Thursday, April 30, 2009

Favre Angst: Apparently the Rubicon Has a Two-Way Bridge

Flush the bombers, get the subs in launch mode. We are at DEFCON 1.

Yes, Brett Favre has asked the New York Jets to release him from the reserve/retired list, effectively making him a 40-year old free agent.

Let’s face reality: some things just don’t change.

Favre loves keeping his options open, doesn’t mind stirring the hornets nest a little bit, and may not be ready to give up on the game (despite many signals that he probably should).

The media still loves to overblow anything that Favre does, even non-stories such as this. Why not? It’s the slow season and if there’s nothing else to print, why not embellish stories with hyberbole and innuendo.

And finally, Packers fans still love to knee-jerk react emotionally to any bit of non-news that comes out about ol’ #4.

From Bart Winkler at The Bucky Channel

I'm sure many of you that hated Favre last summer have already forgiven him, or have already moved on, but I haven't. Favre's theatrics last summer exposed his true self, and destroyed the image of a man I spent my childhood worshipping. If it was a guy of lesser importance, I'm probably over it by now, but this was Brett Favre were talking about here. This was the guy who, outside of my parents, was my hero.

Now? He's just a washed up quarterback doing anything to remain in the spotlight, no matter what the cost.
From PocketDoppler

While this is all speculation, rumor and hubris right now, what re-built respect and liking for Favre that I have would diminish in a heartbeat were I to see him wearing purple. Favre joining the Vikings would not be for his love of the game, his desire to compete or the want to try and go out on top. Rather it would be for vindictive and selfish reasons. Let’s hope none of this comes to pass, because the alternative to me is unfathomable.
And of course, Florio can't resist...

Our guess? Once Cook sufficiently and successfully pestered the Broncos to trade quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears, Cook embarked on an effort to pester Tannenbaum to release Favre, if for no reason other than to clear out any potential impediments to the wild gray hair that might crawl up Brett’s butt in the next month or two.

The next step for Cook? He’ll start pestering Bevell and Childress to start pestering Brett to provide the final piece for one of the most talented teams in NFL history at every position except the one that counts the most.

My take on the whole drama? Who cares.

Maybe Favre is an attention seeker who can’t stand going a month without getting a headline. Maybe he really is so emotionally damaged that he just wants to keep himself in the public eye as long as he can.

So what? If it is true, why do we keep reacting to it? Why do we keep overblowing it and allowing the news outlets to get ratings for reporting it?

Maybe Favre is considering another return to the NFL, just to prove he can still do it.

Who cares? He’s not coming to Green Bay. He’s not threatening Aaron Rodgers ego or Ted Thompson’s master plan anymore. Any man has a right to earn a living, and suffer the consequences that might come with it. Who are we to pass judgment and tell him another human being isn’t allowed to work anymore, simply because it bothers us?

Maybe Favre is angry, and still wants to “stick it” to Ted Thompson somehow.

So what? We’ve all given up a long time ago believing that Brett Favre will be the one to take the high road. It isn’t in his nature. He’s a man, not a messiah. If Favre is a bad man for wanting to stick it to his old team, I assume Jay Cutler should retire also, right? You don’t think Gilbert Brown wanted to stick it to the Vikings, or Darren Sharper to the Packers? You don’t think any player who felt jilted by his old team didn’t take some extra pride in wanting to settle it like a man on the field, rather than in interviews on television?

Maybe Favre will join the Vikings!!!!

Who really cares? Seriously. I thought he should have just been allowed to join them last year. You honestly think the way he played with the Jets that he would have been the difference between a mediocre team (that went 10-6 with two gimme wins against the Lions) and a Super Bowl win? Do you honestly think Bear fans think Jim McMahon is no longer a Bear because he played a season or two as a backup for the Packers? Favre wasn't wanted, and he wanted to play.

Heck, let him go. Let him line up against the Packers on October 5 and see how excited this team is to beat him. Let the Vikings find out that getting Favre wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Or, in the event that the Vikings win and Favre gets his “revenge”, we can rest easy that Favre will soon be out of the league and the Packers have a franchise quarterback that will still be playing when Favre is eligible for AARP.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player in which every fan appears to have some sort of delusion of ownership over what he should do with his life, judgmental of every move he makes, word he says, and thoughts he thinks.

Who cares?

We celebrate the fact that Ted Thompson keeps to his plan, regardless of criticism or complaining from the rabble. We may not like every decision, but we can respect the fact that he is going to live or die by them.

Favre is going to do the same thing. He’s going to make decisions that are in the best interest of what he controls…his own career and life, just like we all do. It’s time that we stop rewarding the people who enjoy throwing us raw meat and watching us savagely devour it…whether it be Favre himself or the media looking to sell NFL news in a slow time of year.

It’s like that crazy friend that has a crisis every couple of days, and expects everyone to drop what they are doing and overreact with them.

Who’s crazier: the crazy friend or the people that continue to feed into the friend’s neuroses?

The friend is whoever you want it to be. Maybe you think it is Favre demanding the attention, or maybe it is the media, who love to overblow anything to do with Favre. My opinion? It’s a good share of both, as they have developed a pretty symbiotic relationship over the past several years (with Favre getting his own heading on the ESPN Bottom Line Ticker). But that relationship formed for one reason: because All Things Favre always…always….gets the reaction from us that they want. More papers sold, more hits on websites, more angst and squabbling.

They have Packer fans pretty well trained, don’t they?

I thought it was last year we were supposed to cross the Rubicon, and move on because “that train has left the station”.

That’s the Packers’ line…how about we follow suit?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is It Time To Give Mike Sherman His Due?

The past few months I've been watching some of the big events at Lambeau Field...Fan Fest, the Draft Party. And they always have dignitaries at these things..Packers past and present. And for some reason, I had to wonder: you never see Mike Sherman at any of these things. And it made me ask a rather stark question.

Will Mike Sherman ever be invited (or welcomed) back at Lambeau Field?

I remember last year that Sherman came back into Green Bay for a lecture at his daughter's college, and even then I wondered if someone would find their way into the auditorium just to catcall him about BJ Sander. There were so many people who ran him out of town on a rail, that you expect him to never be able to come back.

Yet, there's Mark Chmura at the Atrium, drawing laughs and requests for autographs during the draft.

Mike Sherman didn't sit in any hot tubs with teenage girls. He didn't assault a gal in the stairwell at the Top Shelf. He didn't take steroids, hold the team hostage, or hold out for a better salary the day before training camp.

He just came to work and did the best job he knew how to do. For many of us, that wasn't enough. And in the end, he left Green Bay chased by torches and pitchforks, his tenure to be ridiculed for years.

Now, before you jump all over me, I am the farthest thing from some Sherman Defender. I was probably one of his biggest critics for failing to make halftime adjustments, for believing too much in his gameplan and schemes, and for standing back and letting Brett Favre win or lose the game with risky plays.

There was no one decrying the 2004 draft louder than I, and no one insisting louder that he have the GM role removed from his job title.

That was then, an emotional time marked with fans who had grown used to deep playoff runs, for whom division titles, winning seasons, and just making the playoffs was not enough.

And Sherman took the fall for it. But you know what? There's a place in this world to respect a guy for just being a good guy. Mike Sherman, for all his faults, was a good guy.

Another good guy was Lindy Infante. When 1991 finished up, there were few people clamoring for his return. But even then, I appreciated that great 1989 season he brought us. And, I really respected that the day after he was fired, he showed up to do the last "Lindy Infante Show", bringing his wife as his special guest to say goodbye to the fans.

Class act. I'd love to see Lindy at Fan Fest, ask for his autograph, and thank him for the season of the Cardiac Pack.

I wonder when Sherman would be welcomed back in the same way. Let's dismiss his tenure as general manager. That horse been beaten to death, ad nauseum. How good of a coach was Mike Sherman...especially if he hadn't been foolishly burdened with the dual role of GM/HC by Bob Harlan?

In his first season, he turned around a country club atmosphere created by Ray Rhodes and finished with four straight wins to end up 9-7 (sounds eerily familiar to another Mike we know, doesn't it?).

He then followed that up in 2001 with the first of two 12-4 seasons and four division titles. Over those next four years he would compile a regular season record of 44-20.

Some people chose to diminish those results by stating that he had simply taken the reins of the 1998 team that Holmgren brought to the playoffs just two years earlier. But only a fraction of the active players actually remained on the roster after just two years, and many stalwarts of the Holmgren era (Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, George Koonce, Mark Chmura, Robert Brooks) were gone. Others, such as Gilbert Brown, LeRoy Butler, Frank Winters, and Dorsey Levens, were only shadows of their former selves.

Sherman built a new foundation that year with a new young running back named Ahman Green, started two rookie offensive tackles named Clifton and Taucher, and put together a mismash of defensive players that managed to rank in the middle of the NFL. By the next season, the defense was 5th in the NFL in points allowed.

We all can sit around the bar table and tell stories of what happened from 4th-and-26 on. But until that time, Sherman did a lot of things that even Mike Holmgren did not accomplish.

For one, he established perhaps the finest offensive line the Packers had seen since the days of Lombardi. Certainly, the five-some of Tauscher, Rivera, Flanagan, Wahle, and Clifton had all been drafted by Ron Wolf, but Sherman was able to put that talent together on the field and had them producing at a dominating level. There's a reason Sherman was an offensive line coach. He knew what he was doing with the talent he had.

He was able to establish a dominating ground game with Ahman Green. Even when Holmgren had Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens, they really gained the majority of their yards in the second half of games, eating up minutes to protect a lead that was achieved primarily through the passing game. The running game under Sherman in those years was the only time in Brett Favre's lengthy career that the offense didn't seemingly rest completely on his arm. Green set a Packer record for most rushing yards in 2003.

And, he managed to assemble perhaps the most talented receiving corps that Favre had been able to work with up until that time. Again, Wolf brought in the talent, but Sherman finally got it together by 2004: the tandem of Javon Walker, Donald Driver, and Robert Ferguson was perhaps the best in the NFL.

Sherman developed some of the best players still on the Packer roster today: Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, Cullen Jenkins, and Donald Driver.

He was the first coach in Green Bay to surprise his players during training camp with a trip to a local bowling alley or paintball course instead of a second practice that day. He knew how important camaraderie was.

And, as stated before, he added four division titles to the rafters of Lambeau Field. Some will diminish that achievement by stating it was only because we were in the weakest division in the NFL. Yet, what does that say about a 6-10 team that competing in the same division as the only winless team in NFL history?

We all know that what came after these achievements, though. A series of one-and-done playoff visits culminating in a heartbreaking failure against Philadelphia in 2003. From that point on, it seemed like the GM portion of Sherman's dual role overshadowed anything else he did, and certainly, the decisions he made as GM were worthy of criticism.

The dual role gives absolute power to the man in that role, and there are precious few that can handle it successfully. Sherman seemed to listen less to his scouting department, starting to micromanage his assistants, and had favorites he protected on the roster and on his staff. He put more and more pressure on himself to do it all himself in face of mounting criticism. He seemed to border on paranoia at times, because the dual role brought all the blame back to one guy.

When Thompson finally fired Sherman in January of 2006, it seemed that much of Packer Nation celebrated spitefully. Sherman the GM certainly had deserved some of the criticism, but did Sherman the coach?

I don't bring this up in any way to make any comparisons, positive or negative, to today's GM and head coach, just for Sherman to be judged on his own merits.

No one is asking for a street to be named in Sherman's honor. No one is asking for him to be rubber-stamped into the Ring of Honor or the Hall of Fame. And no one is erecting a statue of him next to Curly and Vince outside the Atrium doors.

But for all his warts and flaws and perceived crimes against the Packers, doesn't he deserve to be welcomed back by Packer fans as one of the many honored greats of the past: a coach who did nothing less than string together four consecutive division titles, a feat only surpassed by Mike Holmgren? Isn't it time he can sit at a table for hours on end while green-and-gold-clad fans wait hours in line for his autograph, just to reminisce with him about the time he stood up to Warren Sapp or the "He did WHAT?!" Minnesota Viking game in 2001?

There are times that I wonder what Sherman's legacy would have been if he had declined that dual role offered to him by Bob Harlan. I'm guessing that, sometimes, Mike Sherman wonders about that, too.

Here's hoping that time heals all wounds.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"What Are The Thompson Haters Going To Do?"

I've heard this a couple times today..."What are the TT Haters going to do now???", I guess in response to what appears to be the "anti-TT" draft that the "Haters" have been apparent whining for.

It kind of hits me weird, because I've been pretty happy with this year's draft--I would honestly say it is the best feeling I've had coming out of a draft since the Wolf regime in the 90's. But, it is coming with some sort of childish "in your face" from folks who have been defending Thompson for years, while in the same breath admitting that this doesn't appear to be Thompson running this particular draft.

Now, I am no Thompson Hater, but will easily admit to being a critic. I point out his positive points, have never worn a Hater T-shirt or signed a petition against him, and have never called for him to be fired.

But I do disagree with his approach at times, including how he has approached the draft in the past. And, I've been called a Thompson Hater before, by nothing less than those crazy "Thompson Acolytes" or the "Thompson Worshippers".

That was just for dramatic effect, folks. Of course, that is just that natural polarization that happens in today's political world. If you disagree with me, you must be an "extremist".

Now, getting to the point. I am happy with this draft, because I think Thompson did some things we haven't seen him do before. He took some risks...his first two picks, BJ Raji and Clay Matthews, have some warts, but he was willing to pay a high price for each other them. There's no guarantee they will work out, and TT could have traded back from #9 or not traded up to get Matthews.

But these were not only stud picks, but also "need" picks. After 2007, when he reached for an injured DT, and 2008, when he traded back to take a WR at an already loaded position, this was a welcome change for many. It's not simply drafting for need, it's taking the Best Player Available at a Position of Need. And notice the cheers in the Atrium.

So, now, Thompson Critics/Haters should "shut up" and never complain again, because Thompson finally did "what we wanted" after four years? Does this mean that we had the "right", then, to complain the previous four years? Or does it mean that Thompson simply did this to placate us and we should feel guilty for making him do so?

The next catcall is then that this is all a carefully formulated plan, that Thompson has intended to trade down for quantity for all these years, so that now, suddenly, he can trade up and draft for need.

It's a great thought, but not one that I particularly like or buy into.

Like McCarthy, Thompson is under fire for one of the biggest "penthouse to outhouse" declines in record in franchise history. McCarthy responded by firing nearly his entire defensive and special teams coaching staff. Thompson may be responding by changing his M.O. to something that addresses getting this team back to 2007 expectations.

That collapse last year doesn't close off Thompson to any criticism. Everyone is open to criticism, and if it handled maturely and intelligently, its valid even in the face of success.

And I'm happy to give Thompson his due: great draft. Super draft. No true skill positions drafted and yet I am really excited about it.

Does it mean I can never criticize him again? Please.

Ted has eschewed free agency almost exclusively since making a small splash in 2006. As the Packers go into 2009, they stand to lose Mark Tauscher, and even Chad Clifton's production is in doubt. So much so, that OT was one of the biggest "needs" the Packers had in this draft....a "need" after drafting six players in the last three years.

And what has Thompson done with it? Drafted two more mid-round guys that seem interchangeable with the talent we already have. Not bad talent, but talent that appears to be more versitile than solid at any one position. I like the guys we picked, don't get me wrong. They look to be tremendous value for where they were taken. But I can't exect either of them to step in and take over the production we expected from Tauscher and Clifton this year, much less improve on it.

And all this could have been solved by drafting for need years ago, or dipping into the free agent pool and having the heir apparent ready to go.

Valid criticism? Absolutely. Just because Thompson has had a good draft, doesn't mean that everything he does is as pure as the driven snow. This might be a position that Thompson may want to invest some coin in a second- or third-tier tackle, if one were available, instead of drafting players that won't really full blossom for another couple of seasons.

Look...we are all Packer fans here. Nothing irritates me more than seeing Packers fans beating up on fellow Packer fans. We're on the same team. If we have vitriol to send someone's way, well, this is why God created Viking fans.

In some ways, and perhaps indirectly connected, the "Thompson Debate" has divided Packer fans the way that the "Favre Debate" once did. The funny thing is, I never remember Ron Wolf dividing the fan base the way Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson did/do. It's time to put away these divisive labels of "Haters" and "Lovers" and start allowing for open criticism and praise, the way we used to back in the day.

Good conversation, discussion, and debate can come out of that. Name-calling and polarized stances rarely ever do.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day One Reflections

The Green Bay Packers saw a draft far different in 2009 than they've ever seen from general manager Ted Thompson. For some, it is an exciting change. For others, it is just as questionable as always.

But, it was different...and got your attention.

Here's what got my attention today:

* I was shocked at the sudden rise of Tyson Jackson, the defensive end taken by the Chiefs at pick #3. This was the guy I was hoping for at #9 for the Packers. Not only did he fill a need, he just came off as a solid player and a solid leader. Unfortunately, so did every other team moving to a 3-4, and the Chiefs defense last year made the Packers look like the Steel Curtain.

I wrote about supply and demand yesterday, trying to make a case it would be okay to take Jackson at #9 because his value would be in such high demand. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

* Ted Thompson shocked the world by making a need pick at #9, and I couldn't be happier. BJ Raji may have some warts, but you get the feeling this is a kid who Dom Capers can work with and really get to fill a major void in that defensive line. No, he's not particularly bright, and his work ethic is under some question. But there's no point in picking up more linebackers until the guys in front of them can handle the linemen for them. Great move, great pick.

* I really didn't understand why everyone thought that we needed to take Michael Crabtree. Guys like this drop for a reason. The Raiders even reached to take a different WR before Crabtree. Maybe he'll be the next Jerry Rice, and more power to him if he does. But I think that Thompson had to battle with taking the BPA versus the BPA@PON (Best Player Available at a Position of Need), and went with the latter.

Isn't it amazing how the Atrium crowd receives you when you try to address both Best Player and need? Crabtree was the furthest thing from a need, and I have a feeling he wasn't in enough demand for Thompson to have extorted what he wanted out of another team. The value simply wasn't there, and neither was the need. Good move.

* I was against taking an offensive tackle in the first round. Yes, I know it is a need, but it also really would be a black mark on Thompson's drafts. Thompson has used four years to try and build this offensive line through the draft, and has plenty of guys on the roster via that route. In just the last three drafts, Thompson has taken six offensive linemen (one 2nd rounder, one 3rd rounder, two 4th rounders, and two 5th rounders). And suddenly, when Mark Tauscher is injured, we have to burn a first rounder just to replace him?

The guys on the roster SHOULD be able to do it.

* I had called it nearly an hour before it happened, even used the draft chart to figure that pick 26 equaled the value of the Packers second and third round picks. I figured if Oher or Everette Brown were still available, Thompson should trade up.

Imagine my shock when he actually did it. Thompson NEVER uses my ideas. Ever.

But he did. Oher was off the table, but still made the trade to take a 3-4 OLB. What surprised me, though, was that he took Clay Matthews from USC. He has quite a range of rankings among most charts, but seemed to be a decent value at #26.

What surprised me even more was that Thompson threw in the other third rounder in addition to the 2nd and 3rd. That was a relatively high price to pay.

But, listening to Thompson talk, he is really enamored with Matthews. Don't lose sight of the fact he played with Clay's uncle, Bruce, in Houston during his playing days. He really, really wanted him.

My guess is that the Pats were entertaining several offers for that 26th pick, and Thompson had to pony up to get it. Think of the irony of that: not too long ago, the Packers had an offer on the table to trade for Randy Moss, and it was the Pats who upped the ante to get him from the Raiders.

In reflection, it seems like a high price to pay. But, more importantly, Ted Thompson has done with the 3-4 what he did not do with the implementation of the ZBS...he provided McCarthy with an instant upgrade in talent, giving him two first-round talents to get the transition off the ground. With the ZBS, he gave him a bunch of mid-round picks and hoped that competition would eventually produce some starters. Now, Matthews plays alongside veterans up and down the linebacking corps (Barnett, Hawk, and Kampman), while Raji will likely be bookended by vets Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett.

In other words, those two picks will be able do more than what we've seen from most Thompson picks...they are top-tier talent and will go at it with veteran leadership around them AND behind them.

* The only other shoe that drops for me is that Everette Brown ended up still being available at pick 41. That makes me think two things:

1) The Packers could have gotten a first-round OLB while standing pat and not giving up two third rounders in the process;

2) There was something about Everette Brown that Thompson, and a lot of other NFL teams, did not like. It reminded me of Ernest Shazor, the defensive back many thought the Packers would take a couple years ago, and inexplicably plummetted out of the draft. Face it...these guys know more than we do.

So, I am relatively content with the trade-up for Matthews, despite knowing we could have had Brown or Connor Barwin had we stood pat.

* There's something odd about this draft, like we have a different Ted Thompson running the show. But he actually came out and stated last week that he doesn't feel he's in a situation where he has to rebuild and acquire talent, and that trading back wasn't the "rule" in this situation.

He's also stated that he is content with the talent level on this team, despite our disagreements after a 6-10 season.

This draft seemed to back up his beliefs on both these points. He was able to address needs on defense, bringing in quality over quantity, a far cry from the record number of draft picks he's brought in before this year.

I'm also of the belief that, after not picking again until the 4th round, this is pretty much all the talent we're going to bring in this year that will be able to truly contribute this year as starters. But that's okay. I think Thompson will develop more depth on the OL, at CB, and perhaps even at DE. He might even take a punter.

But, for once, I am going to give a Packer GM a very positive mark for a first day draft. It's the first time I've felt good about doing that in a long time.

Clay Matthews: Great Move, The Right Pick?

I called it. I don't know if anyone saw it, but I said trade packs 2 and 3 to NE and take Everette Brown.

I had most of it...instead, Ted Thompson actually trade UP into the first round and took Clay Matthews OLB from USC. Perhaps he was trying to make up for trading out of the first round last year?

It's a great move, and time will tell if it was a great pick. I would have been more inclined to take Everette Brown at this point, but what Thompson has done is given Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers the ammunition to make a 3-4 transition work. By taking Raji, it allows Pickett to move outside and gives us a solid front three.

By taking Matthews, it gives us the ability to put Brady Poppinga on special teams and gives us a solid linebacking corps to play behind them.

In one round, the Packers' defense look a whole heck of a lot better than it did four hours ago.

I would never have thought it of Ted Thompson.

Now, is Clay Matthews going to be the "guy"? Is this a guy who might have been available at #41? You hope that the Packers saw something special in him, because there is the knock that he might have been the product of the system at USC and, of course, had his numbers inflated by having two other first-round linebackers playing beside him. However, he has that gritty, tough attitude that Thompson loves.

The cost seemed a bit high. The draft trade chart would have justified the second and the first of the two third round picks for pick 26, but Thompson traded both third round picks along with the second in order to get Matthews.

It's a high price. But, I also don't deny that making the "Brett Favre Draft Pick" invisible through trade takes a lot of pressure off anyone that would have been taken at that point. This finishes off the Packers for the day, and it there will be some scrutiny on Matthews this year.

You sure hope that Thompson did his homework before making the biggest trade up of his GM career.

First Reaction: Packers take Raji

With the #9 pick in the NFL draft, the Packers take BJ Raji, the DT from Boston College.

Yes, he comes with some baggage, but it was the best pick...the best pick...Thompson had. Yes, there were many OTs available, but Thompson HAD to upgrade that line and the bottom-quarter rushing defense in the NFL last year.

My first choice, of course, was Tyson Jackson...good leader and solid player, who went to the Chiefs at #3. But Raji was the second choice. He is going to be able to move right in to the DT spot and share time with Ryan Pickett, who has his contract coming up soon anyway. Given that Pickett is the only NT on the roster, this was a fantastic choice.

Could the Packers have traded back or struck a deal for Crabtree? Maybe, but they would not have gotten the level of talent to upgrade the line that they are getting with Raji. Yep, a lot of great talent would still be out there, especially at OLB, but those OLB's can't do anything without some stout bodies in front of them.

Great pick, Ted.

Could Raji Be Our Warren Sapp?

Jackson Off The Board

Tyson Jackson to the Chiefs at #3.

Okay, can anyone name another player who has gone from being a mid-first round pick just a week ago to the third pick overall? Wow.

This makes me nervous. I really do believe that the Packers' linebackers need an infusion of talent in front of them in order to be successful regardless of scheme. I'm really hoping that Raji drops to #9, because adding one of these OLB hybrid guys is just going to be another body playing behind a porous line.

Anyone doubt the effects of supply and demand anymore?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nick Collins Begins Dangerous Game for Thompson

Apparently, the gauntlet has been thrown. Nick Collins has decided that the $3M that is coming his way in 2009 isn't enough to feed his wife and newborn, and is going to begin the always-successful tactic of holding out for a new contract.

To me, this is more alarming that it appears on the surface. One of the things that I have praised Ted Thompson for is the transformation he made with the climate as players approached their contracts. By the end of Mike Sherman's career as GM, we seemed to have contract dispute and trade demands every season. Mike McKenzie, Javon Walker, and others all seemed to want to "cash in", and held the franchise hostage in order to get what they wanted.

I do blame that, in part, on Sherman's ill-fated dual role: it is really difficult to be the bad guy (the guy who controls your contract) and good guy (the guy who controls your playing time) simultaeously. Not many can pull that off, and Sherman was eventually pulled under water by it.

By restoring the normal head coach/general manager roles, it allowed Mike McCarthy to play the good guy and Thompson the bad guy. But, perhaps even moreso, Thompson began a climate in which good players were rewarded by getting a contract renegotiated going into their final year.

Reward your own instead of bring in hired guns through free agency. And for a while, it has worked.

But last year, Ryan Grant decided to hold out and ask for big money based on half a season of production. And, predictably, when Thompson gave in, Grant tweaked his hammy and had an off year.

Collins now makes it two years in a row that Thompson is being forced to have to make a decision to reward a player for one year (if that) of solid play, and it reeks of Javon Walker. Like Walker, Collins didn't develop quickly and seemed to be a point or two shy of a double-digit Wonderlic score. So, one good season and it is easy to listen to the silver-tongued agent convincing you how much you are being underpaid (when less than a year ago, it looked as if Collins might completely lose his starting job to Aaron Rouse).

It is possible that Ryan Grant was the leak in the dam. Nick Collins could blow it open.

There is a slough of players coming to the end of their contracts, and, like Greg Jennings, who are due for an extension. Thompson, to his credit, has built a admirable climate of "play well, and ye shall be rewarded in time". Grant shook that foundation, and Collins may shake it further.

Aaron Kampman, Jennings, and Ryan Pickett are all due at the end of 2009. An another group, including Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Rouse, James Jones, and Brandon Jackson come up in 2010. There is no doubt that these players are going to be watching this situation closely. "How do I get my big payday...the old-fashioned way, or the Grant/Collins way?"

My biggest concern, however, is Jennings. I have vowed that when Jennings signs his extension, I will be buying his jersey. White, I think. Maybe yellow. But it seems like I'm waiting quite a while. The extension, which has been discussed extensively since the middle of last season, is becoming conspicuous by its absence.

As usual, I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. But Thompson has built a strong approach to how he has built and rewarded those on this team. While I don't always agree with his approach and methods, he deserves a chance to succeed or fail on his own terms.

And I also know that every team has its whiny player who wants to renegotiate his salary, usually because he wants to cash in before it is too late.

I've never been a big Nick Collins fan. I thought he was overly touted in 2005 when he started as a rookie on a defense that was among the worst in franchise history against the run, making the pass defenders look much better than they really were. He struggled the next few years, before suddenly breaking out in his fourth year of a five-year contract.

I think he is a close-to-the-line strong safety type who is still being miscast in a free safety role. I also think he ain't all that bright, which explains (like Walker) why it took him so long to finally find his stride.

Like it or not, the McKenzie and Walker situations was the beginning of the end for Mike Sherman and how the players respected his ability to handle their contracts. I have no desire to have a return to those days, and I'm sure Thompson doesn't either.

I have no idea how this will turn out, or in the end, what the wisest course of action is going to be for Thompson to go. I know, however, I would be happy to play ball for $3M this upcoming season. Collins should know that if he could duplicate last year's performance, he would get his coin somewhere or another.

That's what worries me. Like Grant, is Collins that worried he can't do it again and needs to cash in?

TundraVision's Pick: Tyson Jackson

Before I even begin, let it be known that history has shown whenever I predict something, Ted Thompson does the opposite.

But, I'm on the table right now that the Packers' first pick in the 2009 draft could be...should be...Tyson Jackson, the DE from LSU.

I know, I know...he's solid, but not spectacular. He's grading out to a mid-first round talent and may not be worthy of pick #9 pay.

I have three words for you. Supply and Demand.

It's not often I would encourage a reach in the draft (see: Justin Harrell), but value isn't always about measurables and interview questions. It's about what you need and how many options you have out there to get it.

Defensive end is pretty scarce in this year's draft crop, and players that project into a 3-4 DE position are almost non-existant at the top of the draft, other than Jackson. So many of these other defensive ends are more suitable to a 4-3 DE or into the 3-4 OLB spots. And if you're looking for a 3-4 OLB, there's no fewer than twelve prospects in this year's draft.

But the five-technique kid from LSU is the commodity at DE, and his stock is rising. Why? No less than 13 teams are running or switching to the 3-4 defense this year, and believe it or not, they are all looking for the same types of players that the Packers are. Stout nose tackles, stout defensive ends, and big rush OLBs.

Demand high. Supply low.

Value? Skyrockets.

Jackson should be available at #9, but as time goes on, I'm getting concerned that he may not be available further back. Ideally, I'd love to see Sanchez fall to #9 and the Redskins make a trade with the Packers to move up and get the QB they so desire. This could garner the Packers another third-round pick and give Thompson five players in the first 83 picks.

Question is, though, will Jackson still be available at #13? I think he might be, and if so, the Packers should take him in a second. This is a guy you should be able to pencil in as your starting DE for 2009 and should only get better as time goes on.

If it were me, I'd also take Ron Brace (NT-Boston College) in the second round and have made a major infusion of talent in the trenches for 2009. Thompson would then have three picks in the third round to play with to upgrade a number of other positions, none of which are in as much dire need for upgrade as that defensive line.

There are a couple of players that would intruige me if still available at #9, namely BJ Raji and Malcolm Jenkins. However, I am believing more and more than Raji, the top 3-4 nose tackle available, is going to be just as sought after by those thirteen 3-4 teams, and will be gone by the time the Packers pick...likely from another team trading into the top ten.

And rumors are abounding that the Patriots, no stranger as late to making big moves, are plotting to move ahead of the Packers to take Jenkins.

But even if both are sitting there, my gut still says to take the player at the position of most need, which is DE.

Yes, there are those of you who think we absolutely have to draft one of the OLB hybrids, but according to Bob McGinn, there are at least twelve available. No, we might not get Orapko or Smith, but a kid like Connor Barwin seems like a player that Thompson loves to take late in the first-day...a backer from Cincinatti that is a little raw but full of potential and upside.

The other two third-round picks? Now you can look at CB or OT. Remember that Al Harris and Scott Wells are rumored to be on the block and could easily be bundled with a Day 2 pick to move up and get another pick on the first day.

This draft has a lot of potential to be one of the best drafts that Thompson has had, despite being perhaps one of the flattest draft classes. As other teams drool over the star power of players like Sanchez and Jenkins, Thompson could come out with many players ready to contribute and fall right into the climate that Mike McCarthy is trying to create.

My draft:
1. (trade back to #13) Tyson Jackson
2. Ron Brace
3. Connor Barwin, Troy Kropog (OT), and Thompson's traditional wide receiver taken in the first three rounds.

However, I can see taking Jackson right at #9. Supply and demand still operates in the real world, even if the economy is still in the tank.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Evaluating the Draft: The 33-33-33 Rule

When it comes time to evaluate drafts, they are often placed into categories of “hits” and “misses”. In fact, there’s been quite a bit of chatter lately as both the media and pundits in the Packer Blogosphere prepare for this weekend’s draft.

The following is a framework for evaluation of draft picks based on an idea once mentioned to me by Patty over PackerChatters, a former scout and draft expert. I’ve tried to take her 33-33-33 idea and flesh it out a bit.

The basic premise comes from the usual notion that your draft picks must either “hit” or “miss”, and the biggest target lately has been Packer linebacker AJ Hawk, a former first round draft pick that hasn’t lived up to his lofty expectations, which is leading some to declare him a bust.

The 33-33-33 Rule is fairly simple. On average, 33% of all your draft picks live up to expectations, 33% are able to fill a lesser role on your team, and 33% will simply bust. So, with every pick you make, they have a 33% chance of living up to their expectations.

But it is that word…expectations…that is ultimately important. Certainly, we’ve all heard that a draft is successful if you can come out with 2-3 solid players from it, regardless of draft position. But in evaluating a pick, you have to look at what expectations that player had based on where they were drafted. Hawk has an extraordinarily large microscope on him, because he was drafted fifth overall in 2006, an expectation that tends to be synonymous with words like “Pro Bowl” and “All Pro” in this amount of time.

Let’s say we draft a player who ends up becoming a serviceable backup and a special teams’ ace: for argument’s sake, a player like Wil Blackmon. Had Blackmon been drafted in the first round, we would be declaring him a bust, because he didn’t live up to the expectations of a first round pick. But had Blackmon been a seventh rounder, we’d probably be pretty happy with the success of that pick, because most of us don’t expect seventh-rounders to be contributors at all, unless we get lucky.

As it turns out, Blackmon was a 4th round draft pick, which puts him almost right in the middle of both of those expectations, and naturally, right in the middle of those assessments. Is Blackmon considered a “hit” as a 4th round pick? Many of us would likely say he isn’t, but he isn’t a failure either.

Had he been drafted even a round ahead, in the third round, we’d probably be more skeptical of his worth. And if he had been drafted a round behind, in the fifth, we’d be more likely to say we got some decent value for the pick.

This table is a general look at the decreasing expectations as you go down the rounds, and how the 33-33-33 Rule tends to follow.

A lot depends on how you want to define the expectations for each round you draft a player in. Obviously, this fluctuates as you go through the round (you may put more of a onus on a 5th overall pick that the 20th overall pick), but I would imagine that we all expect our first rounders to at least become solid starters someday.

First Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To become a solid starter within a year or two
Reasonable Goal: To be a Pro Bowl player in a few years

Second Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To develop into at least a serviceable starter in a couple years
Reasonable Goal: A Pro Bowl caliber player after a few years

Third Rounders:
Minimal Expectation: To compete for a starting job within a few years
Reasonable Goal: To excel as a starter after a few years

Fourth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations:To provide quality depth, solid backup
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid starter

Fifth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To provide quality depth, serviceable backup
Reasonable Goal: To become a serviceable starter

Sixth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To become a special team player, quality depth
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid backup

Seventh Rounder:
Minimal Expectations: To provide special teams depth
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid backup

Now, your definitions of success may differ from mine, and mine essentially came from the top of my head. The point is, though, that we place expectations on players taken at different times, and they can succeed or fail at varying levels.

To illustrate the 33-33-33 effect, I took a look at all the first round picks from 1995 through 2005. I chose these years as 1995 was the first year with 32 teams drafting, and 2005 as it was the last year before Ted Thompson started drafting for the Packers (and most of those picks haven’t had a chance to fully prove their worth yet).

While I know this is a flawed measurement, its as good as any other without going through each and individual player taken over that time span and examining their entire career (and when TundraVision makes me enough coin to hire a crack research staff, I’ll get right on that). However, for now, I will simply look at players taken in the first round that made a Pro Bowl during their career.

I know that is flawed, because Javon Walker will be on the Pro Bowl list, while Nick Barnett is not. However, I’m looking for general patterns here.

First Rounders that made a Pro Bowl

1995: 13
1996: 15
1997: 10
1998: 9
1999: 13
2000: 13
2001: 15
2002: 9
2003: 11
2004: 14
2005: 7

This comes out to an average of 11.7 players out of 32 that end up making a Pro Bowl, meaning about 36% of players taken in the first round end up reaching, to some level, the lofty expectations we set for them.

That’s not very high, being we can look back on the Packers’ drafts over that time, and that somehow we expect that every first-rounder should make the Pro Bowl. In reality, it just doesn’t happen. Well under half of all first-rounders ever do.

But just because they didn’t make a Pro Bowl doesn’t make them a “bust”. As stated before, Nick Barnett hasn’t made a Pro Bowl but would likely be considered a solid starter and worthy of the first-rounder cast on him.

Looking at, say, the 1998 draft, which had only 9 Pro Bowlers, you can also find a number of players that were still decent players for their teams (though perhaps not first round material): Grant Wistrom, Kyle Turley, Duane Starks, Kevin Dyson, Vonnie Holliday, Shaun Williams, Donovan Darius, and R.W. McQuarters.

After that, you can find the lower-tier shrapnel of that first round: Curtis Enis, Ryan Leaf, Andre Wadsworth, Robert Edwards, and Victor Riley.

By comparison, only 5.7 of every second-rounder over that time frame made a Pro Bowl, 3.5 of every third-rounder , and only 1.3 of every fourth rounder. With diminishing expectations come diminishing results. But a third rounder that performs at a solid starting position has to be considered a great pick, whereas a first-rounder might be teetering on the line between the top and middle percents.

Taking a look at Ted Thompson’s first round draft picks, you can almost see the 33-33-33 fall right into place. In 2005, Ted Thompson selected quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Given what we saw in 2008, it would be difficult to place Rodgers anywhere else besides the top tier of production. He is a solid starter and still has the potential to achieve a Pro Bowl level.

In 2006, Thompson took AJ Hawk, the source of consternation right now among Packer pundits as to whether or not he is a “hit” or a “miss”. He has been a three-year starter and led the team last year in tackles. However, his play has been questioned, and some are even questioning if he will have a place in the 3-4 defense.

Right now, you would have to think that Hawk is riding that line between the top and middle 33 percents. Solid starter, the minimal expectations of a first rounder? Pretty close, and as I’ve stated before, this is a watershed year for Hawk to prove himself. But he is far from a “bust”. He’s a valuable player minimally a serviceable starter.

And, of course, in 2007, Thompson infamously took defensive end Justin Harrell, who so far, would have to fall in the bottom tier. Sure, he has time to blossom, but you would expect a first-rounder to have shown something so far.

If Hawk ends up being in the middle tier, Thompson’s first round picks fall right into the 33-33-33 Rule. If Hawk blossoms this year and becomes the truly solid starter that we expected him to be, we can say that Ted Thompson is actually ahead of the curve.

As I will bring up in the next article, however, the draft isn’t just a complete crap shoot, and you don't simply have a blind 33% chance of hitting. Doing your homework and scouting players well can put you ahead of that curve, while not doing so can put you behind. But for every second-round Nick Collins, there is a second-round Terrance Murphy whose inevitable fate is out of your control, too.

This weekend, the Packers will be looking at any number of players at the #9 pick, or even look to trade back. You have to figure, only 11 of the players taken in that first round will end up playing in a Pro Bowl someday. Hopefully, Thompson has done his homework and picks wisely.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

OLB at #9 a Luxury Thompson Can't Afford

As the draft now comes down to days instead of weeks, I am growing more and more wary of the amount of prognosticators who continue to say that an OLB is going to be our first pick. Why, they say? Because we are switching to the 3-4 defense and this rather deep group of hybrid LB/DE's seems to fit the bill for what we "need".

Repeatedly, we hear the names of Everette Brown, Brian Orapko, Aaron Maybin, and Larry English (if we trade down) being taken by the Packers. Over at Sportsline, Mike Judge has us taking Brian Orapko. Why?

If he's here he's the best pass rusher available. The Packers need an edge pass rusher in their new 3-4, and he could be the guy.

DraftCountdown.com lists their updates as to the Packers' biggest needs, and according to them, OLB is it:
1. Outside Linebacker: We will see how Aaron Kampman handles the big transition from defensive end to outside linebacker but even if it works out they'll still have to add another pass rusher.

Many agree, apparently, that the transition to the 3-4 means that we have to bring in talent to fit it. It's not a bad theory, but one that doesn't appear to be shared by the Packers' GM, Ted Thompson. And, in a rare moment of concession, I happen to agree with him, at least as far as drafting a linebacker is concerned.

The transition to the 3-4 has come with a rabble of concern from Packer fans: how are we supposed to make this transition with the poor talent we had last year? Chants went out for guys like Chris Canty to be brought in through free agency. And many, like myself, compared the transistion change to that of the Zone Blocking Scheme, a switch that has had, at best, mixed results.

But Ted Thompson stated rather clearly at the NFL Owners Meetings and Fan Fest that he wasn't going to break open the coffers for free agents this year (and the entire population in Packer Nation said, in unison, "Really?!"). And when it comes to spending money to upgrade the talent, particularly on defense, he had this to say:

"I am confident in our team," Thompson said during a break at the NFL owners meetings. "I think we have a fair group of players that now can play the game and play it well. I don't think we played as well as we should have last year. Notwithstanding, I think we have a good group of players who make up our team....We're pretty solid in our starting lineup."

Now, how honest is he being? For the most part, I think he is truly believing that the team he has built is the one he wants, if for no other reason, he hasn't panicked yet. He still operates the same way, and as criticism has built up following a 6-10 season, he didn't make some power plays to make the fans and media settle down.

So, if we believe that Ted Thompson is honest, truly believes in his starting lineup, and thinks that the talent on the team should be able to play the game well, the idea of investing in one of the 3-4 OLB's in the first round of the draft doesn't seem to make much sense.

For one, all of the guys mentioned before played defensive end in college, and are being projected to play well in the 3-4 linebacking position. Read up on them: they should play well as 4-3 DEs but as OLB's in a 3-4. But regardless, they are still being projected at a position they didn't necessarily play before, just as Aaron Kampman is being asked to do this year.

The Packers have already taken two players on their roster and moved them back to linebacker from defensive end: veteran Kampman and second-year man Jeremy Thompson. They already have the players at the position who are already making a transition. Certainly, any of those players could be an upgrade over Thompson, but there's no guarantee.

Secondly, the Packers are loaded at linebacker...maybe not prototypical 3-4 linebackers, but they have a very healthy and full stable. Kampman, Thompson, Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, Brandon Chillar, Brady Poppinga and Desmond Bishop headline what may be considered a very deep squad that doesn't have any true superstars.

So, if you take Thompson at his word and that he believes that he has faith in his starters regardless of the scheme change, it is in opposition to the continual assumptions by the draft experts who insist that OLB is the highest need for the Packers, who should thus take an OLB at #9 in this years draft.

And if that is the case, I agree with Ted. The idea of taking Maybin at #9 and adding him to an already crowded stable at linebacker seems unlikely, if not foolish.

Of course, this is also the same GM who spend his first pick overall last year on a wide receiver, adding him to a squad that already had four solid players. Trust me...I don't claim to understand Thompson's way of thinking.

But if Thompson does end up taking one of the OLB's at #9, it will have to shift a couple of things in my mind:

* He wasn't completely satisfied with the talent or the starters at linebacker.

* He believes so highly in taking the BPA that he overloaded a position group at the expense of others

* He has an irrational faith in Justin Harrell to finally contribute

It is conceivable that DT BJ Raji and CB Malcom Jenkins are gone by pick #9, and Thompson could be looking at all four of those OLBs as options. I'm sure Mel Kiper, Jr. will be boldly predicting one of them to go to the Packers.

If you're of the mind that the linebacking corps is lacking, then you will likely be agreeing with Kiper. I'm hoping that Thompson isn't thinking that way, and looks with a more critical eye at the defensive line or at tackle as a place that really needs the infusion of talent to make this transition easier on McCarthy and Dom Capers.

Taking an OLB at #9 is a luxury that we just can't afford to have this year. Here's hoping Thompson sees it that way, too.

TundraVision.com Launches!

Tundravision now has its own URL! Yes, I ponied up the money and you can now access TundraVision directly at tundravision.com (removing that whole "blogspot" deal).

Here are a couple of Frequently Asked Questions about the name change:

You now have your own website name! Are you going to be expanding Tundravision?

I probably could, but I really don't have any need to get all Twittery right now. There are a lot of great websites out there that are already "one-stop shop" sites for Packer news. I think PackerChatters does a great job in doing that, being a central location for draft news, and has a solid, well-moderated forum. CheeseheadTV has great rim-shot commentary of daily happenings and is slowly becoming the hub of the Packer Blogosphere. And I don't miss a day of Railbird Central's Daily Links, which sums up the mainstream and online jewels nicely.

All these sites are places I go to see what is going on there and elsewhere. And sometimes, they will cite Tundravision as a place to check out, which is always appreciated.

Why don't you want to become a "one-stop shop" kind of site?

Well, I have a lot on my plate...job, wife, kids, coaching. I really don't want to spend any more time in front of a computer than I already do. Someday, when Tundravision is bringing in six figures a year annually for me, I may expand it out a bit. But right now, I'm just going to focus on what I do best, which is a good long feature essay every couple of days.

So, why the domain name change?

Well, I was getting tired of these conversations:

Buddy: So, what is your blog called again?

Me: Tundra Vision

Buddy: So, I just go to Tundra Vision dot com and look at it?

Me: Well, no. You have to go to Tundra Vision dot Blog Spot dot com and look at it. Or you can just do a Google search for Tundra Vision and...

Buddy: Wait...Blog Dot Spot Com?

So, it makes it easier. And, I suppose, it also makes me feel a little more legit as a true Packer Blog site.

So, you think you're all that?

And a side order of fries.

Now, I have some of your old blogspot articles linked on my site. Will I have to change those links?

Nope...the old blogspot links will redirect to their respective links on TundraVision. Pretty slick. I like "not a lot of work" for both you and me, trust me.

Will your stuff still be on PackerChatters?

You bet. PC gave me my start at writing and I appreciate all their support with that.

Anything we can look forward to in the future at TundraVision?

I've always wanted to podcast...in fact, I think I had brought up the idea at PackerChatters before they merged with Packers Therapy. But again, it is time and energy that I would need to find and stay consistent with. Maybe someday soon!

Thanks to all those folks who check in and leave comments! It's great to be a part of such a great online Packer community!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tyson Jackson: Filling The Position of Most Need?

I know it's just not how it works. Really, I do. You don't draft for need...especially the needs of right now. You draft to infuse talent on your team for the long haul, especially if your last name happens to be Thompson.

But it's not stopping this somewhat irrational leaning to want to see Tyson Jackson in Green and Gold this season. Not because he's the "best player" that we might have to choose from at #9, or even if we traded back.

It's because he seems to be the guy that fits the bill at the position we probably have the starkest lack of talent at.

Now, I know we can all start looking at many positions along the Packers and make a point that those positions are equally important. We have uncertainty at OLB in the 3-4, so we should draft one of the hybrids. We have two aging corners, so we should draft Malcolm Jenkins, if available. We are likely without Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton isn't getting any younger, so we should draft Smith or Oher.

And, of course, BJ Raji would anchor the middle of the defensive line. I know.

But Ted Thompson has never particularly concerned himself with immediate infusions of talent. You only need to look so far as the interior offensive line of 2006 and the running back corps of 2007. Stocking some positions with young players is better than overpaying for free agents, according to Ted.

And Mike McCarthy seems to go along with it, content to allow competition to bring the talent levels up.

Of course, this has had varying results over the past several years. But, the point is that Mike and Ted aren't always looking for quick fixes at every position, but are willing to invest mid-round picks in the hopes they will eventually flourish as a result of the competition. And you have to think that many of those positions will get addressed at some point in the draft. We just can't address all of them in the first round.

I am going with the mindset that we should look at the position that is in the most need, the position with the least amount of players able to even adequately fill spots in 2009.

OT: With the likely departure of stalwart Mark Tauscher, many are predicting the selection of Michael Oher or Andre Smith. But with Chad Clifton expected to man one side, you would think that Colledge, Barbre, Moll, or Guacamole would be able to adequately man the other. Note, I didn't say "excel" or "solidify" the position. I said "adequately" do the job until other talent is developed to do that job better.

If the Packers picked Oher or Smith, I wouldn't be upset. They would likely be a huge anchor on the line and an upgrade over what we presently have.

OLB: Another position that many have the Packers pegged to pick, with several 3-4 talents available (Orapko, Brown, Maybin, English) for the choosing at #9 and further down in the first round. But the Packers are actually pretty loaded at linebacker. Last year's starters in Barnett, Hawk, Chillar, and Poppinga all return, along with likely new starter Aaron Kampman at one of the OLB spots. Factor in Jeremy Thompson and Desmond Bishop, and the Packers already have seven veteran guys for four positions.

Again, if the Packers chose one of the OLB's, I wouldn't be upset. They would likely take on a starting spot eventually. However, I don't know if they would be an instant upgrade over what we presently have, and you would think they would be able to develop the present players to adequately do the job.

CB: Hey, I've been all about moving Al Harris back to safety for quite some time now. The fears are out there that he is losing a step and will struggle in zone coverage. Malcolm Jenkins appears to be the prime corner in this draft and many think he will go to the Packers for that reason. However, the Packers still have not only Harris and Charles Woodson, but some good talent in Tramon Williams and last year's second round pick Pat Lee. Williams has shown that he can adequately fill in at corner and has the potential to be rather solid.

If the Packers take Jenkins, I'm good with it. But the Packers already have some guys in who could adequately start opposite Woodson.

NT: This is certainly an area of concern for the Packers, and BJ Raji may well fall to them at #9. The Packers have a slightly aging Ryan Pickett slated to start this season, and there are concerns he isn't going to be stout enough to hold his own as the 3-4 would want him to. Raji appears to be the kind of guy that you would want to bring in to anchor that middle of the line.

And, other than newly-acquired Brian Soi, the Packers appear to have precious little depth behind Pickett. This makes NT a very concerning position of need for the Packers as they make their transition.

But, Pickett is there, and has been a relatively solid starter for several seasons. While he's perhaps not ideal for the 3-4, you do feel that he can adequately do the job for the Pack in 2009. And Raji's BC teammate, Ron Brace, might be able to be plucked in the second or third round and allowed to develop into the job.

DE: So, we come down, finally, to the position I see as the position of most need. Why? Because I see the position unable to be adequately manned this upcoming season.

The projected starter on one side is Cullen Jenkins, who has been relatively solid and should be able to hold his own, assuming he returns healthy from season-ending injury last season. But the assortment of players to take the other important DE position - Michael Montgomery, Johnny Jolly, and Justin Harrell - worry the heck out of me. For one, we don't know if Jolly will be available from a potential suspension, and both he and Montgomery are rotational players at best. Harrell, of course, is little more than a longshot to finally make it through a season healthy, and is already limited in offseason workouts this year.

The loss of both Kampman and Jeremy Thompson to the linebacking corps has left the defensive end position dangerously thin, with players that you question being able to even adequately fill in as a starter, especially with the new demands that will be placed on them as a 3-4 rush end.

DE is not only thin, as the NT position is, but lacking for even a starter opposite Jenkins.

Tyson Jackson would seem to fit Thompson's bill perfectly. There's no doubt that if the opportunity presents itself to move back in the draft and still get the guy he wants, he will do it. Most mocks have Jackson on the board at #10, and many have him still on the board at #15. Some even have him still on the board at #20.

And Jackson represents an instant upgrade over the three guys projected to start opposite Jenkins, though Montgomery's experience would be key in the rotation. As a true five-technique DE ideal for the 3-4 (but able to play 4-3 equally as well in the event of some hyrbid scheming), Jackson provides not only an infusion of talent, but a talent that isn't going to be trying to shoehorn into a position they aren't used to, like Pickett and Kampman are.

In some rare mocks, Jackson falls all the way into the second round, but I wouldn't count on that. With so many teams switching to the 3-4, Jackson's services are going to be in high demand.

Is Jackson my choice for the Packers, the player I want in this year's draft? I wouldn't go that far. I certainly drool over the idea of freakish talents like Oher, Jenkins, and Raji as much as anyone else. I totally understand that the point of a draft is to invest in young talent for the future, not necessarily the present.

But it is also my understanding that Ted Thompson does not use free agency to upgrade positions (or even fill holes) like many GMs do, and this leaves really one way to bring in talent: the draft. If DE is our biggest hole, with the least number of players able to even adequately fill in those spots for this upcoming year, the idea of getting Tyson Jackson in this year's draft, wherever that may fall, is pretty appealing to me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tier Drops: Deciphering The Ted Thompson Code

I am going to predict that Ted Thompson is going to trade out of pick #9. You heard it here, first.

Now, of course, now that I’ve said it aloud, it probably won’t happen (I’ve noticed Ted loves to blow my predictions out of the water), but let me go through what I have learned over the years. Of course, it is that “doing the unexpected” that has made want to figure out why he does things in that way.

But, I do think he will trade down. And when he does, I am not going to throw my foam brick on the television and curse his name (again). Because, slowly, I've figured it out. I get it.

First of all, I am the furthest thing from a draftnik. At best, I review a couple of scouting reports for the first round. I have never made a mock draft and pray I never resort to doing so. I am as much of a greenhorn as you will find.

But, watching Thompson draft over the past few years has made me have to study and learn a little more about the draft and how he (and others approach it). If you are a draft geek and endlessly over-analyze and pontificate about it, you’ll probably want to dismiss this as the ramblings of a beginner’s dawning awareness. No offense taken.

Listening to Patty at PackerChatters over the years, I’ve realize that the prospects aren’t just grouped by position in some massive pool. Most scouts and GMs organize them into groups of talent, referred to as “tiers”. It’s those levels of talent that the scouts look at to progressively impact your team, and they do not neatly organize themselves in exact groups of 32, so that every team in the first round gets a first-round caliber player.

In other words, the last pick in the first round isn't necessarily "better" than the first pick of the second. While it sounds obvious, there is still always that cheated feeling when you don't get a first round pick, like last year.

Each draft is different, but going back to 2006, the first “tier” of players seemed to end at about the top 6-7 players. You may remember the names pretty well: Bush, Williams, Ferguson, Hawk, Young, Davis..and then a tweener in Huff, which marked the end of that particular tier.

After that, the prospects were still good players, but organized into a second tier of talent, somewhat interchangeable in their grades. Every draft is different, and every evaluator is different, but usually that second tier tails off between the 17th to 25th pick. And so it goes.

It’s been an interesting learning process for me, especially with Ted Thompson’s draft approach. Like most everyone, I questioned his penchant for trading down constantly, asking why you’d want two lesser players instead of one higher-quality player.

And understanding those tiers helped me put a finger on it. For example, in 2006, the Packers picked at #5. This means that they were going to be able to pick a first-tier player, no matter who fell to them. And since they were at the tail end of the tier, it was unlikely that Thompson would trade back, because in doing so, he would trade out of that first tier of players.

Go back a year, and you understand it even more. In 2005, the second tier of players started running out around pick #21-22. This would have positioned the 24th overall Packers’ pick at the beginning of a larger group of third-tier players. At the time, I saw the draft as your “turn” to pick, and it made total sense that Thompson stayed there.

But divining what I’ve since learned about Thompson, I believe he would have likely traded back from #24 in 2005. The reason he did not is because of the “Tier Drop” of Aaron Rodgers, a first- or second-tier player who fell into the third tier. Had Rodgers not been there, Thompson would have had essentially the first pick of a large group of perhaps 15 or more players that all graded out at a similar level, a tier that would have extended into the start of the second round.

And that’s where I see the wisdom in the trade-backs that I didn’t see before. Had Rodgers been taken by another team at #23, it would have been logical for Thompson to trade back ten spots, pick up another draft pick, and still gotten a player in the that tier….quite possibly the same player he might have been hoping for earlier.

Conversely, had Thompson traded back from #5 in 2006, he would have traded out of the first tier into the second tier of players, and that’s where you lose a level of talent, at least in the sense of what you’ve scouted and graded out.

In 2007, I think Thompson found himself in no-man’s land. At pick #16, he was right around the middle of the second tier and might have discovered that a trade-back would have placed him out of that level of talent. So, he reached for his second-tier player of choice, Justin Harrell.

And last year, he traded out of the first round. Had he done that a few years ago, I might have howled about the drop in talent, but understanding now that tiers don’t adhere to the round numbers, I get it. He traded back several picks and still got the third-tier player that he wanted in Jordy Nelson, a player he could have had at pick #30, but was able to get at pick #36, too.

Now, mind you, this doesn’t mean that because I understand it that I subscribe to it or would do it myself. And, judging from the number of teams willing to trade up with Thompson over the last four drafts, Ted isn’t using a strategy that every single other team uses. But, it is his strategy, and overall, he has stuck to it.

For example, instead of trading back for Nelson last year, I would have likely taken FS Kenny Smith at #30, as I would be looking more to fill a need rather than looking for the best value at each pick. But, if you use a tier-based approach, the trade-backs allow Thompson to try and get the most value at each pick.

So, when I look at this year’s draft, with the Packers picking at #9, you would think that it would place the Packers either at the end of the first tier or at the beginning of the second tier. As we’ve heard before, this draft has been far more difficult than others to get settled into tiers. What one draftnik thinks are the top players seems to be different from others.

Some have suggested that this draft doesn’t even have a top tier: that it simply starts with a much wider second-tier or only has a top-tier of a couple of players. But it isn’t my opinion or the draftnik’s opinion that counts, it’s that of Ted Thompson and where he thinks those talents fall.

Which is why I think we hear so much talk of Larry English, a guy predicted to fall closer to pick #20 than pick #9. The example I can come is where you have this group of tweener DE/LBs that are all projected in the first round and would seem to fit in a 3-4 OLB role. If all those players are at roughly the same level, or all fit in the second tier, I think Thompson might be more willing to pass on Everette Brown at #9 and be content to pick Larry English or Aaron Maybin at #15 instead.

Which means, as in the case of Aaron Rodgers, we have to see if there are any “Tier Drops” that fall to Thompson at #9, a guy that is clearly grading out higher than what we’d expect from the large group of second-tier guys.

What players might those be? You have to think high on Thompson’s board at #9 must be Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Earl Monroe, and Malcolm Jenkins. I think BJ Raji may be on that short list, also, but it depends on how the Packers are reacting to the allegations of failed drug testing, and if they think he also would fall farther back in the second tier of players.

If any of those players (or, more properly put, the players on Thompson’s list of first-tier players) sneak through to him at #9, I think the Pack will take him. If not, however, it places the Packers #9 pick likely at the start of the second tier of players, a tier that, likely goes back into the twenties.

If that is the case, and if Thompson holds true to his philosophy, we’ll see Thompson actively try and shop that pick and move back to get a second-tier player that he has graded out similarly as many of the other players that are available at pick #9.

What might make it interesting is if one of the first-tier players at a position of non-interest to Thompson falls through. If QB Matthew Stafford or WR Michael Crabtree were to fall to #9, you would think that the trade offers would be coming to Thompson. If that happens, it will be interesting if he takes them up on it, or selects the Best Player Available, regardless of position, because he would be passing on a first-tier talent with a trade.

My prediction? Thompson will trade back into the teens and end up taking one of the tackles (Oher, Smith) or one of the OLBs (Orapko, Brown, English, or Maybin), and potentially Jackson, the DE.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Watershed Year for AJ Hawk

I happened across MJ Kasprzak's writeup of our linebackers over at The Frozen Tundra, and I thought a lot of what he brought up was insightful. He is pretty optimistic, as we all should be when the record is 0-0, but he did bring up the transition to the 3-4 is not guaranteed.

The one writeup that stood out to me was that of AJ Hawk, who had what could best be described as an off year in 2008.

A.J. Hawk, ILB (6'1", 248 lbs., four years): 3.0 sacks, 86 tackles, 67 solo

There has begun to be some rumblings about Hawk's performance, but he had 14 more tackles than the next-highest teammate*. He also looked better once he was moved over to middle linebacker from the weakside, a position he was better-suited for with good size and only above-average speed.

He should also excel in the new system, as he is versatile: Hawk is an excellent open-field tackler, can cover in a zone or man-to-man, and was 2008's best pass-rushing linebacker. He is physical enough to shake blockers and is developing better instincts as he gains experience.

I found MJ's writeup pretty optimistic, because there's a lot of people out there naysaying him at this point...so much as to be calling Hawk's pick a bust. Greg Bedard over at the JSOnline Blog had this to say:

But Thompson's draft choices since he was hired to run his own ship with the Packers illustrate the hit and miss history associated with the first round:

2005, QB Aaron Rodgers (24th overall): Looks like it will pay off well, but could we have said the same if he didn't have the luxury of sitting behind Brett Favre for three years? Not many teams can afford that.
2006, LB A.J. Hawk (5th): A solid pro but hasn't had near the impact a player taken that high should. Doesn't appear he ever will.
2007, DT Justin Harrell (16th): Uh, yeah.
2008, Traded out of 30th pick.

Thompson has batted, arguably, 1 for 3 on his first-round picks with the Packers in terms of impact and where they were drafted. Not great at all. Two out of three when you use King's bar of being a consistent starter. Better, but should Hawk be a success if he's just a consistent starter?

Now, in both defense of MJ and Bedard, it is still too early to classify Hawk as a success or failure. But the whispers are out there that Hawk may not even land a starting spot in 2009, even if they add a linebacker position.

This gets to me a bit, because around this time three years ago, there was no one who was campaigning harder for Hawk than me. I really felt that he was the smartest, safest pick. Face it, after missing on Mandarich and Buckley, can the Packers afford to whiff on yet another top 5 pick?

Hawk's draft reports all seemed to say the same thing: great work ethic, workout warrior, lot of potential. He had very few negatives other than his height.

Thinking back though, there were always some questions about how low his ceiling might be. And when you are drafting at #5 overall and taking a playmaking position like linebacker, you end up having the expectations that he should be Ray Lewis by this point in time.

But, as we are seeing, he hasn't become the breakout star many would have liked. This doesn't necessarily surprise me. I remember saying several times that if all he ever ended up being was the next John Anderson, then we would have made a good pick. Maybe a Pro Bowl here and there, but solid play from a solid person. It's better than investing that kind of coin and having him bust.

For some folks like Bedard, this isn't quite enough, and it is understandable. Hawk isn't a game-changer at this point, and it does appear like he regressed last year. But while I was concerned about how low his ceiling was, I was also confident that his basement was high.

In other words, Hawk isn't going to bomb out, a la Terrell Buckley or Tony Mandarich. We just don't know how good (or great) he will be.

Now, in the NFL, there are players that you can put on any team and that player will instantly make the players around him better. Reggie White, of course, comes to mind as that kind of player.

AJ Hawk is not one of those kinds of players, and I don't think he will be. But, I also think there are types of players in the NFL who have higher plateaus when surrounded with great players. Robert Ferguson, for example, could be placed with the best talents and put in the best schemes, and while his level of play would increase, it was negligible compared to other talents. There are players that just seem to rise to greatness when placed in good situations and are surrounded by good people.

This is the type of player that I see Hawk as...if you get the right people around him and put him in the right situations, you will see a high ceiling. Last year, he didn't have that.

For one, the Packers were reeling from the offseason drama with Favregate. Secondly, there was clearly a rift among the defensive coaches that directly or indirectly led to the linebacking corps being the most disappointing squad on the field, with the defensive line close behind.

In other words, the front seven of the Packer defense last year underperformed from front to back, and Hawk underperformed with the rest of them. But, he isn't solely to blame for the defense's woes last year, and the transition to a Dom Capers' 3-4 (or hybrid) brings some new life.

In 2007, our linebacking corps was pretty good. I am a subscriber to the philosophy that the entire defense underperformed, but the talent and the potential is still there. I also am hopeful that Capers is going to bring out the best in the talent we have, and put them in positions to execute.

In other words, I think this is going to be Hawk's year to shine. If you remember, last year around this time many of us were writing off another third-year Thompson pick, saying he was likely to lose his starting job to a street free agent or a draftee.

Who was that guy we were so down on a year ago? Nick Collins.

I think Hawk is going to prove a lot of people wrong this year, and as Capers creates a healthy climate and keeps everyone on the same page, many of the players are going to return to the levels they played at in 2007. And for a guy like Hawk, who I believe thrives on having that around him, that will be welcome news.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. A couple things that Kasprzak mentioned in his write up made me take pause, particularly his assessment that Hawk "can cover in a zone or man-to-man". Anyone who watched a game knows that coverage isn't one of Hawk's strengths right now. The idea that, with his size, he can play the middle and shed offensive linemen blockers is something I'd rather see before I buy into it.

No, Hawk may never be a superstar, and may never be a true game-changer. But, I think this is the year that, like Nick Collins, we are going to get a good look at why he was drafted and what havoc he can wreak on defense. One thing for sure: Dom Capers and Winston Moss are going to put him in the position to prove himself.

From there on, its up to him.

* Just a note on how whacked-out the Packers' defense was...yes, Hawk did lead the team in tackles. But take a look at the next guys in the rankings: Nick Collins (a safety), Brandon Chillar (backup linebacker), Tramon Williams (backup cornerback), and Charles Woodson (cornerback). By the time we get to starting linebackers and defensive linemen, Poppinga, Kampman, and Barnett ranked 6th, 7th, and 9th in tackles. So, yes, saying Hawk led the team and had 14 more than "the next highest player" sounds good, but your defense is messed up when your secondary is making more tackles than your front four. Period.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Perhaps It Is Time To Shop Kampman Around?

The rumors are out there: the Packers are allegedly (and quietly) testing the waters to see if there is any interest for certain players in trade. The most common names that have surfaced have been cornerback Al Harris and center Scott Wells. Neither have apparently garnered enough interest as yet to pull the trigger, and neither have any first-day picks allegedly offered in return.

A friend of mine at PackerChatters mentioned to me that if we were to have wanted to trade Harris, the ideal time would have been after the 2007 season, when he was a Pro Bowler and his stock would have been high. Now, he's to the point where you may as well keep him around, rather than give him up for a mere fifth round draft choice.

Which got me to thinking: that's basic economic common sense. Buy low, sell high, right?

Which led me to this: maybe it is time to test the waters for Aaron Kampman.

Now, before you get the torches and pitchforks, hear me out. Trust me, I am a huge Aaron Kampman fan. Several years ago, Kampman was one of the Packers who visited the son of some friends of mine during his hospital stay in Green Bay for a brain tumor. While many of the players cruised around, putting in their community service time with "So, are you a Packer fan?" and "Who's your favorite player?", Kampman actually sat down with each and every child in that cancer ward, asked them how they were doing, why they were in there, and made a connection with every kid.

This was before Kampman even had a regular starting job, but he was "Packer People" in my eyes long before Ted Thompson coined the phrase. Don't believe for a moment that I am hating on Kampman. He's a class act all the way, and what he's done in the seasons since then only adds to why he is a great player and a great human being.

That stated, however, there comes a point where if we are going to be shopping players around, we should see what is out there for Kampman. The switch to the 3-4 defense and taking him out of his comfort zone should give us reason for pause to begin with. He's also about to turn 30 years old, and his stock may never be higher.

Amusingly enough, I had a poll on my blog a week or so ago asking which of the five linebackers would be the odd man out, and every one of them got at least one vote with the exception of Kampman...the only one who will be playing the position for the first time since his sophomore year at Iowa. Funny how we Packer fans have more faith in Kampman than the guys we've actually drafted to play that position.

Maybe he will do fine in the 3-4. Maybe not. Before dismissing the idea, though, read through my rationale:

Sell High. Kampman is a Pro Bowl player, despite playing on a troubled defensive unit last year. He didn't make the Pro Bowl last season but is still widely recognized as a solid starter and difference-maker along the line. He played in every game last season and missed double-digit sacks by a half, which would have been three years in a row with ten or more.

He would be regarded as perhaps the most valuable DE acquisition of the offseason, particularly by teams who are using a 4-3 defense. He's one-hundred-and-eighty degrees from the usual Cutler/Owens/Moss types that get traded because they are selfish and disgruntled. He's a team guy all the way.

But, Kampman is now 29 years old, and chances are, this is as good as he is going to get. He will turn 30 in November and if he has any struggles in the 3-4 (or simply with age or injury), his stock will plummet. Waiting a year like the Packers did with Al Harris simply meant that the Packer gained a year of service and lost the potential for the first-day draft pick they are hoping for today.

Kampman has the potential right now to bring in a bounty of draft picks from a team desperate for a 4-3 defensive end, and we know that is what Ted Thompson covets (moreso than aging players). And seeing Kampman is in the final year of his contract, there's no better time to trade a player, both as trader (little salary cap acceleration) and as tradee (ability to extend contract on your own terms).

Cutler helped set the market value. Whenever you make a Herschel Walker-esque trade (as NFL North teams tend to do, apparently), you tend to help establish the asking price for other players in trade. Jay Cutler, a 26-year old disgruntled quarterback with one Pro Bowl to his name was able to pull off a trade that garnered his former team two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder, and a quarterback able to compete for a starting job.

What do you think a 29-year-old defensive end with two Pro Bowls to his name is going to be pull in? Two first rounders? Probably not. But a first rounder and another first-day pick? Easy. We all know how much Thompson values his draft picks and tries to build slowly through the draft.

What teams are out there that would love to get a veteran defensive end for their 4-3 scheme? The Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Bucs, and Redskins might all be interested in getting Kampman. Of course, so would Oakland and Detroit, but we're assuming that Thompson isn't that sadistic.

The potential gain is considerable. Seriously, think about it. We have a guy who hasn't played linebacker since he was 20 years old, and has been bulking up and training professionally as a defensive lineman ever since. While at 265 pounds, Kampman's size appears suitable for a 3-4 OLB, it's like saying that Brett Swain will be able to duplicate Sterling Sharpe's performance simply because they have the same playing height and weight.

If Kampman can't make the adjustment, there are precious few other spots for him to play in the defense. While I have faith in Dom Capers to spit-and-wire the defense in such a way that maximizes the talent we have, we still need to accept that the 3-4 is a transitional process and that Kampman as OLB is still an experiment.

The Packers have four high-priced linebackers on their roster as is: AJ Hawk, Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, and Brandon Chillar. They also have last year's late-season darling Desmond Bishop, and have also moved DE Jeremy Thompson back to OLB for the scheme change, too. One would have to imagine that if Capers can make something work with Kampman, he should be able to make something work with at least four of these guys, too.

But if the Packers were to get another 1st rounder this year for Kampman, there is a plethora of prototypical 3-4 OLBs available in this year's draft. Brian Orapko, Everette Brown, Aaron Maybin, and Larry English are all first-round prospects that would be able to take on that rush OLB spot.

Could you imagine the Packers being able to come out of the first round with, say, both Everette Brown and Malcolm Jenkins? The trade would essentially be Kampman for Brown, but we'd also get another first-day pick and the freedom to address another position in the first round.

Fairness to Kampman. As I said before, I really like Kampman, and part of my thinking for shopping him is for his own benefit. Players who are 30 years old probably don't want to spend the downslide of their career experimenting at a new position. Kampman is in a contract year and while I'm sure he'd like to finish his career as a Packer, he is also thinking about his final contract he will be signing soon.

If the move to OLB doesn't work out for him, Kampman may be at the mercy of Thompson when it comes to re-signing in Green Bay, or find himself with more modest free agent offers elsewhere. Look, Kampman has made his career off playing the defensive line. This is where he earned his name, and he is good at what he does.

If he is able to go to a team that want to continue to use him in the role he is used to playing, a 4-3 DE, he has a far better chance to get the big contract when he is 30 years old.. He also wants to be successful and be a team contributor, not have his performance potentially diminished because he's playing a new position.

If you have a choice between being a Pro Bowl defensive end or a developing outside linebacker, which would you choose at age 30? The potential that Thompson is shopping 28 year-old Scott Wells and 34 year-old Al Harris also sends the message that he wants this team getting younger and younger, and Kampman may want to pay attention to that, too.

*****************

There. For those of you who read through this far, thanks. If you disagree with me, that Aaron Kampman is too valuable to the Packers, is "Packer People", and is untouchable...trust me, I understand where you are coming from.

But if we are serious about making the best moves for this team, especially in making a transition to a new defensive scheme, we need to take a look at every avenue to improve...something Thompson has professed to do on many occasions. Seeing what is out there for any player, including Aaron Kampman, is one of those avenues.