Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Other Shoe: Thompson's 2005 Cuts

A recent discussion on PackerChatters recently alluded to a three-year evaluation of the somewhat controversial dismissals made by Ted Thompson in his first year as general manager, and made the point that in retrospect, the decisions were actually fairly sound.

In addition, some mud was slung toward the "naysayers" who, at the time, apparently were decrying the moves as sending the Packers into a Groundhog Day of the 70's and 80's. While I certainly enjoy a mudbath as much as the next person, I thought it appropriate in these, the empty days of the offseason, to rehash a little of the old discussion and bring it up to code.

The players specifically mentioned as being the controversial dumps in the 2005 offseason were Darren Sharper, Mark Wahle, Marco Rivera, and Ryan Longwell. Certainly, these players were all longtime Packers and also well-connected with the former GM. Also alluded to were the later releases of Ahman Green and Corey Williams.

First of all, I have no problems admitting to having been a pretty harsh Thompson Critic, and frankly, I still don't fully buy into his philosophy of rebuilding. However, a 13-3 record goes a long way in turning a lot of folks into fervent (if not militant) believers, and certainly, even I give Thompson credit for helping bring this team into a quick turnaround from the crash-and-burn of 2005.

The problem with declaring that certain players were "good cuts" because they haven't amounted to much since is one-sided, and does miss the true point of what many of the more rational Thompson Critics said and continue to say today: the cutting of some high-priced players isn't the problem, it's what has been done to replace them properly.

This is where I think the Thompson's other shoe drops, and as we look at each cut, I don't want to focus on what that player's contributions might have been (or not been), but how he has addressed the hole that was left by that player's departure.

In most cases, regardless of who the GM was, many of these players' releases or trades were expected, and in some cases, somewhat of a relief. How Thompson has managed the positions since that time is what needs to be examined to provide a full picture and assessment.

Ryan Longwell: On a personal level, I was kind of glad to see Longwell go. While I don't approach Bill Parcels-levels of disdain for kickers, I do think that Longwell was a bit outspoken and whiny for a specialist. Over the years, he openly spoke against the moves that took away former holders Josh Bidwell and Matt Hasselback (as if only for his sake), but he had a penchant for passing the buck when it came to blame for a poor kick.

As his 2005 season muffed to a 74.1% FG percentage (and his finger-pointing at holder BJ Sander increased), I wasn't surprised to see Thompson pass on a franchise tag that would have cost $2.5 million, but given a contract offer that was, at best, low-ball.

The Vikings took Longwell and gave him a five-year, $10 million contract containing a $3 million signing bonus, and the Packers were left with Dave Rayner, a kickoff specialist from the Colts, to do the kicking duties in 2006. He started well, but finished with a 74.3% FG percentage that certainly was no better than what Longwell had done in 2005.

The fact that Longwell bettered his percentage to 84% with the Vikings isn't of consequence. Thompson attempted to replace Longwell with a guy who had been cut by another team, and the results were no better than they had been with the guy he let go. After that season, despite Rayner's popularity, he drafted Mason Crosby in the sixth round of the draft, who had a 79.5% kicking rookie year.

Crosby appears to be a fairly solid replacement, though his numbers and numerous league recognitions throughout his rookie season were certainly aided by the fact he kicked for a surprisingly high-octane offense (he attempted the most field goals in the league).

Final Verdict: Ryan Longwell
Release: Expected
Position Addressed: Adequately. A season with a street free agent kicker doesn't make you think a plan was in place, but Crosby seems to fit the bill for now.

Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle: Marco Rivera was probably, of the two guards that were allowed to leave that offseason, the one that might have been the most affordable. "Might" is the key word, since the Cowboys offered him a $20 million contract with a $9 million signing bonus, all numbers that make a guy like Ted Thompson have a really constipated look on his face.

No, when that is the asking price, bidding Rivera adieu was a no-brainer, especially as that offseason saw a lot of particularly huge contracts going to free agent offensive linemen. We all knew that Rivera was starting to grind into old age, and that his further years would be limited. It is surprising that Jerry Jones didn't see that coming.

Mike Wahle, on the other hand, makes for much more interesting discussion. Like nearly everyone else, we all figured that Wahle was gone. We knew he was going to command top dollar in that season's free agent market ($27 million over 5 years, the most lucrative interior lineman contract ever to that point) and he was young (26) and on the rise. I certainly didn't expect in to be a Packer in 2006.

However, given the Packers now-eternal room under the salary cap, is a cap figure of, say, $6 million that ridiculous? Considering we are paying Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia a cap figure of over $7 million as a part-time pass rusher, sometimes that contract hit doesn't seem to be too hard to swallow. The Packers seemed able to handle Brett Favre's humungous cap hit for two more seasons, also, and had a 13-3 record to show for it.

But, there wasn't even an offer on the table from the Packers, and when both Wahle and Rivera left, Thompson decided to address the position purely (and almost solely) through the draft, taking Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll that year and using Thompson's patented "competition" strategy to hope a winner would emerge.

As it has turned out, despite the addition of draft pick Adrian Barbre in 2007 and two more contenders this year, the production at guard has continued to be less than adequate, with none of the young players truly stepping forward and commanding a spot in the lineup, much less a spot on any Pro Bowl teams.

While veteran QB Favre compensated for poor line play with his superior pocket awareness and rush evasion skills, and coach Mike McCarthy kept in additional blockers and ran out of the shotgun repeatedly to give the quarterback more time, this is still not an interior line befitting a 13-3 team.

JS Online commented last February that as Wahle moved from Carolina to Seattle, the Packers would have had a very good chance to get Wahle's services back, as he was looking for a return to the WCO and a Super Bowl contending team. However, despite what appeared to be a willingness from Wahle and his agent to come back to Green Bay for a cheaper price than what he left for (and plenty of space in the cap), Wahle never got more than a passing phone call from the Packers. He signed with the Seahawks for a reasonable $20 million over 5 years with a tiny amount of signing bonus and guaranteed money.

So, in 2008, with a new young quarterback, the Packers will again be looking for two young players to emerge at the guard position. Hopefully.

Final Verdict: Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle
Release: Expected
Position Addressed: Poorly. Veteran leadership, experience, and consistency have been missing from the guard position since 2005.

Darren Sharper: When brash, big-talking Darren Sharper left the team in 2005, he had certainly lost a step and was making fewer and fewer big plays. In fact, his play on the field (along with nearly every other player in 2005) had diminished. While, to a point, I questioned whether his decline was because of him or the team around him, I did understand that the salary cap hit he was going to sock us with (upwards of $8 million) was a heavy price to pay.

Thompson absorbed quite a bit of signing bonus acceleration that year ($2.6 million), but they got his high base salary off the books. They did try and renegotiate with him, but like many of the other players mentioned above, the effort was low-ball and seemingly half-hearted. He signed a four-year contract with the Vikings for $20 million and a $4 million signing bonus.

I didn't mind seeing him go, as I don't have a lot of respect for players who talk and talk but can't back it up on the field. True, he has gone on to have some success with the Vikings, though it is apparent he indeed has lost a step, and still can hurt you as often as he pulls off a home-run play.

However, and this is where I know there may be the most disagreement with me, I think this is the position that has been the most poorly handled since Sharper's departure. And, the problem lies in that Ted Thompson seems to truly believe that he has handled it.

Sharper was a true free safety, a guy cut from the mold of Eugene Robinson who was as much a safety as a quarterback for the defense. Since his departure, Thompson has continued to stock the safety position with players who fit the strong safety mold, the close-to-the-line run supporting big stiffies that have struggled in coverage.

Nick Collins, who played alongside Sharper in 2005, has struggled to regain the promise he had as a rookie that year. Some of the high hopes were distorted, in my opinion, as the Packers were rarely passed on that year...in fact, the number of passing plays against the Packers in 2005 were among the lowest in franchise history.

Since that time, Collins has struggled in his role and struggled in pass coverage, especially when asked to defend a player one-on-one at the line. Collins is generally a strong hitter, but despite starting the last three years, many fans and media types are quietly noting that second-year man Aaron Rouse may supplant Collins this year, despite being another prototypical strong safety.

Thompson brought in Marquand Manuel as a free agent to replace Sharper, and despite being an adequate run-supporter, was roundly booed out of town and considered one of Thompson poorest free-agent signings.

Thompson, again, has tried to address the position through the draft, taking Aaron Rouse in 2007 with a 3rd rounder. However, last year's starter opposite Collins was a street free agent named Atari Bigby, who despite showing some big-play ability in the latter part of the season, also showed some rather glaring gaffes in coverage throughout the season.

In this past draft, Thompson went so far as to not even draft a safety, leaving us to believe that he thinks that the collection of guys he has now (Collins, Bigby, Rouse, and Tyrone Culver) is good enough. This is where I disagree. Thompson seems to operate under the belief that the two safety positions are interchangeable, and that the players he has fit that system.

However, he has three players who are strong run-support strong safety guys that struggle in coverage and don't appear to have the vision that a free safety needs...something that Darren Sharper, for all his bravado and blown plays, did have.

With our two veteran corners another year older and another step slower, the safety position is going to end up being more and more vulnerable to blown coverages when needed to help over the top. A prototypical free safety, like rookie Kenny Phillips, drafted by the Giants a pick after Thompson traded out of the first round, could take the correct angles and keep the young Packer linebackers and aging corners in the right spots.

Final Verdict: Darren Sharper
Release: Pretty Much Expected
Position Addressed: Poorly. A stockpile of strong safeties trying to play both positions has left our safety position vulnerable as our corners age.

In conclusion, Thompson's cuts may not have been stupid moves, and in fact, were probably financially prudent business decisions. However, the strategy of having middling draftees and street free agents battle each other to try and compensate for the loss of talent (and the gain of salary cap space) is the other shoe that has to drop. In some cases, Thompson seems to have had an adequate plan to replace the loss of a departed veteran (Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant/Brandon Jackson, etc.). However, the failure of the replacements at a position to provide at least adequate production in the wake of such a departure has to be a part of the equation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections on Bill Schroeder's "Retirement"

A trip down memory lane today, as former Packer Billy Schroeder announced that he would do the usual one-day contract and retire as a Green Bay Packer. After checking around, Sports Illustrated has not announced a special edition dedicated to Schroeder's career.

Now, no malice intended towards Billy, who certainly did pretty well for a local boy and a Division III track star trying to make it in the NFL. I certainly liked him at first, but he did have a way of getting under your skin after a while.

In 1994, I was working as an archery director at Wisconsin Lions Camp in Rosholt, and a fellow counselor was a member of the UW-La Crosse track team. He spoke volumes about Schroeder's ability and was giddy at the thought of his teammate being a Green Bay Packer. This was my first introduction to the sixth round pick of the 1994 draft, but it came with a caveat:

"He's the cockiest S.O.B I know."

Once I found out, following a couple seasons on the practice squad, that he was wearing my own old high school number, #84, I set my mind on rooting for this lanky white kid from Wisconsin. In 1997, he finally got some playing time as a returner and a reserve wideout, and we started getting a taste of the good and bad that he had to offer.

He certainly was an athletic guy, and could make some nice catches. But his lack of discipline already started to show, fumbling four times in 1997 on only 33 returns and 2 receptions.

By 1998, Mike Holmgren's last year as head coach, that cockiness started to manifest itself in other ways. I vividly remember Schroeder literally screaming at Holmgren from the playing field to challenge a catch that had been ruled incomplete. It wasn't a request, it was a full-fledged tantrum, and Holmgren knew that he was obligated to challenge it after the public spectacle. I remember that look on the Walrus's face when the play was not overturned, and Schroeder still sat there complaining about it. Holmgren was never one to be trifled with, and Schroeder had overstepped his bounds. Yet, he seemed blindly unaware of it.

Schroeder was perhaps one of the sloppiest route runners I've seen as a Packer, and finally, Holmgren had enough of the sloppy play and lack of respect when being coached. During one particular game with Schroeder's foolish penalties, Holmgren finally snapped and, while shouting at him red-faced, grabbed his face mask on the sideline.

Holmgren eventually apologized for his lack of self-control, but it was at that moment that my old buddy's words bubbled back into my head, that there was a lot more to that story than that one play.

In 1998, Holmgren left, and Schroeder began to put together a couple of productive seasons, averaging 1,000 receiving yards from 1999-2001. But, his lack of discipline continued to dog the Packers. Lazy route running, particularly on his slants, resulted in a number of extra interceptions for quarterback Brett Favre, adding to the five fumbles he had over that time period. Moreover, his hot-headed penchant for dumb penalties continued to drive coaches crazy.

In a 2001 game against the Buccaneers (perhaps the zenith of the rivalry), a close loss (14-10) was exacerbated by a foolish penalty by Schroeder. On a third and long with the Packers leading late in the game, an incomplete pass was followed by a late hit on Schroeder. With whistles blowing, beanbags flying, and yellow flags raining, the Packers breathed a sigh of relief that a game-sealing drive was kept alive.

Until, of course, Bill Schroeder decided to take offense to the late hit, got up, and decked the defender. Mike Sherman was beside himself as the Packers now saw offsetting penalties, and were forced to punt to the Bucs, who scored the winning touchdown on the next drive.

It was bonehead plays like this that led to Schroeder's departure from the Packers, as he left after that season to join the Lions, and then played his final season for the Bucs in 2004.

I don't like to diss on many former Packers, but Bill Schroeder epitomized for me the oft-bemoaned regret of former general manager Ron Wolf, who always wished he had gotten some playmaking wide receivers to compliment Brett Favre.

That's why I didn't find it surprising that following Mike Sherman's first year as general manager, he jettisoned Schroeder and drafted Javon Walker in the first round. In 2004, Favre was throwing to perhaps the best trio of receivers he had in his career (Donald Driver, Walker, and Robert Ferguson).

Schroeder also, along with Ferguson, helped me define what I don't want in a wide receiver: a player who not only makes his own careless mistakes, but compounds the mistakes of his quarterback with a "not my problem" attitude. Both Schroeder and Ferguson would watch balls sail into opposing players' hands without even a half-hearted effort to make a play on it.

Ted Thompson, the present GM, has gone one further, bolstering veteran Driver with solid young talent in Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson, all high-character guys with high ceilings to boot. They're all "Packer People" who run precise routes and go up and fight for any ball thrown their way.

Which makes it ironic that Bill Schroeder, a guy neither Ted Thompson nor Mike McCarthy would have any patience for as a player, asked Thompson this week to retire as a Packer. I'm sure that Thompson included a very specific clause in that one-day contract the prohibited him from any time on the field.

I don't hold any grudges toward Schroeder, who will be remembered by guys like my camp buddy as the local boy who made good in Titletown. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors and I am proud that after all that has happened, he recognizes the Packer organization as the one he wants to be forever associated with.

I just hope Mike Holmgren is at his retirement ceremony to wrangle that facemask one more time, just for memories sake.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Pressures of Aaron Rodgers

Oh, the pressure of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. And, the pressure of following in the footsteps of a legend. And, the pressure of having everyone else in the world wanting you to fail.

Aaron Rodgers had a momentary lapse of judgment in his OTA interviews today (mind you, under duress from a particularly aggressive reporter, nothing new for Packer quarterbacks), and spoke about how, apparently, at least some of the world is out to get him.

"I know the pressure I'm under. I know who I'm following. I know it's a tough situation, and a lot of people are expecting me to fail outside of this locker room. I'm trying to get the guys here to believe in me."

Now, this is an interesting quote (somewhat out of context) for many reasons, which I will attempt to enumerate.

First of all, the worst part of following Brett Favre isn't trying to do what he did on the field. It is going to be managing a rather persistent and rabid media that was spoiled with juicy sound bites from the quarterback. Rodgers was essentially asked the same question three straight times when the reporter seemed unimpressed with his politically correct responses.

Rodgers also alluded to this a couple of seconds later, in that every move he makes all season is going to be scrutinized by the media, and that he is prepared for it. "Bring it on," he says. So, in some ways, there are some kudos to be given to him for recognizing it. However, taking an adversarial tone with the media usually opens you up to having your quotes blown up by them later.

Which brings me to my second point: why is Rodgers talking about all this "pressure" he's under? Why is he concerned about what anyone else thinks besides his teammates and coaches, especially when most Packer fans are not predicting him to be a failure anyway? As a backup for several seasons, Rodgers has been able to get away with a charming smile and a glib comment here and there, but now with the starting mantle on him, it is time for him to take on the leadership role.

Being a leader, Rodgers will soon realize, does not usually entail complaining about how others are perceiving you, especially when there's no proof either way on the field as yet. Despite a sixteen-minute interview of safe, team-oriented responses, Rodgers offered up an open wound to the blood-thirsty media and the small number of Rodgers Critics out there.

Now, for many years I have been rather pro-Brett Favre, and have written many times that the Packers were in a better place having Rodgers continue to learn from the bench and allow Favre to do what he does best (which isn't always passing). Looking at fellow draftee Alex Smith, its not hard to see that the raw Aaron Rodgers playing behind a raw line trying to figure out a zone blocking scheme would not have been a smart move, and in retrospect, I think most besides the most ardent of Favre Haters will agree.

Rodgers biggest struggles in the past few years were with his ability to handle a pass rush, often taking off quickly to scramble away (opening himself up to hits), hurrying his throws (which often when straight into the ground), or simply not sensing the pressure at all (and again, taking a hit).

This was the area in which Favre excelled the most, and the one area a coach can actually tell a young player to watch and learn from Brett Favre, since you wouldn't do that with most of the other facets of his game.

That stated, Rodgers now has his time to shine. The Favre era, as much as we've loved every twist and turn of that roller coaster, has come to an end. Rodgers is in the best spot he could have been in his career: the line is somewhat stable, Ryan Grant established a running game at the end of last season, and there is a rather enviable stable of receivers for him to throw to. At no point in his other seasons could you have said this.

I am not a "Rodgers Lover", but I certainly want him to succeed. I would be rather shocked at any Packer fan who would not want him to succeed or would root against him. Yes, Rodgers is going to have to shake the injury-bug cloud he's been surrounded with, but that's no reason to hope he fails. Heck, Brian Brohm is just as raw as Rodgers was, and is considered a statue in the pocket. If Rodgers fails, and Brohm fails, this team is suddenly looking at a much earlier draft choice in next year's draft.

Legendary quarterbacks have almost always been followed by a guy who just never seemed to measure up, from Jay Fielder to Brian Griese to Mark Malone to Randy White to even Steve Young. It's almost become an expectation for the "next guy" to wither and die in the shadow of the great quarterback they are trying to replace.

But most intelligent Packer fans know that you are never....ever....going to get another Brett Favre, and frankly, most of us don't want one. A "Poor Man's Brett Favre" is going to be a nightmare, and the success of those kinds of players who were supposed to be The Next Favre have certainly not shown much success (Losman, Grossman, even Tony Romo).

Rodgers, wisely, has stated time and time again following Favre's retirement that he's not going to be the next Favre. He's going to be Aaron Rodgers, and nothing could be more perfect to say or believe. Rodgers is going to play a much different style than Favre, and no matter how much you hear Mike McCarthy say they aren't going to adjust the playbook, he will. He has to, and is a master at adjusting his offenses to meet the skills of the players he has to work with.

This doesn't mean that Rodgers is automatically a lesser player, but areas that he seems to have an edge over what Favre had(sweet spiral, accuracy) has to be balanced with what he doesn't (pressure awareness, going through his progressions).

"I am Aaron Rodgers" is what we want to hear from the guy we're giving the trust to be our starting quarterback, not some chip-on-my-shoulder grumbling during the OTA's about how so much pressure is on him. The more he gives his teammates the burden of having to build him up, the more he is going to have to keep answering questions like the ones he was bullied into responding to.

And suggesting that "a lot of people outside the locker room" are expecting him to fail doesn't exactly send warm fuzzies to those who have supported him for so long, and are hoping for great things from him this season. Maybe I am wrong, but I have to look high and low for Packer fans who are expecting him to fail.

And if he can learn another lesson from the guy he's replacing, it would be not keep feeding the piranhas, because they will just come back fishing for more.

I think that Aaron Rodgers has the tools to be a successful quarterback, and San Francisco is going to continue to regret taking the quarterback that they did in the 2005 draft. However, it may not be the difference in the players, but the difference in how the teams handled them. Rodgers is in a great position and just needs to take the reins.

Hopefully, that's what he believes, because it makes all the difference.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Keller vs. Nelson Revisited

I am finally starting to settle down from my traditional Draft Weekend Shock that has seemed hit me annually for the past several seasons, when people have been drafted and moves made that just made me shake my head in disbelief.

(Now mind you, this ritual actually started pre-Ted Thompson, with a guy nicknamed Batman and a first-day punter, but the general feelings have continued into the new regime.)

My angst stems from one simple move made by Thompson: the passing up of a good player at a needed position in order to trade down for a good player at a far-less needed position.

In other words, we passed up the player taken at #30, Dustin Keller, a tight end that we essentially traded away for Jordy Nelson, an unheralded but widely talented wide receiver.

I am growing to like Jordy Nelson more and more as time goes on and the initial shock wears off. He seems to be the kind of receiver that I have talked about for years: a hands-first guy that is willing to go up for the ball and demand it, with the size to make it happen. Years of watching Robert Ferguson falling backwards as the ball was being intercepted made the drafting of players like Greg Jennings and James Jones a welcome sight, and I have a feeling you can add Nelson to that list.

Nelson seems like a guy who could likely play on the field like Sterling Sharpe, but have the attitude and leadership of Donald Driver. I don't think that we're going to look back five years from now and question his selection as much as we did when he was first drafted.

However, I still look at the choice to trade back from #30 to #36, and still wonder if we made the best move. Ted Thompson seemed to use the rest of the draft to fill holes, some of them important holes, but used his first pick to gain a solid player at a position that really didn't fill a need.

In other words, after waiting so long for Koren Robinson to return and developing Ruvell Martin, one of them likely is going to be playing elsewhere come September. And the other probably won't be content as a #5 receiver.

We lost Bubba Franks, who had been in steep decline in the most glaring part of his game for a tight end, pass receiving. Certainly, we were paying him Gonzalez/Gates-esque money for Ed West-esque production. But Franks was as solid of a blocker as we had at the position, and given the fact that since Thompson came aboard that the line has been in flux, it is no wonder his stats were in decline.

Before the Thompson regime, Franks had at least 30-50 receptions a year, 250-450 yards a year, and 4-9 touchdowns a year. It was in 2005 that Franks stopped reaching even the bottom numbers of those stats.

Am I saying that Thompson somehow caused the Franks decline? Not really, as injuries were a factor, but Franks was also need to stay in and block more and more as we monkeyed around with rookie guards and a zone blocking scheme that still hasn't fully gelled. In fact, Franks spent quite a number of plays a season lined up in the backfield as a blocker.

No wonder his numbers declined.

So, when we ended up missing Dustin Keller, I was a bit shocked. Donald Lee was a good receiver last season, but he also had Brett Favre at quarterback, having an MVP-like season throwing the ball. This year it will be Aaron Rodgers, and I'm not sure having a fourth wide receiver running downfield is going to be a great weapon for him if we can't give him any time for those receivers to get open.

Lee is a decent receiver and a so-so blocker. What I didn't understand has been the repeated comments from Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson about how much they would like to utilize a double-tight end set, and that the spread formation of four wide-receivers used much of last season was a necessity as a result of a poor running game.

I am still down on Jermichael Finley, who despite his athleticism, is still striking me as a cocky young kid who is going to be in way over his head very quickly, and worst of all, a liability as a blocker. If our line hasn't improved in its pass blocking, and Rodgers has the lack of pressure awareness that he has shown in the past, Finley isn't going to see the field much at all.

So, it comes down to whether or not Keller would have been a better value pick. Keller was the first tight end taken in the draft, and may have been taken a bit early by the Jets. Who knows? Perhaps Keller might have been the target for Thompson in the trade-down, something he has been bitten by before: losing a player you think you can get later on and a draft pick to boot.

Keller isn't the end-all, be-all, and I do understand what Thompson was thinking when he picked Nelson: Jordy Nelson will be a better wide receiver than Dustin Keller will be a tight end in the NFL.

Thompson took the best player he felt he had at that point.

The next few seasons will tell us if it was the best move. Keller would have filled a hole as a more complete tight end, a decent blocker and a decent receiver. He may not have been the next Antonio Gates, but he could be the next Paul Coffman, and that's not too bad.

Also, people have said that the fourth round pick gained with the trade was used to trade up to get defensive end Jeremy Thompson. I have nothing against Jeremy, who I think is going to join of a group of solid rotational players along the defensive line, but he could have as easily been taken with one of our #91 pick used on Finley instead of losing two picks to move up to #102.

As I've stated before, I was actually hoping for Martellius Bennett, a more complete blocking tight end that would be ready to play in the NFL, plus room to grow as a receiver. Bennett was taken at #61 by the Cowboys. a player we could have had instead of our pick at #60, Patrick Lee.

So, my point in all of this? We can second-guess all we want, and we do . I think Jordy Nelson is going to be a player, and in fact, I would go so far as to predict he will be a starter in a season or two. He may even grow quickly into being my favorite player, and I may start pricing Nelson jerseys, as I have always worn WR or TE jerseys.

But, the deep holes at some of the other positions on the team may pay the price for the Packers being overstocked at wide receiver. Keller would have been a far more complete rookie prospect than Finley is going to be, Brandon Flowers would have been far more ready for the NFL and more versitile than Patrick Lee, and even Kenny Phillips, the safety taken at #31, would have potentially been an upgrade over every safety presently on the roster.

As Franks has departed, Al Harris is aging, and Nick Collins appears to have already hit his ceiling, I hope that the impact of Jordy Nelson is going to be powerful enough to compensate for the hits we may end up taking elsewhere on the team.