The Packers Have Options Galore at Pick No. 33

Forrest Lamp

Forrest Lamp

On the first night of the 2017 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers had an opportunity to make my prognostication of them selecting linebacker T.J. Watt of Wisconsin with pick No. 29 become true.

But Ted Thompson and the Packers decided to make a trade with the Cleveland Browns and slide down four spots to pick No. 33, which happens to be the first pick tonight on the second day of the draft. In addition to that, the Packers also acquired pick No. 108, which is the first pick in the fourth round and also the first pick of the third day of the draft.

The possibility of selecting Watt with pick No. 33 became a moot point, when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected the former Badger with pick No. 30.

As much as I thought that Watt would have been an excellent fit at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense run by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers still have some excellent options at pick No. 33, plus they now have extra ammo for later in the draft.

In all of my mock drafts and any of the draft stories I’ve done leading up to the draft, I have relied on the insight and expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry.

Based on Landry’s horizontal (best player) draft board, the Packers still have some excellent options as to who to select with the first pick tonight.

In his horizontal draft board, which he put together on March 23, Landry had 26 players who he gave a first-round grade to. Six of those prospects are still available. Those players and their ranking are No. 7 cornerback Sidney Jones (Washington), who suffered a torn Achilles tendon on his pro day, No. 14 safety Budda Baker (Washington), No. 16 offensive lineman Cam Robinson (Alabama), No. 18 offensive lineman Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), No. 22 running back Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and No. 25 cornerback Teez Tabor (Florida).

A scout’s evaluation of the various prospects is a fluid process and this is what happened with Tabor, as Landry put together he vertical (position) draft board for cornerbacks 17 days after he put together his horizontal draft board.

Tabor ended up falling to No. 11 among the cornerbacks on the vertical board. Instead of a first-round grade, his classification was that of an early second-round value.

So in terms of the six players who Landry gave first-round grades to, I would cross off a number of those prospects for consideration at pick No. 33.

One would be Jones because of his medical situation. Another would be Baker, as he is under 5’10”, and Thompson does not like to select defensive backs who are shorter than 5’11”.

Robinson is not a prime prospect either, as he is primarily an offensive tackle, and the Packers are reasonably deep at that position. Tabor is off the list as well, mostly because of his lack of speed (4.62) shown at the NFL Scouting Combine.

That leaves Lamp and Cook as viable options for the Packers at pick No. 33, as guard and running back are definitely positions that Green Bay needs to address in this draft.

This was after the Packers saw right guard T.J. Lang leave the team via free agency and go to the Detroit Lions, while running back Eddie Lacy used the same method to sign with the Seattle Seahawks.

The day before the draft, the Packers did sign guard Jahri Evans, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, as a free agent. Evans was once one of the very best guards in the NFL, as he was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was named first-team All-Pro four times.

But Evans will be 34 when the 2017 season rolls around, and an exceptional talent like the 6’4″, 309-pound Lamp would be hard to pass up.

Lamp excelled at the combine, where he was fourth among all offensive linemen in the 40, where he ran a 5.00, plus was tied for second with 34 reps in the bench press. Lamp also was tied for third in the broad jump (111 inches) and was tied for fifth in the 3-cone drill with a time of 7.55.

A little over a month ago, I wanted to get Landry’s take on Lamp.

“Lamp is a Zack Martin-type player,” Landry said. “Very athletic. Very smart. Very instinctive. Takes good angles. Best in a zone-blocking scheme. And he is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft.”

Lamp was a four-year starter at Western Kentucky. He started three games at right guard in 2013, before moving to left tackle for the rest of his career with the Hilltoppers. All in all, had 51 career starts.

Lamp was named honorable mention All-Sun Belt as a freshman, honorable mention All- CUSA as a sophomore and then was named first-team All-CUSA as a junior and senior.

Picking Lamp would make a lot of sense, especially with the age of Evans, and also because left guard Lane Taylor graded out as the fifth-best offensive lineman on the Packers last year.

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

Cook would also be a possibility at pick No. 33. The talent of the former Florida State star goes without question. The 5’10”, 210-pound Cook had an outstanding career with the Seminoles, as he rushed for 4,464 yards and scored 46 touchdowns running the ball.

Cook also caught 79 passes for 935 yards and two more scores.

Cook was named first-team All-ACC in both 2015 and 2016, plus was named first-team All-American by the Associated Press and Walter Camp Foundation this past season.

But with all that talent, there are also some valid questions. Cook has had some injury issues with both his hamstring and his shoulder (three surgeries). Also, Cook had 13 career fumbles.

Finally, there are the three times Cook has had run-ins with the law. In each case, the charges were either dropped or Cook was found not guilty.

All that being said, when you run a 4.49 in the 40 like Cook did at the combine, plus when you add the production Cook had at Florida State, there is a lot to like. It’s also important to note that the Packers met with Cook at the combine.

I talked to Landry about Cook and the rest of the Big 3 in the running back class about six weeks ago, which also included Leonard Fournette (selected fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Christian McCaffrey (selected eighth overall by the Carolina Panthers).

“They all have the same grade, but all are different type of guys,” Landry said. “Dalvin Cook is the more complete back. He can run, has more explosiveness and has more make-you-miss skills than Leonard. Much more effective catching the football out of the backfield.”

When the Packers contemplate whether to pick either Lamp or Cook in this exercise, they need to look at the depth of the guard position and the running back position in this draft.

The draft is not very deep at the guard position, while it is very deep at the running back position.

There are also some other options at pick No. 33. I’m going to list four other possibilities. There are still two talented edge rushers available who grade out well by Landry in terms of where the Packers are selecting.

Landry has Tim Williams of Alabama ranked No. 31 on his horizontal draft board, while he has Carl Lawson ranked No. 33 on that same board.

I talked to Landry about those two players about a month ago.

“Tim Williams of Alabama has got some off the field concerns or issues,” Landry said. “Really talented guy who is long and lean.”

When it comes to Williams, it’s a buyer beware situation, as Williams failed multiple drug tests at Alabama. That being said, in his last two years with the Crimson Tide, the 6’3″, 244-pound Williams had 50 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Williams was a second-team Associated Press All-American and All-SEC pick in 2016 when he primarily played defensive end. Williams also showed his speed for his size, as he ran a 4.68 40 at the combine.

Because of his substance-abuse issues, I would not select Williams.

“Carl Lawson is a really good player on third down,” Landry said. “He’s got power and explosion. I’m not saying he’s going to be as good, but boy,  he’s got a little of the qualities of that we saw with Dwight Freeney coming out of Syracuse.”

The 6’2″, 261-pound Lawson played defensive end at Auburn. Lawson had a great year in 2016, as he had 30 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and one forced fumble. In his career as a Tiger, Lawson had 24 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks.

In 2016, Lawson was named first-team All-SEC and was a Freshman All-American in 2013. Lawson missed the 2014 due to a ACL injury.

Lawson ran a 4.67 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 35 reps in the bench press drill.

Plus there are two cornerbacks who the Packers might consider selecting at pick No. 33. One is Quincy Wilson of Florida and the other is Kevin King of Washington.

Landry has Wilson ranked No. 42 on his horizontal draft board and sixth overall in the cornerback vertical draft board. The 6’1″, 211-pound Wilson had 84 career tackles, 26 passes broken up, six interceptions and one forced fumble.

Wilson ran a 4.54 in the 40 at the combine.

Here is part of Landry’s summary scouting report on Wilson:

“A two-year starter at Florida, Wilson was part of a deep cornerback depth chart for the Gators, but the coaches couldn’t keep him off the field – lined up primarily at right cornerback in both press and off-man coverage. He is a big athlete with several of the physical ingredients at the position that has NFL scouts optimistic, but he is more smooth than sudden and struggles to stick with wideouts at the top of routes, especially if he doesn’t disrupt the route at the line of scrimmage.”

In terms of King, long-time beat writer Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote in a recent article that the Packers are enamored with the former Husky. In fact, King is who McGinn projected the Packers to take with their first pick in the draft.

In that same article, McGinn surmises that Cook would probably not still be available for the Packers to select at running back, otherwise he would most likely be the Packers choice as their first pick in the draft.

Although he doesn’t mention it in his piece, I would also believe that McGinn would not have foreseen that Lamp would also be available when it was time for the Packers to select.

There is a lot to like with King, starting with his size, which is 6’3″, 200 pounds. King also ran a 4.43 in the 40 at the combine.

Kevin King

Kevin King

Landry has King ranked No. 15 on his cornerback vertical draft board. This is part of what Landry said about King in his scouting report about the former Washington star:

“King’s height, length and ball skills show up on tape. It’s hard to find corners with that combination of length and movement ability. At his pro day, he displayed a smooth backpedal and was very quick. His combination of size, length, ball skills and speed could make him a late-first-round pick. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and 32 inch arms, King produced a 4.43 forty, 3.89 short shuttle, 6.56 3-cone and 39.5-inch vertical jump, all numbers near or at the top of his position. He checks every box from a frame and athleticism perspective.”

So as you can see, the Packers will have a number of options at pick No. 33. But to me, it will come down to the Packers selecting either Lamp or Cook.

Both are special players who have proven their talent and ability consistently in college. Both also play positions that the Packers really need to upgrade.

At first glance, I’m thinking that Packers will go with Lamp at pick No. 33, as he has a chance to be a consistent All-Pro and Pro Bowl type of player for close to a decade.

But then again, Cook is a phenomenal running back and he also has the talent to win a number of honors in the NFL.

So while I won’t put out a sole projection, I believe that the Packers will be welcoming either Lamp or Cook to their team shortly after 7:00 pm (ET) this evening.

Final 7-Round 2017 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Ted Thompson 2016 Combine II

Well, Christmas day in the NFL is almost here. Yes, the 2017 NFL draft is just a couple of days away.

In terms of the pre-draft evaluation of prospects, we have now seen the bowl games, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl).

Plus the NFL Scouting Combine has taken place and so have the individual pro days. And now the midnight hour approaches for all 32 NFL teams, which includes the Green Bay Packers.

A lot has changed regarding the Green Bay roster since this draft evaluation process started. While all that was going on, I did three 7-round mock drafts for the Packers.

I did my first mock draft back in early February, my second mock draft in the middle of March and my third mock draft earlier this month.

In terms of how the roster  of the Packers has changed over the past several weeks, a number of players have left via free agency. This includes center/guard JC Tretter, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, defensive back Micah Hyde, who signed with the Buffalo Bills, outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who signed with the Carolina Panthers, right guard T.J. Lang, who signed with the Detroit Lions, running back Eddie Lacy, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks, outside linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones who signed with the Minnesota Vikings and tight end Jared Cook, who signed with the Oakland Raiders.

In addition to those players, the Packers also released cornerback Sam Shields (failed physical-concussion) and running back James Starks.

The Packers have however, re-signed a number of their own players as either unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or exclusive rights free agents. This list includes outside linebacker Nick Perry, offensive lineman Don Barclay, running back Christine Michael, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, outside linebacker Jordan Tripp, linebacker Joe Thomas, punter Jacob Schum, running back Don Jackson, wide receiver Geronimo Allison and fullback Joe Kerridge.

And believe it or not, general manager Ted Thompson has actually utilized free agency to bolster his roster. In fact, Thompson has signed four free agents, which is the most he has signed since 2006.

That list includes tight end Martellus Bennett (formerly of the New England Patriots), tight end Lance Kendricks (formerly of the Los Angeles Rams), cornerback Davon House (formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars) and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois (formerly of the Washington Redskins).

House was originally drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft and stayed with Green Bay through the 2014 season, before signing with the Jags in free agency.

The Packers signed Kendricks, House and Francois after each of them were released by their previous teams. That was the same manner in which the Packers had signed players like Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers in the past.

Thompson prefers to sign unrestricted free agents who were previously released by the former teams. Why? Because that way the signing won’t have any bearing on the compensatory draft formula for the following draft.

But when you sign an unrestricted free agent who is still with his current team (like with Bennett), that does factor into the compensatory formula.

Still, the Packers look to get a number of compensatory picks in the 2018 NFL draft, based on the seven free agents that they have lost this offseason, even with the signing of Bennett.

In this final mock draft, just like with the three previous ones, I am utilizing the expertise and insight from NFL scout Chris Landry from both our conversations and also information from his fine website.

I’ve had a pretty decent track record predicting some of the players that Thompson has actually selected in the draft over the past few years.

In my final 2013 NFL mock draft, I correctly predicted that the Packers would select defensive lineman Datone Jones in the first round. In my final 2014 NFL mock draft, I was also correct that the Packers would select wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. I also had the Packers taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round in an earlier mock that year, which is exactly what ended up happening.

In my final 2015 NFL mock draft, like a blind squirrel that finds an acorn, I was right about the Packers selecting both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan.

And finally last year in my final 2016 NFL mock draft, I correctly predicted that the Packers would select offensive lineman Kyle Murphy of Stanford in the draft.

The great information that I get from Landry certainly has helped me put together these mock drafts. Landry is definitely one of the best in the business in his field, plus he and Thompson go back over 30 years, when Landry was a scout for the Houston Oilers and Thompson was a linebacker on that team.

In this final mock draft, Landry will add a scouting summary about each player I select.

Okay, without any further adieu, here is my final 2017 NFL mock draft for the Packers.

Round 1: Linebacker T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 243 pounds

One big reason why the secondary of the Wisconsin Badgers had such an outstanding year in 2016 (except for the second half vs. Penn State in the B1G title game), was the play of the Front 7 of the Badgers.

Nobody was more prevalent in that regard than T.J. Watt. No. 42 had 63 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2016, which garnered him second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Watt also had a great workout at the combine. He finished 12th among linebackers in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.69, plus the former Badger also had 21 reps on the bench press which placed him tied for eighth.

But in the other five workout categories, Watt was at or near the top in every one of those drills.

Watt finished second in the vertical jump with a leap of 37 inches. The Pewaukee, Wisconsin native was also tied for first in the broad jump with Jabrill Peppers of Michigan with a jump of 10’8″.

Watt finished second in the 3 cone drill with a time of 6.79. The former Badger also tied for first with Ben Gideon of Michigan in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.13. Finally, Watt finished first in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.20.

In addition to that performance at the combine, Watt also met with the Packers.

Like his brother J.J., who turned 28-years-old on March 22, T.J. first started out as a tight end in college and then became a talented late-bloomer on defense with the Badgers. The comparisons are striking.

Bottom line, if the Packers do select Watt and if he comes anywhere close to the production of his brother J.J. in the NFL, the team would have to be ecstatic.

With the losses of both Peppers and Jones in free agency, plus with the injury issues with Clay Matthews the past couple of years, the Packers need to add some talent at outside linebacker/edge rusher. The Packers like the upside of Kyler Fackrell, who the Packers drafted last year, but you can never have enough pass rushers in today’s pass-happy NFL.

I know that the Watt to Green Bay bandwagon has been growing for weeks now, but I had the Packers taking Watt in the first round in my first mock draft way back on February 10.

Here is a summary scouting report on Watt by Landry:

“A one-year starter at Wisconsin, Watt made the switch to defense in 2015 and became a starter in 2016, standing up as an outside linebacker in the Badgers’ 3-4 base scheme – his 11.5 sacks as a junior ranks fifth-best in a single season in school history. Although he doesn’t play with elite twitch in his hips, Watt’s initial quickness and play speed pop off the screen, using his violent hands and long arms to work off contact. His aggressiveness is a double-edged sword, leading to both positive and negative plays, but his determination, work habits and competitive drive mirror his older brother and will win over a NFL coaching staff. As long as the medicals check out, Watt projects as a starting rush end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.”

Round 2: Cornerback Fabian Moreau (UCLA)

fabian-moreau

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 194 pounds

In terms of the draft, the Packers are catching a break in 2017, as the cornerback position is one of the deeper ones in this draft. That’s why they can select the best player on their board in the first round and still get a talented cornerback later on.

Case in point is Fabian Moreau of UCLA. Just prior to the 2015 season, head coach Jim Mora, Jr. said that Moraeu was a first-round talent. Unfortunately for Moreau, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot early in the season which ended his year.

But in 2016, Moreau bounced back, as he had 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, as he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12. Before his foot injury, Moreau flashed his talent as a Bruin, as he was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014, with 53 tackles, three for loss, one interception and eight passes defensed.

In 2013, Moraeu was also named honorable mention All-Pac-12. Similar to Sam Shields, he started out on offense in college, as Moreau was a running back initially, but switched to defense.

Moreau looked fantastic at the East-West Shrine Game and also met with the Packers there.

At the combine, Moreau ran a blistering 4.35 in the 40, plus did well in the vertical jump (38 inches), the broad jump (136 inches) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.45 seconds).

Moreau did suffer a torn pectoral at UCLA’s pro day, but is expected to be ready to go by training camp.

The Packers need some more talent and speed at the cornerback position. Moreau provides both.

Here is a summary scouting report on Moreau by Landry:

“A three-year starter at UCLA, Moreau played mostly left cornerback in press-man and off coverage for the Bruins with some experience inside vs. the slot. Transitioning from offense, he didn’t see meaningful snaps at the cornerback position until the 2013 season and his inexperience shows at times with spotty ball awareness and anticipation. But he is patient and coordinated in press with the balanced movements to attach himself to receivers, making it tough for them to create much separation. Although he might never be a playmaker at the position, Moreau has the athleticism and football character to develop into a reliable NFL press-man starter – possible first rounder prior to his pec injury, now likely a second round projection.”

Round 3: Running Back Marlon Mack (South Florida)

Marlon Mack

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 213 pounds

Marlon Mack was a three-year starter at South Florida, where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of those years. In his career as a Bull, Mack rushed for 3,609 yards (6.2 average) and 32 touchdowns.

Mack was also a threat in the passing game as well, as he hauled in 65 passes for 498 yards and another score during his time at USF.

Mack led the All-American Athletic Conference in rushing as a freshman and a sophomore and was named first-team All-AAC in each of his three seasons at USF.

Mack has an explosive burst when running the ball and is very shifty. Has the ability to run away from tacklers, as six of his 15 touchdowns in 2016 went for 43-plus yards.

At the combine, Mack ran a 4.50 40 and excelled in the broad jump with a mark of 125 inches.

Right now, the Packers only have Ty Montgomery as a sure thing at running back. And that is just a year after taking on that position full-time after being a wide receiver his first year with the Packers.

Although the Packers did re-sign Christine Michael as a free agent, he is not certain to make the final roster due to his mental mistakes.

That’s why one or maybe even two rookie running backs could make the Green Bay roster in 2017.

Mack would be a great one-two combination with Montgomery at running back.

Here is a summary scouting report on Mack by Landry:

“A three-year starter at South Florida, Mack was consistently productive for the Bulls with three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, averaging 6.2 yards per rush over his career – leaves USF with 14 program records. He is at his best on stretch and outsize zone designed runs, using his sudden acceleration and controlled feet to bounce between open spaces and race downfield. Mack doesn’t have ideal build, power or patience as an inside runner and is quick to freelance and break runs outside. But that is where he is best on tape, using his instant speed to get east-west and burst outside the hashes. Mack isn’t built to take steady punishment as a feature NFL runner, but he projects as a dynamic scatback – his NFL playing time trajectory will depend on his development as a blocker, receiver and fumbler.”

Round 4: Center/Guard Ethan Pocic (LSU)

Ethan Pocic

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 310 pounds

Ethan Pocic  started 37 games on the offensive line at LSU, 27 at center, nine at right guard and one at left tackle. That bodes well for Pocic about possibly playing for the Packers, as versatility is one of the attributes that Green Bay looks for with offensive linemen.

Pocic was second-team All-SEC in 2015 and first-team All-SEC in 2016, when he also received multiple second and third-team All-American honors.

Pocic knows how to keep his hands inside while pass-blocking and also has nice lateral movement to pick up blitzers or stunts. Even with his size, Pocic has the ability to get to the second-level with ease.

The former Tiger is also athletic enough to be very effective on sweeps and screens.

With the Packers losing both JC Tretter and T.J. Lang in free agency, selecting a player like Pocic who can help out at both center and guard makes a lot of sense.

Here is a summary scouting report on Pocic by Landry:

“Three-year starter who earned Third Team All-American honors in 2016, making 11 starts at center and one at right tackle. Named Second Team All-SEC in 2015 after starting all 12 games at center. Started nine games at right guard in 2014, making three appearances at center when starter Elliott Porter was injured. Started once at center as a true freshman in place of Porter. Stays square, keeps his head on a swivel and effectively seals defenders from the action. Works to bend his knees, has enough strength to turn defenders from the action and is quick out to the second level. Effective with the shotgun snap. Terrific leader on the offensive line. There are a variety of opinions on Pocic as to his next-level potential and the position he’ll play. I see his best spot as OG where he can thrive in a running game that operates in space, but his lack of power will produce some extremely challenging matchups for him at times.”

Round 5: Cornerback Brendan Langley (Lamar)

Brendan Langley

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 201 pounds

Brendan Langley was originally recruited by Georgia as top 25 cornerback nationally.  Played both cornerback and wide receiver for the Bulldogs before transferring to Lamar (FCS) his junior year.

In 2015, Langley had 21 tackles, one interception (for an 86-yard touchdown) and had 11 pass breakups. Langley also played some receiver that year as well, as he had four receptions for 51 yards and a score.

Langley broke out in 2016, as Southland Conference coaches voted him first-team all-conference as a cornerback and punt returner as a senior.

Langley intercepted six passes (tied for third nationally) last season, broke up seven passes and scored twice on punt returns.

Langley also played in the 2017 Senior Bowl.

At the combine, Langley ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all cornerbacks with 22 reps in the bench press and was second in the 60-yard shuttle (11.19 seconds).

Like Moreau, Langley adds speed to the cornerback position, plus will also add some much needed help on special teams, both on the return units and the coverage units.

Here is a summary scouting report on Langley by Landry:

“A one-year starter at Lamar, Langley was more of an athlete than football player most of his career, but showed promising development as a senior boundary corner, lining up primarily in press-man and zone coverages. After he was bounced between offense and defense at Georgia and struggled to see the field, he moved on to the FCS-level and often looked like the fastest player on the field – finished his two-year career at Lamar with four touchdowns (two punt returns, one receiving and one interception return). Langley is raw as blue steak with undeveloped cover technique and route recognition, but his size, athleticism and receiver-like skills are foundation traits for a patient team who can cultivate his talent – mid-round developmental target who can eventually earn a roster spot.”

Round 5 (compensatory): Defensive Lineman DeAngelo Brown (Louisville)

DeAngelo Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 312 pounds

In four years at Louisville, DeAngelo Brown had 107 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

Brown was third-team All-ACC in 2016, plus earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine game.

The former Cardinal is an immovable object and eats up multiple blockers, which would be his job in Green Bay on early downs and in short yardage situations. Letroy Guion is running out of chances to stay in the NFL, and Brown would be a solid replacement in terms of stopping the run.

Brown showed his strength at Louisville’s pro day, as he had 36 reps on the bench press. That performance would have topped anyone at the combine.

Here is a summary scouting report on Brown by Landry:

“A two-year starter at Louisville, Brown started every game at right defensive end in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 base scheme, making his living on the interior. He is a double-team magnet and unselfishly takes on multiple blockers to help keep his teammates clean. Brown has the brute strength to reset the line of scrimmage and squeeze through openings to make stops in the backfield, leading the Cardinals with 13.0 tackles for loss as a senior. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and needs to improve his technical skill to be more efficient with his hands. Overall, Brown is a power-packed gap plugger and has NFL starting potential as a nose tackle in both even and odd fronts.”

Round 6: Running Back Joe Williams (Utah)

joe-williams-utah

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 210 pounds

There were a lot of solid performances by prospects during the East-West Shrine Game week, one of which came from running back Joe Williams of Utah. Williams is part of a running back class that is also exceptionally deep in 2017.

That’s why you could still get a quality back like Williams in the sixth round or later of the upcoming draft. Williams had a phenomenal back half of the 2016 season for the Utes in 2016. This was after a slow start to the season and the thought of retiring from football.

But starting in the seventh game of the season for Utah, when the Utes played Oregon State, Williams went on a run that would have put him in the Heisman discussion had this performance been year round.

In six games to end the season, with opponents like Washington and Colorado on the Pac-12 schedule, Williams rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns. Then in the the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, Williams rushed for 222 yards and another score, plus caught a pass for 56 more yards.

Williams also met with the Packers at the East-West Shrine Game.

At the combine, Williams ran a 4.41 in the 40 and finished second among running backs in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.19 seconds.

Williams has had some definite off the field issues, but nothing like the incident which involved Joe Mixon. Based on the way he finished the 2016 season and also with his performance in the bowl game for Utah, not to mention how he looked in St. Petersburg for the East-West Shrine Game, NFL teams are hoping that he has finally seen the light.

In training camp with the Packers, it would probably come down to Williams competing with Michael for the third running back position behind Montgomery and Mack. I also see the Packers signing a couple undrafted rookie free agents at running back to add to the competition.

This is where being above average on special teams can earn you a roster spot.

Here is a summary scouting report on Williams from Landry:

“A one-year starter at Utah, Williams played football at four different programs since high school and didn’t truly show his potential until the final seven games of the 2016 season, rushing for 1,332 yards over that stretch. He has home run speed and explosive gears to gash defenses once he spurts through holes, running with better toughness than expected. Williams doesn’t have a pro body and his lack of play strength is evident, also creating doubt due to ball security and durability issues. His considerable baggage is the main issue after his abrupt retirement as a senior, abandoning his teammates and creating concerns about his commitment to the game. Williams has the pure speed and athleticism that is NFL worthy, but a leopard doesn’t change his spots and his questionable character will push him down draft boards or off them altogether.”

Round 7: Linebacker Eric Wilson (Cincinnati)

Eric Wilson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 230 pounds

Eric Wilson first played at Northwestern, before transferring to Cincinnati. In three years with the Bearcats, Wilson had 261 tackles, 14. 5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four passes defended, seven fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles.

Wilson was named All-AAC in both 2015 and 2016.

At his pro day, Wilson had an outstanding performance, as he ran a 4.53 in the 40 and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches.

The Packers had Wilson in for a private workout.

I see Wilson playing primarily on special teams, where the 29th-ranked Packers need plenty of help. In addition, because of his tackling prowess and speed, he will also push for playing time at inside linebacker, competing with Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas.

Here is a summary scouting report on Wilson by Landry:

“A former three-star recruit, Wilson started his career at Northwestern before deciding to transfer to Cincinnati in search of more playing time. After sitting out the 2013 season and spending 2014 as a reserve, he became the starting WILL linebacker in 2015 and led the Bearcats in tackles his junior and senior seasons, posting 100+ tackles and earning All-AAC honors both years. Wilson is a magnet to the football with efficient lateral quicks to mirror the run at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t hesitate downhill, but is hyper-focused on the ball and late to locate blockers through his peripherals, getting popped backwards. Wilson displays lower body explosion in his tackles attempts, but his stiff hips encumber his ability to redirect, break down and finish tackles in the open field.”

The Green Bay Packers 1958 Draft Class: Jerry Kramer vs. Ken Gray

Jerry-Ken 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the greatest draft class the Green Bay Packers ever had in their history.

That would be the 1958 draft class. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Jerry Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should most definitely be in Canton as well.

Currie was named All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and went to the Pro Bowl five times, plus was named NFL MVP in 1962.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and for some reason only went to one Pro Bowl. No. 66 was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times, was also named second-team All-Pro twice and was additionally named to three Pro Bowl teams. No. 64 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. Finally, Kramer was named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the only member of that first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, in the 1962 NFL title game in which Nitschke was named MVP, Kramer kicked three fields goals and an extra point in windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7.

That wasn’t the only time Kramer shined under the bright lights of a championship game, as No. 64 played a big role in the Packers winning the 1965 NFL title, as well as the 1967 NFL championship.

Bottom line, that was quite a talented quartet that Jack Vainisi scouted and brought to the Packers.

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

Vainisi always had an eye for talent, as he was the scout for the Packers from 1950 through 1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

But in 1958, there was another member of the draft class who never got the opportunity to shine in Green Bay. That player was guard Ken Gray, who the Packers selected in the sixth round.

In fact, Gray was the last player cut by head coach Scooter McLean in 1958 just before the season began.

Gray ended up signing with the Chicago Cardinals shortly after the Packers released him. Gray had a great career with the Cardinals (the team moved to St. Louis in 1960) for 12 years before finishing his NFL career in 1970 with the Houston Oilers.

While he was with the Cardinals, Gray was named to six Pro Bowl squads, plus was named first-team All-Pro four times.

I had another opportunity to talk with Kramer recently and he gave me the rundown about what transpired in training camp that summer as he and Gray basically battled for one job.

Gray got a head start on Kramer, as he was already in camp for the Packers, while Kramer was in Chicago for the annual college all-star game.

“I was on the college all-star team and Otto Graham was the head coach,” Kramer said. “John Sandusky, who was one of the coaches on the team, had recently played with the Packers as an offensive tackle.

“Sandusky told me that the Packers were loaded at the guard position. He told me that I wouldn’t make that Green Bay team, but I could definitely play somewhere in the NFL.

“So I had that type of mindset when I got up to Green Bay. I was basically just waiting to be traded and my mind was certainly not on the job. Finally, Scooter McLean says to me, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, one day you look great and you work your ass off and take care of business, the next day you are looking over the fence, giggling and laughing. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. And Scooter goes, ‘You’re what?’ And I told him what Sandusky had told me at the college all-star game. So Scooter says, ‘I didn’t draft you to trade you. You are starting Friday night!’

That game was the second-to-last preseason game for the Packers versus the Washington Redskins.

“I played against a kid who had good size, but wasn’t real quick,” Kramer said. “I handled him pretty well and had a good game. The following week the Packers traded two guards (Al Barry and Norm Amundsen) to the Giants.

“Then the last player they cut was Kenny Gray. I knew then that I had made the team and was really excited, so I called home. So I’m telling my wife, ‘I made the final cut! I made the team!’ But right then Hawg Hanner and Jim Ringo came walking by. They hear me celebrating, plus they weren’t happy that the two guys who had been traded were pals of theirs.

Jim Ringo

“So Hawg and Jim take me out for a beer. I’m drinking a beer in a small beer glass, smaller than a usual beer glass. Meanwhile, Hawg and Jim are chewing my ass pretty good, telling me how close they were to the two guys who were traded. I’m standing there at the bar, kind of taking it with my mouth shut and nodding okay, as I’m massaging the beer glass with my left hand.

“I’m squeezing the glass letting my anger and emotions go out that way. All of a sudden the beer glass shattered and the glass flew every which way. Once Hawg and Jim saw that, they figured the ass-chewing was over and it was time to move on from that subject.”

Later on, Kramer was in downtown Green Bay at a cigar/newspaper shop getting some magazines. As he walked out of the shop, he could see Gray across the street.

“So I’m waking to the curb and Kenny sees me and yells, ‘You son of a bitch. You had a no-cut contract didn’t you?’

“And I yell back, ‘What’s a no-cut contract?’

Kramer did not have a no-cut contract and obviously McLean thought that Kramer had a better camp than Gray before making the decision about who was going to be cut.

In an article by Jennifer Fierro of The Picayune from December of 2015, Gray talks about being cut by the Packers.

“Green Bay said, later on in my career, the worst personnel mistake they made was cutting me, which made me feel really good,” Gray said. “(Ray) Scooter McLean was the head coach when I was drafted. ‘I hate to tell you this, (the coach told Gray one day), but I’m going to let you go. You’re a great prospect, and you’re going to play somewhere in this league.’ My heart went to my feet, but what could I say? They fired him at the end of the year.

“Those experiences make you a better person and better player,” he added. “You know what it is to be rejected. It makes you work hard. You’re not so cocky and sure of yourself.”

Based on the talent of both Kramer and Gray, McLean should have kept both players. They would have made quite a tandem at guard over the next decade. As it was, McLean was fired after 1-10-1 season.

Jerry and Fuzzy III

When Vince Lombardi took over in 1959, he saw that the Packers needed another guard, which is why the first trade he ever made was to acquire Fuzzy Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for Marv Matuzak.

Instead of the Kramer/Gray tandem, the Packers had a Kramer/Thurston tandem. So while Gray had a terrific career with the Cardinals, Kramer and Thurston became the best set of guards in the NFL for several years.

Thurston would tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

Thurston won his fair share of individual awards as well. No. 63 was named first-team All-Pro twice, plus was named second-team All-Pro three times.

In addition to that, Thurston played on six championship teams (one in Baltimore and five in Green Bay), while Kramer played on five Green Bay championship squads. Included in that were victories in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Unfortunately for Gray, he never played in postseason game with the Cardinals in his career there.

That being said, Gray was with the Cardinals in 1964 when they played the Packers in what they called the Playoff Bowl for the second-place teams in each conference in the NFL. The game was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, as the Cards beat the Packers 24-17.

The Packers also played in a Playoff Bowl in 1963, when the Packers beat the Browns 40-23 in Miami. But Lombardi never cared for those second-place games.

“Winning is not a sometime thing here,” Lombardi often told the team. “It’s an all-the-time thing; you don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. There’s no room for second place here. There’s a second-place bowl game, and it’s a hinky-dinky football game, held in a hinky-dinky town, played by hinky-dinky football players. That’s all second place is: hinky-dinky.”

That’s why Lombardi’s Packers won five NFL championships in seven years.

Meanwhile, Ken Gray could only wonder what might have been had he made the team as part of that 1958 draft class for the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with No. 44, Donny Anderson

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl I

The 2017 NFL draft is a little more than a week away. We have seen many changes in the draft over the years, but one of the more interesting times in the history of the draft was when the NFL and the AFL were competing against each other for players in the 1960s.

Which takes us back to 1965 and 1966, just prior to the merger of the two leagues.

In 1965, the NFL allowed teams to draft a future player, who still could continue to play one final year of college football before he entered the league. Such was the case of running back Donny Anderson, as the Green Bay Packers drafted the Texas Tech star with the seventh overall pick of the first round in 1965.

Head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi had acquired that pick along with linebacker Lee Roy Caffey from the Eagles, when he traded center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to Philadelphia in 1964.

The 1965 NFL draft was held on November 28, 1964.

The AFL had two drafts in 1965. One was the regular draft, as quarterback Joe Namath of Alabama was the first overall selection of that draft by the New York Jets, while the other was a “redshirt” draft, which was similar to selecting a future pick in the NFL. In the “redshirt” draft, the Houston Oilers selected Anderson with the very first pick in that particular draft.

That situation set up a fascinating period in which the Packers and Oilers bid for the services of Anderson.

I had an opportunity to talk with Anderson last week and this is what he recalled about that period.

“I remember seeing Bud Adams (owner of the Oilers) in his office,” Anderson said. “He had a big huge desk and a black couch. And he’s sitting behind his desk and he says, ‘Son, nobody is going to sign you, so just relax and this will be over pretty soon and you’ll be a Houston Oiler.’

Somebody very close to Anderson also wanted Donny to become an Oiler. That would be his father Jack.

Jack Anderson worked at Phillips Petroleum and while Donny was playing football his senior year at Texas Tech, Adams would fly Jack to all of Donny’s games.

In terms of negotiating with the Packers, Pat Peppler was the main source of contact for Anderson initially. Peppler was the director of player personnel for the Packers then.

It was a difficult decision about where to play for Anderson, as he wrestled with his final judgement for a number of months.

But he got some helpful advice on a flight when he talked with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne.

“One thing that will make the difference in all of this,” Layne said. “Take the money.”

That was important to know, as the Oilers were offering a number of things, which included a couple of service stations, a $235,000 home and a $35,000 swimming pool, while the Packers were offering just cash.

Anderson was accompanied at the various meetings by his brother Larry, who working to become a CPA.

As the negotiations were winding down, Anderson focused on the football part of the situation for both teams.

“With the Packers, I started looking at players like Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg and Bart Starr, plus the fact that Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor were older,” Anderson said. “I thought I had a chance to play there.

“I mean I probably would have started at running back at Houston my rookie year, but they didn’t have a lot of quality players, even though they were a good football team.”

Towards the end of this ordeal, Anderson was feeling family pressure, especially from his dad.

“I know you are doing well,” Jack Anderson told his son. “Everyone is going to love you in Houston, you’re a Texas guy and you went to Texas Tech. I know you’ll do the right thing.”

The Packers flew Anderson in to meet with Lombardi late in the 1965 season, when the Packers played the Colts in Baltimore on December 12. The Packers won that game 42-27 under foggy conditions, as Hornung scored five touchdowns in the contest.

“I met with Vince Lombardi for the first time then,” Anderson said. “I was sitting in his suite watching television. And I started thinking about what my father used to tell me about looking people in the eye. I was obviously a little intimidated and I was looking at the television, and Vince told Pat Peppler, who was also in the room, to turn off the TV because I wasn’t looking at him.

“He caught me there, so I started looking right at him. Lombardi asked me what I was think about doing. I told him that I’m going to try and play, but I told him that Houston’s bid was sizably larger than the Packers and that I was trying to evaluate all aspects of what to do.”

It’s important to know that Anderson was also offered a nice contract by the New York Mets in baseball, while he was going back and forth between the Oilers and Packers about where to play in pro football.

When Anderson finished, Lombardi said, “I’m glad that you are thinking about playing for us. We want you to become a Green Bay Packer.”

That wasn’t the first time Anderson and Lombardi talked however. Anderson recalled when the Packers drafted him on Thanksgiving weekend in 1964. Anderson was at his home in Stennitt, Texas when he received a phone call.

“So the phone rings and I hear, ‘This is the Green Bay Packers, can I speak to Donny Anderson?’ I said hello. And about this time Vince Lombardi’s voice came on and he said, ‘This is Vince Lombardi. What do you think about the Green Bay Packers?’ I said that I love them. And Lombardi said, ‘I hope so, because we just drafted you in the first round.’

At the end, Anderson made a request to the Packers.

“I told Pat [Peppler] that I wanted to get my brother Larry a car and also my mother a car,” Anderson said. “I also wanted a 1965 Buick Riviera, which was a nice sports car back then.”

“So Pat tells Lombardi that and Vince started screaming stuff like, ‘What kind of kid is this! He doesn’t need three cars. You can only drive one at at time.’ But Pat went to bat for me and said, ‘Coach, Donny is really a nice kid. He’s giving one of the cars to his mom. The other one is going to his brother who he is very close to and who is helping him in the negotiations.’ Vince finally agreed with Pat that I was trying to help my family.

“The bottom line was that Houston kept adding things in the deal, but they just couldn’t come up with the money, which goes back to the Bobby Layne advice. When my brother and I evaluated the situation, the Packers gave me the best offer because of the money. But that wasn’t the main reason I went to Green Bay.

“The main reason I went to Green Bay was because I wanted to be with the World Champions. I saw the Packers beat the Browns in the 1965 title game in the snow in Green Bay while I was in Los Angeles, as I was getting ready to fly out for the Hula Bowl in Hawaii.

“So I had to tell my father about my decision. He says, ‘Let’s get this thing over with. Tell Bud you are going to sign with him.’ And that’s when I told him that I had made my decision and I was going to Green Bay. After that, my dad pouted for about two weeks.”

When it was all said and done, Anderson had agreed to a 600,000 contract, which topped the 400,000 contract that Namath had signed with the Jets the year before.

Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson in 1966

In addition to the money they paid Anderson, the Packers also signed fullback Jim Grabowski to a $400,000 deal, as the former Illinois star was one of two first-round picks by the team in 1966, along with guard Gale Gillingham of Minnesota.

Anderson and Grabowski were known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the rookie contracts each player signed.

The money paid out to Anderson and Grabowski did not bother a lot of the veterans on the Packers in 1966.

I talked with Jerry Kramer about that situation recently and he gave me his recollection of things then.

“There was kind of a feeling that Donny was going to replace Hornung and Grabo was going to replace Taylor,” Kramer said. “That we had found their replacements. It was incredibly unrealistic to think you could replace two players like that.

“Donny and Grabo got put into a really difficult situation. Plus, they were also making big money. That’s one of the reasons Jimmy Taylor went to New Orleans. Jimmy was upset over the money. But he was really the only guy on the team that I’m aware of who was upset over their money.

“They both had really great attitudes. They both worked their asses off. They tried to make a contribution to the team and tried to help us win. They did everything you could ask of them. They were really great kids. I had no complaints.

“You just have to be mature enough to say what in the hell would you do if you were in a bargaining position like they were. You wouldn’t say, ‘I can’t take the kind of money.’ Hell no. You would do the same thing. I became a big fan of Donny and Grabo and I enjoyed the hell out of both of them.”

While Taylor wasn’t happy with the money situation and never offered much advice to Grabowski, Hornung was very helpful to Anderson.

“Hornung was the opposite of Taylor,” Anderson said. “Paul didn’t play much in ’66, as Elijah [Pitts] was the starter then. Paul would come to me and work with me on pass plays and the coverage of linebackers on those plays. He also helped me with the power sweep.

Fuzzy [Thurston] and Jerry were very helpful there as well. I’m not bragging, but I just had so much more speed than they did. I had to learn how to slow down on the sweep and get behind my blocks.

“Hornung was really good about teaching me about things like that. He always treated me wonderfully. Fuzzy, Jerry, Max [McGee] and others all did the same thing with me and I was able to mingle with them off the field.”

Anderson didn’t play a lot during his rookie year, as he rushed for just 104 yards and two touchdowns, plus had eight catches for 105 yards and another score. No. 44 also returned 23 kickoffs (23.2 average) and six punts (20.7 average), including one touchdown.

Grabowski meanwhile, rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown and had four receptions for 13 yards.

Both Anderson and Grabowski each saw a lot of playing time in Week 7, when the Packers faced the expansion Atlanta Falcons and won handily 56-3.

I wrote about that game earlier this year.

Grabowski led the team in rushing against the Falcons that October day at Milwaukee County Stadium, as he rushed for 52 yards on just seven carries. Anderson rushed for a touchdown in the game, plus returned a punt for 77 yards and another score.

Donny Anderson vs. the Falcons

It was after that game that Taylor announced his intention of playing out his option that year to a reporter in the locker room. Those comments did not sit well with Lombardi, as he and Taylor hardly spoke the rest of the 1966 season.

In 1966, the Packers repeated as NFL champions again after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 in the NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl.

But the journey was not over just yet for the Packers that season, as the NFL and AFL agreed to merge in the summer of 1966. That merger led to a game which is now known as the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl I, the Packers faced the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. Late in the game, with the Packers holding a 35-10 lead that they would not relinquish, both Anderson and Grabowski were put into the game.

It was at that point one of the more memorably plays of the game took place. But before we get to that play, we need to set up the story.

Before the game, cornerback Fred “The Hammer” Williamson of the Chiefs bragged to anyone who would listen about how he would “hammer” the wide receivers of the Packers in the head with his forearm during the game.

So as Williamson tried to tackle Anderson on a sweep play, No. 44’s knee came up and hit Williamson in the helmet and knocked him out.

Kramer recalls what happened on the Green Bay sideline.

“That was a highlight,” Kramer said. “I remember Willie Wood yelling, ‘The Hammer is down. The Hammer got it.’ We asked Fuzzy about the play later to see if he hit Williamson. Fuzzy said no, than added, ‘Donny must have hit him with his purse.’

The 1967 season would be one of the more memorable ones in the history of the Green Bay franchise. The Packers would be going for their third straight NFL championship, which was something Lombardi stressed immediately at training camp.

There would be a new rookie draft class for the Packers that season and it was the first draft class since the NFL and AFL had merged. I wrote about that particular draft class last week.

Plus there was the fact that both Taylor and Hornung were both gone. Taylor had signed with the Saints after playing out his option, while Hornung was picked up by the Saints in the expansion draft. Hornung never played with New Orleans and instead retired due to a pinched nerve injury in his shoulder.

As the 1967 season started, Grabowski became the starting fullback, while Pitts was the starter at halfback, with Anderson as his key backup. Anderson also took over the punting duties that season for the Packers, as Don Chandler became strictly a placekicker.

The Packers were an injury-ravaged team in ’67, as Starr had a number of injury issues, plus in Week 8 against the Colts in Baltimore, both Grabowski (knee) and Pitts (torn Achilles) were lost for the season with injuries.

Before their season-ending injuries, Grabowski had 466 yards rushing, while Pitts had 247.

Even with those injuries, the Packers still had an outstanding running game that season, as Anderson and rookie Travis Williams filled the void at halfback, while Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein took over at fullback.

The Packers finished second in the NFL in rushing that year, as Anderson chipped in with 402 yards rushing (and six touchdowns), while Wilson had 453 yards toting the rock. Williams added 188 yards and Mercein rushed for 56 more after he was signed to the team at midseason after the injury to Grabowski.

Anderson also hauled in 22 receptions and had three more scores via the pass. No. 44’s nine total touchdowns led the team.

Still, Anderson caught the wrath of Lombardi during the season after a game against the Bears. Anderson scored a touchdown in that game, but was also accidentally kicked in the head by linebacker Dick Butkus on the play and knocked a bit woozy. Anderson stayed in the game however, but he was slow in reacting and was dazed for two quarters afterward.

Anderson didn’t say anything about the head kick by Butkus, so Lombardi had no idea about that situation as he was reviewing film of the game the week after the game.

“Lombardi started off the meeting by going right after me,” Anderson said. “He said, ‘Where’s Anderson? Turn the lights on, Red [Cochran].’ Then he looks at me and says, ‘You were God-awful. I can tell that you don’t want to be a football player. If we had known that you were mentally incompetent, we would have never drafted you in the first round.’

“Coach goes on and on and just keeps beating me up. Finally he says, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. I know you don’t want to be a football player, but I’m going to make you a football player.’ And I said, yes sir. Then he says, ‘I want you to grab a piece of paper and a pencil and when I say something, I want you to write it down!’ And again I said, yes sir.

“So I was writing stuff down during the rest of the film session. Then after the film session, a bunch of us, including Jerry Kramer, were heading into the meeting room, when Lombardi said, ‘Red, get me a cup of coffee with cream.’ Without missing a beat, Jerry says, ‘Donny, did you write that down?’

“Vince started laughing at that, although it wasn’t very funny to me. But Jerry knew Vince after all those years of playing for him. Then Jerry comes up to me and says, ‘Donny, I’ve been there, buddy. I know exactly what’s going on. Just hang in there and you’ll become a better player.’

The Packers finished 9-4-1 in the regular season and won the NFL Central Division. In the postseason, the Packers first had to meet the champs of the Coastal Division of the NFL, the Los Angeles Rams, who finished 11-1-2 in 1967.

One of those victories came against the Packers in Week 13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, when the Rams came from behind to beat the Packers 27-24.

The winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game was set up when Anderson had his punt blocked by Tony Guillory of the Rams.

This is how Kramer described that defeat in his classic book Instant Replay:

I was ready to fall down when the game ended. I contained Merlin pretty well, but I was beat from head to toe. I played about as hard as I ever played in my life, and I took an incredible physical pounding in the middle of the line. So did everyone else; everybody gave 100 percent. Coach Lombardi told me I played a great game, but I was down, blue, disappointed, dejected, everything. I never came so close to tears on a football field.

The site of the playoff game between Green Bay and Los Angeles was at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I wrote about that game in an earlier story.

The Packers turned the tables on the Rams in Milwaukee and thoroughly dominated the game after a rough start in the first quarter. Green Bay won 28-7 and the stars of the game were Williams, who rushed for 88 yards and two scores, while defensive tackle Henry Jordan had 3.5 sacks of quarterback Roman Gabriel of the Rams.

That set up a legendary matchup between the Packers and the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

Not only was that game one of the best games in NFL history and definitely the greatest game in the history of the Packers, it was also very memorable to Anderson.

For one thing, Anderson’s family was there, including his dad.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

Anderson came up big in that classic game, especially on that legendary last drive of the Packers. The Packers were down 17-14 with just 4:50 remaining in the game and had to drive 68 yards for a score.

Before we go into that drive, let’s explain what the conditions were that day at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero, plus if you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

The field was also frozen and it was like playing on an ice rink, as opposed to a football field.

Adding to the drama of that last drive, was the fact that the Packers had minus-nine yards in 31 plays thus far in the second half of the game.

Anderson talked about that 68-yard trudge across the ice at Lambeau.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

Anderson had a number of key plays on that 12-play drive, which included catching three passes for 28 yards. Two of those receptions came after Anderson was tackled for a nine-yard loss by defensive end Willie Townes after Mercein missed a block on a sweep play.

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

After Anderson made the two key catches to get a first down at the Dallas 30, Mercein caught another swing pass for 19 yards and then on the next play scampered down to the 3-yard line of the Cowboys on a give play.

Kramer explained what all had to happen on that play to make it successful, as the Packers were gambling that defensive tackle Bob Lilly would follow Gillingham, as he was pulling on the play.

Lilly did follow Gillingham and that opened a hole in the defensive line of the Cowboys, but a key block still needed to be made.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

After that play, Starr handed the ball to Anderson, who not only got a first down on his run, but looked to many like he had scored.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31-Wedge in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

After the game, the Packers were obviously ecstatic, after winning their third NFL championship in a row.

Lombardi also said something which meant a lot to Anderson after the game. In the locker room, Lombardi told Anderson, “Donny, you became a man today!”

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl II

Two weeks later, Anderson rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown, plus had two catches for 18 yards for the Packers in the 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

In all, Anderson rushed for 3,165 yards in six years in Green Bay, plus scored 41 rushing touchdowns. No. 44 also caught 125 passes for 1,725 yards and six more scores. Additionally, Anderson was named to the Pro Bowl in 1968.

Plus, Anderson became a prolific punter due to his exceptional hang-time, which kept returns to a minimum.

In 1983, Anderson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Looking back on his time in Green Bay, Anderson said it all comes back to playing for Lombardi.

“Coach Lombardi loved his players,” Anderson said. “Coach wanted them to be great and he helped to make them better players. That was his philosophy and it worked.”

A Scout’s Analysis of the Top Cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft

Tre'Davious White II

Tre’Davious White of LSU returns an interception.

Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, the 2017 NFL draft has a very deep and talented cornerback class. The Packers need all the help that they can get at that position, as the defense struggled mightily stopping the pass in 2016.

The Packers were fine at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett manning that position, but the Green Bay cornerbacks really struggled last season.

It all started in Week 1, when Sam Shields suffered a season-ending concussion. A history of concussions forced the Packers to release Shields this offseason. The cornerback position never recovered from the loss of No. 37 in 2016.

It didn’t help that second-year cornerback’s Demarious Randall and Quinten Rollins both suffered groin injuries last season and both players did not play anywhere near expectations, especially after each player had a promising rookie year.

LaDarius Gunter played cornerback as well as anyone last year, but his lack of speed is definitely a concern, especially when he’s lined up against the top receiver of a team. Case in point, Gunter was no match for Julio Jones in the NFC title game this past January, as Jones had nine catches for a ridiculous 180 yards and two touchdowns.

As a unit, the Packers were ranked 31st in pass defense in 2016, as they allowed 32 touchdown passes, while only picking off 17 throws. Opposing quarterbacks had a robust 95.9 passer rating against the secondary of the Packers.

In addition to that, the Packers gave up 58 plays which netted 20-plus pass yards and also allowed 11 plays which netted 40-plus pass yards.

The Packers did address the cornerback position in free agency this offseason, as the team brought back Davon House, who played the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, after being with the Packers from 2011-2014.

House should definitely help out at cornerback in 2017, plus the Packers have to feel that both Randall and Rollins will bounce back after they both had a sophomore slump last season. Gunter can be effective, but he has to be put in the right matchup, not against another team’s No. 1 receiver.

All that being said, the Packers will have a nice opportunity to add to the talent and depth at the cornerback position in the upcoming draft, which is now less than two weeks away.

For this article, I’m going to focus on the cornerbacks who most likely have a real opportunity to be drafted in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL draft.

Once again, I’m going to rely on the insight and expertise of one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry, as we look at the prospects who might have a chance of being selected by the Packers.

Landry has 17 cornerbacks on his horizontal draft board (best player overall) who look to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft. The horizontal board was last put together by Landry on March 23, so expect to see an updated board soon.

Here are the cornerback prospects and their rating on Landry’s horizontal draft board:

Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)- No. 6

Sidney Jones (Washington)- No. 7

Tre’Davious White (LSU)- No. 24

Teez Tabor (Florida)- No. 25

Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)- No. 26

Adoree’ Jackson (USC)- No. 41

Quincy Wilson (Florida)- No. 42

Gareon Conley (Ohio State)- No. 43

Jourdan Lewis (Michigan)- No. 44

Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)- No. 51

Desmond King (Iowa)- No. 52

Cameron Sutton (Tennessee)- No. 70

Fabian Moreau (UCLA)- No. 71

Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado)- No. 94

Kevin King (Washington)- No. 95

Rasul Douglas (West Virginia)- No. 96

Howard Wilson (Houston)- No. 97

As you look at those ratings which Landry has for each player, it’s important to know when the Packers select in the first three rounds of the draft. The Packers have the 29th selection in the first round, the 61st overall selection in round two and the 93rd overall selection in round three.

Landry has also done a vertical draft board for the cornerback position, which he updated on April 10. Here is the order in which he ranked each cornerback:

  1. Lattimore
  2. Jones
  3. White
  4. Humphrey
  5. Jackson
  6. Wilson
  7. Conley
  8. Lewis
  9. Tankersley
  10. D. King
  11. Tabor
  12. Sutton
  13. Moreau
  14. Awuzie
  15. K. King
  16. Douglas
  17. Wilson

You can see that Tabor has fallen a bit on the vertical draft board compared to where he was on Landry’s late-March horizontal draft board.

At this point, we can also take a few of these prospects off the list of who general manager Ted Thompson and the Packers might take, based on where they are expected to be selected and also because of the height of the players.

It’s expected that Lattimore will be an early selection in this draft, most likely in the top 10. The same might have held true for Jones, until he suffered a torn Achilles tendon at Washington’s pro day. That injury will most likely drop Jones to third-round status. The Packers might consider Jones there, but I would tend to doubt it based on the type of injury Jones suffered.

There are also three players in this group who only stand 5’10”. Thompson has never drafted a cornerback who was shorter than 5’11” in 12 drafts with the team.

Therefore, I’m eliminating these players from consideration. The players are Adoree’ Jackson, Jourdan Lewis and Desmond King.

That leaves us with 12 cornerback prospects still under consideration. Let’s take a look at each of them, as Landry will comment on each player.

Mid to Late 1st Round Value

Tre’Davious White (LSU)

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 192 pounds

40 time: 4.47

SUMMARY: A four-year starter at LSU, White lined up primarily at right corner and nickelback in the Tigers’ secondary and benefited greatly by returning for his senior season, becoming a more consistent player – also played on special teams as a gunner and punt returner. He has the combination of lower body athleticism and cover awareness to stay in phase and make plays on the ball. His aggressiveness shows in coverage and run support, but also hurts him at times in both areas, especially with his hands-on approach downfield. White is confident in both man and zone coverages with a high football aptitude, although he appears more comfortable in press-man where he can mirror and stay attached to routes – projects as a NFL starter early in his career.

Marlon Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey of Alabama in the National Championship Game versus Clemson in Tampa.

Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 197 pounds

40 time: 4.41

SUMMARY: A two-year starter at Alabama, Humphrey is comfortable in press-man and zone coverages, lining up primarily on the left side of the formation – fell short of All-SEC honors during his time in Tuscaloosa. He has first round traits with his frame, athleticism and aggressiveness, never allowing the receiver to get comfortable in his routes. However, to invest a first round pick on Humphrey, a NFL team must believe he will improve his downfield technique and ball awareness to limit home run plays – easier said than done, but he competes with the self-assured confidence and mental toughness to be a better finisher. Overall, Humphrey has the prototypical traits and cover potential to be a blanket NFL cornerback.

Early 2nd Round Value

Quincy Wilson (Florida)

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 211 pounds

40 time: 4.54

SUMMARY: A two-year starter at Florida, Wilson was part of a deep cornerback depth chart for the Gators, but the coaches couldn’t keep him off the field – lined up primarily at right cornerback in both press and off-man coverage. He is a big athlete with several of the physical ingredients at the position that has NFL scouts optimistic, but he is more smooth than sudden and struggles to stick with wideouts at the top of routes, especially if he doesn’t disrupt the route at the line of scrimmage. Although he has the ball skills and awareness to make impact plays in coverage, Wilson often takes too many chances, leading to mistakes and receivers gaining easy separation. He also has the size and toughness to be a reliable run defender, but his streaky tackling mechanics allowed offenses to run at him with success. While there is plenty to like about him as a cornerback prospect, Wilson has the skill-set that might be better suited at safety.

Gareon Conley (Ohio State)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 195 pounds

40 time: 4.44

SUMMARY: A two-year starter at Ohio State, Conley often played on an island in the Buckeyes’ press-quarters cover scheme, adding slot corner duties to his résumé in 2016 – much better outside corner than on the inside. Although not on the same level as Marshon Lattimore athletically, he moves very well for his size and consistently stays within arm’s length of his man. However, Conley plays on his heels too much with his momentum taking him backwards, making him a tick slow attacking plays in front of him and allowing savvy route runners to eat him up. Projecting him to the next level, Conley isn’t elite in any one area, but is solid across the board and doesn’t have any major deficiency that should keep him from being a steady, scheme-versatile NFL starter.

Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 191 pounds

40 time: 4.40

SUMMARY: A two-year starter at Clemson, Tankersley played the boundary cornerback position for the Tigers, lining up in both press and off coverage. However, there was a substantial difference in his production and effectiveness when asked to jam or drop/bail, doing his best work as a press-man corner. A physical athlete, Tankersley is built well for the position with the length to disrupt routes and receiver-like skills to play the ball at the catch point. However, his hands-on approach is both a strength and weakness and he won’t survive in the NFL unless he improves his hand tactics and timing downfield to avoid penalties. For a team who wants a cornerback well-versed with various techniques, Tankersley might not be for them, but for a press-heavy team, he is a possible first round pick.

Teez Tabor (Florida)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 199 pounds

40 time: 4.62

SUMMARY: A three-year starter at Florida, Tabor lined up in press-man, off and zone coverages at left and right cornerback for the Gators, posting excellent ball production with 37 passes defended and nine interceptions in Gainesville. Tabor competes with great instincts and the position appears to come naturally to him, playing relaxed, trusting his process and having fun. His lack of top-end speed, technical refinement and discipline are concerns for the next level, but his confidence and slick ball skills are outstanding. Although his brazen personality will be received differently, Tabor is a good-sized athlete with the natural feel in coverage and competitive swagger to make plays on the ball – on-field talent is first round worthy, but speed and maturity issues will drop him down draft boards, fitting best in a zone-heavy scheme.

Mid to late 2nd Round Value

Cameron Sutton (Tennessee)

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 188 pounds

40 time: 4.52

SUMMARY: A four-year starter at Tennessee, Sutton lined up in man and zone coverages as the left cornerback for the Vols, entering the NFL with 45 career starts under his belt in the SEC – holds the school record with 37 career passes defended. Although not a twitchy athlete with elite top-end speed, Sutton is very composed in his movements with enough play speed to stick to receivers without drawing penalty flags. There isn’t much flash to his skill-set with only average measureables, but it is easy to appreciate his high football aptitude and natural feel in coverage to limit explosive plays – shows NFL starting potential, but at worst provides reliable depth on the cornerback depth chart.

Fabian Moreau (UCLA)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 206 pounds

40 time: 4.35

SUMMARY: A three-year starter at UCLA, Moreau played mostly left cornerback in press-man and off coverage for the Bruins with some experience inside vs. the slot. Transitioning from offense, he didn’t see meaningful snaps at the cornerback position until the 2013 season and his inexperience shows at times with spotty ball awareness and anticipation. But he is patient and coordinated in press with the balanced movements to attach himself to receivers, making it tough for them to create much separation. Although he might never be a playmaker at the position, Moreau has the athleticism and football character to develop into a reliable NFL press-man starter – possible first rounder prior to his pec injury, now likely a second round projection.

fabian-moreau

Fabian Moreau returns an interception versus USC.

3rd Round Value

Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado)

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 202 pounds

40 time: 4.43

SUMMARY: A four-year starter at Colorado, Awuzie has been a staple of the CU secondary the past four seasons, spending time at every possible position both inside and outside and at cornerback and safety – shared team MVP honors with quarterback Sefo Liufau after his senior season. He is a fluid athlete with the feet and body control to mirror receivers and seamlessly transition with various routes. While toughness isn’t a question mark, Awuzie doesn’t have ideal size/length/strength measurements for the next level and those limitations will show on film, mostly in the run game, however, he is one of the better blitzing corners in the draft class. Overall, Awuzie has only average speed and ball skills, but his versatile athleticism, football intelligence and competitive nature will be welcomed on a NFL depth chart, projecting best as a nickel back.

Kevin King (Washington)

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 200 pounds

40 time: 4.43

SUMMARY: A three-year starter at Washington, King started at safety before moving to right cornerback his final two seasons for the Huskies, playing different variations of both press and zone coverages – finished fourth in the Pac-12 in passes defended (15) as a senior. His thin-boned, slight frame immediately stands out, but so does his exception height and length for the position, valuable inches that gives him an advantage at the catch point. While his lack of play strength does show in coverage and vs. the run, King has the light athleticism, ball skills and budding route anticipation to become a NFL starter, especially in a press-heavy scheme or for a team who values length at the position – borderline top-40 draft selection.

Rasul Douglas (West Virginia)

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 209 pounds

40 time: 4.59

SUMMARY: A one-year starter at West Virginia, Douglas lined up primarily at right cornerback in press-man coverage for the Mountaineers, emerging as one of the Big 12’s best defensive backs during the 2016 campaign – tied for the FBS-lead with eight interceptions. He is impressive on the hoof due to his measureables, using his length to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage and crowd the catch point downfield. While tough-minded and physical, Douglas requires technique and discipline maintenance in press and off-coverage to better put himself in position to make plays on the ball and avoid penalties. Although he clearly lacks seasoning, Douglas should improve with more experience and shows NFL starter potential – will be appealing to press-heavy teams as a possible top-100 pick.

Howard Wilson (Houston)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 184 pounds

40 time: 4.57

SUMMARY: A one-year starter at Houston, Wilson lined up primarily at left cornerback in off-man and zone coverages, showing flashes as a true freshman in 2014 before his breakout season in 2016 – ranked second in the AAC in passes defended (15) and interceptions (five). He is a good-sized athlete with the balanced feet, confidence and ballhawking skills to take chances, but too often plays outside the system in his attempt to create turnovers, which leads to mistakes. Although he needs to clean up reckless tendencies in both run support and coverage, Wilson is always ball searching and flashes down-the-road starting traits.

The 1967 Draft Class of the Green Bay Packers

Bob Hyland about to snap to Don Horn in '68 vs. Bears

Center Bob Hyland prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Don Horn, as the Green Bay Packers played the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in 1968.

The 1967 season was a special one in the legacy of Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers. That season tuned out to be the last season that Lombardi would coach the Packers, plus it was also the year that the Packers won their third straight NFL title, as well as their second straight Super Bowl.

The three straight NFL championships has never been duplicated in any era since the postseason playoff system started in the NFL in 1933. Overall, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi (including Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II), culminating in the glorious season of 1967.

That season was masterfully chronicled by right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers, as he would recite his thoughts into a tape recorder and then submit those words to Dick Schaap, who edited the words into the final version of the classic book, Instant Replay.

I described how that wonderful book was put together in a piece I wrote last summer.

But before the season began, the NFL held it’s annual draft on March 14, 1967. That draft was 50 years ago last month. How time flies. In those days, the draft lasted 17 rounds.

If you thought 17 rounds seems long compared to the current NFL practice of seven rounds, you should look back when Kramer was drafted in 1958. Then the NFL draft was 30 rounds. Yes, you read that right. 30 rounds! Anyway, that particular draft was the best one the Packers ever had. I documented that in a recent story.

But the 1967 draft brought some very talented players to Green Bay as well. In the first round of that draft, the Packers selected center/guard Bob Hyland of Boston College with the ninth overall pick of the draft.

Lombardi (who was also general manger) acquired that pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for offensive tackle Lloyd Voss and defensive end Tony Jeter.

The Packers also had another selection in the first round in 1967, which was their own pick, and the Packers selected quarterback Don Horn of San Diego State with pick No. 25 in the first round.

In all, the Packers had six players from that draft make the team in 1967. They were Hyland and Horn obviously, as well as linebacker Jim Flanigan of Pittsburgh (second round), cornerback John Rowser of Michigan (third round), running back/kick returner Travis Williams of Arizona State (fourth round) and wide receiver Claudis James of Jackson State (14th round).

Two other draft picks were put on the taxi squad (like the current day practice squad) that season. They were wide receiver Dave Dunaway of Duke (second round) and center Jay Bachman of Cincinnati (fifth round).

Another rookie who was part of that draft class was cornerback Mike Bass, who was selected in 12th round out of Michigan. Lombardi ended up selling Bass to the Detroit Lions that training camp.

Bass ended up having a very nice career with the Washington Redskins (Lombardi coached him in 1969) for several years when he was named to the Pro Bowl twice and was named All-Pro once. Bass had 30 interceptions in his career, with three returned for touchdowns.

The Packers did have a rookie free agent make the team as well. That would be tight end/linebacker Dick Capp of Boston College, who actually was drafted originally in the AFL draft in 1966 by the Boston Patriots.

I had the opportunity to talk with both Hyland and Horn last week to talk about being part of that 1967 draft class of the Packers, plus how special that rookie season was for both of them.

Neither Hyland or Horn had any inkling that the Packers would be the team to select them.

“I didn’t expect to be selected by the Packers,” Hyland said. “I had indications from the Cowboys, the 49ers, the Bears and the Steelers though.

“Also, the previous weekend of the draft, I went to Baltimore, as the Colts had the first pick in the draft and they wanted to interview me and Bubba Smith. They decided on Bubba. But on draft day, I didn’t know if I was going to be picked first or a bit later.”

Horn didn’t expect the Packers to be drafting him either.

“I expected to be drafted in round one because I was told that I was going to be picked in that round by two or three teams if I was still available,” Horn said. “The Lions said that. The Raiders said that. The Chargers said that as well.”

Both players were surprised when they got a call from Vince Lombardi of the Packers.

“At BC (Boston College) they are pretty serious about getting to class,” Hyland said. “I had a 9:00 class and afterwards I went back to where I lived. I had three roommates and we lived in an old mansion on campus.

“We actually had a phone which was kind of unusual back in those days, but between the four of us we could afford it. That was the phone number that I gave the NFL to contact me. They told me to get near a phone by 10:00, which I did.

“About 10 minutes later I got a call from Coach Lombardi. I was thrilled. I really had no idea. I was a Giants fan as a kid and I was very aware of Coach Lombardi. I followed the NFL very closely. You couldn’t help but to be a Green Bay Packer fan as your second favorite team compared to your hometown team.

Bob Hyland snapping the ball to Bart Starr.jpg

Bob Hyland snaps the ball to Bart Starr.

“I was really excited about the possibility going out to Green Bay and being with a championship team.”

Horn had to wait awhile until he got his call from Coach Lombardi, as he sat in the public relation director’s office at San Diego State listening to the draft on the radio.

“So we’re listening to the draft and I hear that the Lions selected Mel Farr with their pick in the first round,” Horn said. “And I’m thinking that those guys [the Lions] didn’t tell the truth about picking me.

“So as we getting near the end of the first round, I’m kind of ticked because all these teams who said they were going to pick me, didn’t. All of a sudden the phone rings and I believe it was Coach Lombardi’s secretary, and she said, ‘Is this Donald Horn?’ And I said yes. She then told me to please hold for Coach Lombardi.

“At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me. Then Lombardi and his distinctive voice gets on the phone. He says, ‘Donald,  this is Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. The Kansas City Chiefs are picking right now. We are considering making you our next draft choice. Do you have any reservations about playing for the Packers?’ I said no sir.

“Then Coach asked if I had signed any contracts with other leagues like the Canadian Football League. Again, I said no sir. Lombardi then said he would get back to me in about 15 minutes. About 15 minutes later, I get the call and Lombardi says, ‘Don, you are now a Green Bay Packer.’

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. It was like walking on water!”

When the veterans and the rookies got together for training camp in the summer of ’67, they were met with important message from their coach.

I also talked to Kramer last week and he related this story to me.

“The biggest thing was the first day of training camp when we had our first meeting,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi talked about winning our third consecutive title. He told us that no one has ever done that before and that it will set us apart from everyone else who ever played in the NFL.

“He told us that we had to have a great deal of discipline, perseverance, tenacity, pride, character, all the things that we needed to do to win that third straight title. He told us everyone would be looking to knock us off.

“That was an important message for us. That was to be our focus. Veterans and rookies alike.”

For the rookies, training camp under Lombardi was something they had never experienced before. Certainly Horn didn’t.

“I never experienced anything like we went through in training camp that summer,” Horn said. “Never. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he worked people that hard. In college, it was pretty easy.

“We didn’t do anything near what we did in Green Bay to get in shape or work out. Or have the dedication to work out like Vince did. Those two-a-days and those grass drills that we went through were incredible. To this day, we still talk about them. He just beat you down physically before practice with these drills. And then you were expected to practice as hard as you could. It was amazing.”

Horn talked about an incident which occurred during that training camp which brought a few chuckles from the team.

The team was running through some drills where the center and the quarterback were go through snap exchanges. It’s important to know that Hyland was about about two inches taller and about 25 pounds heavier than Ken Bowman, the other center on the Packers.

Horn talked about that dynamic played out.

“So we are at practice one day working on some drills,” Horn said. “Bob had a pretty tall stance snapping the ball, compared to Ken.  And it takes awhile for a quarterback to get used to a new center. Especially if he was as big as Bob was. So, it’s two-a-days and Bart’s taking some snaps from Bob. And he fumbles a snap. Then Zeke [Bratkowski] stepped in and muffs a couple of snaps from Bob. I come in and do the same thing.

“So Vince and the other coaches start yelling at Bob and all the quarterbacks. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Let me show you how to do this!’ So Vince goes over under Bob and by now Bob is pretty nervous and he’s shaking. So Vince calls the signal and Hyland snaps the ball to Vince and the football jams his fingers and Lombardi starts cursing in pain. We were all laughing pretty good under our breath.”

It wasn’t always that way for Hyland. In fact, Lombardi went out of his way to compliment the play of Hyland many times in training camp.

Lombardi got so comfortable with Hyland playing center, that the White Plains, New York native started six games at center in the regular season for the Packers, starting with the Week 9 game versus the Cleveland Browns at old County Stadium in Milwaukee.

The rookie class certainly made a mark in that game. Hyland started at center for the first time. Horn played quarterback for half of the fourth quarter in a 55-7 blowout win by the Pack. That was Horn’s first meaningful playing time that season.

But the rookie who made the biggest splash that day was Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoff for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries.

Horn told me a story about how the game ended which will tell you a lot about the class and dignity of Lombardi.

“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.

“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.

“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’

Over the remainder of the season, Hyland remained the starter at center for the Packers. No. 50 talked about how the veterans of the offensive line supported him during that time.

“They took me right under their wing,” Hyland said. “Especially when I became a starter. I remember Bob Skoronski asking me to go out to dinner with them a couple of times. The offensive linemen stuck together quite a bit. They wanted me to feel part of the group. Which they did

“I just had a lot of respect for every one of the guys on the offensive line. They were outstanding people. Kenny and I had a difficult situation of course. He was a good player. Coach Lombardi was more in my favor then. Maybe because I was bigger and I could handle guys who played right over me better than Ken could.

“It was a tough thing for Kenny. He earned his way to the first position and then all of a sudden I stepped on his toes. But the one thing was that we all wanted to win. That was the most important aspect. I think we were all able to deal with what ever our personal setbacks might have been for the greater good of the team to help win a championship.”

Another example of that situation was when left guard Gale Gillingham became the starter at left guard after Fuzzy Thurston hurt his knee in a scrimmage early in training camp. Thurston never regained his starting job back from the talented Gillingham.

Kramer talk about how Thurston handled that situation.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer said. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

Travis Williams returns a kickoff for 104 yards and a touchdown vs. the Rams in Los Angeles.

The rookie who really took off starting in Week 7, was Williams. Against the St. Louis Cardinals that week, No. 23 ran his first kickoff return for a touchdown that year. He then returned the two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Browns, plus had another one, for 104 yards, versus the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13.

All told, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards and four touchdowns. His kickoff return average of 41.1 yards is still a NFL record.

Williams also received some playing time at halfback, as starter Elijah Pitts was lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon against the Baltimore Colts in Week 8. In that same game, starting fullback Jim Grabowski was also lost for the year with a knee injury.

Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 average) during the ’67 season and scored one touchdown.

Williams also had a receiving touchdown, which he caught from Horn in the last week of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. It was Horn’s first career touchdown pass as a matter of fact.

The Packers ended the 1967 regular season with a 9-4-1 record and were NFL Central Division champs.  Their first matchup in the postseason would be against the 11-1-2 and Coastal Division champion Rams at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

In that game, Bowman surprisingly started the game at center. Hyland talked about how that went down.

“Against the Rams, Coach Lombardi started Kenny Bowman and then put me in after the first series,” Hyland said. “I had a good game. I guess Lombardi’s theory was to take the pressure off the kid and don’t let him know what’s in store for him until after the first series.

“Kenny was obviously disappointed, but I was thrilled to be part of a big win.”

A big win it was, as the Packers whipped the Rams 28-7. The star of the game was Williams. He didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.

Kramer talked about the first touchdown run by Williams.

“I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] very vividly on one play,” Kramer said. “It’s still crystal clear in my mind. Travis is going outside right on the play. And I’m blocking on Merlin and I’m trying to get outside position on him. And he’s starting to move and I’m chasing him.

“All of a sudden, I see Travis about even with us, but near the sideline and I knew that he was gone.”

Gone he was, as Williams scampered 46 yards for a score.

The next week was the legendary “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game on New Year’s Eve.

Bowman got the start a center in that game, while Williams rushed for just 13 yards, as Donny Anderson received most of the playing time at halfback.

Which brings up another point. Lombardi was a bit of a “hunch” coach. He started players based on hunches at times, not because of how a player had been performing recently.

For instance, Hyland played well against the Rams in the playoffs, but Lombardi still started Bowman against the Cowboys the next week. Lombardi also did that with his running back tandems in the postseason that year.

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Chuck Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.

But in Super Bowl II versus the Oakland Raiders, Anderson again was in most of the time at halfback, while Ben Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.

And this was after Mercein played very well against the Rams and the Cowboys.

Back to the “Ice Bowl” now. The game was an epic battle that was played in brutal conditions, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Green Bay was down 17-14 late into the fourth quarter. The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

Trudge they did. The game down down to this: there were just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line. Starr conferred with Lombardi on the sideline and called the 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball.  But Starr decided he was going to keep the ball because of the slippery conditions near the goal line.

The decision to call the wedge play under these settings was first suggested by Kramer earlier in the week.

“I saw that Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

On the legendary play, Pugh stayed high just like Kramer expected and No. 64 cleared the way for Starr to sneak across the goal line for the game-winning score.

Kramer talked about that block.

“I put my face into the chest of Pugh. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”

Kramer also talked about the contribution of Bowman at center on that play.

“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”

When Starr scored on that historic quarterback sneak, Lombardi raised his arms to signal touchdown. The first player to congratulate Lombardi after that touchdown was Horn.

Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win Super Bowl II and to cement their third NFL title in a row. A feat that has never been reproduced.

Hyland reflected on how it felt to be part of such a mythical team as a rookie.

“From the standpoint of Coach Lombardi, I think it had to be his greatest year as a coach,” Hyland said. “He had to pull every trick he could out of the hat to put a good team on the field every week.

“Bringing in Chuck Mercein. Bringing Ben Wilson. Guys like that. Those guys did a great job and I think it’s a tribute to Coach Lombardi that he just inspired people to play way over their heads.

“I think it was a real interesting story that year. Jerry captured the situation very well in Instant Replay. With a lot of the behind the scenes going on and a lot of people have read the book many times simply because it was such a great year for the Packers.”

Don Horn with Coach Lombardi in Super Bowl II

Quarterback Don Horn stands next to head coach Vince Lombardi near the end of Super Bowl II. Jerry Kramer is behind the legendary coach.

Speaking of Instant Replay, Horn told me a very interesting story about that book.

“Jerry gave me one of the first editions that he autographed for me,” Horn said. “Jerry personalized for me and I had the book for a couple of years. Then my mother came to visit my wife and I and asked to borrow the book because she wanted to read it.

“So I give her Instant Replay. This is around 1970.  A few weeks later, my mother calls and said that she lost the book at an airport. She felt really bad. I told her not to worry, that I’ll get another one and get Jerry to sign it.

“Well, about 15 to 20 years later, I’m playing in the Vince Lombardi golf tournament up there in Menomonee Falls and this couple walks up to me and hands me Instant Replay. The man says, ‘Mr. Horn, I think this belongs to you.’ And sure enough it was the same book Jerry had signed for me back in 1968. Somebody in their family had found the book at General Mitchell Field and kept all those years until they had a chance to return it to me.”

Talk about a very fortunate set of circumstances.

Which was how the season played out in 1967 for the Green Packers and their rookie class for that season.

But the Packers created their own fortune that year. They did it the same way that Lombardi taught them. Through preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

Those principles led to a third straight NFL title and a second straight Super Bowl win.

Not to mention a treasure chest full of great memories for both Hyland and Horn.

Early April 7-Round 2017 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

2017 NFL Draft Logo

We are now less than a month away from the 2017 NFL draft, which will take place in Philadelphia on April 27 and run through the 29th. The Green Bay Packers will have eight picks in the draft, one in each of the seven rounds, plus a compensatory selection in the fifth round.

There has been a lot of activity on the roster of the Packers since I did my first mock draft back in early February. I wrote about some of that activity in my second mock draft in the middle of March.

The Packers have lost a number of unrestricted free agents, as center/guard JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns, defensive back Micah Hyde signed with the Buffalo Bills, outside linebacker Julius Peppers signed with the Carolina Panthers, right guard T.J. Lang signed with the Detroit Lions, running back Eddie Lacy signed with the Seattle Seahawks and outside linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

In addition tight end Jared Cook signed with the Oakland Raiders, but that move came after Ted Thompson shocked the football world by signing an unrestricted free agent who had not been released by his team yet.

That player was tight end Martellus Bennett, formerly of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Shortly after that move, the Packers signed another tight end, Lance Kendricks, but that move came after Kendricks was released by the Los Angeles Rams.

Thompson prefers to sign unrestricted free agents who were previously released by the former teams. Why? Because that way the signing won’t have any bearing on the compensatory draft formula for the following draft.

But when you sign an unrestricted free agent who is still with his current team, that does factor into the compensatory formula.

All that being said, the Packers still look to get a number of compensatory picks in the 2018 NFL draft, based on the seven free agents that they have lost this offseason.

The Packers have been able to keep a number of their own free agents on the roster, as this list includes outside linebacker Nick Perry, offensive lineman Don Barclay, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, outside linebacker Jordan Tripp and running back Christine Michael.

Than there are the players who are exclusive rights free agents. The list includes punter Jacob Schum (signed his exclusive rights contract), inside linebacker Joe Thomas (received tender offer), defensive lineman Christian Ringo (received tender offer), wide receiver Geronimo Allison (received tender offer), running back Don Jackson (signed tender offer), running back John Crockett (did not receive tender offer) and fullback Joe Kerridge (received tender offer).

Besides Kendricks, the Packers signed two other unrestricted free agents who were released by the former teams, as they signed cornerback Davon House, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars ( House was also a Packer from 2011-2014) and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, formerly of the Washington Redskins.

The Packers also signed “street” free agent guard Justin McCray.

So with all those moves, the Packers still appear to be short-handed at running back, plus need quality depth in the defensive backfield, the interior offensive line and at linebacker.

In this mock draft, I will not be selecting any players I selected in the first two mock drafts I have done previously. That will change when I do my final mock draft the week of the actual draft.

Like I do with all my draft work, I am utilizing the expertise and insight from NFL scout Chris Landry from both our conversations and also information from his fine website. In fact, for this mock draft, I will be utilizing the vertical draft boards Landry has set up for prospects at various positions and also his horizontal draft board, which lists the best players regardless of their position.

Landry explains the process on his site:

After teams set their VERTICAL draft board (positions), they prepare their HORIZONTAL draft board (best players regardless of position) with each team establishing a Top 150 overall board based on grades, which means the “150” board can range anywhere from 120-200 players depending on how the grades fall in each of the 32 draft rooms.

In this mock draft, Landry will add an observation about each player I select. In the late rounds, keep in mind that I am looking for players who not only add quality depth at their respective positions, but who also can help improve the 29th-ranked special teams units for the Packers.

Okay, enough of that, it’s time to draft.

Round 1: Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)

at California Memorial Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Berkeley, California.

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 202 pounds

This pick may or may not shock some people. But if any of the three top running backs in this draft (Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey) are still on the board at pick No. 29, my guess is that the Packers will select one of them. The Packers met with Cook at the combine as a matter of fact.

The Packers currently have three running backs on their roster, Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Don Jackson. Montgomery is the only sure bet to be on the roster when the 2017 season begins.

To me, McCaffrey would be the best option for the Packers at running back if he was still available. And he could be, as Landry has McCaffrey ranked No. 23 on his horizontal draft board.

In his career at Stanford (the same school that Montgomery came out of), McCaffrey rushed for 3,922 yards (6.2 average) and scored 21 touchdowns. In the passing game, McCaffrey had 99 receptions for 1,206 more yards and had 10 scores.

McCaffrey also returned a punt (11.2 average) for a score, as well as a kickoff (26.2 average) for a score.

In 2015, McCaffrey was a consensus All-American, Heisman Trophy finalist, Associated Press and Pac-12 Player of the Year. In 2016, McCaffrey was named first-team All-Pac-12 and Associated Press second-team All-American honors.

McCaffrey excelled at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he ran a 4.48 in the 40, plus was among the best in the vertical jump, the 3 cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle.

This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report about McCaffrey:

“Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey has been compared to former Cardinal Ty Montgomery, but he is a better runner than Montgomery, a better catcher, he’s more explosive, more agile and he’s faster. Montgomery is more of a straight-line guy.

“McCaffery is a jack-of-all-trades guy who can be your returner and give you 15 snaps a game at RB. McCaffrey is a skilled running back but would also rank as one of the best WR’s in this draft as well. He is the type that needs to get 18-25 touches per game.

“The NFL’s become a matchup league, and Christian McCaffrey is a matchup player. You can line him up anywhere: the I, slot, all the way out wide, wing back. Under a creative offensive mind, he becomes even more valuable. I see him as a better version of Dion Lewis with a little Brian Westbrook in his game.”

Round 2: Outside Linebacker Jordan Willis (Kansas State)

Jordan Willis

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 255 pounds

Jordan Willis had 115 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his career at Kansas State.

The 6’4″, 255-pound Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, plus was named first-team All-Big 12 and also third-team Associated Press All-American as a defensive end.

Willis opened some eyes at the combine, as he ran a 4.53 in the 40, plus had a 39 inch vertical jump.

Although he played defensive end in college, the former Wildcat will offset the losses of both Julius Peppers and Datone Jones at outside linebacker in the Green Bay 3-4 scheme.

Willis is ranked No. 55 on Landry’s horizontal draft.

This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report On Willis:

“Willis should be able to earn a roster spot and work his way up the pecking order in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He was easily one of the best all-around performers at the NFL Scouting Combine and plays with a great motor on film.

“While he is a straight-liner and deliberate as a pass rusher, his motor and speed will land him a spot. He is more gifted than Jared Allen was coming out of college and if he continues to work, he could have a good career of his own.”

Round 3: Center/Guard Tyler Orlosky (West Virginia)

Tyler Orlosky

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 298 pounds

Tyler Orlosky was a three-star offensive guard recruit out of high school, when he passed on offers from Big Ten programs like Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois, and instead enrolled at West Virginia. Orlosky played guard while playing with the West Virginia scout team as a redshirt freshman. After that, Orlosky developed into a fine center.

After starting three games at center in 2013 for West Virginia, Orlosky has remained a fixture at the position ever since and started every game at center from 2014 through 2016.

Orlosky was also team captain. He received second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015 and then was named first-team All-Big 12 as a senior.

Orlosky has the skill set to play well at both guard and center, which is what the Packers need right now.

The former Mountaineer only participated in the bench press drill at the combine, where he had 24 reps.

Landry has Orlosky ranked No. 99 on his horizontal draft board.

This is part of what Landry said in his scout report on Orlosky:

“Orlosky played guard in high school and wanted to stay at that position in Morgantown, but he saw center as his opportunity to see early playing time, making the switch as a redshirt freshman and developing into an All-American as a senior.

“Although not a rangy, explosive mover, he competes with physical hands and the tenacious mentality to tie up defenders at the line of scrimmage. If he can improve his sink and mirror skills in space, Orlosky has the brute power and protection awareness to win a starting role and make all the line calls in the NFL.”

Round 4: Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado)

Ahkello Witherspoon

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 198 pounds

Ahkello Witherspoon was part of a great secondary at Colorado, as he tied with teammate Tedric Thompson with a nation-leading 23 passes defensed in 2016. Witherspoon also had one pick and 22 passes broken up for the season.

In 2015 as a part-time starter, Witherspoon had two interceptions and four passes broken up. In the past two seasons, Witherspoon had 64 total tackles.

Witherspoon tested well at the combine, as he ran a 4.45 40, plus had a 40.5 inch vertical jump, which was tops among cornerbacks. He also did the 60-yard shuttle in 11.60 seconds, which put him in fourth place in that category.

The former Buffalo has been compared to Richard Sherman due to his size/speed and he will definitely enhance a position that struggled mightily at times last season for the Packers.

This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report about Witherspoon:

“A two-year starter at Colorado, Witherspoon played primarily at right cornerback in press-man technique, blossoming as a senior with his impressive ball production to put his name on the NFL radar. He has the physical traits that immediately draw the eye and his classroom smarts (graduated high school with 4.4 GPA; pre-med student at CU) translate on film.

“Witherspoon is still very young in football years and admittedly still learning the position, but his long frame, quick feet and developing instincts are intriguing traits worth developing – long-term NFL starting potential and one of the more underrated players in this class.”

Round 5: Running Back Brian Hill (Wyoming)

Brian Hill

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 219 pounds

Brian Hill had a great career at Wyoming, as rushed for 4,287 yards (5.5 average) and 35 touchdowns. Hill also caught 41 passes in his career for 403 yards.

In 2015, Hill was named second-team All-Mountain West, while this past season, Hill was named first-team All-Mountain West.

At the combine, Hill ran a 4.54 in the 40 and looked very sharp in the broad jump and the 60-yard shuttle.

Hill will compete for a roster spot with Michael and Jackson at running back. He could definitely enhance his chances of making the team by becoming a regular contributor on special teams.

This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report on Hill:

“A two-year starter at Wyoming, Hill was a durable, productive workhorse for the Cowboys, rushing for 135.9 yards per game as a sophomore and 132.9 yards per game as a junior. He is at his best off tackle where he can stretch runs outside, using his speed, open-field toughness and hungry run appetite to gash defenses.

“Overall, Hill has the run toughness, play speed and consistent production that projects well to the next level, but he is undeveloped as an inside runner and needs to improve his patience and reliability on third downs to get (and stay) on the field.”

Round 5 (compensatory): Outside linebacker Carroll Phillips (Illinois)

Carroll Philips

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 242 pounds

In 2015 with the Fighting Illini, when he started three games, Carroll Phillips had 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks. In 2016, when he became a full-time starter, the player known as “Wild Man”, had 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

For his performance last season, Phillips was named first-team All-Big Ten. At Illinois, Phillips played defensive end, but he has all the attributes to become an effective outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Phillips showed nice speed at the combine, as he ran a 4.64 40.

Like Willis, Phillips will help offset the losses of Peppers and Jones at outside linebacker. Plus he has the temperament to become a terror on special teams.

This is what Landry said about Phillips after watching him at a Senior Bowl practice:

“Today was a big win for Phillips. He was terrific standing up over tackle looking quick, fast and fluid. He made plays in every direction of the field, looked forceful on the blitz and did not embarrass himself in coverage drills.”

Round 6: Linebacker Connor Harris (Lindenwood)

Connor Harris

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 242 pounds

Connor Harris has been called a poor man’s Chris Borland, due to his size and his tenacity on the football field. In his career at Lindenwood, Harris became the the NCAA All-Division record holder with 633 career tackles.

Harris was named first-team All-American and 2016 Cliff Harris Award award winner as the top defender in Divisions II, III and NAIA. In addition to that, Harris was a three-time first-team All-Midwest Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) pick.

Harris also received some playing time as a running back (50-328, seven touchdowns) and as a punter.

At the combine, Harris ran a 4.73 in the 40, but was among the best at linebacker in the 60-yard shuttle.

Harris would add some depth at the inside linebacker position, but his biggest contribution would be on special teams where he looks to be a demon.

This is what Landry said about Harris after watching him at a Senior Bowl practice:

“Harris had a tough time handling blocks but looked really good otherwise. He was solid against the run and looked fluid and smooth moving in reverse.”

Round 7: Safety Montae Nicholson (Michigan State)

Montae Nicholson

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 212 pounds

When you look at Montae Nicholson, he has everything that you would want as defensive back. Good size and good speed.

But Nicholson’s problem is being timid at times about tackling. Still, in the last two seasons, Nicholson had 169 tackles, which is not bad. The former Spartan also had four passes broken up and had four interceptions in that time.

Nicholson’s speed will definitely help the secondary of the Packers, plus better tackling technique can be taught.

Nicholson is another player who can improve the special teams units.

This is what Landry said about Nicholson after watching him at the NFL Scouting Combine:

“Michigan State S Montae Nicholson notched a 40-yard dash of 4.42 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday. Nicholson’s 4.42 seconds tied USC do-everything DB Adoree’ Jackson for ninth sharpest among defensive backs during Monday’s tests. Despite that top time, he might have trouble drawing interest in the draft this April as he lacks the ideal aggressiveness needed.”

A Scout’s Take on Several of the Top Edge Rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

T.J. Watt

The 2017 NFL draft is now less than a month away. The Green Bay Packers have a number of positional needs on their roster currently. Among those needs is the outside linebacker position or edge rusher.

Edge rushers can be prospects who played defensive end in college in a 4-3 scheme, but also have the attributes to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, which is what the Packers employ under Dom Capers.

The Packers also need some quality depth at cornerback, running back and at guard.

The odds are that fairly strong that the Packers will address those particular position groups in the first four rounds of the draft.

But it is yet to be determined what the pecking order will be. It depends on how general manager Ted Thompson and his scouting staff have set up their Green Bay draft board.

When it comes to looking at some edge rushing prospects who would fall into the category of where the Packers will be selecting in the draft, which is late in each round, I wanted to get some insight and expertise from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show,  which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

The Packers will have the 29th, 61st, 93rd and 134th picks in the first four rounds of the draft. I wanted to get a read on what edge rushers might fit in that area, especially in the first two rounds of the draft.

There are a couple of edge rushing prospects that the Packers will not have an opportunity to select, as they will be long gone by the time the Packers select with pick No. 29 in the first round.

I’m talking about Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, who will most likely be the first overall pick in the draft, along with Solomon Thomas of Stanford and Derek Barnett of Tennessee.

Landry has Garrett ranked at No. 1 on his horizontal draft board, while Thomas is ranked No. 3 and Barnett is ranked No. 8.

When I talked with Landry, I specifically asked about Charles Harris of Missouri, Tim Williams of Alabama, Takkarist McKinley of UCLA, Carl Lawson of Auburn and T.J. Watt of Wisconsin.

“Harris is an intriguing guy out of Missouri,” Landry said. “I think he’s as good if not better than Shane Ray.  He doesn’t test out as well, but he’s got great bend, great lean and great close. Good off-the-ball quickness. 253 pounds. Really good player.”

The 6’3″, 253-pound Harris played defensive end for Missouri. In the last two years for the Tigers, Harris had 117 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Harris was named second-team All-SEC in both 2015 and 2016. Harris ran a 4.82 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Landry has Harris ranked No. 30 on his horizontal draft board.

“Tim Williams of Alabama has got some off the field concerns or issues,” Landry said. “Really talented guy who is long and lean.”

When it comes to Williams, it’s a buyer beware situation, as Williams failed multiple drug tests at Alabama. That being said, in his last two years with the Crimson Tide, the 6’3″, 244-pound Williams had 50 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Williams was a second-team Associated Press All-American and All-SEC pick in 2016 when he primarily played defensive end. Williams also showed his speed for his size, as he ran a 4.68 40 at the combine.

Landry has Williams ranked at No. 31 on his horizontal draft board.

“McKinley is a guy who is really an intriguing athlete,” Landry said. “Has a torn labrum which has contributed to some of his problems off the field. But he’s got really great speed off the edge. He might be best as a 3-4 stand-up rusher. This guy was a 10.58 100 meter guy in high school. And he’s 265 pounds and he can really motor. He reminds a bit of Whitney Mercilus who came out a couple of years ago who is with the Texans.”

McKinley played defensive end at UCLA, but also has the potential to become a 3-4 outside linebacker due to his pass-rushing skills and speed.

McKinley, who goes 6’2″, 250 pounds, really stepped-up his play in 2016 with the Bruins, as he had 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and six pass breakups. That earned McKinley a first-team All-Pac-12 designation.

The former Bruin showed off his speed at the combine, as McKinley ran a 4.59 40.

Landry has McKinley ranked at No. 32 on his horizontal draft board.

takkarist-mckinley

Takkarist McKinley

“Carl Lawson is a really good player on third down,” Landry said. “He’s got power and explosion. I’m not saying he’s going to be as good, but boy,  he’s got a little of the qualities of that we saw with Dwight Freeney coming out of Syracuse.”

The 6’2″, 261-pound Lawson played defensive end at Auburn. Lawson has  a great year in 2016, as he had 30 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and one forced fumble. In his career as a Tiger, Lawson had 24 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks.

In 2016, Lawson was named first-team All-SEC and was a Freshman All-American in 2013. Lawson missed the 2014 due to a ACL injury.

Lawson ran a 4.67 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 35 reps in the bench press drill.

Landry had Lawson ranked No. 33 on his horizontal draft board.

“T.J. to me is a guy who is an outside backer who can be played down at nickel,” Landry said. “I see him as a guy who could go late first round. I think he’s got great athleticism. I mean he can bend and he can turn the corner. I think he’s got the ability to rush from a two or three point stance.”

I had the Packers selecting Watt in my very first mock draft, which I put out in early-February.

One big reason why the secondary of the Wisconsin Badgers had such an outstanding year in 2016 (except for the second half vs. Penn State in the B1G title game), was the play of the Front 7 of the Badgers.

Nobody was more prevalent in that regard than Watt, who goes 6’4″, 252 pounds. No. 42 had 63 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2016, which garnered him second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Watt also met with the Packers at the combine where he excelled in a number of drills, including the vertical jump (37.0 inches), broad jump (128.0 inches), 3-cone drill (6.79 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.20 seconds). Watt also ran a 4.69 in the 40.

Landry has Watt rated at No. 39 on his horizontal draft board.

Landry also talked about four edge rushers who might be available when the Packers pick late in the second round with pick No. 61. The players are DeMarcus Walker of Florida State, Jordan Willis of Kansas State, Tarell Basham of Ohio University and Derek Rivers of Youngstown State.

“I think DeMarcus Walker is a more of a guy who is a late second-round value, the FSU product,” Landry said. “He’s a little bit of a tweener.”

In his career at Florida State, Walker had 182 tackles, 45 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, three forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

Walker was named third-team All-ACC in 2015 (coaches) and then was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and first-team All-ACC in 2016.

Walker, who goes 6’4″ and 280 pounds, would need to drop some weight to play outside linebacker for the Packers. The former Seminole defensive end also needs to get stronger, as he only had 18 reps in the bench press drill. Walker did not do any other drills at the combine.

Landry has Walker ranked at No. 55 on his horizontal draft board.

“Jordan Willis of Kansas State is very intriguing,” Landry said. “I think he’s got really good athleticism and he plays with a great motor.”

Willis had 115 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his career at Kansas State.

The 6’4″, 255-pound Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, plus was named first-team All-Big 12 and also third-team Associated Press All-American as a defensive end.

Willis excelled at the combine, as he ran a 4.53 in the 40, plus had a 39 inch vertical jump.

Landry has Willis ranked No. 56 on his horizontal draft board.

Jordan Willis

Jordan Willis

“Terell Basham of Ohio is a good player,” Landry said. “And the kid from Youngstown State, Derek Rivers, is really good value in the late-second or early-third.”

Basham, who played defensive end at Ohio, had 158 tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss, 29.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one recovered fumble in his career as a Bobcat.

The 6-4, 269-pound Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

Basham ran a 4.70 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry has Basham ranked No. 57 on his horizontal draft board.

Rivers, who goes 6’4″, 248 pounds, played defensive end at Youngstown State. In his career in the FCS, Rivers had 173 tackles, 56.5 tackles for a loss, 37.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Rivers was named as a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection each of the past three seasons. Rivers was also named as a third-team Associated Press FCS All-American in 2016.

Rivers also had a fine combine, as he ran a 4.61 in the 40, had 30 reps in the bench press drill and had a 35 inch vertical jump.

Landry has Rivers ranked No. 86 on his horizontal draft board, but is quickly moving up in status, which is why Landry believes Rivers could be selected in the late-second or early-third round.

So what does all this information mean? It tells me that there is a real good chance that one of the eight players who Landry talked about in this story will be a Green Bay Packer. That will be especially true if the team decides to select an edge rusher in one of the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft.

A Scout’s Take on the Top Interior Offensive Linemen in the 2017 NFL Draft

Forrest Lamp

Forrest Lamp

Going into the 2017 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers have a number of positions that they need to address during the draft. The list includes cornerback, running back and outside linebacker.

You can also add the interior offensive line position to the group as well. Especially after starting right guard T.J. Lang and the sometimes starter at center, JC Tretter, as both exited the team via free agency.

The Packers still have a solid offensive line with David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Lane Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

But who now fills the hole at right guard is a question, as is who will back up Linsley at center if he can’t play due to injury?

The Packers drafted two offensive tackles in the 2016 NFL draft, but both Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are not sure bets to successfully make the move inside to guard. When Spriggs did get playing time last year, at both tackle and guard, he showed good foot quickness, but also showed a lack of strength at times.

The Packers hope some time in the weight room will improve the latter situation for Spriggs. It certainly did for Bakhtiari. I believe the Packers see Spriggs as their swing tackle.

Murphy would have a better chance to move inside to play guard in my opinion, as he was able to effectively play both left and right tackle at Stanford. The Packers love versatility out of their offensive linemen. Murphy is also a better run-blocker than Spriggs.

Plus, the Packers did re-sign Don Barclay to a minimum contract to remain as a key backup. Barclay can play all the positions on the offensive line, including center, but would be best used as a backup only.

The Packers also really like guard Lucas Patrick who was on the practice squad last season.

All that being said, the Packers definitely need to address the interior offensive line position in the draft. They need to draft a guard and maybe a center as well. Or perhaps someone who can play both positions.

Speaking of the draft and interior offensive linemen prospects, I had another opportunity to speak with NFL scout Chris Landry the other day on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

I talked with Landry last week on the same show about the running back class in this year’s draft.

Unlike the cornerback, running back and edge-rusher positions, the classes for interior offensive linemen (guards and centers) are not nearly as deep or talented.

That’s why I wanted to get a read on the top interior offensive linemen in this draft. Prospects who will most likely be selected in either the first round or the second round, if the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson decide to go that route.

I asked Landry about four prospects, Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky, Dan Feeney of Indiana, Pat Elflein of Ohio State and Ethan Pocic of LSU.

Landry talked about each of those linemen, as well as Dorian Johnson of Pittsburgh.

“Lamp is a Zack Martin-type player,” Landry said. “Very athletic. Very smart. Very instinctive. Takes good angles. Best in a zone-blocking scheme. And he is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft.”

Lamp was a four-year starter at Western Kentucky. He started three games at right guard in 2013, before moving to left tackle for the rest of his career with the Hilltoppers. All in all, had 51 career starts.

Lamp was named honorable mention All-Sun Belt as a freshman, honorable mention All- CUSA as a sophomore and then was named first-team All-CUSA as a junior and senior.

Lamp tested out well at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he excelled in a number of drills. Lamp also had 34 sets in the bench press, which tied him for second among all offensive linemen.

Landry has Lamp ranked at No. 18 on his horizontal draft board.

“Dan Feeney is more of a power guy,” Landry said. “He’s more of a pure-guard type.”

Feeney played in a program at Indiana which plays at a up-tempo style. Like his former teammate Jason Spriggs, now with the Packers, Feeney also was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior.

Feeney was also named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a freshman and sophomore, named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American as a junior.

Feeney led the way at Indiana for running backs like Tevin Coleman (now with the Atlanta Falcons) and Jordan Howard (now with the Chicago Bears).

Played some right tackle as a senior due to injuries, but playing inside at guard is where he operates best. Some scouts believe Feeney could also play center.

Landry has Feeney ranked at No. 49 on his horizontal draft board.

“Ethan Pocic played center at LSU,” Landry said. “I think he’s more of a guard and can play tackle. He’s played all positions. His strength is his versatility.”

Ethan Pocic

Ethan Pocic

Pocic  started 37 games on the offensive line at LSU, 27 at center, nine at right guard and one at left tackle.

Pocic was second-team All-SEC in 2015 and first-team All-SEC in 2016, when he also received multiple second and third-team All-American honors.

I had the Packers selecting Pocic in the second round in my post-combine 7-round mock draft for the team recently.

Landry has Pocic ranked at No. 76 on his horizontal draft board.

“Dorian Johnson of Pitt is a very underrated player,” Landry said. “He can play right tackle in a pinch, but is primarily a guard.”

Johnson started three games his freshman year, two at left tackle and one at right guard. Since then, Johnson became a regular at left guard where he started 39 straight games.

Johnson was named second-team All-ACC as a junior and then was name first-team All-ACC as a senior,plus was named to a number of All-American teams.

Johnson excelled in the vertical jump and the broad jump drills at the combine.

Landry has Johnson ranked at No. 77 on his horizontal draft board.

“In terms of Pat Elflein, I think he’s a center,” Landry said. “That’s what he is best at. I think he can play guard, but he is the best center in this draft. I think he’s really effective.”

Elflein was first-team All-Big Ten three times in his career with the Buckeyes. In 2014, Elflein started three games at left guard and 12 at right guard. In 2015, played strictly right guard, when he was also a second-team Associated Press All-American.

In 2016, Elflein moved to center and was named first-team All-American.

Landry has Elflein ranked at No. 45 on his horizontal draft board.

“I think all those guys who I mentioned are all [up there],” Landry said. “Lamp is a first rounder and all the rest are second-round values.”

Pat Elflein

Pat Elflein

In terms of what Thompson might do about selecting an interior offensive lineman in this draft, we can look at his history of doing that since he started running the front office of the Packers in 2005.

In his first year as GM, Thompson faced a situation which closely mirrors what has happened to the team over the last year with his starting guards, when both Josh Sitton (released in 2016) and Lang (left via free agency in 2017) moved on from the team. Both Sitton and Lang had achieved Pro Bowl status as Packers before they found new homes in the NFL.

In the 2005 offseason, both Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle left the team via free agency. Rivera had been named to the Pro Bowl three times in his career with the Packers, while Wahle had been named first-team All-Pro by Sports Illustrated in 2003.

The loss of both Rivera and Wahle opened up a big hole in the middle of the offensive line that Thompson tried to correct that offseason.

Thompson selected two guards (Junius Coston and Will Whitaker) late in the 2005 draft, plus signed Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer via free agency.

The results were not good, as the offensive guard play was horrible. The Packers finished 4-12 in 2005 and Mike Sherman was fired and replaced by Mike McCarthy in 2006.

Thompson looked earlier in the draft in 2006 to add talent to the guard position. Unlike 2005, this time Thompson selected Daryn Colledge in the second round and Jason Spitz in the third round.

Those selections helped to solidify the guard position as both Colledge and Spitz became starters as rookies and remained starters for a numbers of seasons. Colledge started through the 2010 season, while Spitz started through the 2008 season.

The next changing of the guards occurred in the 2008 and 2009 NFL drafts. In 2008, the Packers selected Sitton in the fourth round and then in 2009 selected Lang in the same round.

Sitton became a starter at guard in 2009 and remained as a starter (both at RG and LG) until he released just before the 2016 regular season.

Lang became a starter in 2011 (both at LG and RG) and remained a starter through the 2016 season.

The replacement for Sitton in 2016 was Lane Taylor, who Thompson signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013. Taylor did a solid job as Sitton’s replacement last season.

The center position was manned by veteran Mike Flanagan in Thompson’s first year as GM in 2005, but he was replaced by Scott Wells in 2006. Wells was originally drafted in the seventh round by Sherman when he was both head coach and general manager back in 2004.

Wells remained a starter through the 2011 season, when he left the team via free agency. Thompson tried to solve that issue by signing veteran free agent Jeff Saturday, but towards the end of the 2012 season, it was apparent that the Packers needed to upgrade the position once again, as Evan Dietrich-Smith, who Thompson originally signed as an undrafted rookie in 2009, became the starter.

Dietrich remained the starter through the 2013 season, but then left the Packers in free agency the next offseason.

The Packers found his successor, Corey Linsley, in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Linsley had faced a spirited battle in training camp with JC Tretter, who the Packers had drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. But Tretter suffered a knee injury which took him out of the competition.

Both Linsley (38 starts) and Tretter (10 starts) were very solid in their play at center over the past three seasons. After Tretter was injured again in 2016, Linsley took over again at center and never looked back. Tretter then moved on via free agency to the Cleveland Browns.

So what does this all mean for Thompson regarding the 2017 NFL draft and selecting an interior offensive lineman? I’m sure he’ll look back on the 2005 draft and ponder if he waited too late in the draft to select a guard that year. Then again, Thompson couldn’t be too disappointed in that draft, as he selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Nick Collins in the second round.

My guess is that because the classes for the interior offensive linemen in this draft are not especially deep, that Thompson will select one fairly early in the draft.

Which means that one of the five players Landry discussed in this story could be a Green Bay Packer in 2017.

The 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament: Wisconsin’s Seniors are Leading the Way

2017 Badger Senior Class in Hoops

When it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament over the past four seasons, no team has been more consistent than the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are the only team in the NCAA to have made four consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, plus Wisconsin has won 13 tournament games during that time, which is also the best mark in the NCAA.

During that time period, the Badgers have been in the Final Four twice and the NCAA title game once.

When the 27-9 Badgers take on the 26-8 Florida Gators at Madison Square Garden in their Sweet 16 matchup, the Wisconsin will have a huge edge in terms of NCAA tournament experience.

Going into this tournament, only one player (senior guard Kasey Hill) for the Gators had put in some playing time in games during the Big Dance. Hill played in five games on the Florida team that reached the Final Four in 2014 before losing to Connecticut.

Compare that to just the seniors on the Badgers. Before the 2017 tourney started, guard Bronson Koenig had played in 16 tournament games and started 11. The same numbers held true for forward Nigel Hayes.

Zak Showalter played in 13 tournament games and started five. Vitto Brown had played in 11 games and also started five.

In the two games in this tournament, all of the seniors have played a big role for the Badgers, but especially Koenig and Hayes.

Koenig has been like an assassin draining key three-point shots (11-23), as he has scored 45 points in the victories over Virginia Tech and Villanova.

While most of Koenig’s points come from the outside, Hayes likes to take the ball inside and create three-point opportunities by getting to the foul line after making a shot. Hayes has scored 35 points in the two Badger wins in the tourney so far, which included the game-winner against Villanova, when he made a nifty reverse-layup via his left hand.

All in all, Koenig and Hayes have played in 16 NCAA Tournament games apiece and Wisconsin is 13-3 in those games.

Koenig has scored 159 points in four years of tournament play, which includes draining 31 three-point attempts.

Bronson Koenig II

Meanwhile, Hayes has chipped in 166 points in that time, plus has gotten to the free throw line 61 times, where has has made 41 of those charity stripe shots (67%).

Still, the game against the Gators should be like the first two games in the tournament were for the Badgers. A close game which will come down to making clutch plays in the end.

Both teams play very good defense. The Badgers were ranked 11th in the country (first in the Big Ten) in defense during the season, as they only allowed 61.8 points per game.

The Gators meanwhile, were ranked 37th in the country (third in the SEC), as they allowed 65.7 points per game.

Florida was magnificent on the defensive end in the their second-round victory over Virginia, as they only allowed the Cavaliers 39 points in that game.

Both teams like to shoot the three, as the Gators made 263-of-728 (36.1) in the regular season, while the Badgers made 276-of-772 (35.8).

So far in the two games in the tournament, the Gators have attempted 43 shots from three-point range, hitting 15 (34.9), while the Badgers have made 19-of-49 (38.8).

Besides the seniors, the player to watch on the Badgers is center Ethan Happ, a redshirt sophomore. Last year, Happ was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. This year, Happ was named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American by The Sporting News.

In the regular season, Happ averaged 13.8 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game and 1.2 blocks per game.

In the two games in the tournament thus far, Happ has 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, had five assists and also five blocked shots.

The real good news for Happ is the way he is shooting free throws much better as of late. In the last four games, Happ has made 12-of-19 free throws (63%). That’s much better than the 49.4 mark he had in the regular season.

In terms of the Gators, they may not have a lot of NCAA tournament experience, but they have some very talented players.

Their leading scorer in the regular season was guard Kevaughn Allen, who averaged 13.4 points per game. But in the two games of the tournament, Allen has hit just 1 of 13 three-pointers and 3 of 21 shots overall. But the Gators still won both games.

Why? Mostly defense. Hill (9.7 points per game), the only tournament-experienced Gator coming into this year’s Big Dance, plus junior guard Chris Chiozza (7.1 points per game), are the two defensive stalwarts in the backcourt.

The Gators can also get some points from both guard Canyon Barry (11.8) and forward Devin Robinson (11.4). Robinson also averaged 6.3 rebounds per game.

Robinson has had a great postseason thus far, as he has 38 points in two games, plus has hauled in 16 boards as well.

The Gators caught a bad break back in February, when center John Egbunu suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Up until that point, Egbunu had six double-figure rebound games and was averaging 7.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

Nigel Hayes

That injury will hurt the Gators versus the Badgers. Wisconsin loves to shoot the three, but unlike Virginia, the Badgers can pound teams with their inside game as well. Against Villanova, Hayes and Happ combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds and hit 13 of 23 shots.

Both coaches are in their second seasons with their respective teams. Mike White has a 47-23 record over that period for the Gators, while Greg Gard of the Badgers has a 42-17 record. White has won his only two postseason games thus far, while Gard has a 4-1 record in the tournament.

In terms of the game between the Badgers and the Gators, expect another close contest on Friday night at the Garden. The winner of this game will have a real opportunity to move on to the Final Four with a victory.

In a game like this, you have to give the edge to the team with a big advantage in tournament experience and who also have players (Koenig and Hayes) who have been clutch at crunch time in the tournament.

Bottom line, I see the Badgers moving on to the Elite 8 in a hard-fought victory over the Gators.