To start, I want to send out heart-felt "thank you" to those of you who have reached out to me over the last two months to see if I was going to continue to blog. I'm happy that you read. I'm happy that you enjoy. And, with that, I'm sorry I was distant. But, candidly, I'm still in shock as to how the 2011 Season ended. Defending Champions. 15-1. Coming off of a bye. Home Field throughout. 2 wins at Lambeau and we would have been playing for the Repeat. Yet, we failed to show up. It still hurts. The purpose of the blog is to write with a positive yet realistic approach on the outlook of the current state of the Packers. Mentally, I wasn't ready to keep that mindset when I tried to pen my thoughts. Additionally, my wife & I are expected our 1st child and for anyone who has gone through a 1st trimester, well, you know what I've been going through. Couple the exciting family news with a more demanding work schedule and free time is short. With that said, I'm back. Ready to write. Ready to get prepared for the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. Stoked to see what happens in Free Agency over the next couple of weeks.
It's been interesting to read & hear Packers fans slowly pushing the panic button with regards to Ted Thompson's approach to Free Agency. Frankly, it's almost comical. G-Force, lest I remind you, at this stage the Packers are actually WINNING in Free Agency thus far. Yes, I said it. The Packers are WINNING in Free Agency. Remember that prior to Free Agency starting, the Packers resigned Josh Sitton, Jordy Nelson and J-Mike to friendly deals that won't tarnish the Packers salary cap situation for years to come. Sure, Buffalo has hit it big with Super Mario & Steve Johnson, but would you rather Johnson with his contract or Nelson with his? To me, it's a no-brainer.
It was sad to lose Scott Wells. Wells was a solid player for the Green & Gold. It would have been great to keep him, but Wells was intent on moving on. So, be it. Thompson will have a back-up plan. And, it might come in the form of Peter Konz as a 1st round pick. When healthy, the Center from WI has showed the athleticism and power to be able to immediately step in at the next level. Admittedly, I've never claimed to be an expert at scouting OL. But, I will say that this year I paid more attention to OL play at the college level than ever before. And - for the first time - I feel qualified to make a couple of OL predictions in the future. One of them is that I believe Ben Jones, C, Georgia will make a solid 2nd or 3rd round choice for some team, possibly the 13-time World Champions. More to come on some OL thoughts in the coming weeks...
As Mike McCarthy said post the 2007 NFC Championship, "we had our eyes on the target." In 2010, the Packers reached the target. In 2011, they fell short of that target. Now, the question begs: How can the Packers reach the target once again? Obviously, Ted will not go big in Free Agency. It's not his style. But, I do expect him to get involved in a couple of negotiations. But, before we become critical of Thompson's approach, we must remember that over the next 12 months, Thompson will have to take care of his own. Rodgers' contract needs to be upgraded. It wouldn't surprise me if Rodgers signs a deal that carries him through the rest of his career. Clay Matthews contract will be expiring. Greg Jennings will hit the Free Agent market. BJ Raji's contract will also expire and so will the contract for TJ Lang. Thompson's immediate priority will be to resign his guys. As it should be. Still, over the next couple of weeks, the Packers will target a Center. If Nick Collins cannot make a comeback, it wouldn't surprise me if the Packers make a play for LaRon Landry. Especially if the market for Landry continues to be fairly dry. Thompson may be able to sign Landry to a cap friendly, short term deal. If the price is right, I also anticipate that the Packers will be in play for Kamerion Wimbley.
Plainly stated, the Packers need cap space. And, from what I've read, they cannot free cap space by moving on from AJ Hawk. Therefore, I hate to say it, but it's time to move on from two future Packers Hall of Famers: Chad Clifton and Donald Driver. Unless, of course, they'll both return for near the veteran minimum contract. It's been well documented: if the Packers release Clifton and Driver, they'll free up nearly $10 million. With that $10 million, I'd lock up Lang to an extension. Presently, Thompson could likely get Lang at a decent price and it wouldn't shock me if Lang has a terrific year in 2012. I'd also initiate discussions with Rodgers, Matthews, Raji and Jennings, to see if hometown discounts are available. You'd have to imagine that Jennings is licking his chops after seeing the contracts that Steve Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, and Vincent Jackson have recently signed. But, I'm also hoping that Jennings realizes that he's currently in a really good situation that is hard to replicate elsewhere. He doesn't seem like a guy who would want to cripple the cap.
It'd be tough to release both Driver and Clifton. However, with the bonuses given to Gurley or Borel last year, it's hard to imagine that at least one of them isn't at least minimally in the plans for this year. At tackle, Bulaga had a strong year and Newhouse performed admirably. If Sherrod returns to full strength, the Packers would have options at tackle. It's also likely that Thompson will invest draft picks into a couple of developmental tackles this year.
Prior to last year, I would have never believed that I'd have said this, but I hope the Packers can afford to bring back J-Bush. He was terrific on special teams last year as a gunner. Truly, he was a weapon. It'll be interesting to see what his price comes in at. As for Ryan Grant, if he's not coming back at the minimum, I'm not biting. I like Grant. He's been a solid Packer, but the Packers are in decent shape at RB, assuming Alex Green makes it back healthy. Brandon Saine progressed well. When Starks was healthy, he did good things. And, you know that Thompson will add a back in either the Draft or as an undrafted FA.
In the non-breaking news category, Ted Thompson is smarter than me. I thought there would have been more of a demand for Matt Flynn. It doesn't appear as though Flynn will get the type of FA deal that most thought he might. With Peyton Manning and Alex Smith still on the market, the demand for Flynn has diminished. Further, teams are aware that if Manning signs with the Titans, Matt Hasselbach will likely become a Free Agent. Additionally, I'm not convinced that the Dolphins think Flynn is that much better than Matt Moore. Add in the current love affairs that teams are having with Ryan Tannenhill and Brandon Weeden and the market for Flynn is a lot softer than I expected.
The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching. Just over a month away. I'm behind where I'd normally be at. I still haven't watched the East-West Shrine Game. I have watched the Casino Del Sol Bowl game, the Senior Bowl, all of the Senior Bowl practices that were televised and the majority of the Combine. I have the rest of the Combine on tape and I expect to watch the East-West Shrine Game over the next two weeks. I have caught up on all of the games I DVR'd on the season with the exception of the North Carolina v Virginia Tech match. I'm hoping to watch that over the next two weeks as well. For now, here's my Mock Draft with limited captions. While it hasn't been announced yet, most project the Packers to receive two 4th round picks as compensation as well as two 7th round picks as compensations. It's also anticipated that the Jets will be sending a 7th round selection in the Caleb Schlauderaff selection from last year.
Round 1: Jerel Worthy, DL, Michigan State. The more I reflect on the 2011 NFL Season, the more I think that OLB is not the biggest weakness, rather it was the play of the DL. Throw in Mike Neal's 4-game suspension and the Packers must draft DL early and often this year. Worthy has tremendous upside. It does concern me that he was on the bench for some big plays vs WI (both times they played) and the same can be said for the Bowl game against Georgia. On big 3rd downs, Worthy was on the bench. Still, Worthy would immediately upgrade the Packers DL play. Others to consider are Peter Konz, C, WI; Vinny Curry, OLB/DE, Marshall; Brandon Thompson, DL, Clemson; Devon Still, DL, Penn State; Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois. I'd expect Still and Mercilus to be off the board prior to the Packers selection, but if either one is around, they'd be excellent choices. If Wells is not replaced via Free Agency, the Packers will pick a Center in the first 3 rounds of the draft and Konz is the best of the bunch. Vinny Curry's game impresses me. I feel he was as dominant as anyone at the Senior Bowl. He was stellar almost every time I watched him at Marshall. He's a pure pass rusher. He's quick off the ball. He has a great motor. Not as fast as you'd ideally like a 3-4 OLB, but he's a football player that finds the QB. While the 1st round might be early for him, it's doubtful he's there when the Packers pick in the 2nd round.
Round 2: Cam Johnson, OLB, Virginia. In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Packers drafted heavily on the offensive side of the ball. In the 2012 NFL Draft, look for the Packers to do the same on the defensive side of the ball. Johnson started off in a 3-4 at Virginia, but they transitioned to a 4-3 early in his career. He puts his hand in the dirt. Gets after the QB. He was great as a closure against the _. He'll get after you. I was disappointed in his Bowl game as I thought he winded early and had a limited motor. Others to consider: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State; Lamar Miller, RB, _; Doug Martin, RB, Boise State; Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska; Josh Chapman, DL, Alabama; Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Bruce Irvin, OLB, WVU. McClellin has all of the tools that are required of an OLB at the pro level. He can get to the QB. He has an endless motor. He can drop and cover. He spent time at ILB in college. Played some ILB at the Senior Bowl as well. The crop at RB is strong in the 2nd & 3rd rounds. Not that RB is a necessity, but if Thompson is sticking to the best player available, if Martin or Miller fall this far, they'd likely be the "best player" on the board. If drafting for need, Chapman is a talented run stuffer. He'd play a solid rotational role and fill the spot that was vacated by the essentially absent Howard Green played in 2010. As I mentioned earlier, Ben Jones will make a solid starting Center for someone this year. Bruce Irvin is a talented pass rusher. He is not gifted as a run stopper, but he's a speed rusher who consistently displayed pressure over the past two years for WVU. Jared Crick is a classic Ted Thompson "football player." Crick is coming off a season ending torn pectoral muscle injury. Still, Crick is a player who gives it his all and fights on every play. He'd immediately upgrade the Packers DL and play in the rotational.
Round 3: Antonio Allen, S, South Carolina. If you've followed the blog long enough, you know that I've wanted him since before the season started. He can play in the box. He has the capacity to cover out of the slot. He attacks the QB on the blitz. He doesn't play the ball like Sir Charles, but he'd certainly get after the QB like Woodson does. Others: Nigel Bradham, ILB, FSU; Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincy; Chris Polk, RB, Washington; Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State; Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State; Alameda Ta'amu, DL, Washington; Nick Toon, WR, WI. Again, RB's can be found in the 2nd & 3rd Rounds. Pead and Polk are both legitimate NFL backs who made people miss in the open field. Polk will punish you. He'll also run away from you. Wouldn't surprise me if he lands in Round 2, but some have him as a 3rd Round pick. Pead is a gifted runner who would fit well in a one-cut system. McCarthy will be looking for a new toy at QB. Cousins could be that guy. Crawford is another guy who always caught my eye. I would turn on Boise to watch Billy Winn or McClellin, but Crawford would always jump out. Ta'amu disappointed against Baylor as the speed was too much for him, but he responded with a strong Senior Bowl. Toon - who was seemingly a lock for the 1st round - has dropped to a projected 3rd round selection due to concerns about a foot injury. If he's healthy, he's a steal at this point. Nigel Bradham would immediately make an impact for the Packers. He's projected as a 3rd-4th round selection. Every time I watch him, he's making plays. He covers better than Hawk. He'd be a great compliment to Desmond Bishop's game.
Round 4 (3 selections): Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M; Derek Wolfe, DL, Cincy; Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt. Mike Sherman compared Gray to Ahman Green. While Sherman wasn't the greatest scout of talent for the Packers, he did have an eye for RB's. He positioned RB's for success. Gray has great hands. He picks up the blitz. He was with purpose. He fits. As for Hayward, simply stated, I haven't seen anyone play the ball in the air better than Hayward. Grab him! Derek Wolfe is one of the most underrated prospects in this draft. Great effort on almost every down. From what I saw, he was probably the best DL in the Big East this year.
Round 5: Jacquies Smith, OLB, Missouri. No, he's not the next Aldon Smith, but Jacquies does have the size and agility to be a difference maker at the next level. He's a solid value pick in the mid-to-late rounds. When Smith hits you, he's looking to force the turnover as well. He's slapping wrists and grabbing at the ball.
Round 6: Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado. I went to two games that the Buffaloes played this year. The only guy that even remotely caught my eye on the Colorado squad is Miller. He's massive at 6-7. And he moves decent for his size as well.
Round 7 (4 selections): Adrian Hamilton, OLB, Prarie View A&M; Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State; Case Keenum, QB, Houston; Marcus Zusevics, OT, Iowa. Hamilton would be a Ted Thompson special. Possible small school gem. Hamilton flat out got to the QB. He got to the QB in the Casino Del Sol bowl game. Worth a late round selection. I was disappointed when Brandon Hardin suffered his shoulder injury this year. I went to the Wisconsin v Oregon State game and he was someone I was hoping to see. Instead, I was forced to watch both Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins. Neither was overly impressive, but both Mitchell and Collins have the physique to play at the next level and are late round options for the Packers. At some point, the Packers will draft a QB and Keenum is a solid 7th round option. He was overly productive in a spread offense and is similar to Graham Harrell, who the Packers appear to have high hopes for. When watching Iowa, Zusevics - obviously - was always overshadowed by Riley Reiff, but I like Zusevics athleticism and he moves his feet well. He'd provide depth at Tackle for the Packers as a developmental prospect.
Hope everyone had a Happy & Safe St. Patrick's Day.
Go Pack Go.