Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Take -> Draft Review

Greetings, G-Force.

I relax. I casually sip a 3 Floyd's Dreadnaught, a purposeful beer selection as I reflect on the Packers 2014 NFL Draft. Fittingly, as I excitingly ponder on my writing approach, my headphones echo with Bunny Wailer's "Retrospective" album. Got Roots? Got Radics? If so, find the ROCKER in you. I'm about to Rebel Rock my way thru my NFL Draft thoughts. Vibe On, Packers fans! Also, give the Tribal Seeds "The Harvest" album a listen. I promise you'll enjoy, especially the introduction to the song "Away", which I promise will get you bouncing.

Over the last couple of years, much has been made about issues surrounding the Packers team speed. In the 2014 NFL Draft, Ted Thompson didn't draft mudders from the Midwest who are accustomed to plowing thru the November-January. Largely, he selected players who have rarely, if ever, seen slow snow ridden turf. He targeted players who have played in warm climates. While his draft picks didn't run in cheetah like fashion when they were timed in the 40, Thompson's draft choices excelled in football competition on a fast track. Additionally, in UDFA, he grabbed a number of warm weather prospects. Further, they brought a fun swag to the field. A genuine confidence that should freshly penetrate the Packers locker room.

It was clear that Ted Thompson targeted team needs over the Best Player Available. He had to fill holes on the roster. He also loaded the WR position as leverage in the upcoming contract negotiations with Nelson, Cobb & Boykin. Thompson protected himself at the position.

From top-to-bottom, this feels like a 90-man roster that is going to breed intense competition from Day 1 in Training Camp. On paper, from top-to-bottom, this roster is loaded. I can't find 25 players on the roster that I think are an absolute long shot to make the roster. Last year, I said early on that the Packers would finish 9-7, 10-6 at best. They didn't have depth. This year - the roster looks to have talent all across the board.

The Packers and the Alabama Crimson Tide have a long history together. Don Hutson & Bart Starr are legends. Eddie Lacy is the reigning Rookie of the Year. With HaHa Clinton-Dix & Adrian Hubbard the Packers have added two more Alabama ballers.

Here's a quick outlook on each draft choice:

Round 1: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. If you have followed along, you know that I wanted Deone Bucannon with this pick. I embrace HaHa. I'll also forever compare Bucannon & Clinton-Dix. I was really hoping HaHa would be given #36. #36 was becoming an honor to wear for a Safety in GB. With HaHa wearing #6 in college, I thought it was a natural transition.

HaHa didn't fly at the Combine. But, put on the film. The dude can move. He has football speed. He can get sideline-to-sideline. He roams. While he isn't always successful, he's a willing tackler. He'll be an enormous upgrade over the Safety play that we saw in Titletown, U.S.A. last year. He brings swag. He brings flavor. He brings confidence. He brings attitude. For the record, when the Packers were on the clock I ranked my top 3 as Deone Bucannon, Darqueze Dennard, HaHa Clinton-Dix.

Round 2: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State. Comes across as a blend of James Jones & Greg Jennings. He speaks with confidence. Adams catches the ball at the high point similar to the way Jones did. He has wiggle like Jennings did in the open field. He doesn't run away from you, but he plays at a speed similar to Jones. He's smart. He's elusive. He's well spoken. Oh, and he wore #15 in college like Jennings. It's exciting to have him as a target for Rodgers!

Round 3: Khyri Thornton, DL, Southern Miss Explosive. Solid speed/power combo who excels with a tug & pull move on the interior. Shifts well to his right off the snap. Intriguing 1st step. He does lose the leverage battle - on occasion - as he finds himself playing too tall. With that said, he looks like a natural getting his paws in the air in an attempt to swat passes. Thornton was undoubtedly the best player at the NFLPA Bowl. He showed off a variety of moves. He was quick off the ball. He had a high motor. He extended his arms and used his hands well. He consistently finished plays. He fought thru double teams with aggressive pursuit and showed excellent hustle. He got solid penetration with a quick burst off the ball. When he was stood up at the line, he chased after ball carriers and played until the whistle. If he learns from Mike Daniels and masters the leverage piece, look out!

Round 3: Richard Rodgers, TE, CAL. Playfully, I say this: The last time the Packers drafted a #11 from CAL with the name Rodgers, it worked out in MVP form. The Rodgers pick surprised me. I don't know a ton about him, but from what I've seen, he hasn't been an overpowering blocker nor elite after the catch. But, the situation he was put in throughout his college career was less than ideal. He was asked to drastically fluctuate in weight and to change positions. He's been around the game. He knows the game. He's well spoken and he's loaded with upside. Since he will be exclusively playing TE in GB, I'm excited to see how he grows in the role.

Round 4: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State. In March, I wrote this: "Prior to the Peppers signing, my pick was Carl Bradford, OLB, ASU. Shows up down the stretch. Good hustle. Sometimes inconsistent, but his good buzz is awfully positive. Can stand up or plant his hand in the dirt. Have not seen him drop into coverage much." Bradford may have small hands. He may have short arms. But, Bradford has heart. He has fight. He has tools that cannot be coached. He can beat you on a spin to the inside, with speed to the outside or on a stunt. On 3rd downs in college, he was occasionally used as an ILB in which he'd come on blitzes up the gut. He shows good recognition and a never say die attitude. He'll chase down plays. And when he hits you, he's looking to make a play. Also, late in games, Bradford makes plays. He'll make an impact this year. I'm certain of it.

Round 5: Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State. Kudos to Ted Thompson. With the addition of Linsley, the Packers OL is littered with competition and depth at each position. Linsley is pro ready. A stout bull that is a willing distributor of punishment. He's a mudder. Full of guts. And, a lifelong Packer fan.

Round 5: Jared Abbrederis, WR, WI. Have to be excited about this one. He's a WI boy. Staying home. Late in the 5th, he's great value. He's a student of the game. With the game on the line, he's a gamer. He'll fearlessly go up and get it. I do have concerns about his concussion history, but he was too good to pass up this late in the Draft.

Round 6: Demetrius Goodson, CB, Baylor. He's an athlete. Booming with confidence. He possesses the mindset required to succeed in Dom Capers island style defense. He's not afraid to take chances. He can turn and run. But, he's also mistake prone. He's not overly physical. But, he's still evolving as a football player. He's unprocessed. If he ripens in the proper light, Goodson could bloom into a solid NFL player.

Round 7: Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley. My only exposure of Janis came at the Senior Bowl. Admittedly, I've yet to review his film from his practices. I plan on doing that next week. During the game, he was slow off the snap. Often, he was the last of the 22 players to move post snap. But, when he released, he can fly. He looks the part in his uniform. He's a big target who can move. He dropped a pass in the game on a short route. Looked like he might have been afraid of contact on the play. He's a raw, developmental prospect. A good project.

Ted Thompson luxuriates in the oxygen offered by undrafted Free Agency. When he walked into the undrafted free agency light, his eyes were opened widely. Basking in this limelight, once again, it appears he was stepping with grace and ready to attack. He added a dozen rookie free agents. I have a take on a few of them. Here goes:

With Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama, I fancy that he nabbed a motivated Defensive Predator who is destined to be Thompson's next elite UDFA catch. With the ball as his prey, at times, Hubbard flashed 2nd round potential. He's massive. He moves well. He's comfortable as a 3-4 OLB. He's successfully dropped in coverage. He's played the run. He's pursued QB's. He has phenomenal length. Frankly, I had assumed he was drafted. I was stoked he ended up in Green Bay. It sounds like an irregular heart size hurt his draft stock. His Senior Bowl performance didn't help either.

It's noteworthy that the last time the Packers added a #42 from Alabama, he won the Rookie of the Year. Eddie Lacy made an enormous impact in his Rookie Year. It's heavy to expect Hubbard to make a similar impact, but I feel confident in saying that I believe Hubbard will be on the 2014 roster. I struck out - in Rob Deer fashion - on my Chase Thomas prediction. The same won't be true with Hubbard. He has too much upside. And while Hubbard isn't littered with elite pass rushing skills and he's been somewhat inconsistent, I will be surprised if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.

Colt Lyerla! Be excited! Yes, he has a questionable past. But, if the Lambeau Faithful embraces him in the fashion that they should, Lyerla might be doing Lambeau Leaps for the next decade. He has the potential to evolve into a premier Red Zone target. He's tough to bring down. He understands the game. He's a solid route runner. He's leaping ability is second-to-none at the TE position. He'll be a legitimate threat down the seam. Think about this: he's 6-4 with a 39 inch vertical. The 2nd best vertical at the combine was 35 inches. In essence, consider him a 6-8 TE with a 35 inch vertical. Unbelievable. Deep down - Rodgers is salivating at the thought of the Packers going 5-wide. Boykin, Adams, Nelson and Cobb as the WR's with Lyerla at TE. Rodgers out of shotgun. Lyerla comes in motion. He lines up next to Rodgers. A previously viewed passing formation is now potentially a run formation. Lyerla offers that versatility.

Yes, I realize that it's still a long shot for Lyerla to make the roster. But, he couldn't have landed in a better spot. The locker room will embrace him. Plus, it's tough to get in trouble in Green Bay. You have to work at it. I fully anticipate Lyerla to make an impact this year. Be excited, Packers fans!

Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee. The only time I watched him play, I was sitting with my brother sipping on some of the best hops in America. At the La Cumbre Brewery. Tennessee was hosting Georgia. Neal was an absolute beast. A one-cut runner who excelled when the defense was spread out. He hit the hole. Neal has good hands and is a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. If what I saw on that day is the real Neal, he's going to make it tough for Franklin, Starks and Harris in the competition for the rotational role behind the Green & Yellow Bumblebee.

LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State. He's an undersized back who had a great Junior year. He was less productive in his Senior year. He's a solid kickoff returner as well. He'll bring a new dimension to the crop of backs. Against LSU, Perkins was able to get loose to the tone of 8.1 yards per carry. He has big play potential. It'll be interesting to see how McCarthy uses him in the preseason.

Jayrone Elliot, OLB, Toledo. Elliot is a prime example of why I believe the Packers 90-man roster is way better than it was in previous years. He's a natural 3-4 OLB. He fits. He's active. As a tackler, he'll often come with short arms. Regardless, he attacks the football. He's around the football and has ideal length to play in a Dom Capers system. He was dominant in the MAC. Against Northern Illinois, he was a difference maker. I don't see him on the 53-man roster, but he should compete for a Practice Squad role.

Joe Thomas, ILB, South Carolina State. I've never seen him play an entire game. I have watched his highlights. He dominated FBS football. Without a doubt, he intrigues. Looks a little like DJ Smith coming out of college. I'm interested to learn more about him early in camp.

Jake Doughty, ILB, Utah State. I DVR'd the Northern Illinois v Utah State Bowl game. I watched it to see how I viewed Jimmie Ward. I had mild interest in Utah State CB, Nevin Lawson. I watched 2 drives when Utah State was on defense. I deemed Lawson was too small. Early in the game, Doughty was aggressively pursuing ball carriers. For whatever reason, I stopped watching Utah State play defense and then deleted the game. Afterwards, I find out that Doughty dominated and was named the Defensive MVP of the game. I'm bummed I don't have the game on my DVR any more. Doughty puts his helmet into your chest when he's making a tackle. He's coming after you with intent.

The preseason games should provide high intrigue this year. For 4 Quarters. With Flynn & Tolzien leading the way in a big battle for the back-up QB role. With the Packers having strong depth on the OL, Flynn & Tolzien should get protection. At RB & WR, the Packers have more depth than I can ever recall. The Packers have 7 TE's on the roster. Defensively, we'll likely be watching players like Jerel Worthy battling in the 4th Quarter. Playing for a roster spot.

Summer is here. Training camp is around the corner. Until then, be blessed.

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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