Final Word On The Packers Draft, For Now
Today is the day that everyone and their mother hand out draft grades. Well, grading a draft class immediately after said draft is bullshit. No one can adequately grade a draft class for at least three years. These players haven’t been on the field yet. They haven’t seen the playbook. They haven’t met their teammates. So, all of you handing out grades today can stuff those grades straight up your ignorant asses.
The only thing that can be said about the draft today is that a team looks better on paper than it did on Friday. And my guess is that there are probably 32 NFL teams patting themselves on the backs today for making their teams better as a result of the 2009 NFL Draft. The Green Bay Packers are certainly one of those teams.
Going into the draft, the Packers had three obvious areas of weakness: the defensive line, outside linebacker and offensive tackle. Over the weekend, Ted Thompson addressed, or somewhat addressed, each of those areas.
As I discussed on Saturday, I wasn’t crazy about the decision to pass over wide receiver Michael Crabtree for nose tackle B.J. Raji. However, the Raji pick addressed the Packers major weakness in 2008 – the run defense – and on paper, makes the Packers look a lot stronger.
ESPN’s NFC North blog called the pick the best move of the first round by an NFC North team:
Need-based fanatics could point out that the Packers already had a starting nose tackle in Ryan Pickett. They could also document greater needs at defensive end, linebacker and offensive tackle.
But you don’t pass over a player of Raji’s caliber because you have Ryan Pickett on your roster. You don’t grab the fourth-best offensive tackle ahead of the top defensive lineman. And you don’t turn greedy with your offense when it was your defense that largely put you in a 6-10 hole last season.
So that brings us to Pickett, who has been a solid performer for the Packers since he was signed as a free agent. Having both Raji and Pickett creates some flexibility for defensive coordinator Dom Capers. It creates the possibility of a rotation at nose tackle, which would conceivably keep both players fresh. It creates the possibility that both players could start – one player at defensive end and one at nose tackle – which means the Packers wouldn’t have to rely on Justin Harrell (thank Christ) to start at defensive end.
“I think Ryan Pickett can plan any one of the three positions [along the defensive line], just like I think Raji can play any one of the three positions. In my mind, nothing makes you better than competition at a position and so I think we created a real competitive situation. I’m excited about having him, and I’m also excited about Ryan Pickett being able to play more than one position,” Dom Capers told the media on Saturday.
Although most of us had looked at the Raji/Pickett combo to be one or the other, or a rotation, Pro Football Weekly’s Dan Arkush also points out that Raji could well end up starting at defensive end, and has the quickness to do so.
With hefty Ryan Pickett already on board in the middle of the defense, Raji might see more action initially at defensive end, a position draft evaluators believe he could more than adequately handle. But with Pickett getting up there in years, Raji should still see considerable action at nose tackle in a relief role.
Finally, unlike me, Ted Thompson apparently has no concerns about Raji’s character or work ethic.
“We do a lot of homework on all the players, certainly the higher profile guys like B.J.,” Thompson said, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
In a stunning, very un-Ted Thompson move, the Packers traded up into the latter portion of the first round to land outside linebacker Clay Matthews from USC, which also filled a glaring hole.
Calling it the most surprising move the first day, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote:
Matthews intrigues the Packers on a number of levels, but let’s be honest: They faced urgency to start addressing the transitional holes revealed by their shift to the 3-4 defense. The team has been vague about who might start at outside linebacker opposite Aaron Kampman, and in retrospect it seems clear Thompson has planned to address the issue during the draft. When you target a position, and especially when you extend it to one particular player, you must be willing to wheel and deal. Surprisingly, Thompson was.
I know we were all rejoicing at the 1st Annual Total Packers Draft Party that the Packers won’t have to rely on the likes of Brady Poppinga, anymore. Matthews is projected as a three-down player and was a prospect that Thompson seemed determined to get one way or another.
“We really wanted to try to get him,” Thompson said, according to ESPN. “We thought about this for the last couple weeks in terms of what strategies we’d use to, maybe, try to get him at some point. People had him going anywhere from [No.] 12 to 30, so we didn’t know where it’d be.”
That one way or another was through a trade with New England, in which Trader Ted gave up the Packers 2nd (41) and two 3rd round (73 and 83) picks for No. 26 overall. The price was high, and Thompson acknowledged that, leaving the Packers with only two picks on day one.
“It wasn’t a great trade,” Thompson said, according to ESPN, “but it wasn’t a horrible trade for us, from a numbers standpoint. Again, it gets to how badly do you want the player.”
As for the pick itself, I have fewer issues with Clay Matthews than I do with B.J. Raji. In addition to being the son of former Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, our Clay Matthews played at a high level on the most dominant defense in the nation last season, at USC.
Further, Matthews was a walk on at USC, who has earned everything he’s gotten, which leaves me with no question about his work ethic, toughness and commitment.
“When I was talking to him, it was clear that he’s a man on a mission,” Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene told the Press Gazette. “Everybody knows his genealogy and his bloodlines, but just listening to him and hearing him talk, he’s a man on a mission that he wants to stand on his own and be considered a great player in his own right.”
Although they play different positions, I think Matthews has the potential to be the playmaker that A.J. Hawk was supposed to be. He certainly has the motivation.
On the second day of the draft, the Packers moved to shore up their offensive line and made one interesting pick in the form of LSU fullback Quinn Johnson.
Johnson was the Packers’ first 5th-round (145) selection. The pick is interesting because the Packers already seemingly have two servicable fullbacks on the roster with Korey Hall and John Kuhn. It’s also interesting because fullback is a low-value position that is of even lower value in the zone blocking scheme employed by the Packers. These guys are typically undrafted free agents, so Thompson must feel that Johnson will not only come in and start, but that he’ll also make a substantial impact (on offense and/or special teams).
“Quinn Johnson was somebody he was very excited about,” McCarthy told the Press Gazette. “He is our type of player. He is a hard-nosed fullback. We think he also has special-teams value and also was able to run the football. We just felt at that particular point in the draft we couldn’t pass him up.”
With their first pick on the second day, the Packers grabbed T.J. Lang, a tackle from Eastern Michigan. Lang played tackle in college, but is projected by most as a guard in the NFL. While the Packers may take a look at Lang as a tackle, the pick doesn’t exactly size up as Mark Tauscher’s replacement.
The Packers did nab another tackle in the fifth round, tabbing South Carolina’s Jamon Meredith. If nothing else, there will be plenty of competition along the offensive line during training camp. Hopefully the cream rises to the top early and this competition will yield a strong unit, rather than the incohesive one the Packers began last season with.
The Packers finished out Sunday by choosing Georgia defensive end Jarius Wynn (6th round, 182), Cincinnati CB/S Brandon Underwood (6th, 187) and Colorado linebacker Brad Jones (7th, 218).
I don’t expect we’ll be talking about much about these last three, but they could provide additional depth to a defense that could certainly use some.
In the end, the Packers certainly look stronger today than they did going into the weekend. The defense, and the shift to the 3-4, is less of a concern, and there should be some interesting battles during training camp, for a change. But we won’t really know anything until the pads go on.
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Monty McMahon is one of the founders of Total Packers. He is probably the most famous graduate of UW-Oshkosh next to Jim Gantner.
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