Packers rookies can make quick impact
Ted Thompson is a volume shooter in the NFL draft. So when the Green Bay Packers general manager leaves a draft with as many picks as rounds, it’s a rare thing.
The Packers drafted seven players over the three-day event, tied with 2010 for their fewest under Thompson. It means the Packers GM will have to be more efficient than usual in order to maximize the draft’s potential.
Here is a look at the roles all seven players in the Packers' 2016 draft class figure to have in their rookie season and long term.
1. DT Kenny Clark, UCLA (1st round, 27th overall)
Rookie season: Clark should have a real chance to start early in his career at nose tackle, replacing the retired B.J. Raji. He should be one of the Packers' best run defenders on their defensive line, and he has potential as an interior rusher. Clark will need to develop his pass-rush technique before he consistently pressures quarterbacks, but has the quickness (1.72 10-yard split) to eventually give centers and guards fits in pass protect. If nothing else in the short term, Clark’s presence should immediately boost a Packers defense that finished 21st in the NFL against the run last season. The Packers were one of seven teams to allow 4.5 yards per carry.
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Long term: At 6-foot-3 and 314 pounds, Clark fits best at nose and three-technique defensive tackle. Mike Daniels fills the Packers’ three-tech tackle position, and he isn’t going to vacate that spot any time soon, but Clark could provide depth lining up across from guards. The Packers believe Clark can play the five-technique defensive end position, but his 32 1/8-inch arms could be problematic against more lengthy offensive tackles. The real value of this pick could come if Clark develops into a fierce interior rusher in nickel situations, potentially joining Daniels as the two interior rushers in the Packers' 4-2-5 scheme.
2. OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana (2nd round, 48th overall)
Rookie season: The Packers saw just how thin their tackle depth was last season when starting LT David Bakhtiari missed three games because of an ankle injury. Bakhtiari’s absence directly led to a blowout loss in Arizona and home loss to Minnesota in the NFC North title game. Football is a brutal, violent sport, and injuries are part of the game – especially in the trenches. Without Bakhtiari, Packers coach Mike McCarthy had to scramble to find a suitable replacement at the offensive line’s most important position. This fall, there will be no scramble should injuries force Bakhtiari or right tackle Bryan Bulaga out of the lineup. Spriggs gives the Packers immediate depth, a swing tackle who should be able to fill either spot in a pinch as a rookie.
Long term: Spriggs could be the Packers' future franchise left tackle. That’s no knock on Bakhtiari, who certainly has the talent to fill that role for many years. In a perfect world with no cap restrictions, the Packers would not hesitate to re-sign Bakhtiari after his rookie contract expires in a year. But Bakhtiari is on a trajectory to perhaps become one of the NFL’s top 10 offensive tackles, and that could become very expensive for the Packers if he hits the open market. The Packers feel Spriggs can play multiple positions on the offensive line, though his 6-foot-5 5/8, 301-pound frame is ideally suited for tackle. Trading up to draft Spriggs doesn’t necessarily mean the 2016 season will be Bakhtiari’s last in Green Bay, but the Packers at least are prepared if the end does come.
3. OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State (3rd round, 88th overall)
Rookie season: The Packers re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry on a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason, but Perry is ideally suited to defend the run on early downs. Fackrell gives the Packers a second situational pass rusher, along with former undrafted outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott. He’s likely nothing more than a third-down specialist early, and could start the season behind Elliott on the depth chart. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Fackrell get more snaps as the season goes later, especially with the Packers hoping to limit 36-year-old Julius Peppers’ playing time and keep him fresher.
Long term: While a situational role would be expected for 2016, Fackrell could develop into a starter down the road. Fackrell will have to add weight – he said he wants to put on 10 more pounds, to 260 – and further develop as a run defender. If he does, Fackrell could become Peppers’ heir apparent. Peppers and Perry will become free agents in 2017, and there’s no guarantee either return. Outside linebacker was a moderate need in this year’s draft, with the possibility of becoming one of the Packers’ biggest needs in a way. Similar to Spriggs, Fackrell helps soften the blow should a unit with no real holes thin out in a year.
4. ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford (4th round, 131st overall)
Rookie season: Everyone will be hoping Martinez fills a starting role in nickel and dime sub-packages as early as possible, and for good reason. Despite being a fourth rounder, Martinez could develop into the most important player in this draft class. Martinez, a classic weak inside linebacker, could facilitate Clay Matthews’ return to outside linebacker in a full-time capacity. It’s unlikely Martinez will start the season playing starter snaps, even in sub-package. Jake Ryan had a solid rookie season after being the Packers’ first pick in the fourth round last season, and he didn’t get his first start until Week 13. It’ll be interesting to see how patient the Packers are with Martinez’s development, considering their impatience to get Matthews back to being an edge rusher.
Long term: In a few years, we could look back and realize Thompson built the core of this Packers' defense with consecutive fourth-round picks in 2015 and 2016. There’s a chance Martinez and Ryan could develop into the perfect complement for each other. Ryan, a classic strong inside linebacker, is a thumper between the tackles and active against the run. He struggles in pass coverage, evidenced in a negative-5.2 cover grade that was worse than any returning player on the Packers defense. Martinez has good lateral quickness, and the Packers believe he can play well in space. Those two skill sets fit nicely together for inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
5. DE Dean Lowry, Northwestern (4th round, 137th overall)
Rookie season: It’s hard to predict how quickly Lowry will develop, but there’s an opening for him to potentially fill at 5-tech defensive end. Letroy Guion likely will start the season in that spot, and though he has been a solid contributor since signing a free-agent deal with the Packers two years ago, Guion wasn’t as impactful on the outside. If Lowry develops quickly, he could regularly rotate at 5-tech and allow Guion to spend more time rotating along the interior at nose and defensive tackle. The question is whether Lowry’s 31-inch arms will be a problem shedding blocks against offensive tackles.
Long term: McCarthy was right when he said the Packers haven’t had someone with Lowry’s body type for quite some time. He gives the Packers a prototypical 5-tech end. At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, Lowry has good length despite short arms – an almost identical frame as Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. Lowry also ran a 4.87-second 40 at the combine, significantly faster than Wolfe’s 5.01. The difference is Wolfe’s arms are more than two inches longer. If Lowry can overcome his short reach, the Packers see their future defensive line looking solid with Daniels, Clark and Lowry as starters.
6. WR Trevor Davis, Cal (5th round, 163rd overall)
Rookie season: The Packers have a crowded receiving depth chart after drafting Davis. With the likelihood only two quarterbacks will make the 53-man roster, there’s room to keep six receivers. But that would mean one receiver from the young group of Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis and Davis won’t make the final roster. Davis offers something only Janis can match: blazing speed. He was electronically clocked at 4.42 second in his combine 40, with a low hand time identical to Janis’ 4.37 seconds. McCarthy and Thompson have been adamant they feel good about the overall speed of their receiver group, but the Packers’ lone pick spent on a skill-position player suggests otherwise.
Long term: Davis gives former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers a second Golden Bear target, joining tight end Richard Rodgers. After his speed, perhaps Davis’ best attribute is his 6-foot-1, 189-pound frame. It should mean Davis isn’t limited to the slot, though that’s where he could get most of his snaps early in his career. Davis saw limited time as a punt returner at Cal (14 returns in two seasons), but he had two touchdowns as a junior and could develop into a weapon in that area as well.
7. OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford (6th round, 200th overall)
Rookie season: Whether Murphy makes the Packers 53-man roster might depend on how Don Barclay responds in his second season after a torn ACL. If Barclay, only 27, can get back in form, he’s a veteran whi adds versatility to the offensive line. If not, Murphy could replace Barclay as a jack-of-all-trades offensive lineman. There’s probably a better-than-not chance Murphy is headed for the practice squad.
Long term: Murphy might only be on the fringe of cracking the Packers’ 53-man roster this season, but he could become very important in a year. The Packers see him as a tackle who could move inside to guard, and they’ll have three interior offensive linemen – including both starting guards – become free agents in 2017. So Murphy’s future could be delayed, but that doesn’t mean he’s without a future with the Packers.
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