It’s only 30 days away, so it’s time to start opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Our Draft Advent Calendar is basically a (over)simplified way to appraise each team’s offseason moves to this point, and what roster needs still remain that could be addressed via the draft. We’ve all had those years when nobody, fucking nobody buys what we put on our list. We’ve all also experienced that shitty moment when we realize that the gift we want to get is no longer available in stores. As such, we’re not going to predict which college players will go to which team. Rather, we’re appraising each NFL team to this point, and what position(s) they might want to address when the last advent door is opened and the wise men start going off like a bunch of gun lobbyists.
Door #4 – The Packers
Last season: 11-5; lost in Divisional Round
TOTAL PICKS: 8
34 (167) (compensatory selection)
It’s been an offseason of trepidation so far for fans in Green Bay. Their team has been typically unexciting in the free agency derby. In fact, the Packers didn’t get the only two high-end players that they reportedly went after. One of those players was RB Stephen Jackson, who signed with the Falcons. The other was the real knife-twister: Their own star player WR Greg Jennings spurned the franchise in Favrian fashion, by deciding to play for the archrival Vikings. To complicate matters, the Packers decided not to re-sign fan favorite and future Hall Of Famer, safety Charles Woodson.
Their “notable” free agency acquisitions to date: Solid-value defensive lineman, Chris Canty, and linebackers Rob Francois and Brad Jones. Forgive Cheesehead Nation if they’re not sleeping easy at the moment. But you’d think that by now the track record and roster management style of GM Ted Thompson would be enough to reassure the Green Bay faithful. Either way, former NFL general manager Bill Polian – the architect of the Colts’ run of successful personnel moves during the Peyton Manning era – said this to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an even-handed article about the state of the Packers:
“Fans in Green Bay should not go crazy. They should applaud Ted.”
Huh? It’s not like Polian hasn’t earned the right to have his opinions afforded some respect, so let’s think about this. Thompson prioritized cap space allotment to contract extensions for QB (and 2011 league MVP) Aaron Rodgers and key defenders Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. (Word is that Rodgers’ extension is currently in the works….Will he go the roster-friendly way of Tom Brady, or the ivory backscratcher route Joe Flacco elected for?) The mind(s) behind the Packers’ personnel decisions aren’t fond of jumping on the trendy, sexy (translation: expensive and risky) free agents that proliferate the first week or so of the signing period. Instead, they like to be patient and spend their money wisely on the more value-accurate (translation: consistent and cap friendly) signings that happen later on once the market has calmed down. Too often the highest-priced free agents end up being busts. Seen in that light, Thompson is on to something.
One could argue that Green Bay’s offense has thrived more when Jennings was on the field, but if there’s one thing that can take a hit to help this team’s salary cap solubility it’s their embarrassment of riches at the receiver position. That being said, there’s a lot of stress on two players who, in my opinion, are unproven beyond various streaky performances: Wideouts Jordy Nelson and James Jones. But that’s life in today’s NFL. Teams must continually ask players to take on more responsibility after their teammates price themselves out of town. What’s more, Green Bay’s “Slash 2.0”, Randall Cobb, is primed for a huge year after an impressive 2012 season that drew praise from many – primarily Rodgers. (I made note of this a few times last season, most notably in What I Saw, Week 7.)
Of course, if a conservative approach to free agency is one’s plan of attack for an upcoming season, one should also plan for success in the draft. Sticking with that side of the ball for a moment, the Packers’ offense is justifiably highly regarded but still has needs to address. The most obvious need is along the offensive line, particularly at the ever-important position of left tackle. Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league at making throws outside of his comfort zone because he is superbly athletic and has such disciplined feet to square himself up to throw after leaving the pocket. But head coach Mike McCarthy knows that his team is playing with fire if it doesn’t improve the pass protection around his star quarterback. It would be a surprise if Green Bay didn’t use at least one of their top three draft picks on an O-lineman. Another way to take stress off of the passing game is to improve the running game – an order that’s been strangely tall for them over the last few seasons. The Pack has a history of spending mid-to-low selections on the position, and there are more quality backs in this year’s draft in that value bracket than in the upper rounds. (Especially ones that can pass block, which McCarthy covets.) Lastly, even though they inked TE Jermichael Finley to a one-year deal earlier this week, the length of that deal indicates Green Bay’s lack of faith in his productivity, so they could take a player at that position – one that could challenge the mercurial Finley.
However, as Michael Irvin is fond of saying, let’s be real here. This team needs more quality defenders. Last season the Packers finished 22nd in the NFL in overall defense, 22nd versus the pass, and 17th against the run. The only reason that can be viewed as an improvement from 2011 is because that season was historically bad. Canty is a solid addition, and even though the pass rush could use some help, the real issue lies in the defensive backfield – both against the pass and in run support. Green Bay has taken two big hits in the last two years, having lost S Nick Collins after the 2011 season, and now Woodson, who ably moved over from cornerback to fill the hole at safety left by Collins. M.D. Jennings is currently slotted into that position. Talent wise, he’s a shadow of either of his predecessors. There are some excellent safeties in the draft that should be available in the second and third rounds, but if a top-notch prospect like Florida’s Matt Elam is available at the 26th pick in the first round, Green Bay should pounce on it. (I don’t see the top prospect there – Alabama’s Chance Warmack – falling past fifteen.)
In the end, this team should be able to put itself in a solid position to compete every week, despite numerous holes. After all, they’ve been dong that just fine for years now, with lots of depth at other positions.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.