Tag Archives: Dont’a Hightower

2012 NFL Draft: Act One

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was wilder than a substance fueled Charlie Sheen all-nighter. The picks came in so hot they actually had to queue selections to allow the television coverage to catch-up – which may or may not have been the most annoying part of the show. (This was not.) There was a flurry of trades within the first round with multiple teams jockeying for guys they think can help their team win. This included some shrewd activity, both early and late, by one of the Border Rivals squads. While the other Border Rivals squad sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the High Life while he let the draft come to him.

The following is both a review of what happened during round one and what could happen in Friday’s sequel. To kick things off, let’s start with the surprisingly active half of the Border Rivals rivalry.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings shrewdly swapped their 3rd overall pick for the Browns 4th overall and their 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks. This trade marked a departure for a Vikings management group that has never swung a deal like this, despite fans clamoring for it. As long as this author has been alive, the Vikes have never been the team to make the savvy, draft-day move. In fact, quite the opposite, this was the team that was late bringing its pick to the podium not once, but TWICE. And yet tonight, the Vikes made the perfect move, not once, but TWICE.

Trading down from #3 was perfect because they not only landed the player they wanted anyway, Matt Kalil, but they leveraged the Browns into coughing up three additional picks. Then, they used one of those picks, to finance a trade to get back into the first round and get the other player they really wanted, safety Harrison Smith.

Mount Kalil’s considerable skills have been detailed on this site’s pages here. His presence at left tackle actually improves the Vikes at two positions because now last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson, can move inside to guard. As for Smith, he is a solid safety who will consistently make the heady play. He may not be flashy, but, he will make the ordinary plays, extraordinarily well (shout out to John Gagliardi for that line). This kind of consistency will be a nice departure from the practice squad All-stars that manned the porous secondary last year.

Ultimately though, the difference between this year’s draft being good and great is going to come down to whether the Vikings can replicate their mastery of the move in rounds two and three. Most draft “experts” agree that, barring a Tom Brady or Marques Colston suprise, this draft is about 100 players deep. That means the odds are in your favor for getting a decent NFL starter in the first three rounds. For that reason, the Vikes should use their bounty of picks in the later rounds to try and trade back into the second or third rounds. For a team with needs all over the field, two or three more decent NFL starters will make all the difference.

Green Bay Packers

Staying true to his M.O., TT patiently waited until his selection and (most likely) picked the best player available. Thankfully, TT’s best player available also happened to be the biggest need for the Packers – another OLB to rush the passer and compliment The Claymaker. Going back to the well, TT selected USC’s Nick Perry (OLB) with the 28th overall selection.

Perry started his career at USC playing the Elephant position (the same position The Claymaker made famous) and then converted to a DE force. In his final season (red-shirt junior year), Perry recorded 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks, good enough to lead the Pac-whatever-the-number-is-now in sacks. Perry is 6’3” and 270 lbs. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash (third-best for an OLB at the Combine) and benched 225 lbs. 35 times (good for 5th best out of all defensive linemen). The experts report that Perry’s biggest strengths are his burst off the ball, his overall quickness, which is especially impressive considering his size, and his relentless pursuit. Clearly, TT found another stud in the first-round, right?

Not so fast. Perry’s biggest weakness gives me cause for concern. He played primarily DE in college and any highlight package you see of Perry shows him with his hand in the ground. He undoubtedly has superior athleticism, but that’s not enough to win in the NFL. Even Perry proclaimed at the Combine that he’d prefer sticking his hand in the ground in a 4-3 over playing OLB in a 3-4. He knows how to get to the QB. But, it’s a complete guess whether he can fully play the OLB position in a 3-4 – i.e. can he play standing up, guard TE’s in open space, and not get lost in zone coverage. I have full faith in our coaching staff, most importantly Kevin Greene, to coach this young man up and get him ready – after all, they worked wonders with Frank Zombo in making him competent enough to start on a Super Bowl winning team. Still, it’s going to require some major coaching and there will certainly be some growing pains along the way to get Perry comfortable in his new OLB position.

In addition to this primary concern, I’m also a bit frustrated TT didn’t make a move to trade up and get a player – namely, Dont’a Hightower, a beast ILB from Alabama. The Hoodie traded a 4th round pick to move up and grab Hightower. It’s a nominal price, particularly since the Packers have three 4th round selections this year. I coveted getting a thumper ILB to pair with Bishop. And even if Hightower wasn’t the selection, it would have been nice to see TT move up to get a player he coveted given the low cost and superfluous picks we have this year. Along these lines, it was somewhat surprising TT went with Perry over Courtney Upshaw, OLB from Alabama. Upshaw seems to be the more proven OLB commodity having played that position in a 3-4 in college and for the best defense in the country. My guess is Perry’s superior athleticism pushed him over Upshaw and TT has full confidence in his staff to teach Perry the position.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 1st round for the Packers. A position of dire need was filled with an unquestionably talented player. Perry comes from an elite program and is an instant starter for us. That’s what you want out of an end-of-1st selection.

As for the 2nd-3rd rounds Friday night, I anticipate TT will continue to devote picks to the defense. The Packers own the 27th selection in both the 2nd (59th overall) and 3rd (90th) rounds. Stocked with three 4th round selections and 12 picks overall, I anticipate TT will not simply sit back and wait like he did in the 1st round. There is plenty of talent left on the board and believe TT could make a move up to grab a player he covets. He did this two years ago when he sniped Morgan Burnett, and it’s a model he should follow again this year. The Packers do not need 12 new players to add to the roster. Instead, the Packers need impact-players, ones that TT targets, and trades up to acquire.

There are several DE prospects still lingering – Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Kendall Reyes, and Jared Crick. Additionally, Courtney Upshaw, Lavonte David, Zach Brown, Ronnell Lewis, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, and Olivier Vernon are OLB prospects that are still on the board. Finally, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are CB’s that could interest the Packers. As you can tell, there’s a lot of talent for the taking in the second round. At least some of these players will start to fall. It’s time for TT to be aggressive and move up several spots to grab one of these players.

Prediction: I see TT going after the front 7 on defense again in the second round. If TT makes a move, he will go after Reyes or David. If he sits back and waits, the pick will be Crick or Lewis/Curry. In the 3rd round, he should try to get secondary help. One name to keep an eye out for is Casey Hayward from Vanderbilt. If he avoids the secondary, this may be the spot TT addresses the OL – either a guard (remember, T.J. Lang is a FA next year) or center.

For a change, both sides of the St. Croix should be pleased with the results from the 1st Rd. Friday night’s rounds 2 and 3 are just as important to both teams’ success. Enjoy the festivities and make sure to check back here for some reaction following the draft.

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Players to watch at the NFL Combine

The NFL Offseason officially begins next week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine – you know, the only interview done in tights and briefs. Despite their 15-1 regular season record, the Packers have plenty of positions they could use upgrades – basically anywhere on defense! While you’re watching highlights, reading updates, or listening to the talking heads (don’t try lying to yourself, we all know we are going to be doing this, even though we’d like to deny this fact), here are a few players Packers fans should keep their eyes on. And these are intended not to be the obvious candidates that would be great picks if they fell to us.

Vinny Curry – Curry is a fringe 1st-rd. pick according to the experts on the ole interweb, and a player not many people have heard of. Curry is a DE/OLB hybrid from Marshall. He’s 6’4″, 260+ lbs., and apparently is a “refined pass-rusher,” according to Mel Kiper’s Hair. He posted 23 sacks the past two seasons. Other reports indicate he has some real speed off the edge and has been compared to Cameron Wake. The Combine will be important to show off his athleticism and whether he has the ability to make the conversion to OLB.

Nick Perry – Perry is a player shooting up many draft boards and the Combine is likely only going to make it occur quicker. He’s a 6’3″, 250 lb. junior DE/OLB hybrid that had 9.5 sacks last season for USC (hmmm… could TT go back to the well?). Like so many of these young hybrid players coming out of college, Perry has very little experience working in space. He, too, has a great speed off the edge, and reports indicate he’s a hard worker that came from a tough upbringing in Detroit. Things to watch – reports indicate he is undersized for his position, and may have shorter arms (recall how much this fact has negatively impacted Bryan Bulaga… oh wait.)

Whitney Mercilus – Again, a DE/OLB hybrid out of Illinois. He led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) last season. Clearly, a player of this ability would be nice opposite the Claymaker. But, Mercilus screams one-hit wonder (think Vernon Gholston). In 2009 to 2010, he recorded 24 tackles and 2 sacks… total. The Combine will be the perfect place for him to display his athleticism, and his value will likely shoot up too high for the Packers selection. And for the record, a report has compared him favorably to Jason Paul-Pierre.

Dont’a Hightower – Hightower was the catalyst for the best defense in college last season (and perhaps the last decade-plus). He is an absolute beast ILB and would be the ideal replacement for A.J. “T-Rex Arms” Hawk. I was very pleased with D.J. Smith’s performance last season, but at this point, let’s get the best players available and sort out where each player will play later. Who knows, if Smith improves and we grabbed Hightower, moving Bishop to OLB might be a possibility. But I digress. Hightower is a thumper. Reports seem to indicate that he may be a tad bit slower than some would like. If this is true – i.e. he doesn’t test out well at the Combine – he could fall into TT’s lap, and would be a coup for the Pack.

In addition to these few specific players to watch for, there are a number of very good DE prospects to look for at the end of the 1st rd.: Fletcher Cox (Miss. St.), Jerel Worthy (Mich. St.), and Devon Still (PSU). In the secondary, look for Mark Barron (S – Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (CB – N. Alabama), and a second-rd. prospect in Trumaine Johnson (DB – Montana). Regarding T. Johnson, allegedly he’s a big and athletic guy that looks the part, but has some mental shortcomings – i.e. he’s a mental midget and may be quite fond of himself. His interview will go a long way in how high he climbs on the draft board.

In order to win one for the thumb, the Packers need to desperately upgrade several positions in its defense. As we know, TT is averse to upgrading the roster through free agency (to put it mildly). Hitting on their first several picks in the upcoming draft is crucial. The NFL Combine is where this process begins.