Packers’ Draft Class Grades Are On the Rise
2015 Draft Class
The big two were, of course, cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Rollins looked to be a bust by his second year and nothing in 2017 changes that outlook. I do believe that Randall, however, is going to be a starting cornerback going forward. At this point I’m more concerned about his durability than his ability.
Round-three pick, running back Ty Montgomery’s career, after such a promising start, has been waylaid by injuries. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to receiver, as the team appears to need more help there than at running back.
Jake Ryan, a fourth-round pick, has steadily improved. Though not flashy, he’s solid, especially in the run game and he’s managed to stay relatively healthy. This is what you want out of a mid-round draft pick.
It’s time Aaron Ripkowski, chosen in the sixth-round, is allowed to be more than just a blocking back. I guess it won’t happen as long as Big Mike is running the show, but a solid choice nonetheless.
Four contributors, no stars: C+
2016 Draft Class
Though Green Bay only had seven picks, two stars emerged this past year: first-round choice Kenny Clark and fourth-rounder Blake Martinez. I had to go back to 1992 to find a fourth-rounder who turned out as good as Martinez is looking: Edgar Bennett. The only others in the conversation since then are Josh Sitton (2008), T.J. Lang (2009), and Mike Daniels (2012).
All seven 2016 draftees remain on the team. Jason Spriggs (2nd) showed some progress this year, but his pass blocking puts the quarterback at constant risk.
Kyler Fackrell, chosen pretty high in the third-round, doesn’t impress physically, but he has a knack for making plays. He participated in 42 percent of the defensive snaps and almost all of the special teams snaps in 2017 – that’s a considerable contribution. In two years of backup play, 46 tackles, five sacks, a fumble caused and a fumble recovered is pretty commendable. Best of all, he stays healthy. Whether or not he ever becomes a starter, I think this guy is fulfilling his backup role pretty well.
This leaves us with Dean Lowry, Trevor Davis, and Kyle Murphy, taken in rounds four through six.
Though Lowry is a down lineman, his stats closely mirror those of Fackrell: 40 tackles, four sacks, and even three passes defended in two years of part-time play. In 2017, Lowry was in on nearly half (47 percent) of the defensive plays, and his tackles zoomed from eight to 30. He’s been a solid and improving contributor – and he too has kept healthy.
Trevor Davis has had his opportunities as receiver, but does not appear to have what it takes. His prospects for staying on the team lie with his return ability, which is considerable, but has been marred by bad decision-making.
A foot injury in September scuttled tackle Kyle Murphy’s second season. Despite that, in the chances he’s had, I’d say he’s outplayed second-rounder Spriggs.
A solid showing overall, and with two guys who are on track to become defensive All-Pros: B+
2017 Draft Class
Like in 2015, the first two draft choices went to the defensive backfield. It’s too early to reach firm conclusions on cornerback Kevin King or safety/linebacker Josh Jones.
Of the two, however, Jones was the more impressive. He’s a sound tackler and covers a lot of ground. If the Packers can get back to using that “Nitro” package, where Jones plays the key hybrid role, his value will skyrocket. His pass coverage has so far simply been too loose. Still, 71 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and five passes defended is a strong start to a career. He’s very athletic, has no glaring weaknesses, and stayed relatively healthy.
Kevin King got in nine games, including five starts, before going on IR with a shoulder injury in December. His stat line of 28 tackles and five passes defended accurately reflects the timid nature of his play. He had few game-changing moments – no interceptions, sacks, or forced fumbles – and his tackling was hit-and-miss. We probably expected too much, too soon, of King and Jones. Both, however, show signs of developing into fine defenders. King, however, needs to bulk up if he’s to withstand the physicality of the NFL.
While all the preseason attention was on the defensive draftees, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, picks in rounds four and five, were putting on quite a show. Between the two, in limited playing time, they had a 1,000-yard rushing season. Williams, Big Mike’s favorite, went for 556 yard in 153 carries, while Jones had 448 in 81 carries. The yards per attempt were greatly in Jones’ favor, 5.5 to 3.6. Jones is clearly a breakaway threat on every play, while Williams is a steady plodder who got almost all his action in the final eight games and in four of them had 20 or more carries. Williams proved to be an adept receiver, averaging over 10 yards per catch on his 25 receptions.
From pinning the running hopes on Ty Montgomery as the season opened, many now feel the Packers are on solid footing with the two rookies going forward – with or without Montgomery. Two pretty fine mid-round picks!
That leaves fourth-round pick Vince Biegel and third-rounder Montravius Adams to talk about.
We only saw Biegel on 121 defensive plays and Adams on 65 – due to foot injuries in each case. Biegel spent much of the year recovering from foot surgery for an injury he had in college. Adams suffered a stress fracture on the second day of training camp, causing him to undergo surgery.
We’ll have to wait until next season on these two, but both had notable college careers.
Despite the average play of the top two picks, the talent of the two running backs boosts this grade: B+.
If Biegel and Adams prove their worth in 2018, this grade is likely to be adjusted upward in the future.
I’m more bullish than most over the past three draft classes, but I’ve seen the Packers increasingly go after better athletes in each of these years. I believe that much of the final decision-making has been taken away from Ted Thompson and become a consensus of the team’s personnel department, with considerable input from Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst (although Alonzo Highsmith’s comments throw that into question). I can’t prove this, but in 2017 in particular, the draft picks are very different types of players than the Packers were accustomed to during Thompson’s heyday.
From 2010 through 2014, when my marks would be mostly D’s, the Packers would be lucky to get two decent players in any year. Things have been changing for the better – and with a new general manager about to be named, I’m hopeful that the large 2018 draft class (11 picks?) will be the best of the last four years.