been due to the injury, but I’m leaning towards total failure. The Packers reached for him and he was never able to develop, although it’s not his fault he was so devastatingly injured.
2. Randall Cobb (WR)
Cobb instantly excited the fan base with his selection. He was picked to be a wide receiver of the future and compete for playing time with the Packers’ already loaded corps of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. Cobb made an immediate impact as a punt and kick returner, and he re-energized a lethargic special times squad.
Cobb has quickly developed into a trusted slot receiver, and he currently leads the 2014 Packers in receiving touchdowns. He’s in a contract year, and those always seem to bring out the best in players, so it’s no surprise he’s having an exceptional season.
At this point, Cobb is the only bright spot from the 2011 draft class. He’s a starter who is bordering on elite-level talent. It seems like he is on the cusp of exploding into stardom.
Grade: A. He’s a very valuable starter and legitimate weapon. As the lone bright spot from the 2011 draft, the Packers must re-sign him to hold onto any contributions gleaned from that that draft. If he is allowed to leave, the 2011 draft would truly be a disaster.
3. Alex Green (RB)
The 2010 Super Bowl run showed that running back James Starks had the talent to be a legitimate every down back. However, there was no depth behind him. Enter Alex Green. He was drafted for his explosive play, receiving abilities, and pass protection abilities that he showcased at Hawaii.
However, a serious knee injury destroyed his explosive abilities and he was never the same player afterwards. He was waived by the Packers in 2013, and again by the Jets in 2014, and he is currently out of football.
Grade: D. Injuries ruined his career, but that’s not unexpected for running backs because they take weekly beatings. He never contributed much when he was healthy, and couldn’t significantly contribute on the field after his career-altering injury.
4. Davon House (CB)
During their championship run, the Packers showed they had a good starting cornerback trio in Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Charles Woodson. Williams had his best season as a professional and Shields showcased a lot of talent as a rookie. However, Woodson was getting long in the teeth, so Ted Thompson looked to build depth and prepare for the future with House.
Houses’s career has been a series of ups and downs, involving injuries and inconsistent play. A serious shoulder injury early in his career stunted his development. He never became Woodson’s replacement, but now more than ever, he is being counted upon to potentially be Williams’ replacement due to his age and an expiring contract.
Grade: C. Inconsistent play has defined his career. He has showed talent to be a starter, but he has to show more and further develop.
5. D.J. Williams (TE)
As a highly touted collegiate tight end, he was supposed to bring explosiveness to the position and potentially compete with Jermichael Finley who was coming off a serious injury and “chemistry problems” with the quarterback.
However, he never amounted to much on the field and is currently out of football. He couldn’t make the roster for the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars or injury-depleted New England Patriots.
Grade: F. Never made any contributions.
6. Caleb Schlauderaff (G)
We hardly knew thee. He was traded to the New York Jets at the conclusion of his first training camp. The pick the Packers received in the trade was used in the trade that allowed them to select linebacker Terrell Manning, who also didn’t make any contributions for the Packers.
Grade: Incomplete. Picks this low are nothing more than mandatory tryouts. They are such crap shoots.
6. D.J. Smith (LB)
As an undersized linebacker, he showed some flashes as talent when thrust into the lineup as injury replacements. A devastating knee injury in 2012 ended his days in Green Bay and he’s currently a role player for the Carolina Panthers.
Grade: D. He was drafted as a role player, and filled in at times, but he wasn’t able to continue as a roll player in Green Bay, which says a lot considering the current state of affairs with the linebacking corps in Green Bay.
6. Ricky Elmore (LB)
Grade: Incomplete. Picks this low are nothing more than mandatory tryouts. They are such crap shoots.
7. Ryan Taylor (TE)
He was never a receiving threat, but he did make many special teams contributions for three seasons. He was a liability on the field due his temper and boneheaded thought process, but making a team as a seventh-round selection is impressive, let alone sticking around for three years.
Grade: C. Good value pick and special teams contributor.
7. Lawrence Guy (DE)
He has managed to stick around the league up to this point, but he never did anything for the Packers. He currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. His days in Green Bay were numbered after spending his first season on injured reserve.
Grade: F. The fact he’s still in the league represents a potential failure on the Packers’ part. They had something there in him, but let him get away.
Final Thoughts: Overall Grade is a Sliding Scale
The 2011 draft brought ten new bodies to the Packers. As of 2014, only two of them remain in Randall Cobb and Davon House. All drafts are crap shoots, but a 20% keeper rate is pretty poor no matter how you look at it.
Injuries took their toll in this draft class, effectively ending or sidetracking the careers of Sherrod, Green, House, D.J. Smith, and Guy. No one can predict injuries, but the frequency of those injuries is alarming and concerning.
This is a contract year for both Randall Cobb and Davon House, so it’s yet to be seen if they return for the 2015 season.
As it stands during the 2014 season, the overall grade for the 2011 draft must be an F. Only two players from the draft remain, with only one being a bona fide starter, and that has had devastating effects on depth and the quality of other starters currently on the roster.
However, the draft grade is on a sliding scale. If the Packers lose both Cobb and House to free agency, then the draft grade remains an F. They’ll have absolutely nothing to show for the draft four years out, and that’s absolutely unacceptable. Draft classes like that can ruin a roster and end general managers’ jobs.
If the Packers are able to re-sign Cobb, his value alone is enough to salvage some of the draft, especially if he continues to develop into a play making slot receiver. If he is re-signed, I’ll bump the draft grade to a D.
If the Packers re-sign House, it means he has developed into a starting quality cornerback and the likely successor to Tramon Williams. If that’s the case, that does improve the draft grade to a D as well. Finding starting caliber cornerbacks is difficult. House has been shaky as a starter, but he could develop into one with more playing time.
If both Cobb and House return, the draft grade will become a C. They’ll have two starters at skill positions, and that is a satisfactory result. And that’a all it is, satisfactory.——————