Are you ready for some football?!
Game tickets and packages for the 2017 season available later this week! Sign up to our mailing list and we’ll let you know as soon as they’re available!
» 2017 Preview
By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay GM Ted Thompson’s moves last year must be impactive this year
The Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy receives its keenest scrutiny this time of year.
With the 2017 NFL draft just 10 days away, it’s interesting to look back at what last year’s draft produced.
Going into it, the NFL’s scouts and media experts essentially nailed the Packers’ position of need: Defensive front seven, and in particular the defensive line.
Andrew Billings, the Baylor nose tackle, was the popular choice. The reason was because of B.J. Raji’s decision to retire.
Everyone from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks to Yahoo.com’s Eric Edholm had the Packers’ Ted Thompson selecting a defensive tackle. Billings appeared to be the consensus pick, if he was available, but that wasn’t Thompson’s preference.
Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler and Alabama defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed also were frequently linked to the Packers.
It turns out the Packers’ GM went with UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark. His selection came as a mild surprise but not totally unexpected. In fact, I mentioned Clark on several occasions leading up to last year’s draft.
I felt strongly at the time that the Packers’ defensive line needed an infusion of youth and talent. It turns out Clark, who just turned 21, provided both. After a strong training camp, Clark got off to a strong start, then hit a plateau d and even disappeared a bit in November, but managed to re-emerge for a solid stretch run.
Where would the Packers’ defense be without Clark? They’d be in serious trouble, especially with Letroy Guion awaiting a four-game suspension to start the season. Clark’s development occurred under the radar, whereas Blake Martinez’s was more in the media.
Martinez proved to be what the experts predicted. He was billed as a smart, instinctive player who has possessed leadership skills. Scouts also thought he lacked top-end speed and agility, the type of skills that set apart the average from something much better.
Still, Martinez validated Thompson’s pick by being able to contribute as a rookie. His prospectus for this season is on the rise.
For my part, I’m really curious to see what Kyler Fackrell will bring to the table in his second season. Fackrell, who was coming off an ACL injury from the 2014 opener, didn’t appear to be impeded at all. However, he needs to add considerable strength this offseason.
As a third-round pick, he possessed the size (6-5, 245, and speed – a 4.65 40-yard dash – to be an impactful pass rusher. I suspect the Packers will groom Fackrell to line up on the depth chart behind Clay Matthews, while Jayrone Elliott will be behind Nick Perry on the other side.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the depth chart if Thompson goes with an edge pass rusher at No. 29. That could be a possibility with possible choices such as Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, who would be a slam-dunk decision for me at No. 29.
Watt, who is raw, bears a strong resemblance to Matthews when he came out of college. Watt has strong family lines, a raw-bone, rangy build that can become more powerful and great instincts.
Furthermore, I’d be tempted to double down at linebacker and select Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel, an in-state product who would be a terrific addition in the late-third or fourth round.
The closer the draft gets the more I believe Thompson will choose between a cornerback or edge pass rusher with an interior defensive lineman a distant third choice.Watt would fill the bill.
Meantime, the Packers need to expect and get a lot out of Clark, Fackrell and Martinez this season. For some reason, Fackrell has gone under the radar thus far. That is going to change going into the mini-camps and OTAs.
Third round picks are valuable. That is prize real estate under the Thompson regime. Fackrell, like Clark and Martinez, has room to grow.
It’s up to head coach Mike McCarthy’s staff to develop him and make it happen.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.