Packers coach Mike McCarthy on the new linebackers drafted this week and Clay Matthews' role. (April 30, 2016)
Mike McCarthy got a lot of what he wanted out of this draft. Namely, his offensive line and defensive front seven got bigger.
But the Green Bay Packers coach’s plans to move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, well, not so fast. General manager Ted Thompson didn’t add an inside linebacker until Stanford’s Blake Martinez in the fourth round, which is too late in the draft to assume he’ll play a lot this season.
There will be no grading of Thompson’s class here. This was the 24th draft I’ve covered, and believe me, there’s no way to know how this group will look three, four or five years from now. What jumps out as much as anything is that Thompson usually goes for more bites at the apple and finished with only seven picks, which ties with 2010 for the fewest of his 12 draft classes.
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
But as for one draft goal, McCarthy had spoken publicly a couple times this offseason about getting bigger — “It’s a big man’s game,” he reiterated on Saturday after all the picks were in — and Thompson did that. He selected two defensive linemen who have nice size for their positions (314-pound tackle Kenny Clark in the first round, and 6-foot-5¾ end Dean Lowry in the fourth round) and two towering offensive linemen (6-5⅝ Jason Spriggs in the second round and 6-6⅜ Kyle Murphy in the sixth round).
Even the outside linebacker Thompson drafted, Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell in the third round, has the prototypical length (6-5) the Packers haven't been able land for that position outside of Julius Peppers.
“You can’t have enough big guys up front,” McCarthy said. “I know that was my focus. I was really hoping to come out of here with as many big players — offensive and defensive linemen — as possible. That was just my personal outlook on it, and I feel good about where we are right now.”
Later, while referencing the length Fackrell and Lowry bring to their positions, the coach added: “We may not have had as many of those body types in the past.”
But if Matthews was excited about going back outside to beef up the pass rush, he might end up partly or even mostly disappointed. Sure, there’s a chance Martinez comes in and quickly wins a job in the Packers’ nickel defense — he played there last season at Stanford after not doing it as a junior. But his measurables, while fine, don’t scream out immediate nickel linebacker, as they did for some of the first- and second-round prospects at that position.
Martinez has OK length (6-1), a decent 40 (4.71 seconds), and improved his vertical jump from a concerning 28½ inches at the NFL scouting combine to 34 inches at his campus workout. If he’s smart and instinctive and able to change directions well, he very well might beat out either Jake Ryan or Sam Barrington for a spot in the nickel, which the Packers play on about two-thirds of their defensive snaps.
But will he? Far from a given, and McCarthy himself didn’t sound convinced. When asked if he got enough from this draft to move Matthews back outside on a more permanent basis, McCarthy started with a “Definitely,” but then backed off.
“I think this is a fluid situation,” he said. “Obviously, Martinez comes in here and gives us a guy that’s played a lot of football.”
Said Thompson on whether Martinez can play nickel: "We think so. He’s done so in the past and has those kinds of athletic traits."
Pete Dougherty and Ryan Wood analyze the Green Bay Packers' selections in the 2016 NFL draft. (April 30, 2016)
Aside from Martinez and the five big and talls, Thompson added speed to his receiving corps, which it needs. Fifth-round pick Trevor Davis out of California ran the third-fastest 40 at the NFL scouting combine: Going by electronic times, which are a tick slower than hand-held times, his 4.42 seconds was behind only Notre Dame's Will Fuller (4.32 seconds), who went to Houston at No. 21 overall, and TCU’s Kolby Listenbee (4.39 seconds), who went to Buffalo in the sixth round. The 40 time the Packers have on him was in the mid-4.3s.
The Packers are hoping Davis (6-1⅛, 188) is something of a sleeper (40 receptions, 16.8-yard average, 2 TDs last season) because he played in an equal-opportunity receiving corps with No. 1 pick Jared Goff at quarterback skilled at spreading the ball around.
“Last year sitting at home watching TV where everybody was daring us to go deep, I hope they do that with this kid,” said Sam Seale, the Packers’ West Coast scout. “I’m hoping they do. I figure if they do that, after the first four, five games you won’t see that anymore.”
Davis potentially adds a second speed receiver to go with third-year pro Jeff Janis (4.42 40), who will have a shot at the No. 3 job this year after his big playoff performance in Arizona.
So come Week 1 the Packers could have a much different looking receiving corps from last year’s disappointment, when the loss of Jordy Nelson started a death spiral that saw them finish tied for No 25 in passing yards and No. 12 in points after leading the league in scoring in 2014. Nelson is back from knee-reconstruction surgery, Ty Montgomery is back from an ankle injury that limited him to six games as a rookie, and Thompson signed a tight end with good speed, Jared Cook, in free agency.
“Defenses were aggressive with us last year. No doubt about it,” McCarthy said. “It started early in the season and continued and we didn’t get them out of it. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve scored a lot of points around here, so we feel confident we’ll be able to do it again.”
As for what Thompson didn't address, tight end and running back stand out. You can’t do everything in one class, so for every choice you make, there are several you didn’t. By not taking a running back, the Packers don’t have a potential successor on hand for Eddie Lacy if he leaves in free agency next year. Cook has only a one-year contract at tight end, too.
Taking a bird’s eye view, the one member of this class who has to be a factor immediately is Clark, who probably will start at nose tackle. But the player to watch will be Martinez. Unless McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have some unexpected move up their sleeve, Martinez will determine where Matthews plays.
Martinez could very well allow the move, but count me a skeptic. The early guess here is that Matthews will end up playing as much inside as outside in 2016.