Jerry Kramer Talks About Dick Schaap

Dick Schaap

When it comes to authors who write about sports and the star athletes who play in those sports, there was no one better than the late, great Dick Schaap.

Schaap wrote autobiographical books about stars like Hank Aaron, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Tom Seaver, Bo Jackson and Mickey Mantle.

Schaap also wrote that same type book about Jerry Kramer, called Instant Replay. More about that book a bit later.

The Brooklyn native also wrote books about golfing events like the Masters and the U.S. Open.

It wasn’t just sports that Schaap wrote about either, as he wrote about Robert Kennedy in his 1967 book called RFK, plus he also wrote about the Son of Sam, along with Jimmy Breslin, in a book called .44 Caliber.

Schaap also wrote about comedian/actor Billy Crystal in the 1986 book called Absolutely Mahvelous.

Schaap was a well-rounded author who also excelled on TV, as he hosted The Sports Reporters on ESPN for several years, plus had a show called Schaap One on One on ESPN Classic.

Schaap also had a show on ESPN radio called The Sporting Life with Dick Schaap. In that show, Schaap discussed the sports stories of the week with his son Jeremy.

Sadly, Schaap died in 2001 at the young age of 67 due to complications from hip replacement surgery.

In 1961, Schaap wrote another book called, Paul Hornung: Pro Football’s Golden Boy. Schaap spent a number of weeks covering the Packers that season, which also turned out to be the year the Packers won their first NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi.

That was also the first time Schaap got to know Kramer. Schaap was walking through the dorm of the Packers at St. Norbert that training camp. As he passed by the room shared by Kramer and fullback Jim Taylor, he heard Kramer reciting poetry to Taylor.

Schaap found that situation somewhat unusual, so he stopped for a few seconds to listen to the poetry.

I had a chance to talk with Kramer this week about his great relationship with Schaap, which basically blossomed due to that encounter and he recalled the poetry he was reading to Taylor.

“I was reading some work by Robert Service,” Kramer said. “Things like Spell of the Yukon and Dangerous Dan McGrew.”

That episode stuck in the mind of Schaap and in 1966, he asked Kramer about doing a book together.

That book turned out to be Instant Replay. I wrote about how that iconic and wonderful book was put together back in 2016.

“Dick asked me if I wanted to write a book,” Kramer said. “I said, ‘What the hell do I know about writing a book?’ He says, ‘Well, you talk into a tape recorder and record your day, your activities, your observations, your stories, your team, your coach, things that are happening that might be interesting and then send me the tape and I’ll transcribe it and I’ll organize it into a book.’

“I then asked Dick, ‘Who gets final say?’ And he told me that I did. And I said, ‘Let’s talk.’

After they had put together a game plan, Kramer and Schaap met with the publisher in New York.

“We went to our first meeting with the publisher with our agent Sterling Lord,” Kramer said. “I don’t know if that was his real name, but it sure was memorable. So we get to the meeting and it’s a large boardroom table with around seven or eight folks there.

“I asked the publisher how many books did we have to sell to do good. And he says, ‘Jerry, if we sell 7,500 to 10,000 that would be good. Sports books just don’t sell, Historically they have never been a big seller. This is kind of a niche deal, so if we sell 10,000 books, we would do real well.’

“So in the end, I think we sold 440,000. That was pretty stunning that the head of a publishing company missed the mark that badly. But Dick and I traveled and promoted the book like crazy. There was no internet back then, so you would go to San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Miami, Detroit or wherever you could get on a show to promote the book.”

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All that promotional work paid off, as did the book itself, which is widely considered a sports masterpiece, as it told the story of the historical 1967 season for the Packers.

Green Bay won it’s third straight NFL title that season with the legendary “Ice Bowl” win, as well as it’s second consecutive Super Bowl win. In the book, Kramer also gives an insightful glimpse of Lombardi, the team’s storied leader. The 1967 season turned out to be Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers as well.

Kramer and Schaap were somewhat shocked by the success of the book.

“I was stunned by the reception,” Kramer said. “Just to see it on the best seller list. It started at 16 or somewhere like that. But even there that was pretty exciting. Then it got to No. 2. And I believe it stayed there for like 15 or 16 weeks.

“Dick told me, ‘Those SOBs, they won’t put a sports book No. 1.’ He thought it might be a literary bias or something. Finally, the book did make it to No. 1 for about four weeks.”

That success led to another book written by Kramer and Schaap called, Farewell to Football,  which was a story about Kramer’s last year in the NFL (1968), which was just a year after the magical 1967 season.

One of the main reasons Kramer retired was due to his differences with his offensive line coach.

“I was struggling with Ray Wietecha, my line coach” Kramer said. “I’m having a difficult time with him because I thought he was doing some things which were stupid. And that year, Lombardi was not head coach anymore, he was just general manager.

“For instance, we are getting ready to play the Bears, and Chicago has an odd-man line. They had a defensive tackle named Dick Evey, who went about 245 pounds. They also had a middle linebacker named [Dick] Butkus, who also went about 245 or 250.

“On an odd-man line, Evey, who would normally play on my outside shoulder, moves over and plays head up on the center, where normally Butkus would line up. But on an odd-man, Butkus lines up over me. So, normally if we want to run in the hole where I am, I would block Butkus. And the center would block Evey.

“But the fullback is also in that blocking assignment. So Wietecha wants Jimmy Grabowski, who was 220 pounds with a gimpy knee, to block Butkus one on one and he wants me to double-team with the center on Evey.

“So I go up to Ray and say, ‘Why don’t you let me have Butkus and let [Ken] Bowman and Grabo take care of Evey? It’s a much stronger play that way. And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach. I’m the coach. We are going to do things my way.’ So I tell him that it’s stupid. And he yells, ‘I’m the coach!’

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

“So, the next day I’m in the sauna before practice and so is Lombardi. He says, ‘Jerry, how are you running that 53?’ And I told him that Ray had me on Evey and he’s got Grabo on Butkus. Lombardi says, ‘Go talk to him.’ And I said, ‘Coach, I talked with him yesterday and got my ass chewed.’ So Coach goes, ‘Go talk to him again,’ and he pushes me on the shoulder.

“So I try to communicate with Ray and ask him about the play. I said, ‘Coach are you trying to set something up with this particular call?’ And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach and that’s the play we are running!’ That was the end of the conversation.”

In addition to that situation, Kramer had issues with Wietecha about the spacing between the linemen on the offensive line. Spacing which had worked for Kramer and the offensive line for over a decade that Wietecha wanted to change.

The spacing changes Wietecha made did not work. By then, Kramer was about fed up.

“The whole situation was so demotivating, especially when it’s so hard to win,” Kramer said. “You can’t give things away. You can’t let the opponent know what you were going to do, whether its a drive block or if you are going to pull. You try to not give the defense a clue about anything. But we were telling people what we were going to do by the way we would line up.

“It just made the whole situation that much more difficult. It was just very defeating. It was hard to get your heart going and playing with conviction when we were doing something stupid. So I decided it was time for me to move on leave football.”

Besides writing another book with Schaap, Kramer also did color commentary for NFL games for CBS in 1969. But in that season, Kramer got two invites to come back and play in the NFL.

The first offer came from the Los Angeles Rams and their head coach George Allen.

“I was doing television work for CBS in 1969, and George Allen called me to see if I wanted to play for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Apparently they had lost two guards to injury. So I flew out to LA and had a chat with George. He told me that he would pay me whatever I made the year before on a proactive basis, as it was the middle of the season.

“So I agreed to the thing and I went back home, but the Packers wouldn’t release me. They didn’t want the Rams to have me because they had been to the playoffs and they thought I might tell them something about the team, which might be a detriment to the Packers. So the deal never happened.”

Readers of Instant Replay may recall something which Kramer mentioned in the book.  Kramer says that as a high school senior at Sand Point, Idaho, he wrote in his yearbook that his ambition was to play professional football for the Los Angeles Rams.

After being asked to play again by the Rams, Kramer received another offer.

“I got a call from the Minnesota Vikings,” Kramer said. “Bud Grant and I always got along.  I did some television stuff with him and I liked him a lot. Bud called and said, ‘Jerry, we would love to have you come to Minnesota and play for us.’ And I said, ‘Shoot, Bud. Hollywood would have been pretty exciting. Minnesota, not so exciting. I think I’ll just stay in the booth.’

Something else happened in 1969, as the second book (Farewell to Football) by Kramer and Schaap was published. Jeremy Schaap was born. Jeremy was named after Kramer, plus is also his godson.

Kramer and Schaap continued writing and had another classic book published as co-authors.

The book was Distant Replay, which was published in 1985, as Kramer reminisced with his teammates who had won Super Bowl I. Kramer traveled to many landscapes across the country to meet and talk with his former teammates whom he had played with almost 20 years before.

I personally have all of the books that Kramer and Schaap have co-written, plus I have a number of books written by just Schaap, which includes RFK, Green Bay Replay and Flashing Before My Eyes.

From my many discussions with Kramer over the years, I always knew that Schaap was very close to his heart. And when we talked earlier this week, he confirmed my suspicion.

“I consider Dick to be among a handful of close friends,” Kramer said. “I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances along the way, but there are only a few that I really felt close to. One was Art Preston, who recently passed on. Willie Davis is another. As is Claude Crabb. And Dick Schaap is the other.

“Dick was like family to me. When we would be working on books, he would tell me that we may not want to go there about this subject or that. And he was always right. I remember one time we were supposed to write a letter to one of the major publications at the time.

“He told me that he would mock it up and that I could correct it. The first one he did, I made four or five changes. The second one he did, I made two or three changes. The third one he did, I made one change. And the fourth one he did, I didn’t make any changes. He truly understood me and knew what I liked and didn’t like.

“He got to know me awfully well and I go to to know him awfully well. The more I know him, the more I loved him as a human being. He was extremely bright, aware and thoughtful. He was just a great guy and we became really good friends. He guided me gently and intelligently along the trail.”

Speaking of writers, Kramer received a congratulatory note from Mike Lupica about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past February. In the note, Lupica said, “Schaap is smiling somewhere.”

How true that is. Back in 1997, when the Packers played the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, Kramer was a senior nominee for the Hall of Fame. Just about everyone thought that No. 64 was a shoe-in for Canton.

Kramer recalled being there in New Orleans with Schaap awaiting his induction.

“Yes, we planned on it happening,” Kramer said. “Dick had shirts made. We had a big party the night before. Everything seemed to be in place.”

But alas, it didn’t happen for Kramer in 1997.

Jerry with David Baker

But it did happen for Kramer in 2018. And yes, there is no doubt that Schaap smiled broadly with the news. I’m sure Coach Lombardi did as well, along with former teammates and close friends like Fuzzy Thurston, Max McGee, Don Chandler, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie and others.

But few knew Kramer better than Schaap. In Green Bay Replay, Schaap wrote about how Kramer handled the news about not being inducted in New Orleans at Super Bowl XXXI.

“In the afternoon, Jerry Kramer and Willie Davis, once roommates and still friends, encountered each other on Bourbon Street and embraced,” Schaap wrote. “Willie almost cried for Jerry, who smiled and signed autograph after autograph for Packer fans flooding the sleazy street, outnumbering Patriot fans by a huge margin.”

Kramer handled that omission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with dignity and grace. And Schaap was there with Kramer in New Orleans lending support to his good friend.

Now 21 years later, Dick Schaap is in another place applauding the great achievement of getting to Canton by his good friend Jerry Kramer.

 

Green Bay Packers: 2018 NFL Mock Draft 3.0 with a Trade

Brian Gutekunst in the GB draft room

The 2018 NFL draft is now less than two weeks away. It starts on April 26 and will last through April 28. This year the location is AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Up to this point, the draft process has already taken us through the bowl games, plus the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) and finally the NFL Scouting Combine.

The pro days have taken place as well, and currently NFL teams are scheduling personal visits with various prospects.

As I mentioned in my previous mock draft, general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Packers has been a bit busy in the free agency process, both in adding players to the team (Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams) and in releasing a big name (Jordy Nelson).

And earlier this week, the Packers also re-signed veteran cornerback Davon House.

Before the free agency period began, Gutekunst made a trade with general manager John Dorsey of the Cleveland Browns. In that trade, the Packers moved cornerback Damarious Randall to the Browns for quarterback DeShone Kizer.

In addition to the players being traded, the teams swapped picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds, which means that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the upcoming draft.

I’m sure part of the reason Gutekunst and Dorsey made that trade, was the comfort level each has with one another, as both worked together for 13 years in the Green Bay scouting department.

In addition to that, Eliot Wolf, who is now assistant general manager of the Browns, and Alonzo Highsmith, who is now vice president of the Browns, also spent many years together with Gutekunst in the scouting department of the Packers.

In a recent piece about the Packers and Browns possibly doing more business during the draft, I surmised that another trade between the two teams might be forthcoming. And in this mock draft, I am going to use one of the scenarios that mentioned in that article.

In this scenario, I have the Packers trading up to get the first pick of the second round from the Browns, which would be the 33rd pick of the draft. To do that, the Packers would trade their own second round pick (No. 45), plus their first fourth round pick (No. 101), plus would have to also trade their two compensatory picks in the fifth round (No.’s 172 & 174).

The trade will still leave the Packers with nine picks in the draft, including at least one in each round, but now Green Bay would be able to get two of the top 33 players in the 2018 NFL draft.

As per usual, I am using the expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry to help guide me through the draft process, as I will be utilizing his horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position) and his various positional draft boards.

I will do one final mock draft the week of the actual draft. But without further adieu, here is my mock draft 3.0.

Round 1: Outside Linebacker Marcus Davenport (University of Texas-San Antonio)

Marcus Davenport II

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

The Packers would have to feel very fortunate if Marcus Davenport of UTSA is still on the board with pick No. 14 of the first round. On his horizontal draft board (best overall players), Landry ranks Davenport at No. 7.

Landry also has Davenport ranked No. 2 on his defensive end draft board, behind only Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State.

In Green Bay, Davenport would be a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, similar to the role Julius Peppers had when he was a Packer. The Packers desperately need to invigorate their pass rush, which will undoubtedly help the secondary have more success. Davenport would make a big impact in that regard.

In four years at UTSA, Davenport improved over each of those seasons and had 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks, eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles.

At the Senior Bowl practices, Davenport struggled at times, but he played well in the game itself, with a sack and a scoop-and-score fumble recovery.

At the combine, Davenport put on quite a show, when he ran a 4.58 40, which is remarkable for a man his size.

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

Very raw but an explosive and long pass rusher who can play in a two or three point stance. Love his first step quickness and shows an ability to transfer speed to power. At this point is a first move pass rusher only but will technique development should be a force as a pass rusher in the league. I like his effort and play strength against the run but will need to improve his upper body strength for that to translate as well to the NFL level. He will also have to transition to playing more effectively from a 3-point stance as he loses leverage getting too high. I love his length and body frame. Built like a player I drafted years back in Jevon Kearse but long levered like Jadeveon Clowney. Has the quickness to drop but lacks coverage understanding and instincts. Love his edge and closing speed along with his motor. Best edge speed rusher in this draft with lots of upside.

Round 2: Cornerback Josh Jackson (Iowa)

Josh Jackson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

The Packers would be also be absolutely thrilled if Josh Jackson of Iowa is still on the board at pick No. 33. That has a chance to happen because Landry has Jackson rated at No. 30 on his horizontal draft board and the No. 3 CB behind Denzel Ward and Mike Hughes.

In 2017, Jackson had a breakout year with the Hawkeyes, as he had 66 total tackles, eight interceptions (two for touchdowns vs. Wisconsin), 27 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Because of that performance, Jackson earned first-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Jackson did not help himself at the NFL Scouting Combine with his workout (4.56 in the 40, a leap of 38 inches in the vertical jump and 4.03 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle), but he improved each of those numbers at the Iowa pro day.

There Jackson ran a 4.52  in the 40, had a 40 inch vertical jump and ran the 20-yard shuttle in 3.95 seconds.

The Packers added some veteran depth at CB this offseason by bringing back Williams and also be re-signing House. The Packers love the upside of second-year corner Kevin King, who flashed last year as a rookie before a shoulder injury ended his season. After that, there are a lot of questions about the other young CBs on the Packers.

That is why it is imperative to draft at least two cornerbacks in this draft, including one who can be a starter on Day 1. Jackson is that type of player.

This is the scouting report Landry gives on Jackson:

Versatile cover guy with good size. Experienced playing lots of coverages. Like his movement skills turning out of press and excels in zone coverage. Quick seeing routes and has outstanding ball skills. Gets low in pedal, can play up or off and good in run support. He will need to get stronger and I worry about his deep speed but I see him as an early starter.

Round 3: Wide Receiver Dante Pettis (Washington)

Dante Pettis

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

The Packers would love to see a talent like Dante Pettis of Washington available in the third round when it is their time to pick. Landry has Pettis rated No. 46 on his horizontal draft board and No. 4 on his wide receiver draft boards. Other scouts do not have Pettis rated this high.

Pettis is a multi-talented player, who is not only an excellent receiver, but also a very good punt returner.

In four years as a Husky, Pettis had 163 receptions for 2,256 yards and 24 touchdowns. In addition to that, Pettis returned 90 punts for 1,274 yards and had a whopping nine touchdowns.

During a pro day-style workout, Pettis ran a 4.45 in the 40, had a 36-inch vertical jump, had a 127-inch broad jump and did a 6.72-second run through the three-cone drill.

Pettis comes from a very athletic family, as his father is Gary Pettis, a five-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder, when he played major league baseball.

The Packers need to add another threat at wide receiver after losing Nelson, plus they would be able to add a very dangerous put returner as well.

I only have the Packers selecting one WR in this draft, as I envision that the Packers are going to utilize Ty Montgomery primarily at that position in 2018 and beyond. We shall see.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Pettis:

Shows explosive acceleration to separate from zone or man. Smooth releasing off line of scrimmage and possesses outstanding run after catch skills. Has elite return skills that will get him on the field early while he learns the nuances of route tree. His hands and catching radius are good, quickness exceptional and plays with good instincts. Lean frame that needs to add bulk and will need to improve his fight for ball in traffic.

Round 4: Cornerback Tony Brown (Alabama)

Tony Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 198 pounds

Landry has Tony Brown rated at No. 9 on his cornerback draft board and No. 94 on his horizontal draft board, which is essentially a late third-round grade. Other scouts have Brown rated in the same approximate area, while others have Brown rated lower.

When you look at the statistics, Brown of doesn’t stick out to you. One reason was because he was part of a very talented defensive backfield. Plus, he was a part-time starter and who also filled the role of the nickelback.

In his career with the Crimson Tide, Brown had 86 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, three interceptions (including one in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game), five passes defended and one forced fumble.

But there is a lot more to like about Brown. For one, he is very fast. Brown ran a 4.35 at the combine, plus he earned first team All-America honors in track and field in the spring of 2015 in the 4×400 meter relay .

Brown is also a stalwart on special teams and is a very good tackler in run support.

Bad tackling and a lack of speed have become issues in the Green Bay secondary, plus it’s always a plus to improve special teams, which is why Brown would be a great value here.

This is what Landry said about Brown at the scouting combine:

Alabama CB Tony Brown’s official forty time at the NFL Combine was 4.35. Brown ran one of the fastest 40 times among all defensive backs. This isn’t surprising as Brown was a high-school 100-meter state champion. A really good tackler, Brown will make an immediate impact on special teams.

Round 5: Tight End Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

Troy Fumagalli

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

Landry has Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin rated at No. 154 on his horizontal draft board (late fourth round) and No. 6 on his tight end draft board.

In four years as a Badger, Fumagalli had 135 receptions for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns. After the 2017 season, in which he had 38 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns, No. 81 was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. In addition to that, Fumagalli won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award in the Big Ten.

In 2016, Fumagalli was named second-team All-Big Ten, plus was named Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP, as he caught six throws for 83 yards and a touchdown in the 24-16 victory over Western Michigan.

It’s important to note that Fumagalli has only nine fingers, as he lost the index finger on his left hand at birth. Still, Fumagalli estimated that he dropped only one pass per season as a Badger.

This is Landry’s scouting report on Fumagalli:

Productive player. Like his release and route running skills. Good hands. Adjusts well to ball and will compete in crowd. Works to block and decent RAC skills. Frame needs development. Narrow based as blocker. One speed runner lacking burst and vertical speed. Nifty H back type who needs to develop strength to play effectively as Y. Like his ability in short passing game and as receiver but not an explosive flex player.

Round 6: Center/Guard Sean Welsh (Iowa)

Sean Welsh

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 300 pounds

Landry has Sean Welsh of Iowa rated No. 107 on his horizontal draft board and No. 7 on his offensive guard draft board. Some scouts have Welsh rated in a similar area, while others have him rated much lower.

The Packers need someone who can help out at guard and also as a backup center. Welsh can do both and perhaps more, as he proved at Iowa.

Welsh was a four-year starter at Iowa, as he started 48 games in his collegiate career. He started 23 games at right guard, six at right tackle and 19 at left guard. Welsh also worked out a center for the Hawkeyes.

As a senior, Welsh was named second-team All-Big Ten, while he was named third-team All-Big Ten as a junior and Honorable mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore.

This is the scouting report Landry gave on Welsh:

He is heavy-legged and lacks the brute power to overwhelm defenders, but he can mask some of those deficiencies with his savvy blocking style and toughness. Overall, Welsh is best in a phone booth where he can tie up rushers and his positional flexibility boosts his NFL grade, projecting as a back-up guard or center.

Round 6 (compensatory): Linebacker Leon Jacobs (Wisconsin)

Leon Jacobs

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 230 pounds

Landry has linebacker Leon Jacobs of Wisconsin rated No. 26 on his linebacker draft board, which means fifth to sixth round value.

Jacobs had a strong 2017 season for the Badgers, as he played outside linebacker after the departure of both T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel in the 2017 NFL draft. Jacobs also played some inside linebacker in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

In 2017, Jacobs had 60 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, three passes defensed, two fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and one forced fumble.

Jacobs was given Honorable Mention designation by both the coaches and the media for his performance in 2017.

At the combine, Jacobs turned a lot of heads, as he ran a 4.48 in the 40.

Here is Landry’s scouting report of Jacobs:

A one-year starter at Wisconsin, Jacobs blossomed as a senior outside linebacker in Wisconsin’s 3-4 base scheme, standing up and rushing off the edge. After bouncing between positions at inside linebacker and fullback as an underclassman, he found a home at outside linebacker in 2017, taking over for the departed T.J. Watt. With his hoops background, Jacobs is a balanced athlete on his feet and competes with a physical edge, relying on leverage, reach and motor as the main recipe for his pass rush. He doesn’t have poor awareness, but he is mentally undeveloped and needs more reps as a rusher, run defender and cover man. Overall, Jacobs is still in the development phase and there are “fit” concerns, but he is an ascending player with the effort and physical attitude to grow into a starting outside pass rush role in a 3-4 or SAM linebacker in a 4-3.

Round 7: Offensive Tackle David Bright (Stanford)

David Bright

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 307 pounds

Landry has David Bright of Stanford rated No. 21 on his offensive tackle draft board and gives him a seventh round or priority free agent value.

In 2016, Bright started 10 of 12 games played, four at left guard and six at right tackle. Then in 2017, Bright started started 14 games (two games at left tackle, one at right guard and 11 at left guard). His performance last season allowed Bright to get second-team All-American honors from The Sporting News and second-team All-Pac-12 notice from league coaches.

The Packers absolutely love versatility with any offensive lineman that they draft or sign as a free agent. Bright certainly adds that component to the offensive line.

This is what Landry has said about Bright:

Stanford T David Bright is smart, tough, hard worker who plays hurt. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder also presents great positional versatility, increasing his draft value to be taken late.

Round 7 (compensatory): Running Back Phillip Lindsay (Colorado)

Phillip Lindsay

Height: 5’8″

Weight: 190 pounds

Landry has Phillip Lindsay of Colorado rated No. 24 on his running back draft board and gave him a seventh round or a priority free agent value.

In four years in Boulder, Lindsay rushed for 3,775 yards and 36 touchdowns, plus caught 117 passes for 1,084 yards and three more scores. Lindsay also returned kickoffs at times at Colorado.

I was very intrigued at the East-Shrine Game here in nearby St. Petersburg because of four Wisconsin Badgers playing in the game, but one of the other players who really stood out for me in the practices and the game was Lindsay.

At his pro day, Lindsay ran a very impressive 4.39 in the 40, which would have placed him second at the combine among RBs.

The Packers were very happy with the results that they received from two of their rookie running backs (Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones) last season, but one can never have enough talent in the backfield, especially one who can both run and catch the football like Lindsay can.

This is the scouting report Landry gives Lindsay:

A small guy who plays bigger and with good toughness. He will stick his nose in as a pass blocker despite lacking size to be an effective blocker. He is quick to the hole and has good run instincts. As a receiver he can separate and catch ball out of frame. Will need to be an effective returner and receiver in the passing game. I see him as a rotational 3rd down player.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Quest for a Second Stanley Cup

Dave Andreychuk with Lord Stanley

On Thursday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Lightning will begin the toughest postseason journey a team can have in professional sports. I’m talking about a two-month ordeal for the right to win the Stanley Cup in the NHL.

If a team is fortunate to last the duration and be able to hoist Lord Stanley, it will have gone through four rounds of postseason hockey and have faced four different opponents from a period that starts in the month of April and ends in the month of June.

The Lightning have hoisted Lord Stanley once in their 25-year existence. I was there to witness it, when Amalie Arena was called the St. Pete Times Forum. That fortuitous and well-earned moment occurred in the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs.

At the end of this article, I will re-post the piece I wrote about that experience.

The Bolts have come fairly close hoisting Lord Stanley on three other occasions. Twice they were defeated by just a goal in a Game 7 on the road in the Eastern Conference championship rounds. On both occasions, the team that barely got by the Lightning ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

I’m talking about when the Bolts played the Boston Bruins in 2011 and also the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016.

The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015, when they were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. If not for a couple of key injuries, the Bolts might have been able to hoist Lord Stanley for a second time in 2015.

Goalie Ben Bishop suffered a groin tear in Game 2 of the series and missed part of that game, one entire game completely and played hurt the rest of the series.

Bishop had been outstanding in the playoffs that year, as he had shut out both the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in a pivotal Game 7 situation when the Bolts faced them earlier in the postseason.

Even with his groin injury, Bishop still had a 2.2 GAA (goals against average) and had a .919 save percentage versus the Blackhawks.

Center Tyler Johnson, who was a Conn Smythe Trophy contender heading into the series due to his excellent play in the previous three matchups, broke a wrist early in the series with the Blackhawks.

Coming into the final, Johnson had 12 goals and nine assists. Versus the Hawks and after his wrist injury, Johnson had just one goal and one assist.

Tyler Johnson

But now in 2018, the Bolts have another opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley. And based on the way the Lightning played most of the 2017-18 season in the NHL, they have a solid opportunity to do just that.

The Bolts finished the regular season this year with a 54-23-5 record, which gave them the best record in the Atlantic Division and also the Eastern Conference. The team also set a team record by finishing with 113 points.

The Lightning had a bit of a rough stretch towards the end of the season, as they were pushed hard by the Bruins (who finished 112 points).

That record means that the Bolts will have home-ice advantage against all of their Eastern Conference opponents and only two teams in the NHL had more points than the Lightning. That would be the Nashville Predators (117 points) and the Winnipeg Jets (114 points) of the Western Conference.

The Lightning certainly have the talent to win the Stanley Cup. The Bolts finished first in the Eastern Conference by scoring 3.54 goals per game and were fourth in the goals against average (2.82). That latter number went up some towards the end of the season. The defense and the goaltending have to be better if the team expects to lift Lord Stanley.

The power play for the Bolts was very solid this season, as the team scored almost 26 percent of the time, which was third in the Eastern Conference.

Offensively, the team had seven players who scored at least 50 points this season. That was led by right winger Nikita Kucherov, who had 100 points by scoring 39 goals and having 61 assists. “Kuch” also was +15.

Then there was the captain, center Steven Stamkos, who had 86 points by scoring 27 goals and having 59 assists. The “Stammer” also was +18.

Stamkos missed the last few games of the regular season with a lower-body injury, but is expected to be fine for the playoffs.

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov

Adding to the mix in the 50 points club are center Brayden Point (66 points, 32 goals, 34 assists, +18), rookie right winger/center Yanni Gourde (64 points, 25 goals, 39 assists, +34), defenseman Victor Hedman (63 points, 17 goals, 46 assists, +32), right winger J.T. Miller (58 points, 23 goals, 35 assists, -4) and center Tyler Johnson (50 points, 21 goals, 29 assists, +3).

Just to prove how explosive the Lightning can be, the team had twelve other players with double-digit point totals. The players with at least 20 points include left winger Alex Killorn (47 points, 15 goals, 32 assists, +22), rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (40 points, nine goals, 31 assists, +11), left winger Ondrej Palat (35 points, 11 goals, 24 assists, +16), left winger Chris Kunitz (29 points, 13 goals, 16 assists, +8) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (29 points, four goals, 25 assists, -4).

You may notice that all of the players I have listed above except for two have plus-ratings. The two who have minus-ratings are Miller and McDonagh, who the Bolts acquired from the New York Rangers (34-39-9) at the trade deadline.

Playing on a team (the Rangers) which finished in last place in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference is bound to get you a minus-rating, as opposing teams will score more goals against you while you are on the ice.

McDonagh is one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the game, while Miller has been lights out with the Bolts on offense since he has been with the team. Miller is also very good in faceoffs, which is an important skill to have, especially in the playoffs.

Besides the players I have mentioned thus far, there are a number of other players who are key contributors to the success of the Bolts. Players like right winger Ryan Callahan, defenseman Dan Girardi, defenseman Anton Stralman, defenseman Braydon Coburn, right winger Cory Conacher and rookie center Anthony Cirelli.

Holding down the fort or in this case, the goal, is Andrei Vasilevskly, who had a 44-17 record and had a goals against average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .920.

In the postseason, as I mentioned earlier, Vasilevskly and the defense in front of him have to play better than they did towards the end of the regular season. When he is on the top of his game, there are few better in front of the net than Vasilevskly.

The defense was fortified by the acquisition of McDonagh, who along with Hedman, Stralman, Girardi, Sergachev and Coburn give the Lightning solid play on the defensive end of the ice. The defense showed flashes late in the season that it can be very effective.

The defense is headed (no pun intended) by Hedman, who has become one of the very best defensemen in the NHL.

To win the Stanley Cup, the bottom line for the Bolts is that the offense has to continue to play it’s aggressive game. They have to continue to scrap and win the battles to the puck behind the net and in the corners/sides in the offensive zone.

The defense has to be more consistent and effective, as does Vasilevskly. The talent is there.

Andrei Vasilevskly and Victor Hedman

This team has a number of players who have played in the Stanley Cup Finals before. Kunitz, who the Bolts acquired this past offseason in free agency, has won four Stanley Cups, one with the Anahein Ducks and three with the Penguins.

The 2018 journey to win the Stanley Cup begins Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils at Amalie Arena. If the Bolts can win that series against a team that played them very well this past season, than the Bolts will have to get by the likes of the Bruins and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins perhaps.

And if the Bolts can win out in the East, they could be facing a number of different teams from the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning could be facing the Predators, the Jets, the two-time Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings or maybe even the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Who knows?

But nothing will come easy. It all starts with the Devils. The Bolts know that New Jersey beat them in all three games the two teams played this season, so they know it’s important to get off to a good start at home in this series.

You have to win 16 games in the NHL postseason to win the Stanley Cup. The first four games have to be won against the Devils.

From there the arduous journey continues for the right to lift Lord Stanley. The Bolts have the talent to win the Stanley Cup this year. The team has a great coach in Jon Cooper, who is one of the very best in the NHL. “Coop” has a very skilled roster to work with thanks to the excellent work of general manger Steve Yzerman (three Stanley Cups as a player with the Detroit Red Wings and another in the front office with Detroit).

But it all starts from the top, as the Bolts have one of the best owners in all of professional sports, Jeffrey Vinik.

So, the two-month journey to win the Stanley Cup is about to begin for the Bolts. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I am now going to re-post the piece I wrote about when the Lightning last won Lord Stanley.

Here’s hoping history repeats itself again for the Lightning this upcoming June and that the Bolts can skate around the ice with Lord Stanley for the second time in the history of the franchise.

Here is the my Stanley Cup story from 2004:

The Stanley Cup run in 2004 was something truly unforgettable. I was fortunate enough to go to one game in each playoff series in that run, and the Bolts won each time I was there.

The Islanders
 
The Lightning started their trek to Lord Stanley by facing the New York Islanders in the first series. The Bolts had a 3-1 series lead as they played Game 5 at the St. Pete Times Forum. I was there with a couple of buddies and the Lightning had a chance to clinch the series. Nicolai Khabibulin had been terrific in goal all series long, as he had three shutouts going entering the game.
 
Game five went to overtime, and Marty St. Louis was “Mr. Clutch” again and won the game with a fairly long slap shot from the left side. The crowd went wild. It was great to be there as the teams did the handshakes at the end of the game, which is a custom in the NHL after a playoff series ends.

The Canadiens
 
Thanks to my friends at 620 WDAE, The Sports Animal, I had tickets to Game 1 of the next series vs. the Montreal Canadiens. My most vivid memory before the game was a couple of mouthy Montreal fans who kept telling anyone that would listen that Bolts fans did not know hockey and that they were the resident experts.

Vinny Lecavalier

The Lightning ended up winning Game 1 as Vinny Lecavalier had two goals and an assist in a 4-0 whitewash. My buddy and I saw the same two mouthy Canadian fans after the game in the plaza, but they were hightailing out of there in a hurry. We also ran into another obnoxious Canadiens fan a little later, but after I told him to “Shut your yap” John Tortorella style (okay, there were other colorful words used), the guy meekly went away.
 
The Lightning ended up sweeping the Habs four games to zip in the series, including a fantastic finish in Game 3 in Montreal, when Vinny Lecavalier scored his fifth goal of the series with 16.5 seconds left to force overtime. Brad Richards then won it in overtime to shock the crowd as the Bolts won 4-3. The Bolts then finished off the Habs 3-1 two nights later.

The Flyers
 
The next series was against the tough Philadelphia Flyers for the Eastern Conference crown and the right to play for the Stanley Cup. I went to Game 1 with friends, all big Lightning fans, but a couple were former Flyers fans, ironically. As one expected, the Flyers fans in attendance at the Forum were loud and obnoxious, but the Bolts and their fans had the last laugh as the Lightning won 3-1.
 
The rest of the series was a knock-down, drag-out type of war. The Flyers were led by Keith Primeau. Richards paced the Bolts with two game-winning goals in the series. The Lightning ended up winning in seven games, after an excruciating loss in Game 6 at Philly, losing 5-4 in OT, in a game the Bolts should have won.
 
The Lightning came back to win game seven at the Forum by a score of 2-1 as Khabibulin was brilliant again. The Lightning now would be playing for the Stanley Cup championship.

The Stanley Cup
 
The Bolts’ opponent was the tough Calgary Flames, who were lead by Jarome Iginla and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. But nothing was easy in this series, as the Bolts lost game one at home 4-1, but bounced back to win by the same score as Khabby was excellent, and Richards played lights out again.
 
Kiprusoff shut out the Bolts 3-0 in Game 3 and the Lightning had their backs to the wall going into Game 4. But once again, Khabibulin was phenomenal, as the Bolts won 1-0 as Richards again scored the game winning goal. Also, this game also had the moment when Lecavalier had his head rammed into the side glass by Calgary’s Ville Nieminen.
 
That win set up Game 5 at the Forum. However, the Bolts lost 3-2 in OT, sending the Lightning to Calgary in a do-or-die situation behind three games to two. Game 6 was one of the greatest hockey games I ever saw. The Lightning ended up winning 3-2 in the second overtime, as Richards had two goals in the game, but it was St. Louis that hit the game winner in the second overtime to set up Game 7 at the Forum in Tampa.

Ruslan Fedotenko

A friend of mine was able to get his hands on some very pricey tickets for game seven, as two friends and I went to the game. As I sometimes do, I called Steve Duemig on his show on WDAE on the way to the game. Steve and I discussed the keys to the game, and that’s when I had my Nostradamus moment. For some reason, I said Ruslan Fedetenko would have a big night.
 
Fedetenko did have a big night, as he scored the Bolts only two goals in a 2-1 victory over the Flames. Khabby was brilliant yet again, and Richie ended up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. But the biggest prize was seeing the Bolts win the Stanley Cup and lifting the trophy high in the air and passing it from teammate to teammate.
 
Dave Andreychuk was the first to get Lord Stanley, as he had just won his first Stanley Cup after 22 years in the NHL. Then everyone else got their chance.  Vinny, Richie, Marty, Khabby, Fedetenko, Dan Boyle, Fredrik Modin, Tim Taylor, Darryl Sydor and all the other members of the team all got to lift Lord Stanley and skate around.  The crowd erupted when coach John Tortorella lifted the Cup.

That game had to be the biggest sports moment of my life, as I was there to witness the event in person. I have seen similar things in football and in baseball, but actually being there for a championship game, and being at home, made it so special. I was fortunate to be one of the 22,717 that night at the Forum.
 
The journey for Lord Stanley started on April 8, as the Bolts played their first playoff game against the Islanders. But the journey didn’t end until the Bolts had won 16 playoff games, including the last one for the right to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup on June 7. It was a two month ordeal. Some say the most difficult obstacle in all of sports.
 
I will always treasure the memory.

Will the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns Do Business Again During the 2018 NFL Draft?

2018 NFL Scouting Combine

General manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers and general manager John Dorsey of the Cleveland Browns worked together in the scouting department of the Packers for 13 years.

Plus, Eliot Wolf, who is now assistant general manager of the Browns, and Alonzo Highsmith, who is now vice president of the Browns, also spent many years together with Gutekunst in the Green Bay scouting department.

Those associations led to a trade the two teams made in early March, when the Packers dealt cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer of the Browns, plus the teams swapped of picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft.

That meant that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the upcoming draft.

Could there be another deal made between the two teams during the draft?

I’m thinking that there could be.

The Packers have 12 selections in the draft this year, which includes their own picks in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus have four compensatory picks (one in the fourth round, two in the fifth round and one in the sixth round), plus have another pick in the seventh round due to a trade.

The Browns only have nine picks in the draft, plus the team doesn’t have a selection in either the third or seventh round. But don’t go feeling sorry for the Browns, as they have the first and fourth selection of the draft in the first round, plus have the first and third selections of the second round of the draft.

It is at the beginning of the second round where I could see the Packers doing a maneuver with the Browns.

To get the third pick of the second round (selection No. 35), the Packers would need to give the Browns their own pick in the second round (selection No. 45), as well as the first pick of the fourth round (selection No. 101) and their second pick of the seventh round (selection No. 239) to make the deal.

Getting up to pick No. 33 of the Browns would cost a bit more, but not much. The Packers would again have to give up their own second round pick (No. 45), plus their first fourth round pick (No. 101), plus would have to also trade their two compensatory picks in the fifth round (No.’s 172 & 174).

The first scenario would still leave the Packers with ten selections overall, while the second would mean that the Packers still have nine picks. The key is that Green Bay would have two selections among the top 33 or 35 players in the draft, plus would still have their third round pick (No. 76) as well.

In both scenarios, Green Bay would also have selections in all rounds of the draft.

The Packers would only want to move up to the top of the second round (No. 33 or No. 35) if a player that they truly want is still on the board. Plus, the Packers would have figured that the player who they desire would most likely be selected before the Packers get a chance to pick at No. 45.

Who that player might be depends on how the draft plays out.

Round 1 takes place on a Thursday night (April 26). Round’s 2 and 3 take place on Friday night (April 27).

I always utilize NFL scout Chris Landry when I do any type of draft story. Landry has put together his own horizontal draft board for the 2018 NFL draft, which encompasses the best players overall, regardless of position.

In my most recent story about who the Packers might select with pick No. 14, I listed the 18 players who Landry gave 1st round value to:

7.4 – 7.0 = Superstar Ability
7.4 = 1st Pick Value

7.0 = Definite Top 5 Pick

RB Saquon Barkley–Penn State
OG Quenton Nelson–Notre Dame

6.9 – 6.5 = Immediate Starter
6.9 = Early 1st Round

DE Bradley Chubb–North Carolina State
S/CB/SLOT Minkah Fitzpatrick–Alabama

6.5 = Mid to Late 1st Round Value

QB Sam Darnold–USC
QB Josh Rosen–UCLA (Character)
DE Marcus Davenport–Texas San Antonio
OLB/DE Tremaine Edmunds–Virginia Tech
WLB/MLB Roquan Smith–Georgia
MLB/ILB Rashaan Evans–Alabama
SS/FS/SLOT Derwin James–Florida State
CB Denzel Ward–Ohio State
CB Mike Hughes–Central Florida
RB Derrius Guice–LSU
RB Ronald Jones III–USC
DT Viota Vea–Washington
DT Daron Payne–Alabama
DT Maurice Hurst–Michigan (Medical)

Okay, let’s say the Packers are fortunate enough to select DE/OLB Marcus Davenport in the first round with pick No. 14. Davenport is who I had Green Bay taking in my second mock draft.

Marcus Davenport III

Marcus Davenport

Now, let’s look at the 24 players who Landry gives an early 2nd round value (6.4) to:

QB Baker Mayfield–Oklahoma (Character)
QB Josh Allen–Wyoming
QB Lamar Jackson–Louisville
DE/OLB Harold Landry–Boston College
DE/OLB Arden Key–LSU (Character)
DE Sam Hubbard–Ohio State
WR Calvin Ridley–Alabama
WR Christian Kirk–Texas A&M
ILB Leighton Vander Esch–Boise State
OLB Lorenzo Carter–Georgia
CB Josh Jackson–Iowa
OT/LT Conner Williams-Texas
OT/RT Mike McGlinchey–Notre Dame
OT/LT Kolton Miller–UCLA
DT Taven Bryan–Florida
DT Harrison Phillips–Stanford
SS Ronnie Harrison–Alabama
CB Jaire Alexander–Louisville
OC James Daniels–Iowa
OC Billy Price–Ohio State (Medical)
RB Sony Michel–Georgia
TE Hayden Hurst–South Carolina
OG Isaiah Wynn–Georgia
OG Will Hernandez–UTEP

From that list, I believe there is a very good possibility that the first three names in that group would have been selected in the first round. Plus, I’m sure there are others in this list who will certainly selected as well. That still leaves a number of prospects who could possibly still be on the board at the start of the second round.

Just imagine if any of these players were still on the board at the start of the second round:

  • Landry
  • Key
  • Ridley
  • Kirk
  • Vander Esch
  • Carter
  • Jackson
  • Williams
  • McGlinchey
  • Harrison
  • Alexander
  • Wynn
  • Hernandez

While the Packers would certainly be intrigued by the offensive players in the group above, it is the defense of the team which needs to become dominant again. Similar to the 2009 NFL draft when then general manager Ted Thompson drafted defensive lineman B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 in the draft and then traded-up to select linebacker Clay Matthews with pick No. 26 in the first round.

The year before that draft, the Packers were ranked 20th in the NFL in total defense. But by selecting Raji and Matthews, along with changing defensive coordinators (from Bob Sanders to Dom Capers), the Packers improved to second in the NFL in total defense in 2009.

And in 2010, when the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers were ranked fifth in total defense.

The Packers have an opportunity to create that same type of dynamic change to their defense, which was ranked 22nd in total defense in 2017. Plus, just like in 2009, the team has changed defensive coordinators, as Capers was fired and replaced by Mike Pettine.

By adding the likes of a Landry, Key, Vander Esch, Carter, Jackson, Harrison or Alexander to pair along with a talent like Davenport, that would give a dynamic change to the defense of the Packers in 2018. Similar to what occurred in 2009.

Every player listed above would enhance the Green Bay defense.

If Landry, Key or Carter were still available at the top of the second round, they could be paired with Davenport as bookends at outside linebacker.

Matthews can still bring it at OLB, as can Nick Perry, but Matthews might be better suited to play inside linebacker now, while Perry continues to have his share of injuries. The backups at OLB (Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel) have yet to show that they can be a force in rushing the passer in the NFL.

Both Fackrell and Biegel showed that they had pass-rush ability in college, but have yet to show that same effectiveness in the NFL. That being said, Fackrell definitely showed some improvement in 2017 with his play, while Biegel missed half of his rookie 2017 season with a broken foot.

Leighton Vander Esch

No. 38 Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch would also be an outstanding add-on for the Packers. He could be paired with Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Like Martinez, Vander Esch would be a tackling machine. In 2017, Vander Esch had 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, five passed defended, had two interceptions and forced four fumbles for Boise State.

Jackson, Harrison and Alexander would all be a big addition to the beleaguered secondary of the Packers. The team desperately needs to add talent and depth to the cornerback position. Jackson and Alexander certainly belong in that category. Harrison would be able to replace Morgan Burnett (left via free agency) at safety and join fellow former Alabama star Ha Ha Clinton-Dix there.

Bottom line, since Gutekunst became general manager, the team has been more aggressive in free agency by adding the likes of tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Tramon Williams.

Gutekunst also made a very difficult decision when he released one of the more popular players on the Packers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

Plus, Gutekunst made the trade with Cleveland and Dorsey before free agency began. The trade was made because of the comfort level that Gutekunst and Dorsey have with each other.

That comfort level could lead to another trade in the 2018 NFL draft. The Packers need to stay aggressive in their approach to improve a team (especially the defense) who was in the NFC title game just two years ago, while the Browns need to add as many assets as possible to a team which went 0-16 in 2017.

The trade I envision could do just that. The Packers would be able to get two great players among the top 33 or 35 prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, while the Browns would be able to add two to three more prospects in the draft.

To me, it’s a win-win for both teams.

Green Bay Packers: 5 Possibilities for Pick No. 14 in the 2018 NFL Draft

nfl draft packers banner

In the 2018 NFL draft, which will be held April 26 though April 28 at AT&T Stadium, the Green Bay Packers will be doing something that they haven’t done since 2009. That is, making a selection in the first round among the top 15 players being picked. The Packers will pick at No. 14 this year, while in 2009, they picked at No. 9, when the team selected defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

New general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Packers has to be licking his chops.

Since 2009 and in the eight NFL drafts since then, the Packers have never been able to pick below No. 21 in the first round. From 2010 through 2017, the Packers have picked at No. 23, No. 32, No. 28, No. 26, No. 21, No. 30, No. 27 and No. 33 (had No. 29 but traded back into the first pick of Round 2).

That selection record tells you that the Packers have been pretty successful since the 2009 NFL draft. Since then, the Packers have gone 94-49-1 in the regular season, have won five NFC North titles, have been to the playoff eight times, have been in three NFC title games (winning one) and also won Super Bowl XLV.

The Packers should be able to select a great prospect at pick No. 14 in the upcoming draft, in which I will list five possible prospects. I am using the horizontal draft board (best players overall) put together by NFL scout Chris Landry to help me in determining who to select and choose from. Every NFL team has their own horizontal draft board that is put together before the draft.

Here are the Round 1 grades put together by Landry in his horizontal draft board:

7.4 – 7.0 = Superstar Ability
7.4 = 1st Pick Value

7.0 = Definite Top 5 Pick

1. RB Saquon Barkley–Penn State
2. OG Quenton Nelson–Notre Dame

6.9 – 6.5 = Immediate Starter
6.9 = Early 1st Round

3. DE Bradley Chubb–North Carolina State
4. S/CB/SLOT Minkah Fitzpatrick–Alabama

6.5 = Mid to Late 1st Round Value

5. QB Sam Darnold–USC
6. QB Josh Rosen–UCLA (Character)
7. DE Marcus Davenport–Texas San Antonio
8. OLB/DE Tremaine Edmunds–Virginia Tech
9. WLB/MLB Roquan Smith–Georgia
10. MLB/ILB Rashaan Evans–Alabama
11. SS/FS/SLOT Derwin James–Florida State
12. CB Denzel Ward–Ohio State
13. CB Mike Hughes–Central Florida
14. RB Derrius Guice–LSU
15. RB Ronald Jones III–USC
16. DT Viota Vea–Washington
17. DT Daron Payne–Alabama
18. DT Maurice Hurst–Michigan (Medical)

===============END OF FIRST ROUND GRADE

Landry also has 25 other players who have a second round grade, but who also have a chance to be selected in the first round. That obviously will happen with a number of those players, as 32 players get selected.

Looking at the top four players who Landry has graded, if any of them drop to No. 14, the Packers should quickly run to the stage at AT&T Stadium with their draft card. Of the four, the only one that may still be there at No. 14 in my opinion is cornerback/safety Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama. I just can’t see running back Saquon Barkley of Penn State, guard Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame or defensive end Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State being there at that point of the draft.

The good news for the Packers is that the two quarterbacks (Sam Darnold of USC and Josh Rosen of UCLA) who are listed in Landry’s group from above will most likely be selected before Green Bay gets a chance to pick.

Plus there is a reasonable chance that two more quarterbacks will be taken as well. They would be Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and Josh Allen of Wyoming, who Landry has rated at No. 20 and No. 21 on his horizontal draft board, as they both have grades of 6.4, which equals early second round value.

Plus, Landry also has quarterback Lamar Jackson of Louisville rated at No. 22. One never knows, but there might be a run on all of the top-rated QBs before the Packers pick at No. 14, which will definitely help Green Bay’s cause in selecting a very talented prospect.

Of the players listed above, two have been selected in my first two mock drafts. In my first mock draft, which was done before Landry put together this horizontal draft board, I had the Packers taking CB Mike Hughes in Round 2, which would be an excellent value based on this list. I had the Packers selecting DE/OLB Harold Landry in the first round of that mock. Landry has the former Boston College star rated at No. 23 on his horizontal draft board, with a 6.4 grade (2nd round value).

In my second mock draft, I had the Packers selecting DE/OLB Marcus Davenport in Round 1.

No matter what, the Packers should have an excellent opportunity to bring in a great player with their first selection in this draft.

Here are five conceivable prospects who I believe the Packers may indeed select at No. 14. You will notice that each of the players grade-out well in the area of speed and that all play on the defensive side of the football. Included in the list will be a scouting report of each player by Landry.

Cornerback/Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 201 pounds

If Minkah Fitzpatrick is still on the board at No. 14, the Packers should not hesitate to select him. The former Crimson Tide star is very versatile, as he can play safety, standard cornerback or in the slot position in the secondary.

On his horizontal draft board, Landry ranks Fitzpatrick at No. 4.

In three years at Alabama, Fitzpatrick had 171 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, nine interceptions (four for touchdowns), 24 passes defended and two forced fumbles.

The Packers really need to upgrade the talent and the depth in their secondary, both at cornerback and safety. Fitzpatrick can help out in both areas, plus he would excel immediately due to his talent level.

The two-time All-American ran a 4.46 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Fitzpatrick:

I think he is a better player than Jalen Ramsey. A true difference maker in the secondary and a true team leader. He’s instinctive and versatile–can line up anywhere in the secondary, tackle cover and match up against elite receivers. I see him best in the slot where he can be a huge factor as a blitzer and against the run in addition to carrying a big slot, tight end or back down the field. his best quality is his instincts and what he does worse is play the ball with his back towards the play. He has the size and strength to match up vs size receivers yet quick enough to deal with the two way go quicker slot players. He sorts through trash against the run and has impeccable feel as a blitzer.

Outside Linebacker Marcus Davenport (University of Texas-San Antonio)

Marcus Davenport III

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

The Packers would have to be very pleased if Marcus Davenport is still on the board with pick No. 14 of the first round.

On his horizontal draft board, Landry ranks Davenport at No. 7.

In Green Bay, Davenport would be a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, similar to the role Julius Peppers had when he was a Packer. The Packers desperately need to invigorate their pass rush, which will undoubtedly help the secondary have more success. Davenport would make a big impact in that regard.

In four years at UTSA, Davenport improved over each of those seasons and had 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks, eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles.

At the combine, Davenport put on quite a show, when he ran a 4.58 40, which is remarkable for a man his size.

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

Very raw but an explosive and long pass rusher who can play in a two or three point stance. Love his first step quickness and shows an ability to transfer speed to power. At this point is a first move pass rusher only but will technique development should be a force as a pass rusher in the league. I like his effort and play strength against the run but will need to improve his upper body strength for that to translate as well to the NFL level. He will also have to transition to playing more effectively from a 3-point stance as he loses leverage getting too high. I love his length and body frame. Built like a player I drafted years back in Jevon Kearse but long levered like Jadeveon Clowney. Has the quickness to drop but lacks coverage understanding and instincts. Love his edge and closing speed along with his motor. Best edge speed rusher in this draft with lots of upside.

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)

Tremaine Edmunds

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 253 pounds

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is another exceptional defender who the Packers would love to see on the board at pick No. 14.

Landry has Edmunds ranked No. 8 on his horizontal draft board.

In the 2016 and 2017 seasons at Virginia Tech, Edmunds had 202 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, one interception, five passes defended, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.

Edmunds was named All-ACC in both the 2016 and 2017 season, plus was named third-team All-American by AP in 2017.

Edmunds would play outside linebacker for the Packers, and like Nick Perry, can play the run extremely well, plus can rush the quarterback. Unlike Perry, Edmunds has also shown some nice ability to drop back into pass coverage.

At the combine, Edmunds ran a 4.54 in the 40.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Edmunds:

Tall, long well put together athlete who shows excellent instincts against the run while flashing some edge rush speed. His range to make the tackle is what jumps out first and foremost. Plays with good bend and disengages well from blockers. Shows quickness to cover backs in man and can even handle a big slot or TE. I don’t like his instincts to play inside but I think he can be a outstanding SAM backer who can develop as a nickel edge rusher. Will be a better fit for some teams than others depending on how they see him fit their scheme. I have him rated at his highest level due to where teams that see a fit will have him.

Safety Derwin James (Florida State)

Derwin James

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 215 pounds

Derwin James is another player who the Packers would love to see on the board when they pick at No. 14, as he can play both safety positions, plus can play the slot as well.

Landry has James ranked James No. 11 on his horizontal draft board.

In 26 games at FSU, James had 186 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown), 15 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

In 2016, James only played in two games because he suffered a left lateral meniscus tear in Week 2 which ended his season. But in 2017, James bounced back with a great year, as he earned first-team All-ACC and second-team AP All-American honors.

In 2015, James was named as a Freshman All-American and also third-team All-ACC (media).

For the Packers, James could function at either safety position, but most likely as the strong safety due to his outstanding tackling skills

At the combine, James ran a 4.47 in the 40, plus had a vertical jump of 40 inches.

Big, athletic safety with loose hips and outstanding COD (change of direction). Has experience playing in the box and in coverage. Can handle the big slots and mirror as well as effectively play in zone. Shows good take on and shed and is an excellent tackler with excellent pursuit speed. While he positions himself well, he doesn’t make as many plays on the ball as he should. His hands are average. I seem him as a better box player and over a slot that I do as a center fielder due to his hands and pursuit angles. He can stay on the field in nickel as Will backer. Still, he is the type of body type you seek to cover the big athletic TE types that terrorize defenses in this league.

Cornerback Denzel Ward (Ohio State)

Denzel Ward

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 191 pounds

In terms of the pure cornerbacks in this draft, no one is faster or has better ball skills than Denzel Ward, which is why he would be an excellent option with pick No. 14.

Landry has Ward ranked No. 12 on his horizontal draft board.

In 2016, when Ward was the third cornerback for Ohio State, along with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley (both first-round picks), he was earned honorable mention All-Big Ten notice from league media as a non-starter. For the season, in which he played 30 snaps per game, Ward had 23 tackles and nine passes defended in the best secondary in the country.

Ward followed that up in 2017 by being named first-team All-Big Ten and first-team AP All-American, as he had 37 tackles, two tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and 15 pass breakups.

Packer fans should immediately think of Sam Shields when they look at Ward, as he will add much-needed speed to the cornerback position.

How fast is Ward? He ran a 4.32 in the 40 at the combine, plus had a vertical leap of 39 inches.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Ward:

Undersized athletic CB with excellent quickness, toughness and ball skills. Physical in press and can flip his hips and plays the ball in air with confidence. Can play off and in zone but I like him best in press. His lack of size is an issue but he plays little bigger as he anticipates and high points the ball effectively. He is physical vs run and as tackler. Doesn’t have much playing experience and lacks the length and upside of Lattimore from last year but I seem as an early playmaker from the slot.

Green Bay Packers: Welcoming Back Tramon Williams Makes a Lot of Sense

Tramon Williams Super Bowl XLV

I remember the day well. It was the first day of training camp in 2007 for the Green Bay Packers. As I stood in front of the Don Hutson Center watching the team practice on Clark Hinkle Field, one player in the secondary really stood out to me.

He was a relatively obscure player by the name of Tramon Williams. The unknown cornerback covered receivers like Donald Driver and Greg Jennings like a glove as Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers threw passes to them. I kept thinking to myself, who is that guy?

The secondary of the Packers had some very talented players in 2007. Charles Woodson led the way, with Al Harris and Nick Collins not far behind. But it was Williams who stood out for me that day.

At that point in time, Williams was just trying to make the roster of the Packers for the first time. In 2006, Williams had been undrafted out of Louisiana Tech and was signed by the Houston Texans. After he was released by the Texans, the Packers signed Williams to their practice squad where he remained throughout the 2006 season.

But in 2007, it wasn’t just my eyes which were opened. The coaching staff of the Packers also liked what they saw and Williams made the team. He played in all 16 games that season, had 17 tackles and started one game. He also picked off a pass.

In 2008, Williams really started to make an impact, as he made nine starts, made 57 tackles, picked off five passes and forced two fumbles. In 2009, Williams started 10 games, had 55 tackles, picked off four more passes, plus had a sack.

It was in 2010 in which Williams became a full-time starter and also had a breakout year. No. 38 had 57 tackles, six picks, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. That performance led to Williams being named to the Pro Bowl.

But as good as the 2010 season was for Williams, he was extra special in the 2010 postseason.

In the Wild Card game versus the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Williams made the game-winning interception with less than a minute to go in the game, as the Packers hung on to beat the Eagles 21-16.

Six days later in a Divisional Playoff game against the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, Williams picked off two more passes, including one he returned for a touchdown for 70 yards just before halftime. That pick basically broke the back of the Dirty Birds in the game, as the Green Bay upset Atlanta 48-21.

After beating the Chicago Bears 21-14 in the NFC title game at Soldier Field, the Packers faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Williams and the Green Bay secondary were put in a very difficult situation, as Woodson (broken collarbone) was unable to play in the second half of the game, plus rookie cornerback Sam Shields (shoulder) also missed most of the second half.

But somehow the secondary held together on the last drive of the Steelers (with less than two minutes remaining in the game), as the Packers had a 31-25 lead. On fourth down, it was none other than Williams who broke up a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace to secure the victory which allowed the Packers to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Talk about apropos.

In 2011, Williams suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and missed a game, but still played through the lingering injury the rest of the year.

That was the only time Williams missed a game between 2010 through 2014. In those five years. Williams had 18 picks for 229 yards and one touchdown. He also averaged 68 tackles per season, had two forced fumbles, recovered seven fumbles and had 3.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, just like with Favre, many in Packer Nation still remember the last play Williams was involved in during a NFC title game. Favre threw an interception in the 2007 NFC title game which led to a game-winning field goal which put the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, while Williams was beaten on a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFL title game.

Favre was traded to the New York Jets in 2008 and then played with the Minnesota Vikings for two years after that, but he never returned to play for the Packers again.

Williams left via free agency in 2015 to play with the Cleveland Browns.

But unlike Favre, Williams is getting an opportunity to come back after spending two years (2015-2016) with the Browns (including one under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine when he was head coach there) and last season with the Arizona Cardinals.

Tramon Williams vs. the Eagles

Bringing back Williams was made official on Friday when general manager Brian Gutekunst announced the signing of Williams.

I had an inkling that the Packers might sign Williams, similar to my thoughts as to why Muhammad Wilkerson would be a good addition to the team. In both cases, it was having the opportunity to play again in the defensive system of Pettine.

In a recent story, I wrote how the Packers did in the legal tampering period of free agency. I added this conjecture in the piece:

In terms of what the Packers might possibly do soon again in free agency now that it’s official, my guess is that they will try and bring in a veteran cornerback who knows how to play in the Pettine system and who also knows all about being a Packer.

That cornerback is Tramon Williams. Yes, I know Williams is 35 now, but he is still playing good football in the NFL and would be a solid addition as a stop-gap at cornerback.

Also, in my latest mock draft, published three days ago, I wrote this:

The Packers also need to add a veteran to their young cornerback corp, which also has fourth-year CB Quinten Rollins, who is coming off an Achilles injury. Adding Tramon Williams via free agency would definitely help, as although he is 35, he is still playing well in the secondary (like he did with Arizona last season), plus he has played in the Pettine defensive system in Cleveland.

Well, the Packers did indeed sign Williams and he will definitely help the other players in the young secondary of the Packers. Not only with his knowledge, but also with his play.

Besides Rollins, the Packers also have last year’s second-round pick Kevin King, plus undrafted free agents Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown and Herb Waters.

A former teammate of Williams in Green Bay, veteran Davon House, who returned to play with the Packers last season after spending two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, remains on the free agent market.

Williams will also aid the rookie cornerbacks who the Packers will select in the 2018 NFL draft. I see the Packers picking at least two cornerbacks in the upcoming draft, plus most likely a safety due to the departure of Morgan Burnett in free agency.

Bottom line, Williams will be able to provide the veteran leadership in the secondary that the Packers were desperately looking for. Yes, Williams is 35, but he is also still playing good football, as evidenced by his play in the talented Arizona secondary last season, when he started nine games and had two interceptions and 13 pass breakups.

Post- Free Agency 2018 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst II

The 2018 NFL draft will take place in about five weeks, as it starts April 26 and will last through April 28. This year the location is AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This year’s draft process has already taken us through the bowl games, plus the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) and finally the NFL Scouting Combine.

We are now in the various pro days that the prospects are having.

The Green Bay Packers go into this draft knowing that they will have 12 picks, which includes their own in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus four compensatory picks (one in fourth round, two in the fifth round and one in the sixth round) and another pick in the seventh round due to a trade with Buffalo.

New general manager Brian Gutekunst will be running his first draft with the Packers. He’s already been quite busy, as earlier this month he  traded cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer to the Cleveland Browns, plus the teams swapped picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds.

That trade means that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft and that the Packers will most likely not select a quarterback in the draft.

Then a few days after that, the Packers released wide receiver Jordy Nelson and then signed tight end Jimmy Graham, as well as defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson in free agency.

The deal for Graham is a three-year pact worth $30 million, while Wilkerson signed a one-year deal worth $5 million, plus $3 million in incentives.

Nelson landed on hist feet in Oakland, where he signed a two-year contract worth $15 million.

The Packers had another departure, as safety Morgan Burnett signed a three-year deal worth reportedly $14.5 million with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday.

I did my first mock draft for the Packers a couple weeks ago just as the NFL combine was ending. In this mock draft, I will not be selecting any of the players I selected in the first mock draft.

As usual, I will utilize the expertise and knowledge of NFL scout Chris Landry. I will use his horizontal draft board to guide me through much of this draft, plus I will use the draft boards he has put together for the various positions.

Also, like in the first mock draft, I’m going to emphasize the connection between new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Jim Leonhard of the Wisconsin Badgers.

I believe that the history between the two men, plus knowing Wisconsin had a number of talented players who played under Leonhard and are now eligible for this draft, could mean that the Packers might add a Badger or two in this draft.

While Pettine was the defensive coordinator for both the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, plus when he was in his first year as head coach of the Browns, Leonhard played safety for him for five of those six years. Leonhard was like a coach on the field for Pettine.

All that being said, without further adieu, here is my second mock draft for the Pack.

Round 1: Outside Linebacker Marcus Davenport (University of Texas-San Antonio)

Marcus Davenport II

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

The Packers would have to feel very fortunate if Marcus Davenport is still on the board with pick No. 14 of the first round. On his horizontal draft board (best overall players), Landry ranks Davenport at No. 7.

Landry also has Davenport ranked No. 2 on his defensive end draft board, behind only Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State.

In Green Bay, Davenport would be a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, similar to the role Julius Peppers had when he was a Packer. The Packers desperately need to invigorate their pass rush, which will undoubtedly help the secondary have more success. Davenport would make a big impact in that regard.

In four years at UTSA, Davenport improved over each of those seasons and had 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks, eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles.

At the combine, Davenport put on quite a show, when he ran a 4.58 40, which is remarkable for a man his size.

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

Very raw but an explosive and long pass rusher who can play in a two or three point stance. Love his first step quickness and shows an ability to transfer speed to power. At this point is a first move pass rusher only but will technique development should be a force as a pass rusher in the league. I like his effort and play strength against the run but will need to improve his upper body strength for that to translate as well to the NFL level. He will also have to transition to playing more effectively from a 3-point stance as he loses leverage getting too high. I love his length and body frame. Built like a player I drafted years back in Jevon Kearse but long levered like Jadeveon Clowney. Has the quickness to drop but lacks coverage understanding and instincts. Love his edge and closing speed along with his motor. Best edge speed rusher in this draft with lots of upside.

Round 2: Cornerback Isaiah Oliver (Colorado)

Isaiah Oliver

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 201 pounds

Landry gave Isaiah Oliver of Colorado a mid-to-late second round grade on his horizontal draft board.

Overall, Landry has Oliver ranked No. 5 on his cornerback draft board, behind only Denzel Ward of Ohio State, Mike Hughes of Central Florida, Josh Jackson of Iowa and Jaire Alexander of Louisville.

The Packers really need to add to the quality depth of the cornerback position in this draft, plus get an immediate starter if at all possible. Oliver could be that type of player for Green Bay, plus he could pair up with Kevin King (6’3″, 200 pounds) to give the Packers two of the bigger CB duos in the NFL.

The former Buffalo was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2017, as he had 27 tackles, two interceptions, and 13 pass breakups.

At the combine, Oliver ran a 4.50 40.

This is what Landry said about Oliver after his performance at his pro day:

Isaiah Oliver performed well during the drills on his pro day on Wednesday.
Oliver didn’t have an outstanding combine, but he wasn’t a disaster. It’ll be more about game tape anyways for the 6-foot, 201-pound cornerback, but it was a quality showing for Oliver on Wednesday in Boulder. Oliver posted 35.5 inches in the vertical jump, 10-foot-6 in the broad jump, 3.94 in the short shuttle and 6.85 in the three-cone.

Round 3: Wide Receiver Deon Cain (Clemson)

Deon Cain

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 202 pounds

Landry gave Deon Cain of Clemson a third-round value on his horizontal draft board, plus was ranked No. 9 on Landry’s wide receiver board.

In three years with the Tigers, Cain had 130 receptions for 2,040 yards (15.7 average) and 20 touchdowns.

Cain ran a 4.43 in the 40 at the combine.

With the loss of Nelson, the Packers need to add a receiver or two in this draft, as the future of Randall Cobb is also somewhat cloudy after the 2018 season. Cain would give the Packers a big, fast receiver who can add to the weaponry that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will definitely utilize.

This is what Landry said about Cain at the combine:

Clemson WR Deon Cain ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder possesses an ideal combination of size, speed and route-running, but has struggled with mental mistakes such as drops and false starts over the past two seasons.

David Raih, the wide receivers coach of the Packers, will need to work with Cain on the cognitive part of the game.

Round 4: Running Back Royce Freeman (Oregon)

Royce Freeman

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 234 pounds

Landry gave running back Royce Freeman of Oregon a third-round grade on his horizontal draft board, but there is a chance he could slip a bit and with the Packers having the first pick of the fourth round, he would definitely be a player the team would consider.

Landry has Freeman ranked No. 8 on his running back draft board.

In four years with the Ducks, Freeman rushed for 5,641 yards (5.9 average) and 60 touchdowns. Freeman also caught 79 passes for 814 yards and four more scores.

As a freshman at Oregon, he was named the Pac-12 Offensive Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All-American with 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground plus added 16 receptions for 158 yards and one touchdown.

Freeman was also first-team All-Pac-12 as a sophomore and second-team All-Pac-12 as a senior.

The Packers were very pleased with the production they received from both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones as rookies last year at running back. But you can never have enough running backs in the NFL, especially if one is as talented and as versatile as Freeman is, as he has the ability to be a three-down back.

At the combine, Freeman ran 4.54 40 at the combine.

Landry said this about Freeman in February:

Oregon RB Royce Freeman’s draft slot will be heavily dependent on his work at the NFL Scouting Combine. Freeman gets dinged for having a lot of wear on his tires and for accruing his stats in Oregon’s wide-open offense against thin boxes, but the skill set is extremely intriguing. With a strong showing at the combine, Freeman’s stock will soar.

Round 4 (compensatory): Cornerback Nick Nelson (Wisconsin)

Nick Nelson

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 208 pounds

Landry gave Nick Nelson of Wisconsin a fourth-round value on his horizontal draft board and has him ranked No. 17 on his cornerback draft board.

Nelson played two years for Hawaii before transferring to Wisconsin. In three years combined at both schools, Nelson had 122 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. Nelson did not have any picks, but he did have 41 passes defended.

With the Badgers in 2017, he was named first-team All-Big Ten after after having 35 tackles, 21 passes defended and a blocked kick. Nelson was also the team’s punt returner, as he had 24 returns for 206 yards and one touchdown.

Nelson ran a 4.52 in the 40 at the combine.

Nelson adds to the quality depth at cornerback, plus has the skills to be a future starter. The Packers also need to add a veteran to their young cornerback corp, which also has fourth-year CB Quinten Rollins, who is coming off an Achilles injury. Adding Tramon Williams via free agency would definitely help, as although he is 35, he is still playing well in the secondary (like he did with Arizona last season), plus he has played in the Pettine defensive system in Cleveland.

Landry said this about Nelson recently:

Nelson is not often mentioned among the top corners, but reportedly received a second-round grade from the NFL so evaluators in the league certainly like his game. At 5-foot-11 and 200-pounds, Nelson can likely hang on the outside.

Round 5: Center/Guard Will Clapp (LSU)

Will Clapp

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 314 pounds

Landry gave Will Clapp of LSU a late fourth-round grade, which mean the Packers would have a nice opportunity to grab him with the first pick of the fifth round.

Clapp is also ranked No. 5 on Landry’s center draft board. The former Tiger can also play guard, which is a big plus. That means he can be the backup center to Corey Linsley in Green Bay, plus can possibly start right away at right guard.

In three years at LSU, Clapp shined at both center and guard. He started all 13 games at center in 2017, which got him first-team All-SEC notice. In 2016, Clapp was named first-team all-conference at left guard in 11 games.  As a redshirt freshman, Clapp started all 12 games (11 at right guard, one at left guard) for the Tigers. The New Orleans native received multiple freshman All-American accolades honors from various outlets.

At the combine, Clapp had 25 reps in the bench press drill.

Landry gave Clapp a RED grade, which according to Landry, it means that RED players win for you. They have starter type production at the top level programs. REDS are usually BLUE (top line) in either the running or passing game but fall short in the other. RED players are impact players on top teams.

Round 5 (compensatory): Wide Receiver Allen Lazard (Iowa State)

Allen Lazard

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 227 pounds

Landry gave Allen Lazard of Iowa State a fourth-round grade on his horizontal draft board. But because the wide receiver class is so deep, there is a real possibility that Lazard will last to the fifth round.

Landry has Lazard ranked No. 20 on his wide receiver draft board.

Lazard had a very productive career with the Cyclones. In four years, he had a whopping 241 receptions for 3,360 yards and 26 touchdowns. Lazard was a four-year starter and was named second-team All-Big 12 as a sophomore and first-team All-Big 12 as a junior and senior (coaches).

And even as big as he is, Lazard averaged 19.5 yards returning punts his sophomore year at Iowa State.

Lazard has great hands and would be a big weapon in the red zone for the Packers, plus has the frame to become a pass-catching tight end if he added some weight.

Lazard surprised some at the combine when he ran a 4.55 in the 40.

Landry said this about Lazard at the combine:

Iowa State WR Allen Lazard ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Lazard (6’5″/225) has plenty of size, but there was some question about his foot speed.

Round 5 (compensatory): Tight End Dalton Schultz (Stanford)

Dalton Schultz

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 242 pounds

Landry did not have Dalton Schultz of Stanford ranked on his horizontal draft board, which is only for fourth round or higher grade players at this point. Schultz is ranked No. 8 on Landry’s tight end draft board and was given a fifth to sixth round value.

Schultz does not have the type of speed (4.75 in the 40 at the combine) to be a threat down the seam, but he does have nice hands and is a very good blocker.

In three years as a member of the Cardinal, Schultz had 55 catches for 555 yards and five touchdowns. Schultz was honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2016 and was named first-team All-Pac-12 in 2017.

The Packers need a tight end who can block and Schultz provides that, plus is a very capable receiver.

Landry said this about Schultz at the combine:

Stanford TE Dalton Schultz ran the 40 yard dash in 4.75 seconds on Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. It ranks around the middle of the pack of the other tight ends, which isn’t a surprise since Schultz (6’5″/244) ranks near the middle of the pack among the position to most analysts.

Round 6: Guard/Tackle Cole Madison (Washington State)

Cole Madison

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 313 pounds

Landry has given Cole Madison of Washington State a fourth-round grade, but he could possibly last further into the draft based on other grades he has been given (like NFL.com).

Landry also has Madison ranked No. 9 on his guard draft board, although Madison played right tackle throughout his career at Washington State.

Madison started 47 games at right tackle for the Cougars, as he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a sophomore and junior at right tackle and then second-team All-Pac-12 at right tackle as a senior.

Madison can add some depth at the right tackle spot behind an injury prone Bryan Bulaga, plus can compete for the starting job at right guard.

Madison had 26 reps in the bench press drill at the combine.

Landry said this about Madison at the Senior Bowl:

Gets the most from his ability. Quick, explosive and fundamentally sound. Blocks with good lean, effectively gets his hands into opponents and controls them at the point. Has not played like a powerhouse or great athlete but gets the job done.

Round 6 (compensatory) Safety Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama)

Jeremy Reaves

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 190 pounds

Landry has Jeremy Reaves of South Alabama ranked No. 20 on his safety draft board and with a fifth to sixth round value.

In his career at Alabama State, in which he played both cornerback and safety, Reaves had 301 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 22 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and eight forced fumbles.

The stats of Reaves tells you exactly what he is, a hitter. A solid tackler as well. Reaves was named first-team All-Sun Belt pick and also the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. Reaves was also first-team All-Sun Belt as a junior and second-team All-Sun Belt as a sophomore.

Reaves adds some needed depth at the safety position, especially in light of the loss of Burnett. The two players in line to replace Burnett as a starter opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice.

Reaves did not run at the combine and will do so at his pro day on April 6.

Round 7: Linebacker Jack Cichy (Wisconsin)

Jack Cichy

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 234 pounds

Landry has Jack Cichy of Wisconsin ranked No. 32 on his linebacker draft board and has given him a seventh-round to priority free agent grade.

This grade has everything to do with Cichy’s injury history and not his playing ability.

In 2016, Cichy was playing at a very high level when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle which ended his season. Up until that point, Landry called Cichy the best player on the Badgers that season, even though the Badgers also had a player by the name of T.J. Watt on their defense.

Cichy couldn’t play in 2017 because of a torn ACL.

In 19 games as a sophomore and junior, Cichy had 120 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, six passes defended and two forced fumbles.

“Three-Sack Jack” made a name for himself in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, when he had consecutive sacks on three straight plays, as Wisconsin beat USC 23-21.

Cichy can play inside or outside in the 3-4 scheme, but has been more effective inside.

If healthy, Cichy would be an outstanding partner at inside linebacker with Blake Martinez, who had an outstanding 2017 season for the Packers.

Cichy only did the bench press drill (18 reps) at the combine, but looked very good at the Wisconsin pro day, as he ran a 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle, which would have placed him fourth among linebackers at the combine. Plus, Cichy ran 6.88-second three-cone drill, which would have placed him fifth among linebackers.

Round 7 (via trade): Outside Linebacker Darius Jackson (Jacksonville State)

Darius Jackson

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 242 pounds

Landry ranked Darius Jackson of Jacksonville State 35th on his linebacker draft board and like Cichy, gave him a seventh-round to priority free agent value.

No matter the grade, the talent is definitely there. Jackson won the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2017.

In those two seasons combined, Jackson had 103 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks.

Jackson only ran a 4.87 40 at the combine, which certainly had something to do with his grade.

Still, Jackson is another player who can certainly rush the passer and if nothing else would be a dynamic addition to special teams.

Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson and Boyd Dowler Have Many Similarities

Boyd Dowler Jordy Nelson side by side

Jordy Nelson (left) in Super Bowl XLV and Boyd Dowler (right) in Super Bowl II.

With the Green Bay Packers recently releasing long-time great wide receiver Jordy Nelson, it got me thinking about who was comparable to No. 87 in the annals of team history. The first player who jumped into my head was Boyd Dowler.

Both players had size and speed working for them. Nelson is 6’3″, 215 pounds, while when Dowler played in the 1960s for the Packers, he went 6’5″, 225 pounds. Plus, both Nelson and Dowler had a track backgrounds.

Both Nelson and Dowler were early draft picks by the Packers. Nelson was a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and was the 36th player taken overall, while Dowler was a third-round selection in the 1959 NFL draft and was the 25th player taken overall (there were only 12 teams in the NFL back then).

Nelson went to one Pro Bowl in 2014, plus was named second-team All-Pro that same season.

Dowler went to two Pro Bowls (1965 & 1967) and was named second-team All-Pro in 1967. Dowler was also named the 1959 NFL Rookie of the Year by UPI and was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.

In terms of the Green Bay record book, both Nelson and Dowler appear prominently in the receiving records for the Packers.

In the nine years he played with the Packers (2008 through 2017), not counting the 2015 season when he tore his ACL in the preseason, Nelson had 550 receptions (third) for 7,848 yards (fifth) and 69 touchdowns (second). Nelson also had a 14.3 yards-per-catch average.

In the 11 years he played with the Packers, who were then a run-first team, Dowler had 448 catches (sixth) for 6,918 yards (sixth) and 40 touchdowns (11th). Dowler had a 15.4 yards-per-catch average.

Both Nelson and Dowler also came up big in the postseason.

In 13 games for the Packers in the playoffs, Nelson had 54 catches (first) for 668 yards and five scores (tied for third).

In 10 games with the Packers in the postseason, Dowler had 30 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns (tied for third).

The teams Nelson played on were 7-6 in the postseason, played in three NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

The teams Dowler played on were 9-1 in the postseason, won five NFL titles, including three straight (1965, 1966 & 1967), plus won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Nelson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLV, while Dowler caught a 62-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl II.

Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV (II)

In Super Bowl XLV, not only did Nelson catch a TD pass, but he caught nine passes overall for 140 yards, which is tied for the all-time lead in team history in terms of receptions in a postseason game.

Dowler caught all five of his postseason touchdowns in championship games, either in a NFL title game or in a Super Bowl.

I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Dowler, and although he doesn’t personally know Nelson, he definitely tracked his career, even before he became a member of the Packers.

“I don’t know Jordy, but I followed him very closely,” Dowler said. “I read his bio coming out of Kansas State. He went to a small Kansas high school and what I couldn’t get over was that he wasn’t offered a scholarship. He was a walk-on at Kansas State.

“I read about what he did in high school. He was all-state in football at two positions, receiver and safety I believe. He was an all-state point guard in basketball. Plus he won the 100 meters in the Kansas high school track meet. I ran track in college (Colorado), and kids from Kansas or Kansas State were always good. It was a good track state.

“He did all those things and Kansas State didn’t offer him a scholarship. He was allowed to walk-on and he did and he earned a scholarship.

“I’ve really liked him as a player. He’s 33 years-old now. I was ready to retire about then. He’s a big guy with good speed. He was probably faster than I was.”

I mentioned to Dowler that he had a better yards-per-catch average than Nelson, but he responded with a great observation.

“Jordy did a lot of work inside the 20 or the red zone,” Dowler said.

The player that reminded Dowler of Nelson was Max McGee.

“Max was a college halfback,” Dowler said. “Max was real good run after catch. Max was pretty big, about 6’3″, about the same size as Jordy. Max went about 215 pounds (same weight as Nelson). He could run too, and he was in track as well in high school, I think maybe high jumping. Max was an awfully good athlete.”

As we talked about Nelson’s release by the Packers and he subsequent signing by the Oakland Raiders for $15 million over two years, Dowler was not shocked by the money.

“I’m not surprised,” Dowler said. “They have a former Green Bay person (GM Reggie McKenzie) in management. And I’ll bet Edgar Bennett was right there when Jordy first came out to Oakland.”

Bennett had spent most of the last 25 years in Green Bay, either as a player (five years, 1992-1996 and a member of the Super Bowl XXXI team), player development (four years, 2001-2005) or a coach (as running backs coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for 13 years, 2005-2017) .

When head coach Mike McCarthy hired Joe Philbin to become his new offensive coordinator in 2018, he left open a possibility that Bennett could return to the team in a different coaching role. Bennett declined however and instead took over as the wide receivers coach of the Raiders when he was hired by new head coach Jon Gruden, who had previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001.

Obviously, Bennett had worked closely with Nelson in Green Bay, so that certainly had to be a plus with Nelson signing with the Raiders. Bennett had also been Nelson’s position coach for four years in Green Bay.

“The Raiders have a pretty good idea who they are getting,” Dowler said. “Plus, they are coached now by Jon Gruden (runs a similar offense that McCarthy runs in Green Bay).”

Like Nelson, Dowler did not finish his career in Green Bay as a player, as he played with the Pack from 1959 through 1969. The former Colorado Buffalo explained to me why he decided to move on.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“After the ’68 season, after Vince [Lombardi] left, we just didn’t play the way we had played before in the ’60s,” Dowler said. “We just weren’t the same football team. We had some of the same players, but the nucleus of the team all got old at the same time. The defense was still pretty solid, but we had a lot of young guys on offense.

“We weren’t able to match up with the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. Anyway, after we finished the ’68 season and went to camp in ’69, I just felt down deep that this team had gone through it’s great years and it was about over. In ’69, we were out of the race with like three games to go in the season.

“I kind of decided at that point that I was going to get into coaching.”

Dowler tried to hook up with his old coach in Washington, as Lombardi was now the head coach of the Redskins starting in 1969.

“I called Vince on the phone and told him what I was thinking of doing,” Dowler said. “He said, ‘I just hired Lew Carpenter as my receivers coach. If I had known you were available, I would have brought you here to Washington.’ But that wasn’t an option.

“So I called Don Shula, because he had coached me in the Pro Bowl one year. He told me, ‘I think you would be a good coach, but I just hired Howard Schnellenberger from the Rams, who was George Allen’s receivers coach.’ Shula told me that he would call George Allen and give me a recommendation.

“As soon as I got off the phone, I called George Allen myself.”

Allen quickly hired Dowler to be his receivers coach that year, but the entire coaching staff of the Rams was fired after the 1970 season. But Allen was soon hired to become the new head coach of the Redskins in 1971, as Lombardi has not been able to coach in 1970 due to the colon cancer which took his life on September 3, 1970.

Lombardi had led the Redskins to a 7-5 record in 1969, which was Washington’s first winning season in 14 years. After Lombardi’s illness and eventual death in 1970, the Redskins were coached by Bill Austin, but the team slumped to a 6-8 record. That led to the hiring of Allen, which also led to Dowler coming to Washington as well as the receivers coach.

But that role soon became that of player-coach due to injuries at the receiver position. Dowler wore the same No. 86 which he wore in Green Bay and had 26 receptions for 352 yards in 1971, as the team went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.

In 1972, Dowler strictly was the receivers coach for the Redskins, as the team went 11-3 and went to the Super Bowl, where they lost 14-7 to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Dowler stayed in coaching for the next decade or so, as he was receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973-1975, the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976-1979, wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1980-1982 and then quarterbacks coach for the Bucs in 1983 and 1984.

Dowler later worked as a scout for the Carolina Panthers when they became an expansion team in 1995. By 1996, the team had improved to the point where they ended up playing the Packers in the 1996 NFC title game at Lambeau Field, in which the Packers won 30-13.

The bottom line is not all the players that fans of the Packers grow to love over the years stay in Green Bay to end their careers. They move on to new locales.

It’s happened with Hall of Fame players like Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Jim Ringo, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson and of course Brett Favre.

It also happened with the legendary coaching icons of the Packers, Curly Lambeau and Lombardi.

Having a great player like Nelson move on to another team certainly is crushing to many in Packer Nation, especially since he was cut. But when the dust clears, Nelson will retire as a Packer and end up in the Packers Hall of Fame.

Just like Dowler did, when he was inducted in 1978.

A Scout’s Take on How the Packers Did in the Legal Tampering Period of Free Agency in the NFL

Brian Gutekunst NFL SC 2018

Brian Gutekunst

Well, Brian Gutekunst did not waste a lot of time beginning his tenure as the new general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

First, before the legal tampering period began on Monday, which is now allowed before free agency officially began today at 4:00 pm (EST), Gutekunst made a trade last Friday before the negotiating period with free-agent players became legal.

On Friday, Gutekunst made a deal with a former associate of his with the Packers, general manager John Dorsey of the Browns, as the Packers traded cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer, plus a swap of picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds.

Then on Tuesday, Gutekunst really got to work with three big maneuvers.

NFL Scout Chris Landry wrote about the three moves the Packers made on Tuesday on his fine website LandryFootball.com.

Landry wrote this about the release of wide receiver Jordy Nelson:

The Packers released WR Jordy Nelson. The move clears $10.2 million in cap space and leaves behind a modest $2.3 million in dead money. The 33-year-old receiver is coming off a concerning campaign. Looking visibly slower, Nelson saw his yards per catch crash to 9.1 in 2017. He struggled with both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley under center. Despite his age, the drop off was surprising after Nelson bounced back so well from his torn ACL in 2016. Healthy now, Nelson won’t hurt for teams wanting to take a flier.

It definitely was a gut-wrenching move by Gutekunst to release Nelson, who is one of the most beloved players in recent memory in the eyes of Packer Nation.

Nelson will leave behind some remarkable stats in the Green Bay record book. No. 87 currently is third all-time in franchise history in receptions with 550. Nelson is also second all-time in touchdown receptions with 69. The former Kansas State star is third all-time in 100-yard games with 25.

Nelson is also the only player in franchise history to have three seasons with 13 or more touchdown receptions (2011, 2014 & 2016).

Jordy and Aaron in Super Bowl XLV

Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers celebrate a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV.

The former second-round draft pick in 2008 is the only player in franchise history to be named the league’s Comeback Player of the Year after catching 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016 following a yearlong recovery from a torn ACL.

The 2014 year was a special one for Nelson, as he had 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. Nelson was named to the Pro Bowl squad that year, plus was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and first-team All-Pro by The Sporting News.

Nelson also came up big time in the postseason, as he is the leading receiver in team history with 54 receptions. He also is tied with Edgar Bennett and Antonio Freeman with the most postseason catches in a game with nine. Nelson did that in Super Bowl XLV, when he had nine receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.

It was definitely a tough decision for Gutekunst to make when he released No. 87.

“These are tough days when you have to release a player that means so much to your organization, to your team,” Gutekunst said in a press confernce Tuesday evening. “Jordy Nelson is one of the great Packers to have played here. He was such an excellent player on the field, an excellent player in your locker room, and obviously in the community as well. He’s everything that you want a pro to be and he’ll be missed.”

Probably the player who was affected the most by the release of Nelson was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, not just because of the great duo that they formed on the football field, but also because of their friendship.

Rodgers posted a heart-felt message to Nelson on Instagram late Tuesday night:

“Hard to find the right words today to express what 87 means to me,” Rodgers wrote. “No teammate exemplified what it means to be a packer quite like him. From living in GB full time, his incredible contributions to the city, state, and region, to his consistent, reliable play on the field. Definitely a sad day and the toughest part of this business. There will never be another quite like white lightning. #leader #brother #friend #baller #loyal #champion #legacy #intact #stillcanplayball #backshoulder #1stSBTD”

The move to release Nelson allowed the Packers to bring in tight end Jimmy Graham, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints.

This is what Landry wrote about that acquisition:

The Packers signed TE Jimmy Graham, formerly of the Seahawks, to a three-year contract. Graham appeared headed for a reunion with the Saints, but the sides couldn’t figure out the financials. Graham is coming off his first double-digit touchdown campaign since 2014 but saw his yards per catch crater from 14.2 to 9.1 last season. The drop off came even as Graham was another year removed from his devastating knee injury. Now 31, he required frequent maintenance days in Seattle. Despite his advancing age and seeming loss of a step, Graham is an intriguing pairing with a quarterback who at one point coaxed an eight-score season out of Richard Rodgers. 

According to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, Graham’s deal with the Packers is for three years and $30 million, with $22 million paid out during the first two years of the deal.

Graham will be a big red zone weapon for Rodgers to utilize, as well as someone who can stretch the seam down the middle of the field. Rodgers has taken advantage of that situation before in Green Bay with other tight ends like Jermichael Finley and Jared Cook.

In his eight-year career in the NFL, Graham has 556 receptions for 6,800 yards and 69 touchdowns.

at Lambeau Field on September 30, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Jimmy Graham

Graham has also been named to five Pro Bowl squads and was also named first-team All-Pro in 2013 by AP.

In the postseason, the former University of Miami (FL) star has 22 receptions for 269 yards and four touchdowns. Graham did that in 2011 and 2013 for the Saints and in 2016 for the Seahawks.

Graham was almost unstoppable in the 2011 postseason, as he had 12 receptions for 158 yards and three scores for the Saints.

Before Tuesday was over, Gutekunst also added defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. I had speculated that the team might add Wilkerson back on March 1 due to his past association with the new defensive coordinator of the Packers, Mike Pettine.

This is what Landry wrote about the Packers bringing in Wilkerson:

The Packers agreed to terms with DE Muhammad Wilkerson, formerly of the Jets. Wilkerson shopped his wares on visits with the Redskins and Chiefs, but a reunion with old Jets DC Mike Pettine was always in his best interests. Wilkerson had a very-public falling out with Jets management the past two years, but he remained an effective player on the field, and was dominant during his time with Pettine. Wilkerson is only 28 years old. He’ll add disruptive interior ability against both the run and pass to a defensive front that needed help. 

Wilkerson signed a one-year deal worth $5 million, plus $3 million in incentives, according to Tom Pellissero of NFL Network.

In his entire seven-year career with the Jets, Wilkerson had 405 tackles, 44.5 sacks, 28 passes defensed, two interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery (for a touchdown).

Wilkerson will make the defensive line of the Packers a very formidable force, along with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark.

Muhammad Wilkerson of the Jets rushes Aaron Rodgers

Muhammad Wilkerson (No. 96) of the New York Jets attempts to bat down a pass attempt by Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers in a 2014 game at Lambeau Field.

In terms of what the Packers might possibly do soon again in free agency now that it’s official, my guess is that they will try and bring in a veteran cornerback who knows how to play in the Pettine system and who also knows all about being a Packer.

That cornerback is Tramon Williams. Yes, I know Williams is 35 now, but he is still playing good football in the NFL and would be a solid addition as a stop-gap at cornerback.

I also see the Packers drafting as many as three secondary players in the 2018 NFL draft, one of whom (an early draft pick) will most likely be able to start on Day 1 in the NFL.

Williams played for Pettine (when he was head coach) with the Cleveland Browns in 2015 when he started 15 games at right cornerback.

Before Williams signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2014, No. 38 had a great career with the Packers. In eight years in Green Bay, Williams had 28 interceptions for 428 yards and one touchdown.

Williams had his best year with the Packers in 2010, which is the same season the team won Super Bowl XLV. Williams was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and also had a fabulous postseason for the Packers.

In four games in the 2010 postseason, Williams had three picks for 79 yards and a touchdown, plus recovered two fumbles.

After eight years with the Packers and two years with the Browns, Williams started nine games for the talented secondary of the Arizona Cardinals in 2017.

Yesterday, Williams talked to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN and he commented about being a free agent this year.

“At this point in my career, one of the things I said last year is that I wanted to control the way I finish my career,” Williams said. “I wanted go to a team where I know that has a chance and I want to play my game. That was one of the two things I really wanted to do. I wanted to go to a team that has a legitimate chance and I wanted to play my game because a lot of teams you go to, you get there and then they change up and tell you, ‘Oh, this is how we want you to play, this is what we want you to do.’

“I want to play my own game.”

Williams certainly played his own game in 2010, as he was one of the main reasons the Packers eventually won Super Bowl XLV.

We shall see if Williams does indeed come back to the Pack, but if he still has some tread left on his tires, I believe that he would be a good fit for the team for a couple of obvious reasons.

He knows how to play the defense that Pettine utilizes and he could also add the veteran leadership for players like second-year pro Kevin King and the other young cornerbacks on the team, as well the future CBs selected in the 2018 NFL draft.

It’s also being reported by Adam Schefter that the Packers are also interested in cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who played with the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. Melvin, who is 28, played in 10 games for the Colts last season and had 36 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defended.

The 6’2″, 193-pound Melvin has started 31 games in his NFL career, which has seen stops with the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and the Colts. Melvin was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Northern Illinois by the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2013.

Bottom line, we shall see how this all plays out in both free agency and the 2018 NFL draft for the Packers, but Gutekunst has already left a mark that was rarely seen when his predecessor, Ted Thompson, was GM.

Which is utilizing NFL free agency at an early stage.

Green Bay Packers: QB DeShone Kizer Could Be a Diamond in the Rough

DeShone Kizer

QB DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns looks downfield, as LB Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers applies pressure during their 2017 game, won by the Packers 27-21 in overtime.

New general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers was pretty busy the past few days, as he and the team first hosted free agent defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

On Friday, Gutekunst then made a trade with a former associate of his with the Packers, general manager John Dorsey of the Browns, as the Packers traded cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer, plus a swap of picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds.

The trade means that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft and that the Packers will most likely not select a quarterback in the draft.

In terms of Wilkerson, the former New York Jet is still making a tour of other NFL teams, but has not made a decision yet on where he will play. The Packers have the advantage of having Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator, as it was Pettine who was Wilkerson’s first defensive coordinator with the Jets.

Pettine pushed hard for the Jets to select Wilkerson in the 2011 NFL draft, as the Jets selected him with the 30th pick of Round 1.

While Pettine was his coordinator in 2011 and 2012, the Jets were ranked fifth and eighth in total defense in the NFL, while Wilkerson put up good numbers as well, as he had 118 total tackles, eight sacks, one safety, six passes defensed and four forced fumbles.

Time will tell if Wilkerson will end up as a Packer, but according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the visit by Wilkerson to Green Bay went very well.

In terms of the trade to acquire Kizer, the Packers decided that they have seen enough of Randall’s inconsistent play and also his behavior with the coaching staff.

Case in point, in Week 4 last season versus the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, Randall was benched because of his play and then later was told to head to the locker room because of a heated argument on the sideline with a coach.

After that game, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, a number of veteran players on the Packers told head coach Mike McCarthy to release Randall. But the coaching staff stood by Randall and kept him on the team

Randall was drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft with the 30th pick of that round. Randall had an up and down three-year career with the Packers. At times, he looked very good, but he also struggled with injuries, plus had a number of blown coverage assignments during his time in Green Bay.

Bottom line, Gutekunst and Packers saw a diamond in the rough with Kizer and shipped the enigmatic Randall to the Browns, where he gets to reunite with a couple of people in the Browns front office who were in that same capacity with the Packers when Randall was drafted by the Packers. I’m talking about Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith.

With the addition of Kizer to the Packers, the future of Brett Hundley with the Packers is now in doubt. At the NFL scouting combine, McCarthy did not mince his words when talking about the play of No. 7 in 2017 and the way he was coached.  “Brett Hundley wasn’t ready for what he needed to be ready for,” McCarthy said.  “That’s something that we have to learn from, and that stings.”

It’s also important to note that McCarthy did not keep quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt after the season.

At the time of the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers reportedly had Hundley on the trading block and nearly moved him at one point according to Demovsky. Part of the article says this:

The Packers dangled their backup quarterback on the trade market and came close to making a deal on the second day of the draft. Now it appears they’ll likely hang on to him for another year, but expect them to move him before he enters the final year of his contract in 2018. They believe they can get much more in return than the fifth-round pick they invested in him in 2015.

That might not be the case after the way Hundley struggled at times during the 2017 season in relief of an injured Aaron Rodgers. Hundley was 3-6 as a starter and he threw nine touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions for 1,853 yards. His passer rating was just 70.9.

Hundley was also sacked 29 times, as he had trouble moving around the pocket and going through his reads.

Hundley did run for 270 yards and two scores, but he just couldn’t lead the Packers down the field consistently due to his passing deficiencies.

The Packers expected much more from their third-year QB.

That is also why it has been rumored that Hundley was almost traded recently to the Tennessee Titans according SB Nation- Music City Miracles, via a tweet by my friend Jersey Al, who has some excellent sources.

My guess is the Packers will end up moving Hundley now that Kizer is aboard. The Packers have been high on Kizer since the 2017 NFL draft when the Browns selected him in the second round with the 52nd pick of the draft.

The Packers were considering selecting Kizer themselves with the 33rd pick of the draft, but instead picked cornerback Kevin King. According to Pro Football Rumors, via a tweet by Ian Rapoport, the National Insider for NFL Network and NFL.com, the Packers were definitely considering Kizer with the 33rd pick.

In college at Notre Dame for two seasons, Kizer threw 47 touchdown passes versus just 19 picks for 5,805 yards. Kizer also rushed for 997 yards and 18 more scores.

NFL scout Chris Landry liked what he saw of Kizer prior to the 2017 NFL draft. In fact, on Landry’s horizontal draft board, which ranks players regardless of their position, Landry ranked Kizer 29th on his board. He gave Kizer a mark of 6.4, which means a potential starter and an early second round grade.

at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.

DeShone Kizer

This is what he said about Kizer in his scouting report:

Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-4 1/4-inch and 233 pounds.

His hands are 9 7/8-inchs and may have the most upside of any in the draft but perhaps also the lowest floor. He is built like Carson Palmer but in big moments has performed like Jay Cutler.

Kizer posted a passer rating of 154.7 when using play action in 2016. That play-action passer rating of 154.7 was tops in the country. However, that mark takes a terrifying drop to 85.5 — 62nd in the country, when Kizer was not involved in play action. Legitimate questions as to his pro-readiness have emerged during the draft process, including those of accuracy on the outside and mental makeup. He hasn’t played well under pressure and while the physical tools are all present, his issues are between the ears. The natural instincts for the position and pure arm talent are there if he can land in the right system with the right coach.

He has slow eyes while deciphering the defense. Kizer has all of the traits evaluators look for and played with poise and composure, but the inconsistencies stood out. He is a tick late on a number of decisions when working off his primary read. That plus inaccuracy on outside throws that should be made at the pro level should incite pause for an NFL evaluator.

Kizer is a two-year starter who had a career passer rating of 98.6. He cranks the ball through the tight windows. He’ll stand tall in the pocket. When he’s under pressure he doesn’t move in the pocket as well as you would like.

I see the athleticism and arm talent, but I wonder if he can take hard coaching. Things went downhill in a hurry at Notre Dame.

I think you have to go back and look at the 2015 tape to fully appreciate him. He can make all of the throws and he’s athletic. Plus, he has won some big games during his time there. I know it got a little sideways for him (in 2016), but he can play. I believe he is one of the top three in this class. Kizer is a big, athletic passer with arm talent and movement skills but has played a lot of bad football with the game on the line in the fourth quarter this year. Like all QB’s it is how he is trained in the league and his work ethic and coachability that will determine his success or failure.

There is no doubt that Landry saw a lot of very good attributes while scouting Kizer. Qualities like his size, his big arm and his excellent mobility.  But Landry also saw some flaws that need to be corrected.

In 2017, as rookie quarterback with the 0-16 Browns, Kizer started 15 games and threw 11 touchdown passes versus 22 picks (led the NFL) for 2,894 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of just 60.5, plus Kizer only completed 53.6 percent of his passes.

While that was a tough rookie campaign for Kizer, it’s important to note that left tackle Joe Thomas played in only seven games last season. That’s a big hole to fill from Kizer’s blindside, especially when that player has gone to 10 Pro Bowls and has been named All-Pro six times like Thomas has.

This is what Landry said about the recent trade with Randall going to the Browns and Kizer coming to the Packers:

The Packers acquired DeShone Kizer from the Browns in exchange for CB Damarious Randall.

The deal also includes a pick swap. With Tyrod Taylor coming in and an early-round rookie likely to follow, the writing was on the wall for Kizer in Cleveland. That said, this move is likely a blessing for the 2017 second-round pick, who will get a chance to develop behind one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Despite his rocky rookie season, the book is not closed on Kizer as a starting quarterback. With Kizer on board, the Packers could look to move on from Brett Hundley, who was overmatched as a starter last season.

I certainly agree with Landry on that assessment of his. The book is not closed on Kizer as a NFL quarterback and also that the Packers will indeed try to move Hundley via a trade. If that happens, I could also see the Packers bringing in an experienced free agent NFL quarterback, perhaps someone like Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, who played under Joe Philbin (now offensive coordinator for the Packers) for couple of years when he was head coach for Miami.

It’s important to have a steady NFL veteran in the wings if Rodgers is unfortunately hurt again. Similar to what Matt Flynn did back in 2013 when Rodgers was hurt.

Still, it’s also very important that the coaches get Kizer ready to play. That means hours of film study in the Green Bay quarterback school, which will now be led by new quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr., formerly of the New York Giants coaching staff.

Cignetti not only has to teach Kizer how to prepare as a NFL quarterback, but he also has to earn the trust of Rodgers, who was not a happy camper when the Packers did not bring back Van Pelt as quarterbacks coach.

McCarthy and Philbin have to be part of this teaching process as well. Plus, Rodgers needs to lend support and also his knowledge to Kizer, which is something he has always done for his backups when he was not playing due to injury throughout his NFL career.

Bottom line, Kizer has all the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback. At first glance, looking at his stats in Cleveland, the addition of the former Fighting Irish star doesn’t look too appealing.

Nor did the acquisition of a quarterback named Brett Favre in 1992 for a first round draft pick look too promising. After all, Favre had thrown two interceptions in just four attempts as a rookie for the Atlanta Falcons back in 1991. Favre registered a passer rating of 0.0.

But then general manager Ron Wolf saw enough of Favre’s quarterback play at Southern Mississippi to make the trade.

Brian Gutekunst II

Brian Gutekunst

Apparently Gutekunst saw much of the same of Kizer with his overall play at Notre Dame and with some of the bright moments of his play with the Browns in 2017.

Now I’m not saying Kizer will have a Pro Football Hall of Fame career like Favre had, but he certainly has the attributes to be a fine NFL QB.

Based on the 2017 NFL draft scouting report of Landry, one of the best of the best in the scouting business, Kizer has all the ability in the world to be an effective quarterback in the NFL. For that to happen, as Landry also said, Kizer needs to be trained well, have a strong work ethic and be coachable.

That all should happen in Green Bay, with the coaching staff (McCarthy, Philbin & Cignetti), plus learning from and watching Rodgers.

Time will tell if Kizer is indeed a diamond in the rough for the Packers, but the athletic ability is definitely there for that possibility to occur.