The Green Bay Packers came into the 2013 NFL Draft with a few goals they wanted to accomplish; getting tougher on defense and taking pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have the best quarterback in the NFL right now and have just paid him handsomely. They do need to force him to go out and prove that fact every single week of the year as well as in the playoffs because they cannot run the football or protect him well enough. The defense were humiliated in the playoffs by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers and wanted to take steps to improve their ability to deal with the run-option as well as improve against the run and the pass. General manager Ted Thompson has been one of the best in the business both in taking players that are not overly heralded and having success with them as well as getting good value, but he has had some struggles addressing the offensive line. The Packers are a fantastic team looking to get back to the Super Bowl and are never an active team in free agency, but a good draft could put them right back in position to go for the Lombardi trophy again and the early returns on this draft appear to have done the job.
The Packers held tight with the 26th pick of the draft and selected Datone Jones, defensive end from UCLA. Jones gives the Packers a good combination of run defender and pass rusher who has the talent to create plays on his own as well as generating opportunities for teammates. Jones has the versatility to play as a 5-technique end, rush tackle, or power end depending on the situation and the Packers could use him at all three spots depending on the situation. The hope is that Jones can come in and take over the hole left by Cullen Jenkins on the right side a couple years ago when he left via free agency.
Jones’ game is predicated on his incredible agility, snap anticipation, and ability to shoot gaps. He immediately puts his opponents at a disadvantage and forced to play catch up and usually end up blocking him in his side and hoping to push him past the play or get him on the ground and fall on him to stop him. He needs to do a better job of holding up at the point of attack when opponents are able to stay in front of him and turn the corner when he is forced to the outside. His production for UCLA this past year was impressive but his impact went beyond his stat line and he was part of the storm that came together that allowed Anthony Barr to have a breakout year. Jones’ ability and willingness to attack inside and cause problems in the pocket make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to step up in the pocket. As a result, the outside rushers like Barr and in the Packers case, Clay Matthews and presumably Nick Perry should have more opportunities to get sacks and hits on the passer.
In the second round, after moving down six picks in a deal with the 49ers for an extra sixth round pick, the Packers picked Eddie Lacy, running back from Alabama. The value here made a great deal of sense and the talent could be tremendous for the Packers but the fit is slightly awkward. The first thing that jumps out is he immediately steps in as the most talented running back on the Packers roster the second the pick was announced. Lacy is a tremendous runner that works between the tackles and does a great job of keeping his shoulder square to the line and uses his feet to line himself up and play power football. He possesses enough agility to keep defenders honest and can make guys miss, but he knows and owns what he is; a power back first.
The Packers offense is a West Coast Offense that likes to put a lot of receivers on the field and spread defenses out and allow Rodgers to pick them apart. Lacy’s style fits putting a bunch of tight ends on the field with a fullback and daring the opponent to try and stop them. Obviously, Lacy can run between the tackles out of ace formations but it will certainly be worth keeping an eye on how they use him and if they adjust to him more or if they will try to get him to adjust to them. One area where Lacy is average is as a receiver. He will make the plays he should, but he is not a true threat out of the backfield in the passing game.
After the selection of Lacy, the Packers started a series of trades; the first moved down in the third round with a second deal with San Francisco; they moved down five spots for another seventh round pick. They turned around and traded that pick to move out of third round entirely in a deal with the Miami Dolphins that moved them into the fourth round and added a fifth and seventh round pick. Finally, they used the fifth round pick they got from the 49ers and the sixth round pick they got from the Dolphins to make a deal with the Denver Broncos to move to the bottom of the fourth round, giving them three fourth round picks in all; the last of which was a deal made to target a specific player and the last of the fourth round. None of these deals were unbalanced in either direction but they certainly look good from the Packers end as they were able to trade down a couple times, use picks they gained in the moves down to add other picks, so in the end, they ended up moving down out of the third round, picking three times in the fourth while still having a fifth, sixth, and three seventh round picks.
With the first pick the Packers had in the fourth round, they selected Colorado offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is a big, athletic tackle prospect with significant upside as he goes to the NFL. He steps in as the likely swing tackle prospect in the immediate future but he has the potential to develop into a starting caliber tackle at either side of the line and it would not be a huge surprise if he was making the competition interesting in camp, especially as it comes to the right tackle spot with Marshall Newhouse and former first round pick who has had injury issues, Derek Sherrod.
Bakhtiari is somewhat of an under the radar prospect because Colorado has been such a train wreck of a college program in recent years and they just struggle to win games, get on television, and talented players like Bakhtiari can be pushed to the back burner as a result. Bakhtiari is a player that had a lot of buzz at the end of the process and it would hardly be surprising if he had a better pro career than he did in college. The Packers have a good situation to come into and develop in because of the competition and their depth.
Later in the fourth round, the Packers selected Cornell offensive tackle J.C. Tretter, making him the first player selected out of the Ivy League in the 2013 draft. While listed as a tackle, Tretter will likely kick inside to guard and compete for playing time at one of the guard spots. Josh Sitton is probably pretty safe as the left guard but it will be interesting to see if Tretter sees time and reps competing for the right guard spot with T.J. Lang, another converted tackle playing guard, something Ted Thompson has done a lot of in his time running the Packers.
A couple picks later with their third pick of the round, the Packers picked up Johnathan Franklin, running back from UCLA. This was a huge surprise thatFranklin fell this far. Had the Packers taken him where they took Lacy, no one would have thought twice about it andFranklin has a ton of talent but he also stands out as a better fit for what the Packers want to do with their offense. The running back position inGreen Bay has been so problematic that it may seem like overkill to take a second running back here, but it really was a smart play. Between injuries, depth, and just the talent involved, this really opens up the options the Packers have on offense.
Franklinwas the most fundamentally sound running back in the entire draft, showing the best technique as a runner, receiver, and blocker; proving to be an asset at all three. He is a tremendous running threat both between the tackles and as an outside threat that has agility but does a good job of getting behind his pads when he needs to, displays good balance and is efficient with his footwork. As a receiver, he has natural, soft hands and the Bruins did not just dump the ball off to him or run screen passes; he ran routes that let him attack down the field more and create opportunities for him to make bigger plays. Franklin does not possess ideal bulk but appears to have the frame to continue adding weight and actually was able to show that at the combine where he came in heavier, while putting up a fast 40 time; faster than expected.
All of this is combined with the fact that from speaking to him to his activity in the community and his reputation on campus, everyone seems to hold him in the highest regard as a person and he should be a valuable asset to the locker room, so the fall on draft day was a huge surprise and a potential steal for the Packers. Many people are going to pencil in Lacy as the starting back but it would be a huge mistake to hand him the job withFranklincompeting for carries and touches. Franklinis a much better fit on third downs and in passing situations because he is a threat as a receiver and blocks well, but his overall fit and ability could get him significant carries during the season. In that spread type west coast system,Franklinis a natural fit. They have two backs with extremely different styles and can use them in different ways; who, when, and how often is yet to be determined.
In the fifth round, the Packers picked up Micah Hyde, cornerback from Iowa. Hyde is a player that could compete for time as a corner in the Packers defensive scheme but he might get reps at free safety as well. Hyde is a taller corner who can play physical at the line of scrimmage but does not have overwhelming speed and might be considered somewhat of a tweener prospect. If he can contribute as a corner, that is likely where the Packers would like him to end up but their safety depth chart is not as deep so he might see playing time more quickly there. If he does end up being a corner, he is a good fit as a zone corner with good ball skills like Casey Hayward was last year.
Hyde fits the approach the Packers have taken with their cornerback position in that after signing Charles Woodson years ago and letting him set the table for the rest of the group as the clear #1 guy playing at a Hall of Fame level, the Packers were able to find contributors in the late rounds and even as undrafted free agents; Hayward was the exception as a corner taken in round two with the hopes of basically taking Woodson’s place as their top corner. This has also taken place at the safety position where the Packers had used some early picks on the position but have found success with later round picks; Morgan Burnett is the exception as a third round pick.
Later in the fifth round, the Packers took Josh Boyd, defensive tackle from Mississippi State. This is another good value here on a guy that has a good deal of size but was extremely productive as a pass rusher from the tackle spot in the SEC. For the Packers, he might be competing as a base end in their 3-4 system but he might be able to have a bigger impact in an even front on passing downs as a rush tackle.
The situation with adding Jones and Boyd is interesting because the Packers have a loaded depth chart for the end spots. Guys like Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, and Mike Daniels could be competing for a shot to stay on the team. The investment is not too significant where if Boyd struggles, he could conceivably be released and they could try to get him on the practice squad.
In the sixth round, the Packers went the small school route in selecting Nate Palmer, outside linebacker from Illinois State. A two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference second team selection get a player that might be looked for either an outside or inside linebacker roster spot as well as someone they will need to contribute on special teams. Palmer is slightly undersized at the moment to play on the outside but but would have fine side to play inside now, he will have time to develop and add strength in an NFL weight program while learning the system. If he cannot make an impact on special teams, he will likely end up being cut and put on the practice squad. With the way the Packers run their defense, wherever he is learning his job, he will need to be able to demonstrate range and rush the passer.
In the seventh round, the Packers used the first of a trio of picks on Charles Johnson, wide receiver from Grand Valley State. Johnson is a tremendous triangle numbers prospect who also demonstrated good hands during his career. Johnson made teams take notice in workouts running a 4.38 and 4.39 40, a 6.96 three cone drill, a 39.5″ vertical, an 11’1″ broad jump, and threw up 14 bench reps at 6’2″ 215lbs. The Packers use a flyer on a tremendous athlete who has some experience under his belt and he gets a chance to prove what he can do against NFL competition. With the loss of Donald Driver to retirement and the loss of Greg Jennings to free agency, the Packers have space to add receivers, never a bad investment with Rodgers, but it is not necessarily a need as they have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones. If Johnson can impress in camp, he can snag a roster spot and compete for playing time. If not, the investment was next to nothing and they can put him on the practice squad.
They followed that up a handful of picks later when they added another wide receiver in Kevin Dorsey from Maryland. Dorsey brings size at 6’3″ 210lbs and comes from a bigger program but has never really broken out there. Part of this is due to the fact that the Terrapins had a mess at quarterback this past year that resulted in a freshman linebacker taking snaps at one point. As a result, Dorsey’s best season was his junior year where he had 45 catches for 573 yards and three touchdowns. Like with Johnson, Dorsey is coming in with a shot to impress and if he can show enough, he can hang onto a roster spot. If not, he could end up on the practice squad. The pair of players they are likely going to be fighting with a roster spots are Jarett Boykin and Jeremy Ross.
With their last pick in seventh round and the draft entirely, the Packers opted to bring in a linebacker in Sam Barrington from South Florida. Barrington is going to have an uphill battle trying to take a spot from a crowded field at inside linebacker. He has a ton of experience from his time in Tampa, playing 50 games, and has been a productive player for the Bulls. If he is going to latch on to the final roster, he is going to need to be productive on special teams and be able to beat out at least some of Brad Jones, Rob Francois, Terrell Manning, Jamari Lattimore and Jarvis Wilson. A few of them are simply journeymen and if he can play level with them, he likely beats them out on age and contract, but Manning and Lattimore are both young guys with a year of experience, which could make all of the difference in a competition.
My Thoughts: It is difficult to argue with the way Thompson runs the draft. He is patient and willing to let talent fall to him, is able to grab small school players and have them work out, and is willing to make deals in both directions. They made a series of trades and ended up with more picks overall in the process. None of them stand out alone as they did not rip anyone off, but merely made equal trades. What makes the Packers come out over the top is who they used the picks to draft, potentially added impact players on the cheap.
I have been on the Datone Jones bandwagon since December. I think he was ridiculously underrated through most of the process and even after the Senior Bowl, it seemed as though people refused to believe how effective he was as a football player. If he can have the same kind of impact he did for the Bruins, it is huge for Matthews and Perry. Jones is able to disrupt opposing teams so much that teammates get a large amount of added production because of it and then he brings his own production that is seen on a stat sheet. This is a great prospect at a great value and a perfect fit.
I did not love the Eddie Lacy pick when it was made, but when they were also able to addFranklinto the mix, I was much higher on it because of the overwhelming amount of options it gives them. They have a guy in Franklin who is a great all around talent and could really fit what the Packers want to do in their normal offense. Lacy can come in as a short yardage back, situations where they have an advantage in power, or in the second halves of games and especially the fourth quarter where they want to eat clock and shorten the game. They can line up and play power football, spread them out and let Franklin operate in space or spread the defense out and force them to play nickel and have Lacy come in and see if they can stop him.
I had Lacy ranked ahead of Franklin but feel Franklin fit the Packers better and because of his tremendous technique and instincts for the position, I think Franklin could end up the best back to come out of this draft if he can just add a little bulk and I would not be surprised if Franklin ends up the main back or the better player overall.
Thompson addressed the offensive line and added depth and maybe they can get beyond the injuries, they can finally have a reliable unit that can protect Rodgers consistently. He is going to take his share of sacks because of his style of play but having a consistent line and a productive running game will make his life so much easier and put the Packers in position to win another Super Bowl.
I like Josh Boyd as a player but he also appears to represent the Mendoza line for their defensive ends who have underperformed in recent years. If they cannot beat out Boyd, they are not going to make the team. A group of players that had a lot of promise at the points when they were drafted has severely underperformed across from B.J. Raji or as depth, which is part of the reason for the selection of Jones. Ultimately, if they can get one or two solid players from the guys they selected in the fifth round and later, it will be a success due to the depth the Packers have as well the talent on the overall roster. Boyd and Hyde have the best shots due to their talent and draft slotting but it might be the two seventh round receivers who have the best shot of making the team, but more than likely only one of them.
While the players will ultimately have to prove they were worth the moves, but at this point, it appears as though Ted Thompson and the Packers front office did another fantastic job maneuvering through the draft with a number of balanced trades and picking players that can help them immediately as well as players with longer term viability who can provide depth. The small risk the Packers made is that outside of Jones, they are counting on people already on the roster to step up and play better from last year or replace players who were ineffective. Their approach to taking pressure off of Rodgers and adding a viable running game appears solid on paper and could be a huge addition to the Packers offense and their defense. By being able to control the ball more, they will have the ability to give their defense a break, milk the clock, and reduce the number of reps the defense needs to play if they choose, which will allow their more talented players in the front seven to play more reps at a higher level. If the rest of the NFC North was hoping the Packers would take a step back after this past year, they are likely going to be disappointed.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Alabama Crimson Tide Charles Johnson Colorado Buffaloes Football Cornell Datone Jones David Bakhtiari Eddie Lacy Grand Valley State Green Bay Packers Illinois State J.c. Tretter Johnathan Franklin Josh Boyd Kevin Dorsey Maryland Terrapins Football Mississippi State Bulldog Football Nate Palmer Sam Barrington South Florida Bulls Football UCLA Bruins Football