Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Need vs. BPA: Can We Afford a Luxury Pick Again?

It’s happened before, it may well happen again.

Last year, Ted Thompson spent his first draft pick on a position that many would say was rather stacked. Jordy Nelson added to a squad already stocked with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Ruvell Martin was considered by many to be a luxury pick. Furthermore, the first pick ignored what appeared to be severe needs at running back, quarterback, tight end, and defensive line.

This year, with the switch to the 3-4 defense, many pundits are predicting that the Packers are going to take one of the DE/LB hybrids, almost all of whom project to an OLB spot. Everette Brown, Brian Orapko, and Aaron Maybin are common names being touted for the #9 pick, seemingly good fits for the 3-4, and good talents all around.

But the question, like Nelson last year, comes with whether or not it is wise to draft at a position at which you are already “loaded”. Of course, since the linebackers were often cited as the most underperforming position group last season, we might question whether or not the linebacking coprps is indeed loaded.

I would guess that there was a drop in performance that somehow related to the apparent schism that rose between several of the defensive coaches, including linebacking coach Winston Moss. I often wondered why the guy who was the official assistant head coach would be the coach of the least productive unit on the field, but it is pretty clear that ousted defensive coordinator Bob Sanders may have contributed to it.

So, I offer that the defense is likely better than last year showed, and that our linebacking corps is as talented as they showed in 2007. In the hands of Dom Capers, I think our defensive players are going to be put in better positions to make plays, as well as having more clear leadership and communication.

So, looking at the players we presently have, do we really see adding another OLB as a need?

Nick Barnett
AJ Hawk
Brandon Chillar
Brady Poppinga
Aaron Kampman
Desmond Bishop
Jeremy Thompson

All of these players are signed and paid some good coin, but the transition to a 3-4 has placed some of the contributions of these players into some question. Can Kampman convert to a rushing linebacker role? Can Hawk take on the responsibilities of an inside backer?

Problem is, with these guys (and other players like Havner) and the coaching of Dom Capers, you have the think that the talent has to work out somehow. And, if the Packers are going to move forward with a hybrid 3-4/4-3, they likely won’t need to keep more than these seven on the roster.

Do you add a high draft pick to this group, simply because he’s the best talent on the board at the time? Do we take Everette Brown and hope he can take the other OLB spot opposite Kampman? Where does that leave our remaining four starting-level linebackers?

It seems like a luxury pick, but it feeds into the long polarized debate: do you draft for need or do you take the best player available? Like most issues, I like to find a middle ground: I think you should draft the best player available at a position of need.

And, there’s no shortage of needed positions that we could expend a first round pick on: TE, OT, DE, DT, CB…but I don’t see linebacker as one of them, especially if we are going to be transitioning slowly.

Which position seems most needy? I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree that not only is our defensive line shaky for the traditional 4-3, it is even more disjointed when switching to the 3-4 scheme. Ryan Pickett is the only name of note at NT, and most agree he’s far from the ideal stout player needed at the position. Cullen Jenkins, Michael Montgomery, and Johnny Jolly are all candidates on the outside, but Jenkins is coming off of injury and both Jolly and Montgomery are role players at best.

You would guess that if B.J. Raji is still on the board at #9 that Thompson would swoop in take him, as he is the best true NT in the draft and can play in both defensive schemes seamlessly. The chances of Raji still being there don’t appear likely at this juncture.

So, other than a bunch of quarterbacks and wide receivers, you would think the decision comes down to the aforementioned OLB hybrid players, Andre Smith (OT), Tyson Jackson (DE), Malcolm Jenkins (CB). The idea of trading back to pick up Michael Oher (OT) or Brandon Pettigrew (TE) isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Thompson, either.

But after the Justin Harrell selection, it isn’t hard to imagine that Thompson might take a reach for a player he really wants at the point, too. Tyson Jackson, an overall five-technique DE might be the ticket for swapping back a couple of slots in exchange for another third round pick. But, he might be the smartest pick even at #9, even if no one else might take him until pick 15.

Again, you balance that need pick versus the best talent available.

But, I am hoping that we do not continue to feed a rich position while starving another one that is in need. While I am certain, like Jordy Nelson, that any of the OLB guys available would be truly Packer People and solid players, there comes a point where you need to put you best talent in the neediest of places. I’m hoping for Raji if he is available, and Jackson, Smith, or Jenkins after that.

And, dare I say it, if we trade down, we trade down.


Anonymous said...

First I say I couldn't disagree w/ you MORE!!! Rush OLB is an absolute need!!! You MUST have 2 OLB that can rush the QB in the 3/4. After Kampman name me another of the LB that can be effective on an everydown basis rushing the QB? Surely you don't think Poppinga is the ticket?!! Rush OLB is a NEED, of the highest order.

Second, Raji is about 50% chance of being available. Alot of mock drafts have him being available. I hope he is. He would be the IDEAL NT, and the ideal choice for the Pack.

Third, since we used to keep 8 or 9 DL when we played 4/3, it is logical to assume they will keep that many LB in the 3/4! Plus LB make the best ST players, and improving the ST is one of the reasons for the switch. McCarthy said himself that a secondary reason for the switch was the expected improved talent on ST!!!


C.D. Angeli said...

First, thanks for the comment, Stohman. And I'm glad we agree completely on Raji. I'd be sprinting up to podium with that pick if he is still available at #9.

The one thing that I will tip my cap to you on is the idea of drafting a game-changer, regardless of position. I don't think I brought that into my article, and is certainly worthy of consideration.

That stated, I still have a hard time with that balance...bringing in a drafted OLB to upgrade...who? Poppinga? Do we cut him now?

I don't know if I am making that clear, but the idea of upgrading a position we already have a lot of talent at means you are dropping a starting-caliber player. If you upgrade at OT, DT, or DE, you may not even have to drop a player, because right now the depth chart behind some of those guys are completely empty.

Do I think that Poppinga is the answer? No, but I think his talents are far better in use rushing than they are in coverage. The point is that with all these players, there must be a way for Capers to take the ingredients and make it work. But there simply are no ingredients along the defensive line and at TE, and the cabinet will be bare soon at OT and CB.

I'm not going to cry if they take Everett, but I'm also going to be very worried about that DL this year.

IPB said...

IPBprez here - Nice Site, L.A. Well done.

If TT were to "reach down", I would hope it might be for a guy like ALEX MACK - he can play both Center & Guard. This leaves us with options for backup Tackles if we miss out on someone in the early rounds (however Tauscher was a 7th rounder, wasn't he). As for someone besides Kampman for OLB, I would agree it "seems" shallow for now. What no one is talking about, inside 1265, is who's making headway inside the Practice Field. We have no idea if any of the backups are showing more ability for the 3-4. For a guy like MACK, he's currently slated as the #32 pick, by the Steelers on most boards. Reaching down may force GBP to give the guy more money, but from what I've read the upside is a boon.

What I know we shouldn't be doing is going after yet another Cornerback. What do you think of Ron Brace? Personally, I hope Orakpo (go pack go / shut up) would be a game changer almost immediately, pending injuries don't ruin it like it did with CB Pat Lee.

I also agree that the Packers probably ARE better than last year's stats indicate.

What I question is where Winston Moss thought it beneficial to sabotage our Win/Loss column simply because he disagreed with the DC. What happened to Team First, player or coach second? I would offer that Moss was directly involved with several of our losses, from last year. Shouldn't he then be held accountable? Yet, he was kept and everyone else was let go. THAT, I got a problem with. Especially if it turns out he DID contribute to our Losses.

JMHO.... thanks for listening!

PS: Yes, we don't need anything from Florida State (Everette) -- we have enough Cornerbacks and potential Cornerbacks as it is.

C.D. Angeli said...

Hey IBP...glad to see we agree on much of where we hope the team goes in a couple of weeks.

As for the Winston Moss comment, I didn't mean to imply that I thought there was any intentional sabotage on his part. I've heard good things about Moss...while he may never have the moxie to be an NFL head coach, he is knowledgeable and seems to be a class guy. But I do believe that when your coaches are in disagreement, it creates an unhealthy atmosphere, whether you want it to or not. Players can sense that and some may even take sides.

(Hypothetical example: "Hey, Coach Moss, are we going to throw a new blitz package at them this week?" Moss: "No, from what I've been told, we will not be doing that.")

MM and TT have been on the same page all along, it seems, and while the mutual admiration society seems a little sickening at times, it sends a very clear message to the team...we are crossing the Rubicon as a team.