Jason Spriggs gives Packers OL insurance policy
Each year, the NFL draft shows teams at their absolute worst. Desperate from procrastination, general managers reach for left tackles. Someone, anyone to block their quarterback’s blind side.
The Green Bay Packers ensured that won’t be them next spring. Not on Ted Thompson’s watch. With 60 percent of the Packers' offensive line — and their top interior backup — scheduled to be free agents after the 2016 season, Thompson invested in an insurance policy Friday night.
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Profile: Jason Spriggs at a glance
The Packers GM traded up nine spots in the second round (48th overall) to draft Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, a big, explosive athlete with considerable potential.
“You look at the total package,” Thompson said. “The intelligence, the athletic ability. Innate toughness. We think all those things, he gets pretty good marks on.”
Thompson had said next year’s free-agency logjam would have “not a lot” of influence on this year’s draft. Apparently, that meant he was content waiting until the second round to start preparing for the offensive line’s future, instead using his first pick. Spriggs brings positional versatility, but there’s only one logical destination for the Packers’ second-round pick.
He will be expected to develop into their starting left or right tackle, beginning in 2017.
Thompson traded the Packers’ original No. 57 overall pick in the second round, along with a fourth rounder (No. 125) and seventh rounder (248), to the Indianapolis Colts. It could be a small price for some peace of mind a year from now when fourth-year starter David Bakhtiari is a free agent. Bakhtiari is on a trajectory to become one of the league’s top 10 left tackles in 2016, a distinction that could become very expensive.
Now, the Packers have a safety net should they be unable to retain Bakhtiari. Spriggs should be able to fill the most important starting role on the Packers offensive line, and do it on a rookie contract. Yes, Spriggs said, he has thought about what it will be like blocking for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"It’s indescribable with words," Spriggs said. "With a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, you’re at a whole new level there that I’ve never seen. That really excites me. I can’t wait to be able to get the chance."
Spriggs, an Elkhart, Ind., native, grew up in north central Indiana, just south of the Michigan border. He was recruited to play small-college basketball, he said. Football, not hoops, always ran through his Hoosier blood.
It's fitting the Packers moved into a slot originally occupied by the Colts, Spriggs’ home-state team. The Colts dearly need help on their offensive line, but Spriggs said he never held out hope he would stay in Indiana. He kept his mind open throughout the pre-draft process.
Spriggs said he interviewed with the Packers at the Senior Bowl in January and NFL scouting combine in February. There were phone calls “here and there” since, he said, but no visits to Green Bay. Just like first-round defensive tackle Kenny Clark, the Packers lurched without tipping their hand.
Director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst remembers Spriggs “carried himself well” at the combine. He said the Packers were interested in drafting Spriggs in the first round, but decided to take Clark with the 27th overall pick. Gutekunst kept expectations in perspective — “he hasn’t even stepped foot on our practice fields,” he said — but the Packers traded up in the second round for a reason.
“I think it was just a chance to take a really good player we liked,” Gutekunst said. “I don't know if we look that far ahead all the time (to 2017 free agency), you know what I mean. He was just a guy we really liked, opportunity presented itself to go up, and we took it.”
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When Spriggs was available near the second round's midway point, Thompson admitted he was anxious. The Packers were picking three spots behind the Minnesota Vikings, one of those teams desperate for help on their offensive line. The Vikings were a possible destination for Spriggs, and Thompson knew it.
Thompson suggested he was concerned about losing his potential future left tackle to a division rival. The board also also was falling unfavorably, with the Packers quickly running out of prospects they felt comfortable drafting late in the second round.
“We were sweating it,” Thompson said. “Looking at the board, it just didn’t look like the board was going to hold up all the way. So we felt like, you know, we’re always making phone calls, always talking to teams, and there came an opportunity, and it might have been a little bit conservative on my part, but I felt like I’d rather have him than risk losing him.”
Spriggs has come a long way since he arrived on Indiana's campus as a 245-pound freshman. He started all 12 games in his first season, but Spriggs said he had to beat defensive tackles more with heart than bulk. Fifty pounds later, Spriggs entered the draft as one of the most physically talented offensive tackles in this class.
Spriggs' basketball background foreshadowed his quick-twitch ability. He is an explosive athlete, running a 4.94-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February. Spriggs also measured 6-foot-5⅝, weighed 301 pounds and benched 31 reps of 225 pounds.
With a franchise quarterback to protect, the Packers tend to prefer pass-blocking offensive linemen. Spriggs is no different. He said his “punch” and “timing” need to improve in pass blocking, but Spriggs’ physical tools allow him to develop into an elite pass blocker. He had the third-highest pass-block efficiency among all Power 5 offensive tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
His run blocking needs more work. Spriggs said his momentum shifts to his heels too often, instead of “anchoring” his toes into the ground. But, Gutekunst said, Spriggs has the strength to move blockers.
“I think he got a little bit stronger,” Gutekunst said. “The athleticism was always there, his ability to cover speed on the edge. But I think the strength thing is what really progressed."
A four-year starter at Indiana, Spriggs enters an ideal situation with the Packers. He won't be expected to start this season, not with the Packers returning all five of their starters, including Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. For all his potential, Spriggs isn't as polished as Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil, Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley, Michigan State's Jack Conklin or Ohio State's Taylor Decker.
Spriggs will need time to develop, and he'll get it in Green Bay.
"I think that’s huge," Spriggs said, "and I think that’s something that should make it much better. Being able to be behind those guys and learn from them, some of the tricks of the trade and really take in what those guys know, and what those guys can do."
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