4 Downs: Packers spotlight speed, youth

Pete Dougherty
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Now that the dust has settled on the 2016 NFL draft, here are four quick takes on the Packers’ draft weekend:

First down: Forty-yard dashes don’t tell anywhere near the full story about a prospect’s playing speed, but it is one valuable barometer. So here’s a little tidbit on how 40 times for the combine work, and then applied to Packers fourth-round pick Blake Martinez of Stanford. At the NFL scouting combine, players run two 40s. Each is timed by two hand-held watches and one electronic. For the player’s official 40 time, the combine and some teams use the fastest electronic time. Other teams use the average of the four hand-held times. Some teams, including the Packers, use the hand-held time by one of their scouts at the combine.

The Packers drafted Martinez to possibly be one of their two nickel linebackers, where speed matters because he’ll have to cover tight ends and running backs. Martinez’s electronic 40 was 4.71 seconds, which is only an OK time for that role. The average of his four hand-held times was about 4.68 seconds. And the Packers said they had him in the mid-4.6-second range. We’ll see how fast he plays in August.

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Second down: Ted Thompson did something he hasn’t done much of during his tenure with the Packers — he drafted an oldish prospect in Kyler Fackrell, an outside linebacker from Utah State who will turn 25 in November. Thompson’s oldest draft pick was outside linebacker Brady Poppinga, who already was 25 when Thompson took him in the fourth round in 2005 and turned 26 that September. Also, defensive lineman Khyri Thornton was 24 when Thompson drafted him in the third round in 2014 and turned 25 that November.

I’d generally stay away from selecting prospects that age, because players at many positions peak physically from around ages 24 to 26. So you’ve potentially lost a really good season or two from the player, plus he’s still in the early stages of learning the NFL game during his prime, whereas a 21- or 22-year-old will have a couple seasons in the league when he starts hitting his physical prime.

To that end, first-round pick Kenny Clark won’t be 21 until October, and second-round pick Jason Spriggs is 21.

Third down: The Packers have insisted publicly since last year that they had plenty of speed at receiver, but the truth is that Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury exposed a glaring lack of explosiveness at that position. Thompson’s drafting of California receiver Trevor Davis in the fifth round is a clear sign he wanted to address that this year.

Davis ran the third-fastest 40 among receivers at the combine (4.42 seconds electronically timed) and said in a conference call with reporters in Green Bay that some teams had him at 4.37 seconds.

Also, one of the receivers the Packers signed as an undrafted free agent in the hours immediately after the draft was Utah State’s Devonte Robinson, who according to NFL Draft Scout ran a 4.33-second 40 at his campus workout.

Fourth down: Keep an eye on Detroit’s Miles Killebrew over the next two or three years. He’s one of the big safeties who some NFL teams thought was physical and explosive enough to play linebacker and hold up OK against the run, and fast and agile enough to match up better than a traditional linebacker in the spread passing games in the NFL, much like Arizona has done with Deone Bucannon and St. Louis with Mark Barron.

Killebrew (6-1⅞, 217), who played in college at Southern Utah, was on the board when the Packers selected Fackrell in the third round and was drafted by the Lions 23 picks later, at No. 111 overall of the fourth round. He ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds (electronic) and had an excellent 38-inch vertical. Early reports out of Detroit suggest the Lions are going to play him at strong safety, but with the way the NFL game is going, you never know, he could end up at linebacker. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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