Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Building The 53 - Ideal 2015 NFL Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Yesterday I took a look at The 53 for the Green Bay Packers, which helped highlight positions where the Green Bay Packers have adequate depth as well as some positions that the Packers could use some additional guys.  Thanks to Thompson and his scouting staff, the Packers have 33 players on The 53 that they drafted, which is one of the highest totals in the NFL behind the Bengals (35), 49ers (35), Ravens (34), and Falcons (34). The Packers also have a ton of undrafted free agents that have never played for another NFL franchise, which means almost 2/3rds of the 64 guys on their current roster were either drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent by Thompson.

If you were to rank the Top 20 players on The 53 on talent alone, only one of them was signed as unrestricted free agents from another NFL franchise: veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers.  The other 19 guys were added to The 53 via the draft by Thompson.  You have the first round picks that actually worked out (Aaron Rodgers, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Bryan Bulaga, Datone Jones, and
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), second round skill position guys (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, and Davante Adams), second or third round members of the secondary (Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward), fourth or fifth round offensive line steals (Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari, and Corey Linsley), late round Iowa overachievers (Mike Daniels and Micah Hyde), and an undrafted free agent (Sam Shields).  As a result, I tread lightly giving Packers general manager Ted Thompson advice on specific players to take with specific picks in the NFL Draft given his impressive track record of drafting and developing The 53 but here are my general thoughts.

Let me be the 10,000th person to state the obvious that the Packers could really use an athletic tight end, a couple versatile defensive lineman, at least one middle linebacker, and a couple cornerbacks.  The flip advice for how to have a perfect draft is to take the best player available in the first round, a skill guy in the second round, a defensive back with the next pick, an offensive lineman in the 4th round, an Iowa guy in the 5th or 6th round, and sign a speedster as an undrafted free agent.  I would actually be fine with that approach even though it would not address certain needs on The 53 but I still think it makes sense to expand slightly on that general advice.

An edge rusher or a cornerback with off-the-field issues like Randy Gregeory (OLB, Nebraska), Shane Ray (Missouri), Marcus Peters (CB, Washington), or Jalen Collins (CB, LSU) could conceivably fall to the Packers at the end of the first round (currently picking 30th).  Whether the organization wants to take that risk is another matter.  If you know that one of your defensive veterans will commit to being a mentor to one of those guys, I say make the pick because all of those guys mentioned are very talented but if you think a player with those off-the-field issues will pollute the locker room then pass on these guys even if they are available.

Unless Sam Barrington and Carl Bradford dramatically improve, the Packers will need to keep Clay Matthews inside or add a quality guy.  For how much I like the physicality that Matthews brings to the position, he is not on The 53 to cover tight ends or running backs, which is why I am totally fine with the Packers taking
Eric Kendricks (UCLA) or Denzel Perryman (Miami) at the end of the first round.  If Plan A or Plan B for the first round just described does not work out for Thompson, I say trade out of the first round to pick up an extra second round pick along with some late picks or possibly even a player.  Unfortunately that might not be possible because there is not a quarterback that is worthy of going at that point so the trade market will most likely be soft.

If tight ends Maxx Williams (Minnesota) or Clive Walford (Miami) somehow last till the end of the second round, Thompson should swoop.  If both are gone, I would wait till the end of the draft to take an athletic tight end.  Given that the Packers are set at the other skill positions, I would turn to the defensive side of the ball and take the best player available at the end of the second round.  I could give you a laundry list of names but I am not sure that really helps given that Thompson has already set his board.  The point is that the Packers need to continue to add as much defensive talent to The 53 as possible if the specific tight ends discused above are no longer available.

In the third and fourth rounds I am all about adding depth at positions of need, which seems like the no shit line of this postI value talent over need and did not have enough time to study the mid-round guys so I defer to Thompson on the specifics of the guys he drafts at that point but again the key is that if there are a couple guys with roughly the same grade in the mid-rounds I hope that Thompson gives a little more credence to positions of need as opposed to adding the best player available irrespective of positional need.

Finally in terms of late picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, I would love to see Thompson add three types of players: a developmental quarterback, a versatile versatile return man/running back/slot wide out, and a tall cornerback.

For the quarterback, I don't even need the guy to have a rocket arm, I just need him to be coachable.  I know that sounds cliche but Rodgers is going to be the starter in Green Bay a long time so having a good sounding board for Rodgers is more important than having a cannon for an arm. Unless the Packers use a day two pick, I assume that Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) will be gone. If either of those guys fall in the draft, I would favor adding one of them.  If not, Thompson should focus on adding a different coachable.

Next, let's go over how Thompson can add a versatile return man/running back/slot wide out later in the draftIt would be easy to say Tyler Lockett (WR, Kansas State) or Jeremy Langford (RB, Michigan State) but those guys will be long gone by the last few rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.  Here are three guys that I have my eye on for the versatile return man/running back/slot wide out: Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State), Trey Williams (RB, Texas A&M), and Cameron Artis-Payne (RB, Auburn).  There are always durability issues with guys like this because their small stature is what makes them so versatile but it is also what leaves them one hit ways from being out of the NFL.

Finally in terms of the tall cornerbacks, three guys late in the draft that I have my eye on are: Ladarius Gunter (Miami, 6'1-1/2" and 202 lbs), Julian Wilson (Oklahoma, 6'2" and 205 lbs), and Nick Marshall (Auburn, 6'1-1/2" and 207 lbs).  The only safety that fits that criteria is Durell Eskridge (Syracuse, 6'2-7/8" and 208 lbs) but Eskridge's injury issues worry me.  I know the NFL is a copycat league and the odds that drafting a tall cornerback late in the draft will net you the next Richard Sherman are slim but given all the tall wide receivers that the Packers face in the NFC North, they are going to need to get taller at the cornerback and safety position at some point or they will continue to get torched on jump-balls.

Well with my thoughts on how Thompson should approach the 2015 NFL Draft in the books, make sure to check back tomorrow for my first round mock draft, which I believe is an unofficial Internet requirement if you have a sport blog.

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