A Scout’s Take on Linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama

Reggie Ragland

Reggie Ragland of Alabama

In the 2014 NFL draft, general manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers was looking closely at the University of Alabama for some help on the defensive side of the football in the first round.

The two players he was looking at to help his defense were linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Although I had the Packers taking Clinton-Dix in one of my earlier mock drafts in the first round, I had the Packers taking Mosley in my final mock draft that year.

But in the actual draft, Mosley was picked by the Baltimore Ravens with pick No. 17 before the Packers had a chance to select him with pick No. 21. No matter, Thompson then selected Clinton-Dix.

I had a chance to talk to NFL scout Chris Landry the next day after the Packers had selected No. 21.

“I didn’t really think Clinton-Dix would be there for you, but I thought about you last night and I knew Packer fans like yourself have got to be really happy,” Landry said.

“This is a perfect example of a guy who knows how to run a draft in Ted Thompson, that works that draft board and good players fall to you. And you knew that the player was going to be a good one, and I thought it might be another guy from Alabama [C.J. Mosley], but this one’s a great one and was a really good pick for them.”

Looking ahead towards the 2016 NFL draft, the Packers are still looking for an inside linebacker to help out their defense. Why? There are a few reasons.

For one thing, the Packers would like to move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, which is his natural position. Matthews has been forced to play on the inside at times over the past two seasons, as the team needed help at that position.

Matthews performed admirably there as well, as he was named to the Pro Bowl squad this past season due to his performance.

Still, outside linebacker is where No. 52 belongs, especially because of his pass-rushing prowess.

If Matthews does indeed move to the outside, the Packers would still have Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington to play on the inside. Ryan performed pretty well at inside linebacker over the last half of the 2015 season, when he was given the opportunity to start.

Barrington missed almost all of the 2015 season because of a foot injury, but he did play very well on the inside in the last half of 2014, when he was teamed with Matthews.

The problem with Ryan and Barrington is that neither player has the coverage skills to cover quicker backs or tight ends.

That is why Joe Thomas usually came in to play on the inside on passing situations.

Which takes us to a defensive player in the 2016 NFL draft, who once again comes from the Crimson Tide and who might be there when the Packers select with the 27th pick of the first round.

That player is inside linebacker Reggie Ragland. I had another opportunity to talk with Landry on Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show. Landry is at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

I asked Landry to compare Ragland to Mosley and also asked if Ragland is a three-down type of linebacker.

“Well, I think Reggie Ragland is a better version of C.J. Mosley,” Landry said. “When he shows off [at the combine], I think he’ll weigh-in close to 260 and he can run. He’s got great range. I do think he’s a three-down linebacker.

“I think he can do a lot in blitz looks as well. He’s going to be an outstanding player. As you mentioned about all the drafts boards, as well as all the free agent boards on the web site, I’ve got them in categories as you know.

“Not just ranked one through eight, but where they [the players] fit. And with the linebackers coming up, I’ll give a sneak preview, he’s going to be first round-graded guy. I think he’ll be in the mid-first round area. I know what you want to know, and I can’t really say if he will or will not be available, as I think it’s going to be close, but I think he would be a great pick if he was there for the Packers.”

As a matter of fact, Landry just posted his initial linebacker draft board today, and Ragland was the third-rated linebacker in the 2016 NFL draft by Chris. The only linebackers who had a higher rating than Ragland were Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame and Myles Jack of UCLA.

I’ll be doing a story soon on Smith. Both Smith and Jones are coming off serious knee injuries which may cause them to be taken later in the first round of this year’s draft. Landry gave them both a 6.9 mark, which means that both Smith and Jones have an early first round value, just based on their talent.

Reggie Ragland III

Ragland was given a 6.5 mark, which means he has mid-to-late first round value. When looking at inside linebackers, this is what Landry looks at to determine the rating a player gets:

ILB CRITICAL FACTORS: INSTINCTS and TOUGHNESS are the two most important qualities needed to play any LB position in the NFL, with INSTINCTS being the most vital. The closer you line up to the ball, the smarter you have to be. ILB’s must see the whole field, recognize personnel groupings and make calls and adjustments. BALANCE is also crucial forILB’s because they must fight their way through a lot of traffic and take on big blockers. The most productive ILB’s play low, bend their knees, unlock their hips, disengage and stay on their feet. They don’t NEED to be fast but need to be able to accelerate quickly. Football in general and specifically linebacker play is a leverage game and the low man usually wins. SECURE TACKLING is critical for linebackers as they must keep their shoulders square, hit on the rise, snap their hips and wrap up. ON FIELD LEADERSHIP is critical for ILB’s as they are the QB’s of the defense. They make calls, checks and rally the defense like a coach. The great ones raise the intensity level and set the tempo of the defense.

1. INSTINCTS/INTELLIGENCE/KEY & DIAGNOSE— having a nose for the ball, ability to read,
recognize and react., good understanding of offensive tendencies.
2. TOUGHNESS— aggressive, strong, physical as tackler,
3. ATHLETIC ABILITY— QUICKNESS— initial qcks, movement off ball, qck after start, quick in pass drops, quickness to step, slide & scrape. AGILITY—ability to turn & get depth in pass drops, ability in man coverage, movement in short & long pursuit, cod & movement through traffic. BALANCE— turn ability and cod under control, ability to sty on feet.
4. STRENGTH & EXPLOSION— strength at pos vs inside run, ability to meet, stack and ward off blockers, arm strength in block protection, ability to play through blocks & handle double teams, ability to overpower, ability to get leverage on a blocker, ability to explode into a tackle.
5. PLAYING SPEED— START— quick on movement, speed to pursue outside run, quick feet & speed in pass drops, ability to cover man to man, speed to blitz & rush from outside COD— able to re-direct body, speed & quickness in short & long pursuit. STRIDE— length, smoothness.
6. COMPETITIVENESS/LEADERSHIP— clutch, confident, in charge, work ethic, game film production,
7. TACKLING— strength at poa vs inside run, quickness, cod to make solid open field wrap up tackles, ability to use strength, leverage and explosion into tackles, hard or drag tackler.
8. SIZE—type of build, growth potential

9. (1) SHED BLOCKERS— ability to physically meet and beat blockers, ability to elude blockers & square up in good body position, use of arms and hands in block protection.
10. (2) INSIDE RUN—- strength to stack blockers, tackle, fill a hole, hold ground on plays at him, close strong, fill quickly, slide down the los.
11. (3) RUN ABILITY/LATERAL MOVE— speed to cover outside run, ability to drop, turn and get depth, cover ability in short and long pursuit and speed to rush from outside.
12. (4) BLITZ/RUSH—EDGE SPEED/QUICKNESS— WLB’s must have explosiveness and ability to rush off the edge.
13. (5) PASS COVERAGE—M/M ON TE or RB– & ZONE— drop ability, man coverage ability, zone feel—ball instincts., can he get depth and width simultaneously.
14. (6) OUTSIDE RUN— lateral speed, ability to read on move, step over trash, maintain leverage on ball, lateral speed and quickness to meet wide plays, must play well behind ball.
15. (7) HANDS— hard or soft, body catch/trap balls, eye-hand coordination, concentration.
16. (8) JAM TE— SLB’s have to be able to chuck and control TE.

Landry didn’t think Clinton-Dix would be available for the Packers to select in the 2014 NFL draft, but he was. Maybe the same will hold true for the Packers with Ragland. Plus, just like Clinton-Dix was in his last year with Alabama, Ragland is coming off yet another national championship for the Crimson Tide.

Reggie Ragland II

There is certainly a lot to like. Ragland goes 6’1″, 260 pounds. In the past two seasons with the Tide, Ragland had 197 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups, one interception, four sacks and three forced fumbles.

Ragland is a downhill, physical linebacker at the point of attack on the inside on running downs, plus can blitz well, both from the inside and outside on passing downs. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl, as he also showed nice coverage skills.

Bottom line, if Ragland is still on the board when the Packers have their selection with pick No. 27 in the first round, it would definitely be a great pick for the team, as Landry reiterated when he talked with me.

A Scout’s Take on the Top Offensive Tackles in the 2016 NFL Draft

Jack Conklin

Jack Conklin of Michigan State

One of the areas that the Green Bay Packers will take a very close look at in the 2016 NFL draft is the offensive tackle position.

The Packers clearly need to get some quality depth at the position. The team found that out the hard way during the 2015 season. Both right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari missed some time due to injuries and the results were not pretty in their absence.

Bulaga missed four full games and parts of another. Bakhtiari missed two full games and parts of another.

The Packers tried Don Barclay at each of those positions in 2015, as he had experience a starter (18 games) at right tackle with the Packers in the past. But even as a starter, it was obvious the Barclay had issues with edge rushers.

To add to that dilemma, Barclay was also coming off an ACL tear in 2014. As an undrafted rookie out of West Virginia in 2012, where he had played left tackle, the Packers saw that his lack of foot speed made him a much better candidate for playing guard. That’s where the Packers initially played him until injuries forced the team into putting Barclay at right tackle.

Barclay is a tenacious run-blocker and he plays until the whistle. Those attributes helped him to make the team in 2012.

But in 2015, in starts at both right and left tackle, Barclay gave up nine sacks in just five starts.

The Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals was certainly the Waterloo moment for the Packers at the offensive tackle position. Bakhtiari couldn’t start due to an ankle injury, so Barclay started at left tackle.

Bulaga started at right tackle, but he injured his ankle during the game and was replaced by Josh Walker and then later by JC Tretter.

The results of those moves became a debacle. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit 12 times, sacked eight times and fumbled three times (two of which were returned for touchdowns). The backup to Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, was also sacked.

Don Barclay

To shed even more light regarding the tackle position, Bulaga has now missed 38 games due to injury in his six-year career. Bakhtiari played on a bad knee almost all of the 2015 season, plus had an ankle injury late in the year.

It’s more than obvious that the Packers must draft at least one offensive tackle in the upcoming draft, and that particular one should be selected fairly early in the draft.

The Packers desperately need a swing tackle who can come in at a moment’s notice to effectively replace either Bulaga or Bakhtiari.

In the 2016 draft, there are four offensive tackles who look to be sure first round selections.

Those players are Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss, Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame, Taylor Decker of Ohio State and Jack Conklin of Michigan State.

I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about those players, as well as Jason Spriggs of Indiana, when I talked with him on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show earlier this week.

Landry agreed about the status of those players, as well as one other player.

“Tunsil’s really good,” Landry said. “Stanley of Notre Dame is really good. Taylor Decker of Ohio State is really good. Jack Conklin of Michigan State I like a lot. Jason Spriggs of Indiana is really good.

Germain Ifedi of Texas A&M is someone I like a lot in sort of a second-round value. I’ll be coming up with my offensive linemen [board] in the next couple of days on the web site.

“Those are the guys that I think are the best. Tunsil, Stanley, Decker and Conklin are in my opinion first-round graded players. Spriggs possibly could be, but I’ve got him more as top of the second at this point.”

Since our conversation, Landry has posted his initial offensive tackle draft board on his fine site.

Both Tunsil and Stanley look to be drafted very early in the draft. Tunsil (7.0) could very well be the No. 1 pick in the draft as a matter of fact, while Stanley (6.9) looks to be a top 10 pick.

The Packers would have an opportunity to perhaps select someone like Decker or Conklin with the 27th pick of the first round, as Landry has them rated each with a 6.5 grade, which means a mid-to-late first round value.

Landry gave Spriggs a 6.4 grade, which he also gave to Shon Coleman of Auburn. That means an early second round value.

Here are the critical factors that Landry looks at when evaluating offensive tackles as he states on his board:

To play OT in the NFL, you have to have outstanding balance, being able to slide and mirror defenders without going to the ground. The ability to recover is essential to play OT as well. Awareness and Toughness are also essential to play the position.

1. ATHLETIC ABILITY— QUICKNESS— initial quickness, movement off ball, quick after start, adjust to movement, quick in pass set, quickness in hands, quick feet to slide and mirror. AGILITY— ability to pull and move down the line, ability to get to 2nd level & downfield, ability to turn his body, adjust on move & make contact on moving target, degree of fluidity in movements. BALANCE—– ability to recover, COD, and overall body coordination, ability to stay on feet.
2. STRENGTH/EXPLOSION—STRENGTH—ability to overpower opponents (upper & lower), ability to sustain, play with good leverage and base. EXPLOSION— ability to pop into a defender with initial contact, ability to flow thru and drive after initial contact, anchor to sustain in pass protection.
3. PLAYING SPEED— speed of player in pads on the field, START—- acceleration & burst off los (line of scrimmage), quickness after start, pulling speed, downfield speed. COD— ability to re-direct body. STRIDE/FLUIDITY— length of stride—type of runner (long/short, smooth/loose
4. COMPETITIVENESS— CLUTCH— win at all costs, wants to be best, plays with confidence and aggressiveness, man in charge WORK ETHIC— works at being best. PRODUCTION— grades well on film, handles assignments and get man.
5. TOUGHNESS—must enjoy getting after people and finishing their blocks.
6. SIZE— minimum requirements, type of build, play to his size, grade body frame, growth
7. MENTAL/AWARENESS— has to be able to recognize and handle multiple defensive front.s

8. (1) SUSTAIN/RUN BLOCKING— ability to handle 1 on 1 blocking.—explosion, pop & strength., gets hi body into correct blocking position, turn his body into his opponent, gets to 2nd level, sustains and prevents opponents from getting penetration, quick footed to block down and get out on his man, maintain balance, adjust to movement, UOH—quickness of hands into defender, strength of hands, hand position, ability to pull—initial move, speed down the los, contact & adjust to movement, ability to execute pulls, trap and down block.
9. (2) PASS BLOCKING— quickness in pass set, first contact, strength/base to sustain vs power rushes, foot quickness & balance to slide and mirror vs speed athletic pass rushers. UOH-quickness, pop and positioning. Ability to recover and re-direct.
10. (3) INITIAL QUICKNESS— movement off ball, quickness after start
11. (4) PULLING/TRAP— initial move, contact, follow through and finish, timing & follow through on trap.
12. (5) UOH/ HAND QUICKNESS— quickness of hands into opponent initially, quickness to move and relocate hands,
13. (6) ARM LENGTH— allows you to lock out and keep defenders at bay—allows you to get away with ideal athleticism if you can prevent defenders from getting into his pads.
14. (7) SECOND POSITION— unless you are an elite LT, you must be able to play multiple positions on the offensive line.
15. (8) FOOT QUICKNESS—SHUFFLE & SLIDE— some can slide but must be able to re-direct and stay front of a defender.
16. (9) KNEE BEND- allows you to remain balanced and stay frontal.
17. (10) DOWNFIELD BLOCKING—effort, angle and adjustment on move.

Bottom line, because of the obvious lack of depth the Packers have at offensive tackle, not to mention how important the health of  No. 12 is to the team, I would almost definitely take either Decker or Conklin if they were still on the board with pick No. 27 in the first round.

Taylor Decker

Taylor Decker of Ohio State

If both were off the board at that point, I would look at other scenarios like I did in my initial mock draft for the Packers from a couple week’s back.

That being said, the grading of these players in not complete. As Landry indicates on his board, there will be some movement which will take place up until the draft, based on more film work study along with mental, psychological and physical testing of each prospect.

That scenario may have someone like Spriggs get his grade bumped up to a first round value.

The next step is the NFL Scouting Combine next week for all the players to try and improve their draft stock. Not only with the work that they will do on the field and in the weight room, but also in the interview process with the various teams.

I’ll definitely be watching the combine and keeping a close eye on the offensive tackle group.

Odds are pretty strong that at least one of those players will be a Green Bay Packer in 2016.

Green Bay Packers: Evaluating the Free Agent Situation in 2016

Ted Thompson II

We are now less than a month away from the start of free agency for the NFL in 2016. That wild and crazy time starts on March 9. It’s not so wild and crazy for the Green Bay Packers though, as general manager Ted Thompson uses a different approach in putting together the roster of the team.

For the most part, under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have become a draft and develop team. The Packers try to sign as many players on their own roster before free agency begins, and only rarely will they try to get free agents who have played with other NFL teams.

But when Thompson has tried the “pure” free agency route, he has hit gold. Examples are Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006, plus Julius Peppers in 2014.

Normally, Thompson prefers to sign “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents. Examples are Tim Masthay, Sam Shields, Don Barclay, Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.

But all in all, it is the NFL draft which has mostly put together the roster of the Packers and that approach has paid some dividends.

Since the alliance of Thompson and McCarthy began in 2006, the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in the regular season in 10 years. In that time, Green Bay has also won five NFC North titles, plus have gone to the postseason eight times, which includes seven consecutive years now.

That also includes a victory in Super Bowl XLV, as well as three appearances in the NFC Championship Game.

Looking at free agency in 2016, the Packers have already signed a couple of their potential free agents when they signed defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion to contract extensions.

The Packers signed Daniels to a four-year, $41 million deal in mid-December and then last Friday signed Guion to a three year deal worth $11.25 million.

Letroy Guion

Letroy Guion of the Packers tackles Robert Turbin of the Cowboys

The Packers still have some work to do as they have a number of other players who will become unrestricted free agents as of March 9. The list includes players like Mike Neal, Mason Crosby, Sean Richardson, Nick Perry, Andrew Quarless, James Starks, B.J. Raji, Don Barclay, Scott Tolzien, Casey Hayward, Brett Goode, John Kuhn and James Jones.

The Packers also have three restricted free agents. They are Lane Taylor, Andy Mulumba and Chris Banjo. Justin Perillo is an exclusive rights free agent.

Currently, the Packers are in very good shape in terms of their salary cap. Green Bay is estimated to be nearly $23 million under the cap. That means they do have plenty of room to sign a number of their own players, plus perhaps even sign a “pure” free agent or two.

Plus, the team has to figure in the money for the 2016 draft class, plus cap decisions down the road, which includes 2017 free agents. Included in that group is Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy, JC Tretter and Sam Barrington.

For the 2016 free agents though, I would think the first priority is to re-sign Crosby. No. 2’s cap value was $3,550,000 in 2015, so he is certain to get more than that in his next deal. But seeing that Crosby is one of the best kickers in the NFL, I would almost guarantee a deal will get done.

It won’t be an easy decision as to who to choose from in regards to Neal and Perry. I can see the Packers bringing one of them back, but not both.

Neal was steady for the Packers last year, but he will be 29 years old in 2016. Plus, his cap hit was $4,250,000 in 2015.

Perry came on strong for the Packers late in the season and in the playoffs. No. 53 will be just 26 and his cap hit was just $2,386,125 in 2015.

Both Neal and Perry have also had their share of injuries in their time in Green Bay. But from a cap standpoint and also factoring in the age, the Packers might tend to lean towards Perry. We shall see.

Another interesting decision will need to be made about Raji. With the signings of Daniels and Guion, plus the development of Mike Pennel, not to mention the upside of Christian Ringo, who is currently on the practice squad, Raji has been put in a tough situation.

No. 90 was having a fine season in 2015 before a groin injury really slowed him down. That being said, if Raji would accept a similar deal to the one he signed in 2015, when his cap hit was just $1,750,000, he could be back with the Pack.

In terms of running back James Starks, according to Pete Dougherty of PackerNews.com, No. 44 is expected to re-sign with the Packers. That being said, Dougherty also didn’t expect the Packers to re-sign Guion, which they recently did.

The running back position is where Thompson might attempt to make a big splash in free agency this year. Matt Forte is not expected to be re-signed by the Chicago Bears  and will be an unrestricted free agent.

Starks played well at times for the Packers in 2015, as he rushed for 602 yards and had two scores, plus had 43 receptions for 392 yards and three more touchdowns. But No. 44 also coughed up the ball five times on fumbles and lost three of them.

The Packers needed a good performance by Starks, as Lacy certainly had an off year, as he rushed for just 758 yards and three touchdowns, plus caught just 20 passes for 188 scores and two more scores.

No. 27 was hampered by the fact that he was overweight in 2015 and was most likely north of 260 pounds. The Packers have told Lacy that he needs to lose thirty pounds going into training camp this upcoming summer. Plus, remember that Lacy will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.

That’s why I believe Forte could be the wild card in this particular situation. Granted, Forte is 30 years old and has already played eight years in the NFL, but he would be a great one-two combination with Lacy, plus he catches the ball better than any running back in the NFL.

The Packers know all about Forte and his skills, having faced him twice a year every season. In his career, Forte has rushed for 8,602 yards and 45 touchdowns, plus has a whopping 487 receptions for 4,116 yards and 19 more scores.

Julius Peppers

The Packers have already brought on a discard from the Bears when they signed Peppers back in 2014, and No. 56 has definitely been worth the signing. In two years in Green Bay, Peppers has had 17.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and picked off two passes, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Peppers could serve as a recruiter to help the Packers snag Forte via free agency. My guess is if the Packers do indeed dip their toes into the “pure” free agency waters, it will be Forte who they will go after.

If that Packers do indeed sign Forte, Starks would be the odd man out.

In terms of the other potential 2016 free agents that the Packers have, I only expect a few of them to possibly come back.

One would be fullback John Kuhn, but only if he accepts a minimum contract again. No. 30’s cap number in 2015 was just $635,000.

Although the offense played well below it’s normal efficiency in 2015, it did improve after Kuhn was given more of a role in it later in the season.

Brett Goode was one of the best long snappers in the NFL during his tenure with the Packers over the seven-plus seasons he played with Green Bay. But after he suffered a torn ACL, he was replaced by Rick Lovato, who did a good job in his absence.

Goode’s cap number was $976,250 in 2015, while Lovato’s was just $450,000. Based on the pay differential, the Packers may side with Lovato in 2016.

James Jones had a great year for the Packers in 2016, after he was picked up after being first discarded by the Oakland Raiders and then the New York Giants.

The Packers brought Jones back to the team just prior to the beginning of the regular season after Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. No. 89 led the Packers with 50 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jones did all that with a cap hit of just $585,000 in 2015.

Even with that, its a long shot that Jones will be back in 2016. Why? Nelson will be back, plus the team still has wide receivers like Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis coming back.

Montgomery showed flashes of being very good before he injured his ankle in Week 6, which eventually put him on injured reserve. Plus, both Janis and Abbrederis showed how good they can be in the playoff game versus the Arizona Cardinals.

Looking at the other free agents, I don’t see any of them returning to the Packers.

Quarless is probably the best blocking tight end the Packers have on the roster, but with Richard Rodgers on the roster, and the expected drafting of a tight end fairly early in the 2016 NFL draft, I see No. 81 moving on.

Barclay flamed out out both right and left tackle when given a chance to perform there in 2015. Yes, he was coming off an ACL tear just the year before, but his performance was not very good, as he gave up nine sacks in limited playing time.

The only way the Packers would even consider signing Barclay is if they decide to play him strictly at guard, which was what they planned to do when they first signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

The Packers also need to look at the ramifications of No. 67’s cap hit, which was $1,542,000 in 2015. No way the Packers will offer Barclay anywhere near that figure if he does come back.

I see Tolzien moving on to find a job as a potential starter at quarterback for some team in 2016.

Hayward is a talented cornerback, especially in the slot, but the Packers have enough depth at the position to allow him to leave.

I see Richardson retiring after suffering his second neck injury.

In terms of the restricted free agents, I would expect that Packers to try and keep both Taylor and Banjo. Taylor was much improved in 2015 when he got his opportunity to play guard, while Banjo was probably the best player on special teams, next to Janis.

Perillo will also probably come back as an exclusive rights free agent.

Matt Forte

Bottom line, expect more of the same in terms of how the Packers approach free agency, except there may be minor shock wave if the Packers make a run and sign someone like Forte.

Forte would help the team in a number of capacities. His skills would certainly help the Packers achieve the No. 1 goal of the team each and every season.

That is, winning the NFC North. By adding Forte, that would definitely tilt the odds in their favor, plus it would also increase the chances of advancing farther in the postseason overall.

Wisconsin Badgers Basketball: Head Coach Greg Gard Needs to Have Interim Removed From His Title

Greg Gard

When Greg Gard was given the reins as interim head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers in the middle of December, he was definitely replacing a legend in Bo Ryan.

In 14-plus years as head coach of the Badgers, Ryan had a 364-130 record. Up until this season, the Badgers never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten in any of the preceding years under Ryan.

The Badgers also went to the NCAA tournament every year with Ryan as head coach. Plus, Wisconsin won four regular season Big Ten championships and three Big Ten tournament championships under Bo.

In the NCAA tournament, Ryan saw his team advance to the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite 8 three times and the Final Four twice.

In 2015, the Badgers played in the NCAA national title game, but lost to Duke.

Ryan was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013 and 2015).

But the 2015-16 Badgers would be different, as the Badgers lost five key players from last year’s 36-4 team, including Frank Kaminsky (National College Player of the Year) and Sam Dekker, who were both first-round picks in the NBA draft.

Ryan announced to the media this past summer that the 2015-16 season would be his last at Wisconsin.

The Badgers had a tough start to their season, as the team went 7-5 under Ryan. Included in those defeats were losses to Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

After a win versus Texas A&M Corpus Christi on December 15, Ryan announced that he was retiring immediately and that Gard would be taking over as head coach on an interim basis.

Athletic director Barry Alvarez said that he intended to do a national search for a new head coach following the season, but that he would also evaluate whether Gard might be his best option to remain as head coach.

Based on the 12 games so far that Gard has been the head coach of the Badgers, I believe Gard deserves to have the interim removed from his title and he should be signed to a long-term contract.

The Badgers have gone 8-4 under Gard, which includes a 7-4 mark in the Big Ten, which includes a six-game winning streak.

The four losses in conference play have been by a combined 15 points.

The six-game winning streak has propelled the Badgers back into the discussion about making the NCAA tournament for an 18th consecutive year.

The Badgers have a very difficult schedule down the stretch, as they will have to play conference road games versus Maryland (10-2), Michigan State (7-5), Iowa (10-1) and Purdue (8-4).

The Badgers also have a road game at Minnesota (0-12), besides hosting Illinois (3-8) and Michigan (8-4) at the Kohl Center.

If the Badgers can win just three of their remaining conference games, that would give them 10 on the season and probably get them another bid to the Big Dance.

The Badgers have responded to Gard and are playing the same tough, smart and tenacious style of basketball that they played under Ryan.

Ryan was a mentor to Gard and one can see that now with the way the Badgers are currently playing. Gard had been an assistant to Ryan at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville starting in 1993, where Ryan won four Division III national championships during his tenure there.

Gard followed Ryan to UWM, where the Panthers were 30-27 in the two years Ryan coached in Milwaukee.

Bo, Greg and the Badgers

Then came the 14-plus year run in Madison as an assistant to Ryan, including when Gard became the associate head coach of Badgers, starting in 2008.

Now Gard runs the entire show. And you can see the current team growing before your eyes.

Yes, the Badgers still have the steady play of junior Nigel Hayes (17.3 PPG), who has definitely become the team leader, along with Bronson Koenig (13.3 PPG), who is also just a junior.

Two other juniors, Zak Showalter (7.6 PPG) and Vitto Brown (9.0 PPG), have definitely stepped up their play.

But it’s been the play of the freshman and sophomores which have really made the difference for the recent resurgence by the Badgers.

Redshirt freshman Ethan Happ (11.9 PPG) has been a force in the paint and one can see how all of the practicing against Kaminsky last year has paid off for him.

Gard has been using his younger players much more often than Ryan did at Wisconsin, and players like redshirt sophomore Jordan Hill (3.2 PPG), freshman Charlie Thomas (2.9 PPG), freshman Alex Illikainen (2.8 PPG) and freshman Khalil Iverson (2.8 PPG) are taking advantage of their playing time.

Bottom line, Gard has proven that he can get the job done running the Wisconsin basketball program. It’s obvious that he learned his lessons very well from his mentor Ryan.

It’s time to remove the interim status from Gard’s title. I believe that day is coming soon, based on the words from Alvarez last week.

“I’ve been impressed with how our basketball team has improved,” Alvarez said. “I think it’s quite obvious. There’s individual improvement, I’ve been very impressed with adjustment and his movements during a game — how he matches players up.

“I spend so much time as a coach, you talk about improving, putting your players in the best possible positions. I see them playing an entire game, winning tough games.

“I’ve been very much impressed.”

Initial 7-Round 2016 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Ted Thompson 2015 NFL Scouting Combine

In terms of the 2016 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) are now over. Those games gave us a chance to look at the many prospects for the upcoming draft.

The actual 2016 NFL draft will start on April 28 and last through April 30. Before then, there are still a couple more steps in which prospects can help themselves in terms of their draft stock.

The NFL Scouting Combine starts on February 23 and after that we will have the various pro days for the players in the draft to try and impress the scouts, coaches and front office-types who will be in attendance.

I will be doing four or five mock drafts before the actual draft. As I noted in the recent story I just wrote about tight end Hunter Henry of Arkansas, I’ve had a pretty good track record predicting some of the players that Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers have actually selected in the draft over the years.

For instance, last year I was correct in my projection that both both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan would be selected in my final mock draft last year.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve become a real student of the NFL draft and it’s great to have built an association like I’ve established with NFL scout Chris Landry.

Landry is one of the best in the business and his insight and knowledge really help me out, as I look at the prospects that I feel would be good fits for the Packers.

The Packers currently have picks in all seven rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, plus are expected to receive two compensatory picks for the losses of Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency.

I’m estimating that those losses will garner the Packers a compensatory pick in the fourth round and also one in the fifth round.

So, without further adieu, here is my first 2016 NFL mock draft for the Packers, also utilizing the compensatory picks.

Round 1: Tight End Hunter Henry (Arkansas)

Hunter HenryHeight: 6’6″

Weight: 255 pounds

The Packers have the 27th selection in the first round of this year’s draft. At this point, I’m guessing that all four of the top offensive tackles in the draft will already have been taken at this point of the draft. I’m thinking the same will hold true regarding inside linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Therefore, if tight end Hunter Henry is still on the board, I’m taking him. Why? The Packers need an additional tight end who can stretch the seam down the middle of the field, similar to what Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots and Greg Olsen of the Panthers can do. That will also open things up for the wide receivers on the Packers.

Think about the Keith Jackson/Mark Chmura combination in 1995 and 1996, when you consider the duo of Henry and Richard Rodgers.

Henry was named to the 2015 AP first team All-American team, as well as being named to the first team All-SEC squad. Henry also won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

In 2015, Henry had 51 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns. In his first two years at Arkansas, Henry had 65 receptions for 922 yards and six touchdowns.

Hunter is definitely the best tight end in this draft, plus he can run-block. Just ask NFL scout Chis Landry:

“I’ve liked Hunter Henry since he stepped on at Arkansas as a true freshman,” Landry said. “I thought he was one of the best tight ends in the country then. He’s very athletic in the modern day game of football where you can play the wide-flex and put him out.

“He’s outstanding in the passing game and he is really good in the running game, because you have to be in the run-scheme that Bret Bielema has. I like him an awful lot. I think he’s good. I think the kid [Austin Hooper] from Stanford is a good player. The kid from Ohio State has had a really good week here, Nick Vannett, who I think is a really good player as well, so keep an eye out on him.

“But I would definitely put Hunter Henry at the top of this group. I think you can get him later in the first round, simply because tight ends tend to move down a little bit, but it wouldn’t shock me if someone in the teens reached for him. He’s that good.”

Round 2: Linebacker Scooby Wright III (Arizona)

Scooby WrightHeight: 6’1″

Weight: 246 pounds

Scooby Wright of Arizona took the college football world by storm in 2014, as the sophomore had one of the better seasons put together by a linebacker in recent memory.

That season, Wright had 164 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one fumble recovery and five forced fumbles. That led to Wright getting a number of awards, including the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Vince Lombardi Award. Wright was also a consensus All-American.

In 2015, Wright was hobbled by injuries to both his knee and his foot. He missed most of the regular season, but was back for the New Mexico Bowl, where he had 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks, as the Wildcats beat the New Mexico Lobos 45-37.

The Packers need an inside linebacker who is adept at stopping the run at the line of scrimmage or behind it. Wright is that type of player. With the addition of Wright, the Packers can move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, while the other inside linebacker spot would be filled by either Jake Ryan or Sam Barrington. Joe Thomas has been playing at the position on passing downs.

I also talked with Chris Landry about Wright and he’s very impressed.

“Scooby Wright is really an outstanding player,” Landry said. “He’s very instinctive. He’s a lot like Zach Thomas, who played for Texas Tech years ago and played with the Dolphins.

“Very good tackler. Fills the holes versus the run very hard. Also has the ability to get to his landmarks in coverage. He’s always in position.

“Some guys are what we call “glute” players. They really do a good job of diagnosing things on the field and being a coach on the field. That’s what Scooby Wright is. I think he’s going to translate very well in that regard on the pro level.”

Round 3: Offensive Tackle Kyle Murphy (Stanford)

Kyle MurphyHeight: 6’7″

Weight: 298 pounds

Stanford runs a pro-style offense and they run a very good mixture of plays in both the passing game and the running game. The offense was very successful, as once again the Cardinal won the Pac-12 conference and the Rose Bowl.

Kyle Murphy was a big reason why. Murphy played left tackle in 2015, plus played right tackle in 2014.

Murphy was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 and second team All-Pac-12 in 2014.

Murphy is a very solid blocker in the running game, plus is steadily improving in terms of his pass blocking.

The Packers desperately need some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. Don Barclay is certainly not the answer. Barclay gave up nine sacks just by himself in 2015, playing in place of both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari when both were injured.

Bulaga has been injury prone his entire career in Green Bay, while Bakhtiari had both knee and ankle injuries which hampered him almost all of the 2015 season.

The Packers need a quality replacement on hand if either go down due to injury. Murphy can fill that role.

Round 4: Linebacker Joe Schobert (Wisconsin)

Joe SchobertHeight: 6’2″

Weight: 236 pounds

The outside linebacker position is in a flux situation right now with the Packers. While it does appear that the Packers will move Clay Matthews back to the position in 2016, there are a number of questions that still need to be answered.

The first question is whether or not Julius Peppers will return in 2016. My guess is that No. 56  and his 10.5 sacks in 2015 will return. But both Mike Neal and Nick Perry will both be unrestricted free agents in March. I can’t see the Packers bringing both of them back.

Both Neal and Perry played well for the Packers down the stretch and in the postseason. It will be a tough decision as to who to keep. The Packers also have players like Jayrone Elliott and Andy Mulumba in reserve. Of the two, Elliott has more upside.

But more depth is needed at the position, especially if you could add a player who can make big plays. Joe Schobert of the Wisconsin Badgers can do that.

In the past two seasons, playing on one of the better defenses in college football, Schobert had 130 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and six forced fumbles.

In 2015, Schobert was named as a first team All-American, as well as being named first team All-Big Ten. Schobert was also named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, plus won the Jack Lambert Trophy.

I also talked to Chris Landry about Schobert.

“The Badger [speaking of Schobert] is a really good pass rusher,” Landry said. “He’s got good pursuit skills. I think he’s an outstanding player.”

Round 4 (compensatory): Running Back Josh Ferguson (Illinois)

Josh Ferguson.jpgHeight: 5’10”

Weight: 200 pounds

Head coach Mike McCarthy laid down the gauntlet recently for Eddie Lacy when he announced that No. 27 has to get in better shape heading into the 2016 season. The Packers want Lacy to lose 30 pounds. When Lacy was at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, he weighed in at 231 pounds. That was good enough for the Packers to draft him. It also tells me that Lacy was probably playing at a weight of something north of 260 pounds in 2015.

Reportedly, Lacy has reached out to Tony Horton, the creator of the P90x workout. We shall see whether or not that alliance, if it should happen, will get Lacy back to the weight he was in 2013, when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

James Starks had a decent year filling in for Lacy at running back and based on reports I’ve read, it looks as though he will return to the Packers, even though he will be an unrestricted free agent in March.

The Packers also have John Crockett on the roster to add depth to the position. While Lacy and Starks are pretty good receivers out of the backfield, especially Starks on screen plays, the Packers could use a player who could really fill that role.

To me, that player is Josh Ferguson of Illinois, who had a real good week at the East-West Shrine Game, which is played right down the road (St. Petersburg, Florida) so to speak from where I live.

Ferguson looked very quick in the practices that week, and is a natural catching the football.

In his career at Illinois, Ferguson rushed for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus caught 168 passes for 1,507 yards and eight touchdowns.

Ferguson also has experience in returning kickoffs.

Round 5: Defensive Tackle Matt Ioannidis (Temple)

Matt IoannidisHeight: 6’4″

Weight: 295 pounds

One of the players who really improved his stock at the Senior Bowl was defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis of Temple.

Depending on what the Packers do on the defensive line this offseason, a player like Ioannidis could add some quality depth.

Both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion will be unrestricted free agents this March. Raji was having a very nice season in 2015, when a groin injury slowed him down. Guion missed the first three games of the season due to a suspension, then started slow, but came on down the stretch late in the season and in the postseason.

I would not be surprised if the Packers bring them both back. The cap hit for the two of them combined in 2015 was just over $4 million combined ($4,235,000).

The Packers also re-signed their best player on the defensive line, Mike Daniels, to a long term deal. Datone Jones had his best season for the Packers in 2015, plus the Packers also like the progress that Mike Pennel made this past season.

In addition to that, Josh Boyd spent the season on injured reserve, while rookie Christian Ringo impressed on the practice squad.

Still, you can never have too many quality players mixing it up in the trenches.

Ioannidis is more of a run stuffer, but can also rush the passer on occasion. In his career at Temple, Ioannidis had 112 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, deflected eight passes, had one fumble recovery and had two forced fumbles.

Round 5 (compensatory): Cornerback Taveze Calhoun (Mississippi State)

Taveze CalhounHeight: 6’1″

Weight: 185 pounds

The Packers will most likely lose Casey Hayward to free agency this offseason, but the team should still be in good shape depth-wise at the cornerback position. The Packers will still have Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde, Demetri Goodson and LaDarius Gunter.

That being said, the NFL is a pass-happy league, and one can never have enough cornerbacks.

In college football, no conference has faster receivers than the SEC conference, which is where Taveze Calhoun of Mississippi State played.

Calhoun was another player who showed off his skills at the East-West Shrine Game practices.

Calhoun also played on one of the better defenses in the SEC and he was part of a great tandem at cornerback, along with Will Redmond.

In his career with the Bulldogs, Calhoun had 154 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 21 passes defended, six interceptions, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.

Round 6: Offensive Tackle Alex Lewis (Nebraska)

Alex LewisHeight: 6’6″

Weight: 290 pounds

Alex Lewis of Nebraska was yet another player who stood out at the East-West Shrine Game practices.

Lewis first played his college ball at Colorado before transferring to Nebraska. Lewis was the team captain for the Huskers in 2015. His dad Bill was a former All-American center for the Huskers in the 1980s.

Lewis was named to the second team All-Big Ten squad in 2015 and was named honorable mention in 2014 by both the coaches and the media.

As I said with the earlier selection of Kyle Murphy, the Packers need to add some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. The Packers found themselves without both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari in one game this season versus the Arizona Cardinals. The results were not pretty. In fact, they were downright ugly.

Round 7: Quarterback Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech)

Jeff DriskelHeight: 6’4″

Weight: 234 pounds

There is a reasonable chance that backup quarterback Scott Tolzien will be leaving the Packers this offseason, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March. As we saw numerous times in 2015 with a number of teams in the NFL, the quarterback play was absolutely brutal at times. Tolzien will look to get a shot as a starter with one of those teams in 2016.

Third string quarterback Brett Hundley was truly fantastic in his chance to shine in the 2015 preseason for the Packers. All told, Hundley posted a passer rating of 129.7 based on 45 completions on 65 attempts for 630 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception last summer.

If Tolzien leaves, Hundley will step up to be come the main backup to Aaron Rodgers. That means the Packers will be looking to develop another young quarterback on their roster.

It would be nice if the quarterback has a strong arm and good mobility, just like Rodgers and Hundley have.

Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech has those attributes. Driskel played in the Senior Bowl this year and he threw a late touchdown pass off his back foot late in the game.

Driskel played most of his collegiate career with the Florida Gators before transferring to Louisiana Tech. In his career with both Florida and Louisiana Tech, Driskel threw 50 touchdown passes versus 28 picks for 7,437 yards.

Driskel also rushed for 972 yards and had 14 touchdowns.

In his one and only year at La Tech, Driskel threw 27 touchdowns passes versus eight interceptions for 4,026 yards.