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.


Anonymous said...

Keller could not and WOULD not block.
He's strictly a receiving tight end.
Good call TT on trading back! keep up the good work!

LosAngelis said...

Thanks for the input, anonymous.

I would agree that both Keller and Finley were both primarily receivers over blockers. However, I think that Keller is more able to make the transition that we are hoping to see from Finley at a much faster rate.

Given that a recent article stated that Lee and Finley are the two players who are going to be expected to contribute right away from this draft, I think that troubles me as Finley is much more of a long-range project, and Keller would have better suited to produce right away.

However, if you've read the entire article, you know that I was much higher on Martellius Bennett, a better blocker and Gates-like potential for the future, than either of the strictly receiving tight ends.

Thanks for commenting!

David said...

I simply don't see the logic in trying to get Keller. He is small, receiving TE. Big tough receiver or small TE? Hmmmm, I go with WR. I do wish we had taken Bennett. Bigger, better blocker. Keller, who needs him?