Saturday, December 5, 2015

(I Wish) I Went There - Rodgers-to-Rodgers

I know it is cliche to write about how much technology has changed how we consume sports but it bears at least a mention following the Thursday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in Detroit.  The game ended on arguably the most improbable regular season throw-and-catch in franchise history when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers found tight end Richard Rodgers for a 61-yard touchdown for the Packers to take the lead for the first time in the game with no time left on the clock.  For the next 24 hours, I clicked through my Twitter feed and ran countless Google searches to relive one of the most exciting moments in Packers' franchise history.  Here are my five favorite screenshots/tweets/videos of Rodger-to-Rodgers:

#5) Dean Blandino: Some say that the Packers should not have even had the chance to run that play because the referees should not have assessed Lions defensive lineman Devin Taylor with a face-mask penalty on the previous desperation play to give the Packers an un-timed play to end the game but Dean Blandino, the Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, points out in his tweet that it looked like a face-mask in real time.  This seems like the perfect time for me to explain my "Gold Ticket Challenge" idea.  Simply put, every team would have one Golden Ticket Challenge each game that they can use on one play to review any aspect of that play.  In this instance, assuming Lions head coach Jim Caldwell did not already use his Golden Ticket Challenge, he would have challenged whether it was actually a face-mask penalty on Tayor.  Even reviewing the play in slow-motion it looks like the defender grazed Rodgers's face-mask.  After watching the replay at least a dozen time sin slow-motion I can't deny it was probably not a face-mask on Taylor but I totally understand why the ref threw the flag.  Sadly for the Lions and their fans, the NFL still has not implemented my Golden Ticket Challenge rule yet since certain aspects of plays (e.g. pass interference, face-mask, and other judgment calls that potentially have large consequences) are not currently reviewable.

#4) BigCat: Let's not forget that the Lions beat the Packers in Green Bay a couple weeks ago for their first win in the state of Wisconsin since 1991 so this improbable win actually feels like payback despite the fact that the Packers have dominated the Lions for the last couple decades given that the Packers won 26 of the last 33 games between the two teams.

#3) Albert Breer: I appreciate Breer's honesty but it might be a little aggressive for him to call-out the Lions like that given that he is a national reporter for the NFL Network so I presume that Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and possibly the rest of the Lions organization will not be very forthright with Breer going forward.

#2) Deez Nuts: Oh, so sad for Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.

#1) Brandicle: I tried to check whether the person that shot this video secretly works as a videographer for NFL Network but he has a protected Twitter account so let this serve as a thank you Brandon, you shot the best (possibly) amateur video of one of the greatest regular season moments in Packer franchise history.

If the Packers lost to the Lions on Thursday, they risked becoming the 3rd team in NFL history to miss the playoffs after starting the season 6-0.  Thankfully the 2015 Packers will now not join the 2003 Minnesota Vikings and the 2009 Denver Broncos since they beat the Lions in dramatic fashion to improve to 8-4 unless they lose out.  Every Cheesehead sports fan hopes Rodgers-to-Rodgers is the play that rights the ship and gives them a chance to march towards a Super Bowl 50 win.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 Preseason Week 2 - Packers/Steelers Review

The biggest talking point following the Green Bay Packers/Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game will be on the fact that the Packers lost Jordy Nelson for the season to a torn ACL on a non-contact play.  There is no question that the way that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy approach the preseason will be altered based the fact that the Packers lost Nelson for the season in a meaningless game.  Here are a few other thoughts on how the Packers/Steelers preseason game impacted The 53:

Player that hurt his stock most - Tim Masthay: The Packers signed former Alabama punter Cody Mandell in the off-season to give Masthay some competition.  Reports are that Mandell was a pain on and off the field given that he was NOT able to establish a rapport with Crosby as a holder and apparently is quite cocky.  Even though Mandell is no longer with the Packers, Masthay's performance against the Steelers is the personification of how he is still too inconsistent to just give him the starting punter job to open the season.  Masthay averaged 43.3 yards per punt with a long 56 yard punt against the Steelers.  That all sounds good but remember that Masthay had a 29 yard punt too, which is unacceptable in the NFL.  Masthay is veering into A.J. Hawk territory where I honestly wonder if he has incriminating pictures of Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, Thompson, or McCarthy.   Odds are that Masthay will be the punter for the Packers in 2015 because of his familiarity as a holder for Crosby but if Masthay continues to struggle through the rest of the preseason and a quality punter gets cut during final roster cut-downs, I hope Thompson considers adding that punter in place of Masthay.

Player that helped his stock most - Aaron Ripkowski: Given that fullback John Kuhn went to college at Shippensburg University and was on the practice squad for the Steelers to finish the 2005 NFL season, it is only fitting that we discuss the heir apparent to fullback/core special teamer John Kuhn when the Packers are in Pittsburgh.  Ripkowski had two special teams tackles against the Steelers, which will go a long way to convincing Thompson to keep two fullbacks, which seems borderline crazy in 2015.  Sure the fullback position seems to be going the way of the dodo but let's not forget that the Packers actually had three fullbacks on The 53 when they won Super Bowl XLV (Korey Hall, Kuhn, and Quinn Johnson).  Given that Kuhn is 33 years old while Ripkowski is just 22 years old and signed to a cap-friendly rookie contract, I actually think Ripkowski is more of a lock for The 53 than Kuhn to open the 2015 NFL season.

Position to watch - Wide Receiver: There is no question that Nelson has been highly productive the last two seasons so his presence will be sorely missed in 2015.  For those that don't remember the exact numbers, Nelson caught 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.  Somehow Nelson bested those marks across the board in 2014 with 98 catches, 1,519 yards, and 13 touchdowns.  That is a ton of production to replace but the Packers look stacked with young potential at wide receiver given that if everyone is healthy the Packers have six legitimate candidates for five or six spots on The 53: Randall Cobb (25 years old, 5'10", 192 lbs), Davante Adams (22 years old, 6'1", 215 lbs), Ty Montgomery (22 years old, 6'0", 216 lbs), Jeff Janis (24 years old, 6'3", 219 lbs), Myles White (25 years old, 6'0", 190 lbs), and Jared Abbrederis (24 years old, 6'1" and 195 lbs).  I get it that Nelson is the bell-cow of the wide receiver group but if Janis can fulfill all the promise that the Packers saw in him before the 2014 NFL Draft, I see him as a poor man's Nelson for 2015 and Janis is 4th on the depth chart.  There is talk that former Packer wide receivers James Jones (New York Giants) and Jarrett Boykin (Carolina Panthers) will NOT make The 53 for their respective teams so the Packers also have the option to bring back one of those guys too if they are NOT confident enough in the six-pack of Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Janis, White, and Abbrederis.

Final Note: The Nelson injury might be the tipping point for the Packers.  Usually the 3rd NFL preseason game is when the starters play the most but I would be shocked to see quarterback Aaron Rodgers take even one snap in that game.  Nelson was NOT the only injury of note from the game, unfortunately the Packers suffered a number of other injuries to players that will be on The 53 in 2015.  Rodgers looked to have tweaked his wrist, rookie cornerback Damarious Randall battled dehydration, and both right guard T.J. Lang and quarterback Scott Tolzien suffered concussions.  The Steelers looked to have lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey for an extended period of time too with an ankle injury.  Injuries are a part of the game but everyone hates to see that happen in preseason games.  I am NOT sure the answer is to sit all the starters for the next two games though because I fear that would mean the starters would go into the regular season opener on the road against the Chicago Bears too rusty.  I am fine with sitting guys like Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy but given all the question marks on defense, I hope the Packers give their starters on defense at least some reps in the next two games.

Unless the Packers make any significant roster moves before their next preseason game at home next Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, check back next Sunday for my review of how the Packers/Eagles preseason game impacts Building The 53.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 Preseason Week 1 - Packers/Patriots Review

Going into the 2015 NFL preseason almost everything on offense is settled given that the Packers project to return every starter while almost everything on defense is equally unsettled given that the Packers need to replace at least one starter at both linebacker and cornerback.  Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will keep a close eye on everything throughout training camp but I am sure there will be an extra focus on the defensive side of the ball given all the personnel changes.  With that in mind, here are a few of my thoughts on how the Packers/Patriots preseason game impacted The 53:

Player that hurt his stock most - Don Barclay: Going into the training camp, I thought Barclay was a borderline lock to make The 53 so I made him one of the nine Most Likelies*.  Barclay is still rehabbing a knee injury that cost him the entire 2014 NFL season and he looked rusty in his first preseason action.  Assuming that all the offensive lineman are healthy, the starters left to right project as follows: David Bakhtiari (LT), Josh Sitton (LG), Corey Linsley (C), T.J. Lang (RG), and Bryan Bulaga (RT).  For the first time in a long time, the Packers actually have some quality depth along the offensive line in Matt Rotheram (G), JC Tretter (C/G), Lane Taylor (G), Jeremy Vujnovich (T), and Josh Walker (G).  It seems crazy to say this but assuming that every offensive lineman is healthy and Thompson keeps eight offensive lineman on The 53 to open the season, Barclay's spot on The 53 could be in jeopardy given the emergence of all the other young pups.

Player that helped his stock most - LaDarius Gunter:  There is no doubt that Gunter turned some heads in practice given the he is the only defensive back with multiple interceptions of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in training camp and he continued his impressive play in his first preseason game action when he picked off backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the 3rd quarter. Despite the fact that Thompson used his first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft on defensive backs when he drafted Damarious Randall (Arizona State) and Quinten Rollins (Miami University), it still looks like Gunter is going to make The 53 as an undrafted free agent.  Randall sat out against the Patriots with a groin injury but assuming all cornerbacks are healthy and the Packers leave Micah Hyde at safety, here is how the cornerback depth chart currently looks: Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Rollins, Randall, Gunter, and Demetri Goodson.

Position to watch - Defensive Line: Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels, two of the three presumptive starters along the defensive line sat out the Patriots game due to injury.  That gave a number of backups the chance to show they belong.  Here is a breakdown of the snap counts for each of the defensive lineman against the Patriots: Datone Jones (30), Mike Pennel (30), Bruce Gaston (26), Khyri Thornton (20), Josh Boyd (12), B.J. Raji (11), Christian Ringo (10), and Lavon Hooks (6).  The fact that Pennel and Gaston got more snaps than Thornton is NOT a good sign for Thornton given that this training camp seems to be make-or-break for the former 3rd round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft after he spent the entire 2014 NFL season on injured reserve since there was little chance he would have made The 53 to open the 2014 NFL season.  Given that Jones (suspended for Week 1) and Guion (suspended through Week 3 pending his appeal) will (most likely) be suspended to start the 2015 NFL season, there look to be five spots available along the defensive line for other guys.  If I had to handicap the guys for those five spots, here is how I would hand them out as of today: Daniels, Boyd, Raji, Pennel, and Gaston.  That leaves Thornton and Ringo on the outside looking in at this point but thankfully they have the rest of training camp and three more preseason games to change Thompson's mind.

Final Note: I can't tell you how sick I am of hearing about Deflategate.  If Tom Brady was more forthright, the NFL would have turned the page.  Since that didn't happened, we've been forced to endure one of the most mind-numbing NFL stories in a long time.  If you are a Patriots fan then you think the NFL is out to get you and that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is out to retroactively re-punish the Patriots more for Spygate since many think Goodell let the Patriots off easy given how close he is with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.  If you are a fan of the other 31 NFL teams, you see a dysfunctional commissioner in Goodell that somehow botched what seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.  Ultimately I assume that Brady will NOT miss any games but the fact is that no one wins given how horribly this process has been handled by everyone.

Unless the Packers make any significant roster moves before their next preseason game on the road next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, check back next Monday for my review of how the Packers/Steelers preseason game impacts Building The 53.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Building The 53 - The Most Likelies*

Yesterday I gave you my 35 locks* to make The 53, here are the 9 guys that I think will most likely* make The 53:
Quarterback: Brett Hundley

Running BackNone
Fullback: John Kuhn and Aaron Ripkowski 
Wide Receiver: Jeff Janis
Tight End
Offensive Tackle: Don Barclay
Offensive Guard: None

Center: None
Defensive End: None
Defensive Tackle: None
Middle Linebacker: Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan

Outside Linebacker: None
Cornerback: None

Safety: Sean Richardson
Specialist: Tim Masthay

That means absent injury, there are really only 9 roster spots on The 53 up for grabs going into training camp.  Check back tomorrow for my initial thoughts on how those final 9 roster spots will shake out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Building The 53 - The Locks*

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson already made some hard decisions when he moved on from 13 guys that were either on The 53 or injured reserve at the end of last season.  As training camp opens for the 2015 Green Bay Packers, Thompson still has to make a number of tough decisions to finalize The 53.  The easy decisions to make are the locks* currently on the roster.

The reason all of the guys I am about to list are are locks* stems from one of three reasons.  One, they recently signed a huge contract extension (i.e. Randall Cobb).  Two, they were recently drafted in an early round of the NFL Draft (i.e. Damarious Randall).  Three, they are solid starters (i.e. Mike Daniels) at an important position. 

You may have noticed the asterisk following locks* because if any of the following guys suffer a season ending injury during training camp (knocking on wood as I type), the Packers will place them on injured reserve so they would not make The 53 but still would be in the team's long-term plans.  Also at least two players (defensive lineman Letroy Guion and Datone Jones) look like they will at least be suspended for the first game of the season, if NOT longer, but I still think they are both locks to The 53 once they are eligible to play. 

I did this same exercise in 2013 but skipped it last season.  In anticipation of that I gave my 31 "Locks" for The 53 in 2015 almost a month and a half before the 2015 NFL Draft.  Going into the start of training camp, here are the 35 locks* to make The 53:

QB: Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien
RB: Eddie Lacy and James Starks
FB: None
WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Ty Montgomery
TE: Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless
T: Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari
G: Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang
C: Corey Linsley and JC Tretter
DT: Mike Daniels and Josh Boyd
DE: Letroy Guion, B.J. Raji, and Datone Jones
OLB: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry
MLB: Sam Barrington
CB: Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins
S: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Micah Hyde
Specialist: Brett Goode (LS) and Mason Crosby (K) 

Those that read both of my 2015 "Locks" posts closely see that I've added some high 2015 NFL Draft picks (Randall, Rollins, and Montgomery), some veteran defensive lineman (Guion and Raji), and dropped Khyri Thornton from being a lock.  That is a pretty rapid decline for Thornton given that he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft and spent the entire 2014 season on injured reserve.  That leaves 18 roster spots on The 53 up for grabs.  Check back tomorrow for my list of guys "most likely" to make The 53.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Building The 53 - Ranking Former Members of The 53

Before I take my annual look at how I think The 53 should shake out for the Green Bay Packers, the first place to start is to look at the players that are no longer with the team that were on the final 53-man roster or injured reserve when the Packers suffered their heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks in NFC Championship game last season.  While the Packers "lost" 13 guys, you will see that most of the players that have moved on were not top-end guys.  These rankings take into account age, productivity, potential cost, positional strength, and runs in reverse order:

Aaron Adams (T): While the Packers look to have bookend tackles in David Bakhtiari (LT) and Bryan Bulaga (RT), the Packers really have struggled to develop a quality backup tackle for the last few seasons.  Sure, Don Barclay looked like he would fit that void but let's not forget that Barlcay missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL so how well he will perform in 2015 is one of the big questions going into training camp big question.  Adam must be far from game form because the Packers kept him on injured reserve for the entire 2014 season but didn't have a spot on the 90-man off-season roster for him.

Jarrett Bush (CB): Tough off-season for Bush given that he was NOT only arrested for public intoxication but he was also suspended from the NFL for testing positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Bush was always the first one at practice and the last one to leave.  Unfortunately because of the off-season incidents, Bush's reputation will forever be tainted and I would be shocked if another team took a chance on him, which (most likely) brings to a close one of the more interesting careers of a Packer from from the last decade given some of the high's (interception in Super Bowl XLV and consistent special teams player) and low's (inability to regularly play of defense because of his limited skill set, which made him a lightning rod with fans).

Matt Flynn (QB): By all account Flynn is a great locker room guy that parlayed one record-setting NFL start against the Detroit Lions thanks to the fact that the Packers already clinched a playoff birth into almost $20 million in career earnings.  Work ethic seems to be an issue for Flynn though so with three younger and more hungry quarterbacks in the fold in Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley, or Matt Blanchard...Flynn is clearly expendable.  The only caveat to that is Flynn still might give the Packers a better chance to win a game or two this season if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hurt but the Packers need to develop Tolzien, Hundley, or Blanchard into a capable backup.  I would much rather suffer growing pains with one of the three young guys even if it costs the Packers a win or two in 2015 since it will help them much more in 2016 and beyond.

Brad Jones (MLB): There is no doubt that Jones will go down as one of the most disappointing Packers starters of the last decade because there were too many underwhelming plays out of Jones after he signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.  While the Packers do NOT seem to have a ton of ready made candidates to replace Jones, it is almost addition by subtract at middle linebacker.

Jamari Lattimore (MLB): One of the guys that looked like a potential Jones replacement was Lattimore before his ho-hum performance in 2014 that was cut short by a season ending ankle injury.  There is no question that Lattimore showed flashes of being a disruptive force throughout his tenure of Green Bay, the problem was those flashes were few and far between so despite the fact that middle linebacker is a position of need the Packers decided NOT to pay Lattimore what amounts to the veteran minimum next year to see if he can show more flashes of being a violent presence in 2015 and beyond.

Luther Robinson (DT): I must be the last guy on Robinson Island that remembers Robinson's hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on Thursday Night Football that lead to a pick-six for Julius Peppers.  While the Packers look to have a number of more effective options on the roster, I wish the Packers would have kept Robinson around given that they only owed him $510,000 for 2015 so he is a very cost-effective back-up defensive lineman option.

Brandon Bostick (TE): There is no question that Bostick's Bill Buckner-esque gaffe at the end of the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks will be what he is remember for most, which is too bad because Bostick showed flashes of being a poor man's Jermichael Finley throughout his tenure in Green Bay. Sometimes the negative baggage is just too much though so the Packers cut Bostick despite tight end being a position of need.  The Vikings claimed Bostick because they take any chance they can to get their hands on a former Packer, even if he is essentially T.J. Rubley 2.0.

DuJuan Harris (RB): Same goes for Harris given that he is currently a member of the Vikings too.  I know Harris struggled in the return game but he seemed to show enough in 2013 to merit at least a look for the 3rd running back spot behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Kevin Dorsey (WR): Some might be surprised to see Dorsey this high on the list given the depth the Packers have at wide receiver (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and Myles White) but given the fact that Thompson just drafted Dorsey in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and that he has a slightly larger framer than some of the wide receivers just mentioned, I thought Dorsey was at least worth keeping around for training camp.  Clearly Thompson disagrees.

A.J. Hawk (MLB): After Rodgers there is a chance that Hawk is the guy that I've written about most in this space.  Some of that has to do with the amount of time that Hawk and Rodgers have been on The 53 but mostly I've written about Hawk because he never "lived up" to the lofty expectations associated with his draft status.  While the Packers will NOT miss his play on the field, they will definitely miss his locker room presence and how good of a guy he is off the field (check out Hawk's Locks for Kids).  I know those seem like no big deal but Hawk will go down as one of the best human beings to ever play for the Packers so from this point forward I will do my best to stop killing Hawk for his ho-hum performance on the field throughout his tenure in Green Bay.

Jarrett Boykin (WR): Much of what I said about Dorsey applies to Boykin but you can point to actual NFL production in 2013 (49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns) followed by a down season in 2014 (three receptions for 23 yards and no touchdowns) to back up my argument that Boykin merits at least one of the 90 off-season roster spots.

Davon House (CB): We've finally gotten to the show ponies.  House is nowhere close to American Pharoh but he clearly has the most upside of 13 former Packers on this list.  Given that the Jacksonville Jaguars gave House a four-year, $24.5 million contract with $10 million guaranteed they will need him to NOT only stay healthy, which has been a problem during his tenure in Green Bay given that he appeared in 40 of a possible 64 regular season games but will also need House to blossom into a starting cornerback, again something he never really was in Green Bay.  Bottom line, the contract House signed with the Jaguars was way too rich for me.

Tramon Williams (CB): Sad to see Ole' Faithful go.  For how much House was a question mark, Williams was the exact opposite.  Despite suffering what seemed to be a debilitating shoulder injury midway though his eight year tenure in Green Bay, Williams only missed one game.  Sure Williams never had as many highlight plays as his counter-part Charles Woodson, let's not forget that he did intercept 26 passes as a Packer.  While Williams struggled in bump-in-run coverage following his shoulder injury, he adapted his game to still merit a starting spot on defense throughout his entire tenure.  Given that Thompson drafted two of the cornerbacks of the future in Randall and Rollins with his first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams would have been a perfect mentor for 2015 but the Cleveland Browns broke the bank for him when they offered him a three-year, $21 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.  Congrats to Williams and his family on such a lucrative deal, which feels about $6 million too rich.  It was so much of an overpay by the Browns that I would be shocked if Williams played through the 2017 NFL season under that contract for the Browns.

With my "In Memoriam" post in the books, I will turn my attention to the 88 players currently employed by the Packers and vying for one of the coveted 53 roster spots on The 53.  Check back tomorrow when I give my locks* to make The 53.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Building The 15 - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly 1.0 for 2015-16 Off-Season

It has been quite a busy off-season for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond.  Given the young, high-end talent on The 15, I actually thought Hammond would have a ho-hum off-season where he resigned restricted shoot guard/small forward Khris Middleton to a large contract, uses both of his draft picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, and chased big name free agents but only ended up with one or two lesser names.  Boy was I wrong.

All told, Hammond moved out $12.15 million in salaries for next season when he traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9 million) to the Detroit Pistons for the non-guaranteed expiring contracts of small forward Caron Butler ($4.5 million) and small forward/power forward Shawne Williams ($1.3 million) and small forward/power forward Jared Dudley ($4.25 million) to the Washington Wizards for a future second round draft pick.  Unfortunately the Bucks added $6.6 million on the night of the 2015 NBA Draft when Hammond traded his 2015 2nd round pick (46th overall) and the L.A. Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round pick to the Toronto Raptors for point guard Greivis Vasquez.  All of that was done to give the Bucks enough salary cap space to try to chase a big-name free agent but Hammond really only saved $5.55 million in salary for next season given Vasquez's expensive salary.  Honestly, I would have just kept Dudley, Ilyasova, and the draft picks they moved for Vasquez instead of trading for Vasquez. The only draft pick the Bucks had in the 2015 NBA Draft was the 17th pick, which they used to draft freshman shooting guard Rashad Vaughn.

Although the Bucks have too many players on The 15 right now, they have six potential free agents after this season: two restricted in power forward/center John Henson and center Miles Plumlee along with four unrestricted in point guard Jared Bayless, shooting guard O.J. Mayo, center Zaza Pachulia, and point guard Greivis Vasquez.  As a result, the Bucks could really use those draft picks, especially if they used one of them on a Euro-draft-and-stash guy.  It seemed that the salary cap space created was going to be all for not given that the Bucks never lure big-name free agents so Hammond signed shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton to a five-year, $70 million contract, which is the exact same contract that former Buck combo guard Brandon Knight signed with the Phoenix Suns.

If Hammond was being honest with himself he had to try but he always knew that he was never going to be able to lure power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, center Marc Gasol, center DeAndre Jordan, or center Brook Lopez.  With all of that long build-up out of the way, I hope that everyone is sitting down because the Bucks actually lured a big-name free agent when they signed former Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe to a three-year, $50 million contract.

You can checkout my rankings of The 15 in the sidebar below and although I've now essentially covered every transaction that Hammond made so far this off-season, I still think it makes sense to categorize each of those six moves in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  So without further adu, here are my thoughts:

The Good
The Middleton and Monroe contracts mean the Bucks potentially committed ~$21 million a year to those two players (Middleton averages $14 million and Monroe averages $16.67 million) for the next three seasons.  I say potentially as I mentioned above because the third year of Monroe's contract is a player option.  According to a's Will Law's advanced metric named "Free Agent Quotient, Monroe was the 8th most attractive free agent this off-season and projects as a "Bona fide All-Star" while Middleton was the 23rd most attractive free agent and projects to be an "Above -average starter.  While Law's metric is interesting, if that is NOT easy to wrap your mind around then may be's Kevin Pelton's three-year projections will help determine how much value the Bucks Middleton and Monroe: Monroe is "worth" $69 million and Middleton is "worth" $62 million so the Bucks extracted ~$40 million of surplus value out of those deals given they are on the hook for $91 million for both for the next three seasons.

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF/PF)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF)
3. Greg Monroe (PF/C)
4. Khris Middleton (SG/SF)
5. John Henson (PF/C)
6. Michael Carter-Williams (PG)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG)
8. Rashad Vaughn (SG)
9. Greivis Vasquez (PG)
10. Damien Inglis (SF)
11. Tyler Ennis (PG)
12. Zaza Pachulia (C)
13. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF)
15. Miles Plumlee (C)
16. Jorge Gutierrez (PG)
17. Shawne Williams (SF/PF)
18. Caron Butler (SF)
If Monroe struggles, I am sure that he will opt-in to the third year of his contract to get paid much like fellow former Georgetown Hoya center Roy Hibbert did this off-season.  If Monroe thrives, I could see him opting out to sign a mega-extension with the Bucks or another NBA team given that he will only be 27 years old and the salary cap is projected to be skyrocket over the next two seasons since it is projected to be $67 million this season, $90 million in 2016-17, and $108 million in 2017-18.  As crazy as it sounds, Monroe could potentially double his salary on his next contract extension.  Either way, the Bucks were deemed a more attractive option by Monroe than the L.A. Lakers and New York Knicks, which makes complete on-the-court sense.  Even more interesting than "outbidding" the Lakers and Knicks is what a perfect fit Monroe seems to be for the Bucks given his ability to score down low and grab rebounds, which are two things the Bucks desperately needed last season.  Sure Monroe is NOT a great defender but he is a long, willing defender.  With Monroe in the fold the Bucks project to have an impressive starting five of MCW at point guard, Middleton at shooting guard, The Greek Freak at small forward, Jabari Parker at power forward, and Monroe at center.  If Parker and Monroe struggle too much defensively, I could see the Bucks giving John Henson minutes alongside Monroe because both guys are quality rebounders and each guy's strength (scoring for Monroe and defense for Henson) off-sets each of their weaknesses (defense for Monroe and offense for Henson).

Assuming last season was NOT an aberration, Middleton's salary could be very palatable despite the fact that he will earn $14 million a year given that he is the prototypical 3-and-D player, which seems to be the most important NBA player type right now outside of all-around superstar.  If Middleton suffers a serious injury, the Bucks and Middleton will have a very uncomfortable five-year marriage but I would be really surprised if Middleton's contract year push last year is the ceiling of his performance so as long as he stays healthy, the Bucks will NOT regret the move.  Plus if you look around at the other 3-and-D free agents that signed deals this off-season, they signed similar contracts to Middleton: DeMarre Carroll signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Toronto Raptors and Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Orlando Magic.  If Middleton continues to shoot 40% or better from behind the three-point arc, I could actually see him averaging 20 points a game at least once over the next couple seasons if the Bucks get quality play out of The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and Monroe because that would make Middleton one of the most lethal fourth bananas in the NBA.  Given that the salary cap is scheduled to almost double by the 2017-18 NBA season, there is a chance that Middleton's contract looks like the Bucks got him for the mid-level exception by the third season.

Switching gears, the more I noodle on the Vaughn pick, the more I am open to the upside of the decision despite the fact that FiveThirtyEight has Vaughn ranked as the 23rd best player in the 2015 NBA Draft and Pelton has Vaughn ranked as the 48th best player in the 2015 NBA Draft based on projected wins above replacement for his first five years in the NBA.  Vaughn is a long, skilled shooter and one of the youngest players in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Worst case scenario, I see Vaughn becoming a heat-check guy off the bench for the Bucks by his second or third season in the NBA.  Best case scenario, the Bucks drafted Ray Allen 2.0.  I see Vaughn settling somewhere in between but on the off-chance he fulfills his potential upside by his second or third NBA season, he could be the 7th best player on The 15.

The Bad
The Ilyasova trade seems like the kind of deal that would be on the table at the NBA Trade Deadline, which is why I question the motives for why Hammond made the move before the NBA Draft.  What is even more puzzling to me is how Hammond was NOT even able to snag a future second round pick from the Pistons as a part of the deal.  This trade looks even worse given that the Bucks added salary just a few days later in the Vasquez trade.

The Dudley trade will be felt more off the court than on the court.  Sure Dudley is a versatile player given that he can guard essentially every position on the court beside point guard and super tall centers but Dudley's real value came via his positive locker room presence.  We are just 18 months removed from Gary Neal and Larry Sanders getting in a fight in the locker room.  That is the kind of thing that would never happen in a locker room that included Dudley.  With Dudley no longer around, the four guys set to become unrestricted free agents (Bayless, Mayo, Pachulia, and Vasquez) after this season will be expected to be the veteran voices in the locker room too, which will make for an interesting locker room dynamic.

The Ugly
I almost put the Dudley trade in this category but given that the Vasquez trade is possibly the worst trade of Hammond's tenure, I wanted to make sure that The Ugly is reserved solely for that horrible trade.  The Bucks traded away Ilyasova and Dudley in separate deals but I like both of those guys more than Vasquez.  More importantly, I hate small market teams like the Bucks giving away lottery tickets aka draft picks.  Even late first round picks are valuable commodities for NBA teams because if they can land a rotational player, it gives NBA teams a super cheap commodity.

If the Bucks kept the 46th pick, they could have landed a useful player for next season (Norman Powell, Dakari Johnson, or Tyler Harvey) or a Euro-draft-and-stash guy (Arturas Gudaitis, Marcus Eriksson, Satnam Singh Bhamara, Nikola Radicevic, Dimitrios Agravanis, or Luka Mitrovic).  If the Bucks kept the L.A. Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round pick, they again would have a chance to add another cost-effective commodity to The 15.

I continue to lobby Hammond to leave a few spots open on The 15 so that he can either sign non-guaranteed deals to undrafted free agents or bottom-feed the free agent market.  In terms of bottom feeding, if Hammond had spots on The 15, look at the some of the cost-effective player he could have added: three-year, $18 million contract the Memphis Grizzles signed with power forward Brandan Wright; two-year, $10 million contract the Toronto Raptors signed with power forward Bismack Biyombo; four-year, $16 million contract the New York Knicks signed with center Kyle O'Quinn as a part of a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic; or four-year, $33 million contract the Sacramento Kings signed with power forward/center Kosta Koufos.  The most earth shattering thing about two of the deals just discussed are that the Knicks and Kings actually made a prudent free agent move after questionable moves earlier in the off-season.

Finally, backup point guards are a dime a dozen.  The Bucks cut Nate Wolters last season to add power forward Kenyon Martin, I hated that move at the time and despise it now because Martin was tits on a bull for the Bucks and if Wolters was still on The 15, Hammond might NOT have traded for Vasquez.  Leaving Wolters aside, you can add guys like Vasquez via free agency for much less than $6 million a year.  Last year the Bucks did just that when they signed Jerryd Bayless to a two-year, $6 million deal.  I didn't love that signing but at least it did NOT cost the Bucks two draft picks.  This off-season, the aforementioned Gary Neal signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Washington Wizards.  The Bayless and Neal deals are two of many that are much better allocation of salary cap space than Vasquez for $6 million.

Unless Hammond makes a trade, The 15 is essentially set for next season.  On paper I would say the Bucks are much better off on the top-end of The 15 now then they were at the start of the off-season but only time will tell whether that translates to on-court performance.  Our first look will be summer league.  All eyes will be on "rookie" small forward Damien Inglis (missed all of last season due to injury) and actual rookie Vaughn.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 Free Agent Shopping Guide for Hammond

Milwaukee Bucks general manager was active this off-season given that he already completed two trades.  I made no bones about it that I disliked the decision to trade small forward/power forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Detroit Pistons for expiring contracts and absolutely hated that Hammond traded two draft picks to the Toronto Raptors for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez.

The two trades seem to be inconsistent given that Hammond shipped out Ilyasova's $7.9 million salary for this season for non-guaranteed contracts to presumably give him enough cap space to try to lure in an expensive free agent but then Hammond swallowed up almost all of that cap space when he traded for Vasquez's bloated $6.6 million salary for next season.

Hammond drafted UNLV freshman shooting guard Rashad Vaughn with the 17th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.  All told, assuming that Hammond resigns restricted free agent shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton and that small forward/power forward Jared Dudley does NOT exercise his early termination option, Hammond will have 18 players under contract for the 2015-16 NBA season even though he only actually has 15 roster spots.

Here is how the depth chart currently shakes out:
- Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams, Jerryd Bayless, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Ennis, and Jorge Gutierrez
- Shooting Guard: Khris Middleton, O.J. Mayo, and Rashad Vaughn
- Small Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damien Inglis, and Caron Butler
- Power Forward: Jabari Parker, Jared Dudley, Johnny O'Bryant III, and Shawne Williams
- Center: John Henson, Zaza Pachulia, and Miles Plumlee

Hammond has some wiggle room since at least three of the contracts (Gutierrez, Butler, and Williams) are NOT guaranteed but that also means that Hammond cannot sign more than one or possibly two free agents without trading away players.

Hammond has $12 million in salary cap space for the 2015-16 season but most, if NOT all of that, will be taken up Middleton if the Bucks are able to retain his services.  That means the Bucks will be left with almost no money to shop on the free agent market.  Hammond will most likely create $7 million in salary cap space by cutting Butler, Gutierrez, and Williams.

For better or worse even if Middleton does NOT resign with the Bucks they are all set at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward.  The same could be argued for power forward or center but there is a ton of potential turnover at those spots over the next couple season and those are the two positions of strength in free agency this off-season so the Bucks need to at least take a look.

At power forward there are some interesting expensive veterans: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, Paul Milsap, and David West.  The same goes for center too: Omer Asik, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, and Amar'e Stoudemire.  There are some really enticing restricted free agent options at center too in Bismack Biyombo and Enes Kanter.

There are some more cost effective power forwards (e.g. Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright) and centers (e.g. Cole Aldrich, Robin Lopez, and Greg Stiemsma) about to hit the free agent market but unless Hammond is considering signing Wright, this is NOT the season to make a move on guys like that given how precious roster spots on The 15 are for the 2015-16 season.  Hammond might beed to fill out The 15 with cost-effective backups next off-season given that the Bucks have two restricted free agents (Henson and Pumlee) and four unrestricted (Bayless, Mayo, Pachulia, and Vasquez).  Hammond should always try to balance the short-term and long-term needs of The 15, unfortunately this off-season he painted himself in a corner.

It would be easy to say that it makes sense to break the bank on a couple of sexy names listed above but a number of those free agents will NOT even consider Milwaukee (Aldridge, Duncan, Gasol, and Love) so that already narrows the field.  Of the those free agents that would realistically consider the Bucks, the three most intriguing are DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, and Greg Monroe.  I am not sure if it is the pull of The Greek Freak and Parker but there are some quality players that publicly said they have the Bucks on the short list of teams that they are willing to meet with. Jordan is reportedly only meeting with four teams (Bucks, Clippers, Lakers, and Mavericks) and Monroe is reportedly only meeting with five teams (Bucks, Celtics, Lakers, Knicks, and Trailblazers).

In terms of realistic moves that Hammond could make, I would offer the max to Jordan, Lopez, or Monroe.  I would even be okay with a sign-and-trade for any of those guys as long as it does NOT involve giving up more than one future first round pick or any of the top-end talent on The 15 (The Greek Freak, Parker, or Henson).  The odds that any of the three actually come to Milwaukee are slim but it is fun to speculate because a stud center would round out The 15 nicely for the Bucks for the next couple seasons.  Plus, it will help me get over missing out on Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky) as a part of the horrific 2015 draft day trade the Raptors that netted the Bucks an overpaid backup point guard in Vasquez.

If Hammond misses out on all of the guys above, I will given my advice for how he could bottom feed in mid-to-late July.  In the mean time, buckle up because rumors are going to start flying daily for the next two weeks until players actually start signing with teams on July 9th.  Whatever happens, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space in mid-July.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 Milwaukee Bucks Draft Pick

This was my fifth year doing a "mock" first round NBA Draft (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) and my sixth year reviewing Milwaukee Bucks general manger John Hammond's performance in the actual draft (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014).

Usually there are a ton of trades in the first round of the NBA Draft, which makes it really hard to marry pick, player, and team correctly.  True to form, there were a ton of trades in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.  I only nailed players and team for two out of 30 in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft: Karl-Anthony Towns first overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jerian Grant (PG/SG, Notre Dame) 19th over all the Washington Wizards.  The Wizards ultimately traded Grant, which just illustrates my point above about how hard it is to marry pick, player, and team correctly.

Although that seems like I did a horrible job, I correctly "predicted" 26 out of 30 players* that went in the first round of the draft.  I put "predicted" in quotes because remember that my mock first round draft is what I would do if I was each team's general manager and had to make each pick without making a trade.  Of the four other guys** that I thought should go in the first round that were NOT taken in the first round, all all of them were drafted by the 36th pick.  That means I am mostly in agreement with current NBA decision makers about what guys should have been drafted by the early part of the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft.  That and the draft is covered so well that it is becoming hard to identify true diamonds in the rough.

I only have to breakdown one pick because Hammond made the worst trade of his tenure, which is really saying something since he made a number of questionable moves during his tenure.  I will give you more detailed thoughts on the trade once I cover the player that Hammond actually drafted in the 2015 NBA Draft.  With out further adu, are my thoughts on the one player that Hammond actually drafted that will be on The 15 next season:

1st Round (17th Overall): Rashad ("Greg") Vaughn
Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 18
Birth date: August 16, 1996
Birthplace: Golden Valley, MN
School: UNLV
Class: Freshman
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 199 lbs
Reach: 8'5"
: 6'6"
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: Strong/athletic wing, potential scoring machine, already possess a NBA body, attacks the basket, and solid perimeter shooter
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): Lacks elite length, inconsistent from deep, and not particularly efficient scorer
Other Possible Picks: Sam Dekker (SF, Wisconsin), Bobby Portis (PF, Arkansas), Jerian Grant (PG/SG, Notre Dame), or Delon Wright (PG/SG, Utah)
Twitter: @ShowtimeMr1
Analysis: This feels like a domestic Greek Freak-esque pick by Hammond, which is exactly what he needs to do with draft picks that he actually holds onto instead of foolishly trading them away.  There is no doubt that there are a couple other guys that were available when the Bucks were on the clock that were either more NBA ready (Portis, Grant, or Wright) or would appease the Bucks fans base in the short-term (Dekker) but much like Hammond did in 2013, he swung for the fences.

In 2013 Hammond could have taken more of a sure thing (Tony Snell or Mason Plumlee) but he rolled the dice on the youngest player in the 2013 NBA Draft and got The Greek Freak.  After just two seasons The Greek Freak looks like a franchise cornerstone and future All-Star.  Trust me, I am under no delusions that Vaughn will be as good as The Greek Freak, I just draw the comparison because Vaughn is one of the youngest players in the 2015 NBA Draft much like The Greek Freak was in 2013.  Vaughn was the 19th highest rated recruit in 2014 out of high school and lived up to that hype at UNLV averaging 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game over 23 games before a knee injury ended his freshman season.

Vaughn was very impressive in his pre-draft workouts, which helped him show NBA teams that his knee is fully healed.  While shooting 38% from three and 69% from the free throw line his freshman year in college is NOT great, I oddly only see those numbers improving in the NBA given that Vaughn will be the 3rd or 4th shooting option on the floor for the Bucks the next couples seasons as opposed to the focal point of the offense like he was at UNLV.

2nd Round (46th Overall): Norman Powell (SG, UCLA)
Other Possible Picks: Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky), Michael Frazier III (SG, Florida), Alan Williams (PF, UC Santa Barbara), or Christian Wood (PF, UNLV)
Analysis: Despite the fact that Hammond already drafted a shooting guard when he took Vaughn with the 17th pick, I would have been much happier if he just kept Powell and called it a day.  Instead Hammond traded the 46th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft that he used to draft Powell for the Toronto Raptors and a 2017 lottery protected first round pick L.A. Clipper pick that the Bucks got in the Jared Dudley trade to the Raptors for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez.  If Hammond traded just the 46th pick for Vasquez I would have disliked this trade.  The fact that Hammond somehow included a future first round pick makes this trade an absolute heist for the Raptors.

For those unaware of much about Vasquez, he is a 6'6" backup point guard that played for four NBA teams in his five NBA seasons.  I hate this trade for so many reasons that it is going to tough to boil this down to a few coherent sentences without breaking my computer. I get that the Bucks are targeting long players so Vasquez fits the bill in that department but Vasquez is a below average defender so he does NOT even fit into the system that the Bucks are trying to play.  The biggest problem with the trade is that it cost the Bucks two cheap long-term assets for an expensive short-term asset.  Vasquez is only signed through this upcoming season and is owed $6.6 million.

If the Bucks did NOT have any backup-up point guards on The 15 then you might be able to make a case that Vasquez at least fills a need but the Bucks already have Jerryd Bayless, Tyler Ennis, and Jorge Gutierrez on The 15 so that means the Bucks already had three nice backup point guard options.  Vasquez is a career 36% three-point shooter so it is NOT even like they got a deadly long-distance threat.  If the NBA is moving towards having all 3-and-D players, Vasquez is step back NOT forward.

Obviously I would have held onto the two draft picks if I ran the Bucks.  It is way too early to speculate on a specific player that the Bucks will get in the first rounder from the Clippers in the 2017 NBA Draft.  The Clippers traded away their 2015 first rounder to the Boston Celtics to get Doc Rivers as their coach.  The Celtics took R.J. Hunter (PG/SG, Georgia State) with the pick.  There is no guarantee that a player like Hunter will be there that late in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft but there is no question that Hunter is a more valuable long-term, cost-effective asset than Vasquez.

Turning to the 46th pick. There are a couple of guys that would have fell to the Bucks that would have been very interesting long-term assets according to FiveThirtyEight's Projected Top 50 Players in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Feel free to read the article to get more a flavor for why the Bucks missed out on some quality players that I thought Hammond should have targeted in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft.  Some of the guys the Bucks could still sign as undrafted free agents (Cliff Alexander, Christian Wood, and Michael Frazier III) if the Bucks clear some spots on The 15 but what really bothers me is that the Bucks missed out on a useful backup center that has an outside chance of blossoming into a starter down the road in Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky).  Let's leave Karl-Anthony Towns out of this because he went 1st overall to the Timberwolves and FiveThirtyEight projects him as the best player in the draft.  Three other guys from Kentucky were drafted in the lottery (Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Trey Lyles) yet FiveThirtyEight has Johnson projected to be more productive in the NBA than all three of those guys.  Unfortunately Hammond gave away his chance to draft Johnson for an expensive backup point guard in his late 20's.

NBA Free Agency starts in less than a week so make sure to check back ahead of that for my updated look at The 15 as well as my advice for Hammond for how to approach free agency since we know he has foolishly spent money like a drunken sailor in the past so he can use some sound advice.

* = I "missed" on Terry Rozier (PG, Lousiville) went 16th to the Celtics, Jarell Martin (PF, LSU) went 25th to the Grizzlies, Larry Nance Jr. (PF, Wyoming) went 28th to the Lakers, and Chris McCullough (PF, Syracuse) went 29th the Nets.

** = Guillermo Hernangomez (C, Spain) rated 26th but went 35th to the 76ers, Montrezl Harrell (PF, Louisville) rated 27th but went 32nd to the Rockets, Rakeem Christmas (C, Syracuse) rated 29th but went 36th to the Timberwolves, and Anthong Brown (SG/SF, Stanford) rated 30th but went 34th to the Lakers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 First Round NBA Mock Draft

I honestly believe that NBA general managers should take the best player available irrespective of position, which means that my first round mock draft is essentially my Top 30 rankings of the players available in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Much like I said the last four years (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) in my first round mock draft, undoubtedly there will be a ton of trades deeming this "mock" draft essentially useless but I want to get on record what I think each general manager should do with each pick if they kept it:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl-Anthony Towns (C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old)

2. Los Angeles Lakers - Jahlil Okafor (C, 6'11", 275 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

3. Philadelphia 76ers - Kristaps Porzingis (PF, 7'2", 230 lbs, Latvia, 19 years old)

4. New York Knicks - D'Angelo Russell (PG/SG, 6'5", 193 lbs, Ohio State, 19 years old)

5. Orlando Magic - Justise Winslow (SF, 6'6", 222 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

6. Sacramento Kings - Emmanuel Mudiay (PG, 6'5", 196 lbs, China, 19 years old)

7. Denver Nuggets - Mario Hezonja (SF, 6'7", 200 lbs, Croatia, 20 years old)

8. Detroit Pistons - Frank Kaminsky (C, 7'1", 231 lbs, Wisconsin, 22 years old)

9. Charlotte Hornets - Devin Booker (SG, 6'6", 206 lbs, Kentucky, 18 years old)

10. Miami Heat - Myles Turner (PF, 6'11", 239 lbs, Texas, 19 years old)

11. Indiana Pacers - Willie Cauley-Stein (C, 7'1", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 21 years old)

12. Utah Jazz - Sam Dekker (SF, 6'9", 219 lbs, Wisconsin, 21 years old)

13. Phoenix Suns - Stanley Johnson (SF, 6'6", 242 lbs, Arizona, 19 years old)

14. Oklahoma City Thunder - Bobby Portis (PF, 6'11", 246 lbs, Arkansas, 20 years old)

15. Atlanta Hawks (From Brooklyn) - Trey Lyles (PF, 6'10", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old)

16. Boston Celtics - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Arizona, 20 years old)

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Delon Wright (PG/SG, 6'6", 181 lbs, Utah, 23 years old)

18. Houston Rockets (From New Orleans) - Cameron Payne (PG, 6'2", 183 lbs, Murray State, 20 years old)

19. Washington Wizards - Jerian Grant (PG/SG, 6'4", 198 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old)

20. Toronto Raptors - Rashad Vaughn (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, UNLV, 18 years old)

21. Dallas Mavericks - R.J. Hunter (SG, 6'6", 185 lbs, Georgia State, 21 years old)

22. Chicago Bulls - Kevon Looney (PF, 6'9", 222 lbs, UCLA, 19 years old)

23. Portland Trail Blazers - Kelly Oubre (SF, 6'7", 203 lbs, Kansas, 19 years old)

24. Cleveland Cavaliers - Tyus Jones (PG, 6'2", 185 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

25. Memphis Grizzlies - Justin Anderson (SF, 6'6", 231 lbs, Virginia, 21 years old)

26. San Antonio Spurs - Guillermo Hernangomez (C, 6'11", 255 lbs, Spain, 20 years old)

27. Los Angeles Lakers (From Houston) - Montrezl Harrell (PF, 6'8", 253 lbs, Louisville, 21 years old)

28. Boston Celtics (From L.A. Clippers) - Nikola Milutinov (C, 6'11", 220 lbs, Serbia, 20 years old)

29. Brooklyn Nets (From Atlanta) - Rakeem Christmas (C, 6'10", 243 lbs, Syracuse, 23 years old)

30. Golden State Warriors - Anthony Brown (SG/SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Stanford, 22 years old)

Sorry that I was NOT able to add details of why I took each of the guys above but work and Lil' Cheesehead Sports Nut (again) got in the way.  Make sure to check back later tonight on Twitter @CheeseheadSN and tomorrow in this space for my thoughts on how Hammond navigated the 2015 NBA Draft for the Bucks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Building The 15 - 2013 NBA Draft First Round Preview for John Hammond

As I said in my second round preview for the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA Draft is covered so well that I am pretty confident the first 14 players that will come off the board in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (in some order) are: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Devin Booker, Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Sam Dekker, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre.

I am fine with the Bucks drafting pretty much any of the 14 players mentioned above with the exception of Oubre.  I have a particularly strong affinity for the guys in the Top 5 (Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, and Justise Winslow) because everyone besides Porzingis looks like a borderline lock to become studs in the NBA.  There is zero chance any of those guys will be available unless the Bucks trade-up, which I advise against because they would have to trade either The Greek Freak or Jabari Parker to make that happen.

I also have a particular affinity for the two Wisconsin guys (Kaminsky and Dekker) and both would actually fit in well on The 15 for the Bucks.  Assuming they are off the board, here are the 10 guys (most to least) that Hammond and Company should strongly consider if they are available with the 17th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft:

Bobby Portis (PF, 6'11", 246 lbs, Arkansas, 20 years old) - The 2014-15 SEC Player of the Year is my official reasonable draft crush given his length and outside chance to become Al Horford 2.0.

Jerian Grant (PG/SG, 6'4", 198 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old) - Although Grant is NOT quite as long as other guards that I am about to discuss, his ability to play both back court positions is too enticing to pass up.

Delon Wright (PG/SG, 6'6", 181 lbs, Utah, 23 years old) - I know this will get me killed in some NBA circles but I am not at all turned off by the fact that Wright is already 23.  Sure there are guys that are four years younger but I see Wright as a starter next season while some of the younger guys will need a couple seasons before they are ready for significant minutes so the Bucks would get a useful asset that could play at a high level in the NBA for 10 to 12 years.

Trey Lyles (PF, 6'10", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old) - The advanced stats are stacked against Lyles but some of that might have to do with Lyles playing out of position for such a stacked Kentucky team.

Rashad Vaughn (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, UNLV, 18 years old) - A knee injury cut Vaughn's season short.  Reports from recent pre-draft workouts were so positive that teams are no longer worried about his knee so his draft stock is on the rise.

Kevon Looney (PF, 6'9", 222 lbs, UCLA, 19 years old) - I have visions of Looney as a rich man's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute aka The Prince.  I say rich man's The Price because Looney is much more polished offensively than The Price.  Long time readers of this space know my affinity for The Prince so assuming Looney is healthy, there is an outside chance in a couple seasons that he becomes a nice mix of The Price and Jared Dudley so yes, I like Looney's upside.

R.J. Hunter (SG, 6'6", 185 lbs, Georgia State, 21 years old) - One of the best story lines of the 2015 NCAA Tournament was the father/son, coach/player story of Ron Hunter and R.J. Hunter.  The is no question that Hunter is one of the best pure shooters in the draft but there are big questions about how much defense he can play in the NBA.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Arizona, 20 years old) - Although Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best defenders in the 2015 NBA Draft, I might be a better shooter than him right now.  Given how much the Bucks struggled offensively last year, Hollis-Jefferson might not be the best fit but given that the Bucks think they can fix MCW's offensive deficiencies, I assume they think they could do the same thing with Hollis-Jefferson.

Cameron Payne (PG, 6'2", 183 lbs, Murray State, 20 years old) - I see shades of Damian Lillard in Payne and the advanced metrics back that up.  Given that the Bucks are going for long, interchangeable parts, I am not sure that Payne is the best fit physically but his offensive upside is too impressive to pass up.

Tyus Jones (PG, 6'2", 185 lbs, Duke, 19 years old) - Much of my discussion of Payne applies to Jones too and the advanced stats are in even more love with Jones than Payne.  I see Jones as a rich man's Tyler Ennis as a rookie.

There are some names that just missed the cut that I would rather see Hammond trade back to get at the end of the first round and get another asset instead of taking with the 17th pick: Justin Anderson, Montrezl Harrell, Guillermo Hernangomez, Cedi Osman, Rakeem Christmas, or Anthony Brown.

With how I think Hammond should approach the 2015 NBA Draft documented, make sure to check back tomorrow to read my "what each GM should do" mock draft of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 NBA Draft Second Round Preview for John Hammond

The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the 17th and 46th picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.  With how well the NBA is covered, I don't want to step too much on my first round preview or my "Mock" draft but you can almost be assured that the following 39 guys will NOT be available when the Bucks are on the clock with the 46th pick: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Frank Kaminsky, Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Sam Dekker, Stanley Johnson, Bobby Portis, Trey Lyles, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Delon Wright, Rashad Vaughn, R.J. Hunter, Kevon Looney, Kelly Oubre, Tyus Jones, Justin Anderson, Guillermo Hernangomez, Montrezl Harrell, Nikola Milutinov, Rakeem Christmas, Anthony Brown, Cedi Osman, Olivier Hanlan, Chris McCullough, Joseph Young, Terry Rozier, Jarell Martin, Jordan Mikey, Josh Richardson, and Larry Nance Jr.

Despite the fact that the Bucks have nabbed a few starters in the second round of the draft since 2000 (Michael Redd, Dan Gadzuric, Ersan Ilyasova, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), it is still a crap shoot so I support the Bucks taking any of the 39 guys just mentioned.  If all those 39 guys are gone, here are the 11 guys I like (most to least) so Bucks general manager John Hammond and Company should strongly consider drafting any of them if they are available with the 46th pick:

Dakari Johnson (C, 7'0", 255 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old) - Backup NBA centers are becoming just like backup MLB catchers, expensive despite the fact that they are borderline part-time employees.  The Bucks are scheduled to pay Zaza Pachulia $5.3 million next season and the Bucks can get the same production from Johnson for 20% of the cost.

Pat Connaughton (SG/SF, 6'5", 215 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old) - The surprise combine freak might be an even better baseball player than a basketball player.

Michael Frazier II (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, Florida, 21 years old) - Projects as one of the best long-distance shooters in the entire draft.

Richaun Holmes (PF, 6'10", 243, Bowling Green, 21 years old) - Arguably the best shot-blocker in the draft helps the Bucks push to be the best defensive team in the NBA.

Alan Williams (PF, 6'8", 261 lbs, UC Santa Barbara, 22 years old) - Projects to be one of the best all-around defenders in the entire draft.

Norman Powell (SG, 6'4", 215 lbs, UCLA, 22 years old) - Although Powell struggled from long distance last season, he put together a string off impressive workouts to show he brings more to the table than being a lock down defender.

Tyler Harvey (SG, 6'4", 181 lbs, Eastern Washington, 21 years old) - I see Harvey as a small school version of Powell.

Christian Wood (PF, 6'11", 216 lbs, UNLV, 19 years old) - Has a chance to be Larry Sanders 2.0 on the court, the question is whether he is the anti-Larry Sanders off-the-court or Larry Sanders 2.0 off the court.

J.P. Tokoto (SF, 6'6", 196 lbs, University of North Carolina, 21 years old ) - The Wisconsin native might have left school a year too early but would give the Bucks a guy that can cover almost any position besides center.  A poor man's Jared Dudley, if you will.

Briante Weber (PG, 6'2", 165 lbs, VCU, 22 years old) - A knee injury makes Weber a risky pick but advanced metrics project Weber as a mid-first round talent so the downside risk is worth the gargantuan upside.

Jonathan Holmes (SF, 6'9", 242 lbs, Texas, 22 years old) - Good but NOT great in all facets of the game.  Reminds me a little of Khris Middleton, which might be too high of praise for a guy that might go undrafted.

With how I think the Bucks should approach the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft documented, make sure to check back over the next couple days to read my thoughts on how the Bucks should approach the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft and my "what each GM should do" mock draft of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Building The 15 - Ilyasova Trade and How to Handle Dudley & Middleton

I had my post in the can for how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach the players on The 15 from last season that have decision points that will impact whether they are on The 15 next season since there are only two players fit that description: shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton is a restricted free agent and small forward/power forward Jared Dudley has a player option for next season.  Hammond threw a little but of a wrench in that when he traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova aka the Poor Man's Dirk to the Detroit Pistons for small forward Caron Bulter and small forward Shawne Williams.  Before I discuss how to handle Middleton and Dudley, let's clean-up the Ilyasova trade.

This was a salary dump that gives the Bucks essentially useless salary cap space that I hope they sit on unless they can somehow lure a top-end free agent.  I don't want to step on my free agency preview for Hammond that I plan to post early next week too much but unless the Bucks can attract a potential NBA All-Star (think DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, etc.) then I say sit on the sidelines for free agency because the last thing the Bucks need to do is overpay mediocre players to fill spots on The 15 given all the upcoming money they will presumably need to commit to Middleton, The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and possibly MCW.  The salary cap space is most likely useless given that mega NBA stars never sign with the Bucks as free agents unless they already play in Milwaukee (think Big Dog, Ray Allen, and Michael Redd).

In terms of the actual players involved, I still think Ilyasova is a Poor Man's Dirk so given that he is scheduled to earn $7.9 million this season and has what amounts to a team option for next season since only $400,000 of his $8.4 million contract is guaranteed, I would have much rather just kept Ilyasova, especially because the Bucks couldn't even beat a future second round pick out of the Pistons in this deal.  Bulter had a cup of stale coffee with the Bucks that lasted 34 games in the 2013-14 season before being waived, which was NOT what Butler expected to happen given that his presence on The 15 for the Bucks that season was being dubbed as a coming home party for the Racine native.  Don't get any grand illusions about Butler rectifying that in his second go round given that the Bucks will waive him before July 1st to get rid of his $4.5 million non-guaranteed salary for next season.  The Bucks can hold tight on Shawne Williams for now because his $1.4 million salary does NOT have a July 1st guaranteed date so he might be a useful, cheap bench guy depending on what happens in the 2015 NBA Draft and free agency.

With my analysis of the Ilyasova salary dump trade out of the way, let's turn to Middleton and Dudley.  The easier case is Dudley because he holds the cards since it is a $4.25 million early termination option so there is NOT much advice I can give Hammond other than to entice Dudley to NOT exercise his early termination option.  Dudley was clearly a useful locker room presence last season and occasionally provided some on-court production given that he can play and defend any position on the floor besides point guard. If Dudley opts out, my guess is that he would do that just to add a couple years at roughly the same average salary per season to his deal but it only takes one irrational team to inflate Dudley's market value.  There is no way that Dudley ever signs another mega-deal but given that the salary cap is going to skyrocket in a couple seasons, I could see a borderline playoff team overpaying Dudley.  Although I like Dudley, the Bucks should NOT get in a bidding war if he exercises his early termination option because next off-season they have a ton of potential free agents so The 15 could go through a pretty drastic makeover in the next 18 months.  Dudley would be a nice person to help smooth over the changes to The 15 but NOT if that price is over $5 million per season.  Let's see if Dudley actually terminates his contract.  If he does, the ceiling I would go on Dudley is three-years, $15 million.

That leaves the most interesting decision for Hammond this off-season, which is how to handle Middleton.  If I am Middleton's agent, I don't want to overplay my hand too much because Bill Simmons sadly formerly of coined the phrase "a market max player".  Feel free to read his entire take but basically it means that since the salary cap is going to skyrocket the next few seasons, there are guys that are NOT max guys that will get paid like max guys because a few years from now that contract will look reasonable given the jump in the NBA's salary structure cap thanks to the influx of cash from their new television deal.  If Middleton is willing to sign for $10 million a year or less, make the deal and move on.  If Middleton is actually holding out as "a market max player" then the decision is much more nuanced.

I assume that Middleton will be looking for between $12 and $15 million per year so let's break this down a little more.  Middleton has only played three NBA seasons but his PER has gone up each season: 11.43 in 2012-13, 12.55 in 2013-14, and 15.70 in 2014-15.  Middleton looks like the perfect 3-and-D given his body-type (6'7" and 225 lbs) and three-point shooting ability (above 40% shooter for his career).  With all the good news out the way, there are two caveats to making Middleton "a market max player".  One, I question if this year-over-year improvement is sustainable for Middleton long-term.  Two, with all the guys the Bucks might have to pay in the future, it might make sense to move Middleton for future draft picks and expiring contracts.  Given that the Bucks have such a hard time attracting free agents, I would sign Middleton to a long-term contract as long as it does NOT exceed $15 million per season.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the start of my 2015 NBA Draft preview when I given Hammond names of guys that he should reasonably target with the 46th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 Green Bay Packer Draft Picks

Welcome to my sixth annual review of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson's performance in the NFL Draft (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, & 2014).  The 2015 NFL Draft marked Thompson's eleventh draft of his tenure in Green Bay. As I've said a number of times in this space, there is no question that the best pick Thompson made during his tenure (so far) in Green Bay was his first in 2005 when he drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick.

The last two years Thompson put together very successful drafts after a couple of mostly forgettable drafts in 2011 and 2012.  Over the last two years Thompson struck gold early in the draft when he selected former Alabama players.  In 2013 Thompson drafted running back Eddie Lacy in the second round and in 2014 he drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.  Both of those picks are sexy given that they were early picks that look like borderline franchise players but it is really Thompson's ability to add quality guys later in the draft that keeps the Packers as perennial playoff contenders.  In those two drafts Thompson added just as many borderline franchise players after the 4th (left tackle David Bakhitiari) and 5th (center Corey Linsley) rounds too.

Only time will tell if Thompson had a third consecutive successful draft or if he just started another run of two down draft.  The Packers entered the 2015 NFL Draft with nine picks but Thompson traded the 166th and 247th picks to the New England Patriots for the 147th pick, which he used to draft UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.  According to this draft pick trade analysis website, the trade was actually a net loss for Thompson but I am willing to give Thompson a pass for four reasons.  One, for how much Thompson loves to trade down it was nice to see him actually move up in the draft.  Two, Thompson finally drafted a quarterback for the first time since he took B.J. Coleman in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft.  Three, Thompson didn't give up a future pick as a part of the deal.  Four, the Packers added a player at a position of need given that the Packers have had very inconsistent play at the backup quarterback spot behind Rodgers.  The only other (mild) shocker was that Thompson added three skill position guys on offense despite the fact that the Packers looked set at those positions.

Just for fun, this year I added two new metrics for my review of each player: how Mel Kiper Jr. had him rated on his final Top 300 (ESPN Insider required) and how Scouts Inc. rated them between 1 and 340 (again, ESPN Insider required).  Take these rankings with a grain of salt though because it is really hard to parse the difference between 150 and 250.

These posts always run long so without further adu, here is my review of the eight players that Thompson drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft:

1st Round (30th): Damarious Randall, Cornerback/Safety
Twitter Handle: @RandallTime
School: Arizona State (Pac-12)
Height: .5'-10⅞"
Weight: 196 lbs
Arm Length: 30-1/4"
Hand Size: 8-5/8"
40-yard Dash: 4.46 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.83 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.07 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 14 reps
Vertical Leap: 38"
Broad Jump: 120"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: 38 of 340
Kiper's Ranking: 31 of 300
Other Possible Picks: Malcolm Brown (DL, Texas), Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi St.), Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State), or Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Analysis: My tweet about Randall serving as a hybrid LB/CB/S was a little premature unless he is able to add some bulks to his frame.  Early word is that the Packers are going to move Randall to cornerback, which makes sense given his impressive coverage skills.  That means the top three cornerbacks on the roster right now are Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, and Randall.  It will be interesting to see if the Packers use Hayward or Randall outside opposite Shields because the other guy will presumably start in the slot.  Clearly Thompson had Randall higher on his board than some other guys that I thought would be more immediate help.  The early comparisons for Randall are to 49ers safety Jimmie Ward, a guy that I liked for the Packers last year that went 30th overall to the San Francisco 49ers after the Packers drafted Ha-Ha Clinton Dix 21st overall.  I generally trust Thompson but I am a little skeptical of how easily Randall can transition to cornerback in the NFL.  If Randall struggles at cornerback, I could see them moving Micah Hyde to cornerback and letting Randall focus on safety.  Finally, Thompson passed on some big bodied defensive lineman (Brown, Smith, and Goldman) that looked very plug-and-play options for the Packers.

2nd Round (62nd): Quinten Rollins, Cornerback
Twitter Handle: @QRollins2
School: Miami University (Mid-American Conference)
Height: 5'-11⅛"
Weight: 195 lbs
Arm Length: 30-1/4"
Hand Size: 9"
40-yard Dash: 4.57 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.10 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.28 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 14 reps
Vertical Leap: 36.5"
Broad Jump: 122"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: 71 of 340
Kiper's Ranking: 60 of 300
Other Possible Picks: Clive Walford (TE, Miami), Eli Harold (OLB, Virigina), Carl Davis (DT, Iowa), or Henry Anderson (DE, Stanford)
Analysis: Well you could essentially copy and paste my review of the Randall pick and insert it here given that Randall and Collins seem like very similar players so let's go a different route here. The Packers matched the one-year, $2.55 million offer sheet that the Oakland Raiders signed Sean Richardson to, which seems like a ton of money to pay for the 4th safety on the depth chart.  There is a chance that the Packers move Richardson from safety to middle linebacker if he can add 10 lbs to his 6'2" frame to play around 225 lbs.  If that happens, Richardson might actually be the Brandon Chillar-esque hybrid linebacker/defensive back in the Big Okie formation that I foolishly claimed Randall could be.  There is no question that Richardson has the speed to cover running backs/tight ends at his current weight so I presume adding 10 pounds wouldn't change that.  Given that Richardson is the 4th safety on the depth chart for the Packers right now, if they move him to linebacker then the Packers might actually give Rollins a look at safety.  Last year Thompson drafted Baylor cornerback Demetri Goodson, a converted basketball player, in the 7th round.  Rollins is cut from the same cloth given that he was a four-year basketball player and a one-year football player.  Rollins had seven picks last year, which is pretty impressive.  Despite being against 2nd tier NCAA talent in the Mid-American Conference.  It looks like Goodson, Randall and Collins will be battling for playing time as cornerbacks for the next couple years.  If one of the three turns out to be a starter in a couple years then I totally sign-off on the picks.  If all three flame out then Thompson will be forced to add talent at cornerback again in the draft or possible even dip into free agency.

3rd Round (94th): Ty Montgomery, Wide Receiver
Twitter Handle: @TyMontgomery2
: Stanford (Pac-12)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 221 lbs
Arm Length: 31"
Hand Size: 10-1/8"
40-yard Dash: 4.55sec
3-cone Drill: 6.97 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.21 sec
225-pound Bench Press: ? reps
Vertical Leap: 40.5"
Broad Jump: 121"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: 107 of 340
Kiper's Ranking: 126 of 300
Other Possible Picks: Paul Dawson (LB, TCU), La'el Collins (OG, LSU), Trey Flowers (DE, Arkansas), or Tre Jackson (OG, Florida State)
Analysis: When I gave my preview for how Thompson should approach the draft, I said that he should use a late round pick on a return man/running back/slot wide receiver.  There is no doubt that Montgomery fits two of those three characteristics.  This might be a round too early for Montgomery but let's not forget that I felt that way about tight end Richard Rodgers last year and Rodgers turned out to be a pleasant surprise in 2014.  The guys I feel bad for are Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, and Myles White.  We know that Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams will be on The 53 for at least the next three seasons.  Even if the Packers keep six wide receiver, Thompson is going to have to choose between Abbrederis, Janis, and White for the last two spots.  It is nice to see that Montgomery is excited about playing for the Packers, hopefully he is ready to compete with Adams for the3rd wide receiver spot in 2015 despite only being a rookie.  I know Nelson is 6'2" but this still leave the Packers without a really tall wide receiver, which seems borderline mandatory in terms of roster construction in the NFL in 2015.  Thompson continues to buck the trend, let's hope this results in the Packers having a dynamic return game thanks to Montgomery in 2015.

4th Round (129th): Jake Ryan, Linebacker
Twitter Handle: @JakeRyan_47
: Michigan (Big "Ten")
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 240 lbs
Arm Length: 31"
Hand Size: 9-3/8"
40-yard Dash: 4.65 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.11 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.20 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Leap: 34.5"
Broad Jump: 120"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: 137 of 340
Kiper's Ranking: 73 of 300
Other Possible Picks: Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA), Marcus Hardison (DT, Arizona State), Grady Jarrett (DT, Clemson), or David Cobb (RB, Minnesota) 
Analysis: Well looks like the Packers finally have another middle linebacker in the fold, it will be interesting to see how everything shakes out between Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford, and Ryan.  Clearly Barrington and Bradford have a leg up on Ryan since they've been with the organization longer. Long-term, I see Ryan playing inside but the versatility that Ryan brings with being able to play inside or outside could get him on the field in sub-packages sooner rather than later.  In fact a Michigan fan friend of mine thinks that Ryan was miscast last season when he played inside but I am not sure that I agree with that assessment given that Ryan tackles well and has the ability to cover guys down field.  Worst case even if Ryan can get on the field on defense as a rookie, I see his straight line speed making him an immediate special teams contributor.  My only worry is that based on Ryan's college tape, he had trouble shedding blockers, which was the most frustrating part about A.J. Hawk's game.  Given that Ryan is essentially expected to replace Hawk at middle linebacker in 2015, I hope the Packers can work with Ryan to help him shed blockers. For all the heat I've given Hawk in this space, he had a productive career in Green Bay on and especially off the field.  Hawk never lived up to the hype of being the 5th pick in the draft given his lack of game changing plays though, which is why he will always be remembered as the Business HJ.  Luckily for Ryan, being a 4th round pick carries much lower expectations.  Either way, Thompson replaced one long-haired Big "Ten" middle linebacker with another.  It will be interesting to look back in a decade to see how Ryan's career compares to Hawk's.

5th Round (147th): Brett Hundley, QB
Twitter Handle: @BrettHundley17
: UCLA (Pac-12)
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 226 lbs
Arm Length: 32-1/8"
Hand Size: 10-1/2"
40-yard Dash: 4.63 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.93 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 3.98 sec
225-pound Bench Press: ? reps
Vertical Leap: 36"
Broad Jump: 120"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: 142 of 340
Kiper's Ranking: 90 of 300
Other Possible Picks: Jay Ajayi (RB, Boise State), C.J. Uzomah (TE, Auburn), Jesse James (TE, Penn State), or Cameron Artis-Payne (RB, Auburn)
Analysis: With all due respect to recently signed quarterback Matt Blanchard, his days are now officially numbered in Green Bay since Thompson drafted Hundley. That is especially true given that NFL teams are severely restricted in how much time they have with players during official off-season workout programs.  The Packers will have a hard enough time handing out snaps to three quarterbacks, which makes having four in the fold untenable.  The reports on Hundley are that he is an athletic, mobile quarterback that shows flashes of brilliance with long stretches of inconsistent throws.  I thought that the Packers would need to spend a 3rd round pick to get Hundley so even though they had to trade up in the 5th round to get him, this pick seems like a steal.  I get it, even if Hundley develops into a serviceable NFL quarterback, odd are he will be playing elsewhere starting with his second NFL contract.  Thompson has drafted and developed essentially every spot on the roster besides backup quarterback so I think it make sense for him to invest some late-round picks in quarterbacks over the next couple seasons in hopes of either cultivating a trade asset or identifying a guy that can actually play meaningful snaps for the Packers if Rodgers (gulp) gets injured.

6th Round (206th): Aaron Ripkowski, Fullback
Twitter Handle: @AaronRipkowski
School: Oklahoma (Big 12)
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 257 lbs
Arm Length: ?"
Hand Size: ?"
40-yard Dash: 4.69 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.59 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.33 sec
225-pound Bench Press: ? reps
Vertical Leap: 33"
Broad Jump: 113"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: not in top 340
Kiper's Ranking: not in top 300
Other Possible Picks: Amarlo Herrera (ILB, Georgia), Obum Gwacham (DE, Oregon State), Anthony Chickillo (DE, University of Miami), or Kristjan Sokoli
(DE, Univerity of Buffalo)

Analysis: I find this pick curious given that Thompson recently signed fullback John Kuhn to a one-year contract for 2015.  Spots on The 53 are precious so most teams would think that allocating even one of them to a fullback in the pass-happy NFL in 2015 is questionable, which makes allocating two spots on The 53 to fullbacks untenable.  Thompson has a different approach to roster construction though.  Remember that the Packers actually had three fullbacks (Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson, and John Kuhn) on The 53 when they won Super Bowl XLV.  (LINK)I am on record as saying that when healthy that Kuhn should have a spot on The 53 for the veteran minimum for the next couple years(LINK), which means that Ripkowski will have to show value on special teams to claim a spot on The 53 to open 2015.  Worst case, given how much the NFL is devaluing the fullback positions, I presume that Thompson could pass Ripkowski through waivers to the practice squad to start 2015 with a view to add him to The 53 later in 2015 if the Packers suffer injuries.

6th Round (210th): Christian Ringo, Defensive End
Twitter Handle: @TrynaBeGreat_77
School: University of Louisiana at Lafayette (Sun Belt)
Height: 6'1"
Weight:  277 lbs
Arm Length: ?"
Hand Size: ?"
40-yard Dash: 4.97 sec
3-cone Drill: ? sec
20-yard Shuttle: ? sec
225-pound Bench Press: ? reps
Vertical Leap: ?"
Broad Jump: ?"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: not in top 340
Kiper's Ranking: not in top 300
Other Possible Picks: see discussion in for Ripkowski given how close this pick was to the last made by Thompson
Analysis: Well the Packers finally added depth along the defensive line, unfortunately it was six rounds too late for my taste.  There is an outside chance that the guys currently on roster can stay healthy for 2015 but given the recent checkered injury history of Datone Jones and B.J. Raji, I would have loved to see Thompson add Malcolm Brown or Eddie Goldman at the end of the first round instead of Damarious Randall.  Instead, Thompson waited till the second of his three picks in the 6th round to add another body along the defensive line.  The scouting report on Ringo is that he is raw but has good agility, quickness, and strength.  I hesitate to get too excited about a 6th round pass rusher because last time I did that I made possibly the most ridiculous statement I've ever made in this space when I said "Mark my words, Elmore is Aaron Kampman 2.0 for the Packers" (source).  Hopefully Ringo can turn some of his athletic promise into actual production.  I would be shocked if that happened in 2015 so much like Ripkowski, Ringo could be a draft and stash guy on the practice squad for 2015.

6th Round (213th): Kennard Backman, Tight End
Twitter Handle: @kback86
School: University of Alabama at Birmingham (Conference USA)
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 258 lbs
Arm Length: ?"
Hand Size: ?"
40-yard Dash: 4.65 sec
3-cone Drill: ?sec
20-yard Shuttle: ?sec
225-pound Bench Press: ?reps
Vertical Leap: ?"
Broad Jump: ?"
Wonderlic: ?
Scouts Inc. Ranking: not in top 340
Kiper's Ranking: not in top 300
Other Possible Picks: see discussion for Ripkowski given how close this pick was to the last two made by Thompson
Analysis: Thompson continues to try to rebuild his special teams unit, which must be why he drafted a guy like Backman instead of a taller tight end.  On the positive side of the equation, Backman ran a 4.65 sec 40-yard dash.  On the negative side of the equation, Backman is only 6'3".  I wish Thompson could have taken a taller tight end with similar speed but that would have cost Thompson a Day 2 pick and that type of player might NOT have been a special teams contributor in 2015 so ultimately I am fine with the pick.  Plus, given that it is the last of his three 6th round picks, how worked up can I really get.  For some reason I see Backman as the most likely candidate of the three guys drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft to actually make The 53 to start 2015.

Well that's a wrap on Thompson's eight-man draft class for the 2015 NFL Draft.  The Packers have a rookie camp that opens next week so check back for my updated thoughts on the eight guys discussed above along with any of the undrafted free agents that turned some heads.