Tag Archives: Nick Perry

Packers – 2012 Year in Review

Happy New Years Packernation! It’s been a fun year, full of ups-and-downs for our favorite squad. Here’s a breakdown of the good, bad, and ugly that we endured this calendar year.

The Good – The emergence of young and promising stars on both sides of the ball: Randall Cobb and Casey Hayward. Cobb is the definition of a multi-threat talent. He’s a top-end slot receiver, shown to be a threat out of the backfield, can take any punt or kickoff to the house, and smart – see his heads-up play of making a kickoff out-of-bounds in the Tennessee blowout. He led the league in total yards this year, breaking the all-time Packers yardage record in the process. His emergence has basically made Greg Jennings dispensable this offseason, much to the rejoice of his sister. And the best part of his emergence is his humility. Cobb is simply a team player that says “we” instead of “I.”

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT's best draft-day decisions.

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT’s best draft-day decisions.

Similarly, Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward has already established himself as one of the top cover-corners in the league; and he’s only a rookie. He’s shown an awareness on the field that would make even the savviest of veterans blush. He’s yet to get beaten for a TD, not been flagged, and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the pile – unlike Tramon Williams. Because he didn’t start playing full-time until week 6, he’s unlikely to win the ROY – but he should. His emergence has solidified the Packers’ secondary not only for this year, but for the immediate future.

Honorable Mention: TT’s draft. TT has built this team through above-average draft classes nearly every year. This year’s class is shaping up to be one of his best. Devoting the first six selections to a defense that hemorrhaged yards and points last season paid off. Nick Perry didn’t flash, but showed he belonged and should develop into a solid player opposite Claymaker. The same can be said for Worthy. Hayward is the best selection. And McMillian and Daniels  have provided much needed depth to the line and secondary. McMillian could be in a battle with M.D. Jennings for the starting safety spot for the next couple of years.

The Bad – The Packers have suffered a rash of injuries. The following players have been injured at various points this season (and I’m bound to miss a few): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, JerMichael Finley, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Jerel Worthy, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Frank Zombo, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, Sam Shields, Charles Woodson, Sean Richardson, and Davon House.

To put this into different perspective, the Packers have been without their top 3 RB’s, a combination of their top-3 WR’s, the top TE, the starting RT and LG, multiple starting defensive linemen, their starting outside linebackers, their top-2 inside linebackers, a combination of two of the top-4 CB’s, and Woodson. Heck, Jennings and Jordy just played their third game together in week 17.

It’s been a season that’s tested the mettle of this team. But, in a glass half-full approach, it bodes well for the overall depth and talent of the roster going forward.

Ole!

Ole!

Honorable Mention: Tramon Williams’ run “support.” AP ran roughshod over this team to the tune of 409 yards on 55 carries, good enough for a ridiculous 7.4 ypc. Minnesota ran directly at Williams repeatedly in both games, obviously knowing that he’s unwilling to take on a block or attempt to tackle AP. Williams isn’t the sole reason for AP’s dominance. But his decision to play ole with AP makes him a primary culprit.

The Ugly – January 15, 2012. Giants 37, Packers 20. I don’t want to relive this date anymore by rehashing the specifics. But needless to say, it was the definition of ugly.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Honorable Mention: Mason Shanksby. As Bob Uecker would say, juuuuuust a bit outside. Shanksby is 21 of 33 on the year. That’s 63.6%, 13% below his now lower career average. And if you had any doubts, he’s dead-last in kicking percentage. Though he’s hit four in a row (nothing says a K is in a slump like celebrating four consecutive makes), Packers fans are queasy anytime Shanksby takes the field.

Next Man Up

Coming off ‘The Statement Game’ of the 2012 season, it’s clear that this seasons Packers defense is exactly what this team needs in order to win a Super Bowl. As I explained earlier this year, a top ranked defense is not required for this team to get back to the Super Bowl. Instead, an average, respectable defense will suffice. And so far, the defense has been average, while working on becoming a good defense.

The return to form by the Claymaker is a big reason the defense has improved so much.

The game stats show a defense that has been average: 14th in yards per game and 19th in points per game. But the Packers rank high in game-changing plays: leading the league in sacks with 21, and 10th in the league in takeaways. And this last number will surely rise because the Packers have not recovered a fumble and there have been numerous interceptions dropped in recent games.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from the embarrassment that was the 2011 defense. Unfortunately, the ability for this defense to continue its improvement is in jeopardy because of a rash of injuries at all levels of the defense.

In the defensive backfield, Sam Shields went down with a shin injury and is out for this Sunday’s game. It appears to be a short-term injury. But even with Shields returning to 2010 form, his loss will not be noticed. Stepping into Shields’ shoes will be rookie Casey Hayward. Justifying why TT traded up (and trade-raped The Hoodie) to get him, Hayward has played like a seasoned veteran in limited playing time. Not only has Hayward shown he’s not just the zone-cover man many draftniks pegged him, but he’s also shown a knack for the ball with 3 INT’s so far – two more than the next best rookie.

And replacing Hayward in the sub-packages will be Davon House, the guy that may very well have won Shields’ starting spot had he not suffered a shoulder injury in the first pre-season game. House, in limited time during the pre-season and training camp, had clearly separated himself from the competition with both good coverage and strong, aggressive tackling in run support. Combined with Hayward, the defense should not miss Shields.

The linebackers have been hit the hardest with Nick Perry and D.J. Smith both getting injured. Perry avoided the dreaded ACL injury, but is out for the near future. Smith, on the other hand, suffered a freak knee injury and is already on the season-ending IR list. Still, their losses will likewise be minimal for the defense going forward.

As a first-round pick, Perry has underwhelmed to date. In six starts, he registered only 18 tackles and 2 sacks. The transition to OLB proved a tall task (to date – still too early to say whether he can or cannot make this transition) for the rookie. He was largely ineffective getting to the QB and was lost in coverage. As a result, Erik Walden often saw more playing-time. Though Walden’s number may not reflect it (he only has a half-sack), he seems to be around the QB more and has mounted a steadier pass-rush than Perry. And he certainly is more comfortable in coverage. This doesn’t even account for Dezman Moses, the undrafted free agent star from pre-season. Moses’ tenacity has already earned him a spot in the psycho sub-package and with Perry’s injury, he’s likely to see more playing time.

You would think that D.J. Smith’s injury would be the most crippling to this defense. After all, he’s already the second-string MLB and was an up-and-coming second-year player. But, frankly, Smith’s play has been average at best. Far too often his lack of size was exploited in pass coverage. And, surprisingly, Smith had not been strong in the run game. He often got beat to the edge and wasn’t attacking the ball carrier. As a result, the drop-off in production will likely not be as significant as many expect from a third-stringer.

The most pressing injury to the defense is B.J. Raji. Raji has been ruled out for the second-straight game due to an ankle injury. He practiced in a limited fashion this week. But, wisely, he is being held out until he’s fully healthy. It is imperative that Raji not rush back too soon. Ankle injuries can be fickle. And the defense can ill afford to have Raji deal with a lingering ankle injury.

Unlike other injured defensive starters, Raji returning from his injured ankle is imperative for the continued success on defense.

Don’t let last week fool you. Despite the Packers’ dominating effort last week in holding Foster to under 30-yards rushing, Raji is an important fixture for the future success of this defense and team. He’s a monster up-front and started playing to his talent again this year. He was playing stout against the run, and generated solid and consistent up-the-middle pressure. The Packers simply don’t have another talent like him that can replace him over the long-haul. It is because of this that makes Raji’s injury the most important injury to the defense.

The mounting injuries are harkening many back to the 2010 Super Bowl run. Like that juggernaut, this Packers team must adopt the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra to survive this recent rash of injuries. But, because of the depth this team has built up, the Packers have players ready to step up and ensure there will be little to no drop-off in production for most of the injured players.

How Good Does the Packers Defense Need to Be?

The 2011 Packers season was one of the more enjoyable regular seasons for fans. The offense was spectacular, taking most of the drama out of the games. And Rodgers turned in a season for the ages. But the dominant offense masked the glaring weakness – check that, the glaring liability – that was the Packers defense. Posting historical numbers for ineptness, the defense yielded big play after big play, rarely got off the field on 3rd downs, and would’ve been hard-pressed to make even Blaine Gabbert uncomfortable in the pocket. Any chance the Packers win a 5th Lombardi Trophy in 2012 is tied directly to the Packers defense improving, markedly so, from last season.

But exactly how much improvement is necessary in order for the Packers to truly contend for the Super Bowl? After all, 38 out of the 46 Super Bowl winners fielded top-10 defenses, with 22 of those winners having top-3 defenses. Still, last year’s two Super Bowl teams boasted the 27th and 31st “best” overall defenses. My belief is the Packers defense needs to be somewhere in the middle in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

Since 2000, 14 of the 24 teams that played in the Super Bowl fielded top-10 defenses. Only six teams fielded defenses ranked 16 or worse, two of which played last season, as noted above. This tends to support the “defense wins championship” mantra. But, consider that in that same time frame, 15 of 24 Super Bowl teams boasted top-10 offenses, with a whopping 5 teams sporting the best offense in the league. Similarly, only 3 teams were ranked 16 or worse. So, “defense wins championships” is not entirely true.

What these statistics show is that fielding a top defense is not essential to be a Super Bowl contender. But, it does lend credence to the fact that the Packers defense needs to improve in order to put them in contending position. Because the Packers will field one of the top-3 offenses, a defense merely respectable or average should be all that’s necessary. To put it another way, the 2012 Packers defense needs to find the happy-middle between the 2010 defense and the 2011 defense.

In order to make the necessary improvements, the Packers will need immediate contribution from a few rookies and second-year players – not to mention a return-to-form season out of Tramon Williams. Thankfully, the early signs from camp are pointing towards such an improvement.

Most noteworthy has been the competitive battle for the starting CB spot opposite Williams. Davon House is the early leader in the clubhouse, having played with a much sharper sense of urgency and making plays on the ball. Second-round pick Casey Hayward has likewise impressed with his ball-hawking skills and quick assimilation in the system. And after a slow start, Sam Shields seems to have turned the corner and making a push not to lose his starting spot. Finally, it’s impossible to count out Jarrett Bush, who simply refuses to be content as just a special teams star. This battle will go on throughout pre-season and the play during the games will determine who starts. Here’s what each player needs to show during pre-season action to earn that spot:

  • House – play aggressive and show he can man-up in coverage;
  • Hayward – demonstrate his ball-hawking skills and demonstrate he’s not just a zone guy;
  • Shields – must show he’s a willing and able tackler, and cannot continue getting caught looking in the backfield; and
  • Bush – show he is not the liability in coverage he has been in past years.

Most important to the defenses success, though, is the Packers’ ability to get after the quarterback. Enter Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, et al. Perry has been relatively quiet in the first few weeks of camp. By all accounts, he is going through the growing pains of learning a new position and dropping into coverage. Unfortunately, little has also been said about his pass-rushing, which is likely due in large part to the fact he continually goes against Bryan Bulaga – who is fast becoming one of the best, young RTs in the game. But, just recently, Perry broke through with a dominant victory against Bulaga in one-on-one pass rushing  drills, leading some observers to question whether this could be the start of something greater.

Not so quietly has been the emergence of Worthy, the star on defense at the Family Night scrimmage. Ever the yapper on the field, Worthy has breathed life into the dormant DL. He has shown tremendous burst and quickness for a man his size, and should see plenty of playing time with Raji in the nickel. Meanwhile, Daniels was playing very well during the first week of camp before going down with a non-serious leg injury. Assuming he returns healthy, he, too, can provide a spark to the pass rush. Finally, we cannot count out contributions from Hargrove and Neal (after serving their suspensions), and maybe even the undrafted free-agent Dezman Moses.

As shown, defenses do not necessarily win championships. But, what is necessary is a defense that is respectable. In order to regain respectability, the Packers 2012 defense must improve across the board. So far, the reports from camp have been positive. But, it is imperative that this progress carries over into the pre-season games. As Kevin Greene said to Clay, “It’s time!” Starting in San Diego, it’s time to see these young guys step up.

2012 NFL Draft: Act Two

Day 2 of the NFL Draft proved just as active Day 1 with trades up and down the two rounds. And, the two local squads flipped their tactics from Day 1 to Day 2. The Packers made two trades to grab two guys they covet, while the Vikes sat back, relaxed, and let a good player fall to them. Let’s take a look at how the two local squads fared.

Green Bay Packers 

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers needed players at all levels on defense. With their first three picks, the Packers added a quality player to all three levels on defense. After landing an uber-talented, athletic freak in Nick Perry, the Packers needed to add some DL and secondary help on day two. As we discussed, armed with too many draft picks, it was time for TT to make a move and jump up in the 2nd round to get a player that falls. As if he read the article (and why wouldn’t he have?), TT did exactly that, TWICE, in the second round.

Sitting with the 59th selection, TT moved up to the 51st selection to select the falling Jerel Worth, DT from Sparty. Worthy is a mammoth of an individual, standing at 6’2″ and 308 lbs., who also can run the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds. He has tremendous get-off, known for his ability to anticipate the snap and wreak havoc in the backfield. He’s strong, powerful, and quick. Basically, he’s exactly what the Packers need on the defensive line.

Of course, he wouldn’t have been a second-round pick with this background if there weren’t some red flags. Worthy, like many big defensive lineman, had a tendency to take plays off in college. He flashes some dominance and then disappears for stretches at a time. And the downside to his get-off is that he was often flagged for offsides last season. You can be sure opposing offenses will take note and work on Worthy with the hard-count. Despite these few red flags, Worthy was absolutely the right player to trade up and target. He cost only the Packers 4th round selection – which is not a huge loss considering the Packers have two compensatory picks in the 4th round still. TT’s decision to move up was also well-timed as two other defensive linemen followed the Worthy pick, including Devon Still, the other Big Ten DL that was linked to the Packers. Worthy was the best prospect of that group, and a coup for the Packers to get in the middle of round 2.

Not resting on his laurels, TT moved back into round 2 when he dealt the 3rd and 5th rd. picks to The Hoodie for the 62nd overall selection. TT plucked Casey Hayward, CB from Vanderbilt. Hayward is 5’11”, 185 lbs., and runs a 4.57 40-yard dash. Mike Mayock, NFL.com’s draft guru, calls Hayward an instinctive corner, and has the second-best hands in the draft for a corner, behind the no. 6 overall selection, Morris Claiborne, which is backed up by his 7 INT’s last season. One more encouraging stat is that opposing offenses completed only 19.5% of the passes thrown his way, which is even more impressive considering he played in the SEC. Hayward’s downside is that he is limited in his man-to-man coverage skills. His overall speed is only average, which will cause him to struggle keeping up with the speedy, twitchy type WR’s – think Percy Harvin. But, he plays well in zone coverage, reads the Quarterback well, and trusts his instincts. Again, TT anticipated what would happen well, and jumped up to get Hayward before a couple other CB’s were selected, including one by the Vikings.

Realizing the need to grab quality players at critical positions, TT broke away from his M.O. and traded up to get two players that filled major voids. Packers fans should be thrilled with what TT accomplished with these two picks to go along with Nick Perry. The defense should be vastly improved. As a result, don’t be surprised if you see Greg Jennings do this (go to the :18 mark) early in the season because with these three picks, TT may have re-established the Packers defense as a top-end defense that can get them back to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings

Well, if the first round of the 2012 NFL was an overwhelming success for Viking fans, then, the 2nd and 3rd rounds were a disappointing return to the norm. In previous drafts, like many other bewildered/clueless GMs, the Vikings brass have spoon fed the notion that they got the guy they wanted. In the third round of this year’s draft, that meant the selection of UCF cornerback, Josh Robinson.

Robinson is an explosive athlete and, with the right coaching, could be a top end DB. The raw talent is definitely there. Unfortunately, this coaching staff does not have a great track record for coaching up the secondary. Plus, many draft experts have noted that Robinson was a great fit for a secondary that employs a scheme with an emphasis on man-t0-man defenses. This is the kind of guy to put on an island. His skill set (i.e. football smarts) might not transfer well to the Cover 2 that the Vikes try to run. This could be an issue. Instead of trying to trade up, Rick “The Schemin'” Spielman decided to stand pat and take the guy they wanted.

Unfortunately, this meant passing up on two or three guys who might have been  better fits for the Vikes. For instance, both Houston and the Hoodie were willing to trade out of the latter part of the second round. It likely would have only taken one of the fourth round picks that the Vikes had to move up and grab either Casey Hayward (that is right, THAT Casey Hayward), Rueben Randle (a WR with first round talent playing in a run-first system), or Trumaine Johnson (the guy STL took right before the Vikes). Hayward and Johnson were allegedly perfect fits for the Cover 2 scheme. Randle was exactly the kind of game-changing WR that could give a much needed boost to what could best be described as a one-man show. His skills, while unproven, were of the first round variety. And, he was only drafted a few positions before Robinson was taken. Yet, the Vikes laid back. Waiting for the guy they wanted.

Now, if there are talented, potential starters in the 4th round that the Vikings brass are targeting (think another offensive lineman and additional defensive backs), then maybe it was right to relax and wait for Robinson to come to them. However, if Robinson cannot be coached up, one of those guys who could not spell C-A-T if you spotted him the C and the A, or, if there are no hidden gems in the fourth round, then it will be a wasted opportunity to not repeat the successful strategy from round one, where the Vikes leveraged later round picks into higher picks in the current rounds.

In economics, there is a theory of evaluation simply known as the opportunity cost – the balance between scarcity and choice. For the Vikings, opportunity cost means weighing the scarcity of getting a guy like Rueben or Hayward, against the choice of keeping their 4th round picks. Ultimately, the maturation of Josh Robinson is going to determine whether the team made the right choice. Though, the opportunity cost that the Packers paid in the first round by not drafting Hightower or Upshaw might be exactly the same as the opportunity cost that could cost the Vikings a solid stater like Randle or Hayward.

Stay tuned for more on the final rounds on Saturday. That is, when things get really testy.

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.

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.