Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Green Bay Packers

Inevitably every year when the draft comes around people like me, along with those entirely more qualified to talk about the subject, start talking about how the bad teams should be looking to trade down to get extra picks by exploiting teams like Atlanta and Miami who currently believe (rightly or wrongly) that they are on the cusp of greatness and just need one more pick to make it all happen.

People like me, and also the said more qualified individuals, tend to think that most good teams will try and stick to their guns with regards to their picks, looking to add more quality rather than more quantity to their teams.

Of course these theories usually collapse in the face of the reality of a General Manager/Owner breathing down your neck telling you how you must win now/turn things around/work miracles/fix my years of bad drafting/etc, or the next scouting task you'll be doing will be for one of the TV networks or one of the BCS colleges.

Then of course there's Bill Belichick who is essentially a law unto himself. About the only two things you can almost guarantee is that 1) he will accumulate extra picks at some point, 2) he will draft a tight end at some point.

Then we have the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who decided that having just won a Super Bowl their team was pretty handy as it is thank you very much and that they were going to follow the pick accumulating path this time around. In the end they tallied up 10 picks in total.

The first of those was Derek Sherrod, offensive tackle, from Mississippi State.

I have to say right off the bat; love me a bit of Derek Sherrod. Good player, nice footwork, use of the hands is good, use of leverage is good. If I had to gripe and pick holes it would be that there is more run film of him than pass, so it could be argued that it's a little harder to make a good assessment of how he will play on a pass first team like the Packers.

Also, occasionally he misses pass rushers from the outside but that seems to be a function more of the pass protection scheme than his own mistake, as if he didn't block the person that he did there would be no one else to do it. That made sense in my head at least, if not on (electronic) paper. Just trust me, it wasn't his fault.

Overall I think Sherrod is a good offensive tackle with a lot of potential. If Green Bay decides to go young this year and throw Sherrod straight into the mix then I see him starting at the right tackle spot, where his run-first past will be of more use, with the excellent Bryan Bulaga kicked over to left tackle. Certainly I think Sherrod has the talent to give it a bloody good shot.

Next up, in round two now, was wide receiver Randall Cobb from Kentucky. Now I've been a Cobb fan for a while. I think he mixes well the traits of speed, agility and route adjustments. By that last bit, I mean he reads the defense on the fly and makes subtle changes to his routes to help him get open, especially over the middle in traffic.

In addition Cobb has shown a talent for running a Wildcat type, single wing offensive package in college so he might be of some use bringing that to the table for the Packers. I'm not sure if that's really where they want to go though (it's tough to justify taking Aaron Rodgers off the field). I haven't seen any special teams snaps for Cobb but I'd be interested to see how he would get on as a returner. His speed and elusiveness in the open field might be just the ticket for that.

All in all, not a bad little pick, especially given the Packers offensive style. How many nickelbacks in the NFL can really stay with someone like Cobb for the entire game? I have a feeling we'll find out soon enough.

Next, third round running back Alex Green from Hawaii.

There is a lot to like about Alex Green. Speed is very good. Cutting ability is very good. Vision on the run is very good, winding a path through the defense. Toughness is good. Pass blocking is actually quite good as well. The list of positives begin to mount up quite quickly, so it's surprising that I hadn't really heard a thing about him pre-draft.

There is one down side though that I can see. The nature of the offense that Green played in for Hawaii (a run and shoot style system) means that there was lots of running room up the middle of the field. With Hawaii using predominantly four wide receiver sets it has a tendency to pull the defense out across the field, stretching them horizontally. They also either remove most of their linebackers and replace them with extra defensive backs, or at the very least end up with their linebackers split away from the center of the defense.

That opens the door for a rather unique phenomenon as far as football is concerned, whereby any run that successfully breaches the first line of defense (the D-line) is often destined to go for at least 10 yards. The effect this can have is to grossly inflate a backs yards per carry statistics, as he is not called on to run much, usually only when the QB sees a favourable front and decides to audible to a run play. When he does he routinely ends up busting those plays for big yardage.

So there is a question as to how will Green cope with more crowded boxes at the next level? Granted the Packers spend a lot of time in 3 wide receiver sets, but they also run their fair share of I formation stuff and that bizarre diamond backfield/inverted wishbone thing that seems to be gradually spreading around the upper levels as an occasional set.

If Green can get the hang of reading the slightly more complicated defense's then he has the potential to go a long way. He is genuinely very talented physically, now it all comes down to getting his mind to work in perfect harmony with his body, like some kind of Zen Buddhist running back/monk. If you see what I mean.

On to round four and corner Davon House from New Mexico State. House is one of these weird ones where I can't really figure out what made me originally give him good praise. Initially I was quite taken with House but the more I sit down and watch him, the more that little thought creeps into my mind that says "average corner".

His tackling is poor, despite me previously describing it in April as, quote "tackles well". Again I'm not really sure what prompted me to say that because House quite clearly lacks the requisite strength to make decent form tackles. He can chuck himself at someones knees but that's about it.

Against the pass he has some desirable traits, such as the fact that he actually turns around and looks for the ball which is a dying art among corners. But in general his speed and change of direction is sloppy and he has trouble staying with the better receivers in college, which basically doesn't bode very well for the next level.

Maybe more luck for Green Bay as we enter round five, with tight end D.J. Williams from Arkansas. I really like Williams. He reminds me a lot of the Antonio Gates/Vernon Davis/Dallas Clark type tight ends, who may not be the strongest in the world but are still adequate blockers and most importantly have speed down field and good hands.

It's a tough combination to stop, as Williams has shown the ability both to pass and run block to a sufficient level, while also possessing very solid hands. I didn't see him drop one ball in three games. If the ball was in range then he got it. He also has good moves in the open field with the ball in his hands and promises to be another good addition to an already very dangerous offense.

Next up, into round six now and guard Caleb Schlauderaff from Utah. Honestly, I hope you know who he is because I don't and I have no Utah tape so I probably never will.

Pressing on then and now it's linebacker D.J. Smith from Appalachian state.

Smith is a difficult one to judge. Some linebackers get all the sexy jobs. They get called on blitzes often or have entire defenses built around their skill sets. Smith isn't one of these guys. He is strong and he is keen to get involved. There is no doubt about the fact that he never shies away from contact.

But getting a handle on his overall skills is tough because he mainly just does his job, regardless of how boring that may appear on film. Against the run he will hold the edge and try to spill everything inside if he's the outside man, which is exactly what he's supposed to do. On film it looks like he's not getting involved but he is.

He does his job and he does it damn well. In pass coverage he often ends up on a running back and I like in particular the way he gives himself enough of a cushion. If the throw is made to the back he could still get there in time and make the tackle. But if the pass goes inside or behind him, he has enough depth to get on the case ASAP.

It's not a sexy job like I said, but someone has to do it, so credit it to him for that. The trouble is judging how well this will transfer to the NFL. At the minute I'm inclined to say he'll do ok, but I'm not sure as he'll be a major impact player if that's what people are hoping for.

Last from round six is Ricky Elmore, defensive end, Arizona.

Elmore was a true DE in college, but I imagine for the Packers he will stand up and rush the QB from the outside linebacker spot. In that regard, I'm very interested in what Elmore can bring. He has raw potential but he'll need some tweaking and that means taking lessons from Clay Matthews. Not a bad tutor I suppose.

The main advantage that Elmore has is speed. He races off the line like a lightning bolt and gets deep. From there onwards it starts to go a bit downhill. Literally. He will rush almost straight up the field, beating the tackle with speed, then turn and come back to the quarterback. It's not a bad approach, but it is a little predictable and requires the QB to hold the ball long enough for him to have time to pull it off.

Elmore does have other plus points though. He plays well against the run. He has shown on film that when he gets blocked and stood up, he has the ability to keep working and shed his blocker to get inside. He is generally quite strong and his basic technique will see him through the early days, but he does need to get his head down eventually and work hard to develop a full pass rushing move set.

Generally though, pretty good I think.

On to round seven and the Packers had two picks starting with tight end Ryan Taylor from North Carolina. Taylor is someone I hadn't seen before, so it was off to North Carolina to take a peek. Not literally of course. Anyway.

Not a huge fan of Taylor. His run blocking is ok, pass blocking not so good. Doesn't really seem to have the speed to break free and his route running is pretty sloppy. When he breaks on some routes the transition from the vertical to the horizontal part of the route is slow and a little lazy.

Last but not least then, that brings us to Lawrence Guy, defensive tackle, Arizona State. Another player who I hadn't seen prior to the draft so I stick in Arizona and have a look. Annnnnndd I don't get it. Maybe you can give Guy the benefit of the doubt because he spent a lot of time being double teamed, but other than being very fat, Guy appears to have no useful skills to bring to the table (hey, it worked for Terrence Cody).

No use of the hands, no real technique. He just seems to be reliant entirely on power to get the job done, and even then he is often found wanting. I think it's going to take a huge amount of coaching to bring Guy up to a sufficient level before he has a chance of making it on the Packers D-line.

So, overall thoughts then? I really like some of the picks. I think the Packers might have picked up perhaps five guys that could conceivably start for the team in the next two to three seasons. By any measure that has to be considered a good draft.

They really had the luxury this year of just taking whomever was the best player available according to their board and I think that strategy might reap dividends with this draft class. Probably one of the better overall drafts out there this year.

Well, apology's that it took so long, but my schedule was pretty busy last week. This week I have a bit more time and I'm looking to accelerate this series a little given that there is increasing optimism that a new labor deal will get done, with some people expecting a new CBA to arrive as soon as the next two weeks.

I wont hold my breath.

The Vikings are up next.

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