Probably the most overlooked part of the “Draft and Develop” philosophy – overlooked because it’s the hardest to quantify- is the latter part. The Football for Dummies way of looking at it is that Ted Thompson drafts guys, and they either turn out to be players or they don’t, as if that is preordained on Draft Day and it’s a matter of properly reading the tea leaves.
That completely ignores the Develop part of the formula. The fact of the matter is that some guys develop and some do not. Maybe the great GMs are great because they’ve hired the staff capable of developing guys into great players, and NOT because they necessarily draft the best guys in the first place.
Now, I am not suggesting that natural talent, college production and the analytics measured before Draft Day mean nothing. Brian Brohm and Aaron Rodgers had the same coaches attempting to develop them out of college, and Brian Brohm would never be Aaron Rodgers, regardless of development. So, of course, it is an equal balance. The scouting department has to find guys with the talent, work ethic and aptitude for learning and the coaching staff has to develop, push and motivate these guys to get the absolute most out of the talent they have.
In order for this whole philosophy to work, guys need to “make the leap” from learning the game to excelling at it. This “leap” is often said to usually occur between years 1 and 2. The Packers have a shortlist of players that they are expecting to make the leap this coming season. In fact, if the Packers are to take the next step, one could say that these guys will HAVE to make the leap for that to happen.
These are the guys from which the most is expected.
Clinton-Dix is the guy from which the most is expected, and needed, because he is an every down player on defense. He is arguably the only physical player in the secondary, especially when Micah Hyde isn’t on the field, which makes him a tone setter for the defense. Even though he was always physical, Clinton-Dix got off to a slow start tackling-wise and was at times, overly conservative as a centerfielder. However, his best game came in the final game of the season, when he recorded two picks against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
If Clinton-Dix can continue where he left off, the sky is the limit for this guy, and a position that was a blackhole just two years ago could be one of the strongest on the team and even in the league.
2. Davante Adams
Much is expected and anticipated for Adams this season. Adams had an inconsistent rookie season, mostly thanks to not always being on the same page as his quarterback. However, Adams played big when the Packers needed him most, including a huge game in the playoffs against Dallas.
Adams is a slightly taller and more explosive version of James Jones. He flashed some run-after-the-catch last season that has been the hallmark of Packer receivers since Donald Driver rolled into town.
Aaron Rodgers has raved about Adams this offseason, and if those two can build anything like the chemistry Rodgers has with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, then defenses will have a three-headed conundrum on their hands.
3. Richard Rodgers
The fact that the Packers waited until their final pick in the draft to take a tight end was a huge vote of confidence in Dick Rodgers. Like both the players above him on this list, Rodgers started slow, slower than the other two, and came on stronger as the season progressed. He had become an integral part of the offense by the playoffs and played important roles in both games.
Not the explosive type, Rodgers will always be a two-way tight end in the mold of a Jason Witten. That means he needs to improve as both a blocker and a pass catcher. Really, if Rodgers could just become a threat in short yardage and the redzone, then the Packer offense would be much improved. With the playmakers the Packers have in their receiver core, they don’t necessarily need big plays from the tight end position. A guy who can convert 3rd and 3 is what they need.
Some other guys not in their second year who are expected to raise their game… Step your game up!
By now, I am pretty sure we know who Drew Quarless is. He’s a lunch-bucket player. He is not a star and will never be. That’s okay. You need lunch-bucket players to win championships. In fact, the stars get too much of the credit, and money. In the biggest games, stars have a habit of canceling each other out, and it’s often the lunch-bucket players that make the difference. Drew has already helped the Packers win one. Because of that, I will always be a Drew fan.
However, Drew has also earned raves from Aaron Rodgers this offseason, including his new gloss. Apparently, Rodgers believes there is another level Drew can take his game to. I am skeptical, but if Rodgers believes it, that is saying something. I would love to see it.
Yeah, yeah, Easy is already a Pro Bowl player and doesn’t need to make a leap. However, I honestly believe there is another gear to this guy’s game. I loved his comments this offseason about taking the stop-step out of his game. I have ranted about it for two years when reviewing the tape.
Marshall Faulk might have had the greatest stop-step in NFL history with apologies to Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers. The stop-step is what I call the move where a running back throws on the brakes to let a defender run by, or lose his balance or grip. For a big man, Easy is pretty good at it and used it to great effect in college. However, all three of the HOFs I mentioned were a lot better at accelerating out of the stop. When Easy does it in the pros, he may break the tackle of the first guy, but the speed of the defense typically causes two or three more defenders to get on him by time he restarts. Since his momentum is already stopped, it is easier for them to push Easy back and get him to the ground.
Lacy looked at the tape this offseason and said enough of that. He is going to put his foot down instead and use what God and the dinner table gave him. This should help Lacy turn 2 yard runs into 4 yard runs while continuing to wear down the defense. Not that I would mind still seeing a stop-step or a 0 button once in a while, especially in the open field.
The Packers are hoping for another 1100 yard season from Lacy. How about 1400? I think it will be important to rest Easy whenever possible, but I still think 1400 is completely possible.
When Dom Capers finally did the right thing and got Sam Barrington into the lineup last season, the Packers’ defense got instant rewards. Barrington is a physical player who delivers punishment instead of absorbing it. When Clay Matthews was given the position next to him, the Packers’ run defense became a totally different unit.
On top of his physicality, Barrington improved in pass coverage as the season went on, something the Packers have sorely missed from the linebacker corps. Barrington played well enough to become the dime linebacker, which allowed Clay Matthews to line up at the line of scrimmage.
We will see what Barrington can do with a full season. Almost everything Barrington needs to improve is simply mental.