Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is pretty good at this whole drafting thing. In fact, he might be the best in the business when it comes to procuring talent from the annual NFL selection meeting (aka the NFL Draft).
And despite some criticism about the Packers 2015 class, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Green Bay’s incoming rookies and there are more than a few reasons why some of the low draft grades given to Thompson’s draft are just wrong.
(On a side note, I meant to post this much sooner, but once again got busy with life and my day job, so sorry for the delay. But, I am going to be putting out some more in-depth pieces on each individual from the Packers draft as well as some of their undrafted free agents so stay tuned down the road).
Of course the biggest issue that the so-called experts have had with the Packers draft is that supposedly it did not target position of needs. First of all, drafting solely for need is folly. Thompson drafted Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams at times when Green Bay was not in need of a wide receiver and look how that turned out.
In the NFL, rosters are in constant flux. And just because your depth chart looks good at a position one year, doesn’t mean it won’t change the next, due to injury or free agency, trades or decline in play. That’s why drafting talent football players, regardless of the position should be the goal of every team and in my humble opinion, Thompson did that once again in 2015.
Going into the draft, the Packers had two big needs: cornerback and inside linebacker. And even though the first two players they picked were hybrid defensive backs with the ability to play corner and safety, Thompson addressed the coverage needs of his team, while also addressing inside linebacker. Therefore, he addressed needs with three of his first four selections, without sacrificing value, which is the name of the game on draft day.
Damarious Randall, the team’s first-round pick out of Arizona State, may be listed as a free safety and he may play some safety in Green Bay, but make no mistake, he was drafted for his ability to cover in man-to-man situations. And with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle, it might come in handy to have a corner/safety with man-to-man coverage ability.
Quinton Rollins, the Packers’ second-round pick is also versatile and talented. This past year was his first playing college football (after four years of college basketball at Miami, Ohio) and all he did was win the MAC Defensive Player of the Year Award. The former point guard has great athleticism and even better ball skills. He picked off seven passes last season and has the chance to develop into a true ball-hawk in the NFL.
Now Randall and Rollins may not be traditional corners but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In today’s game, when teams are routinely running out of the shotgun and spreading things out, you need hybrid players, who can cover inside, outside, tackle and play safety.
Randall is talented in coverage and is also a solid tackler and he will have a chance to compete for playing time right away either on the outside, in the slot or in other sub packages. Rollins, will find himself in a similar situation as he will compete with Randall, Micah Hyde and Demetrius Goodson for the third and fourth corner positions.
Last season, Hayward, who was essentially the team’s fourth corner played nearly 40 percent of the snaps. And now with him looking like the favorite to start opposite Sam Shields, his spot in the nickel defense is up for grabs and with Hyde, Randall and Rollins all in pursuit, it should bring out the best in them all and give Green Bay some solid options to replace the departed Tramon Williams and Davon House.
Before the draft, the Packers were light in the secondary. But now, With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett at safety — Sam Shields and Hayward at corner, plus Hyde, Rollins and Randall, who can play both positions, Green Bay has seven talented cover guys, plus backup safeties Anthony Richardson and Chris Banjo.
That’s a loaded secondary and something Packer fans should feel very optimistic about.
Then, with their third-round pick, Thompson went back to wide receiver, where his picks never seem to fail and even though it’s early, I believe he found another dynamo in Stanford wide out Ty Montgomery.
Montgomery was so good as a junior that he earned All-American honors and was expected by many to be selected in the first round. Yet, he struggled as a receiver and slipped to Green Bay in the third. That means Aaron Rodgers got another first-round talent in his receiving core, giving him yet another talented weapon.
Montgomery, who is versatile enough to play outside or in the slot on offense, is built like a running back, but has the hands and route-running ability of a wide receiver. In four seasons, he racked up 2,125 yards as a receiver and 338 as a runner, as well as yards per carry average of 8.9 and a yards per reception average of 12.5. He also scored a total of 19 touchdowns (15 receiving, four rushing).
Yet, the true genius of the Montgomery pick is that he is more than just a receiver. He might also be the best return specialist in the 2015 draft and with the Packers making special teams a priority in 2015, his selection makes perfect sense. As a returner, he scored a total of five touchdowns, with three kickoff returns and two punt returns. He also averaged over 28 yards per kick return and more than 18 yards per punt return.
Those are staggering numbers and with his ability, Montgomery should take over both the kick and punt return duties full-time. He could also be the best return guy Green Bay has had in over a decade and will at the same time relieve Cobb and Hyde from having to handle those duties. He may also be able to take over Cobb’s role as occasional third-down back and would be the best candidate to replace Cobb in the slot in case of injury. And who knows, in four years when Cobb’s contract expires, Montgomery may be good enough that the Packers can let Cobb walk.
Lastly, the selection of linebacker Jake Ryan was pure genius. According to Packers’ scout Elliot Wolf, Green Bay had the former Michigan man high on their board, so when he fell to them in the fourth round, it seemed too good to be true.
Ryan did it all at Michigan. He played defensive end, outside linebacker and this past season — inside linebacker. He is an above-average athlete, is solid against the run, is a good tackler, can rush the passer and is a very capable blizter. His coverage skills will be tested, but he is more than capable of being a two-down inside linebacker right away for Green Bay in 2015.
Ryan is also a high-energy player with a motor that never quits. To be honest, he reminds of a poor man’s Clay Matthews and not just because he also sports long locks of hair. He’s versatile, fiery and relentless just like Matthews and will fit great in Green Bay’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves versatile player and Ryan fits that mold perfectly. Plus, he should be a contributor on special teams from day one, which is another positive and is as Mike McCarthy said “a four-down player.”
There are also plenty of prospects with talent and intrigue out of the Packers late-round picks and undrafted free agent signees (more details to come in later posts). Yet, the first four picks of this draft will be what makes it special.
Green Bay selected four players with talent, athleticism and versatility. All of them can and should contribute to the team in multiple ways from the outset and I believe by the end of the season, the so-called draft experts will see just how wrong they were to give Thompson and the Packers such poor grades on their 2015 draft class.
So while it’s never a surprise when Thompson does well on draft day, I believe that despite what some critics have said, TT went yard with this draft class — now we just have to see the product on the field to prove it.