Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Wheeled and Dealed in the Months of April and May

Vince Lombardi with coaching cap on.

When the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he was given two titles. They were, head coach and general manager. Obviously his coaching ability turned out to be fantastic, as his Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.

Yes, there is a reason the Super Bowl trophy has his name on it.

Lombardi also made some fine acquisitions for the Packers as general manager through the draft and trades. Who knows how history would have been written had super scout Jack Vainisi lived, instead of tragically dying in 1960 at the age of 33 due to a heart attack. Vainisi played a key role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959.

Back in the day, the months of April and May were normally pretty quiet in the days when Lombardi led the Packers. That being said, Lombardi did make a number of notable trades during those two months while he was with the Packers from 1959 through 1968.

Here are some of the notable ones:

April 25, 1959: The Packers trade offensive end Bill Howton to the Cleveland Browns for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.

The result? Quinlan started at defensive end for the Packers for four years, while Carpenter was a key role player who excelled on special teams and remained with the team for five years. Also, the trade of Howton opened the door for rookie Boyd Dowler to start at end and he became the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1959, plus had a fabulous 11-year career with the Packers.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

May 23, 1959: The Packers trade a third-round 1960 draft pick to the Chicago Cardinals for quarterback Lamar McHan.

The result? McHan starts 11 games in 1959 and 1960 and splits time at quarterback with Bart Starr. The competition drives Starr to become the full-fledged starter midway through the 1960 season when he became the true leader of the Pack, as he led the team to five championships, including the first two Super Bowls, where he was named MVP in both games. Starr also won three passing titles, was the NFL MVP in 1966 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

May 5, 1964: The Packers trade center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a first-round draft pick in the 1965 NFL draft which was used on halfback Donny Anderson.

The result? The Packers had to scramble at the center position for the 1964 season, as Bob Skoronski and Ken Bowman split time at center. To add to that issue, right guard Jerry Kramer missed almost the entire 1964 season due to intestinal issues. Caffey became part of the best trio of linebackers in the NFL for five years, along with Ray Nitschke and Dave Robinson. Anderson had a fine career with the Packers, but his biggest moment was his performance in the “Ice Bowl”, as he played a key role in the final drive of that classic game.

Lee Roy Caffey in the Ice Bowl

April 23, 1965: The Packers trade linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

The result? After Currie is traded, Dave Robinson becomes the starter at left outside linebacker and has a Hall of Fame career with the Packers. Dale becomes the starter at flanker for the Packers replacing Max McGee and becomes the deep threat for the Packers in the passing game for eight great seasons. Lombardi also starts to use Dale, McGee and Boyd Dowler at the same time on passing downs, as Dowler took over at tight end for Marv Fleming in those situations.

April 25, 1966: The Packers trade halfback Tom Moore to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Ron Smith, defensive tackle Dick Arndt and a second-round draft pick in the 1967 NFL draft.

The result? The trade allows halfback Elijah Pitts to become the main backup to Paul Hornung, who ended up being hurt for most of the 1966 season. Pitts ended up starting seven games in 1966 and 24 games in his career in Green Bay. The trade also allowed Donny Anderson to get more of a role on offense at halfback and No. 44 became the starter in 1967 when Pitts was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

May 2, 1968: The Packers trade linebacker Tommy Joe Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

The result? Peay plays in 62 games over the next five years, starting 45 of them at left tackle. Crutcher was later traded to the Rams by the Giants, but then returned to Green Bay when head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded a fourth-round pick in the 1973 NFL draft to the Rams.

Why Bret Saberhagen Deserves Consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Bret Saberhagen II

Anybody who has read my work over the years, know that I have promoted a number of former NFL players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Most notably among that group of players was Jerry Kramer, and he indeed was enshrined in Canton in 2018. I first started writing about Kramer’s omission from his rightful place in the Hall of Fame over 30 years ago.

And it was through my association with Kramer over the years which led me to new friendships with people like his former teammate with the Green Bay Packers, Don Horn. One of the reasons I got to know Horn was because of his background in stem cell therapy and it was Kramer who first got Horn interested in that subject matter.

It was through Horn that I got to know Kandace Saberhagen, who was the president of Premier Stem Cell Institute, where Horn was a liaison to former NFL players who could utilize stem cell therapy to help them recover from shoulder, knee and hip injuries that they had suffered in the past.

I wrote a four-part series about stem cell therapy back in August of 2016 and have remained friends with Kandace ever since. Which takes me back full circle, as like with Kramer and other NFL players who I promoted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (like Class of 2020 member Bobby Dillon), I also believe Kandace’s husband Bret Saberhagen deserves consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are just 21 multiple winners of the Cy Young Award in MLB history, and Saberhagen is one of them, as Bret won his first in 1985 and his second in 1989 as a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Saberhagen was also named World Series MVP in 1985, as his Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Saberhagen was 2-0 (including a shutout) in that World Series and had a sparkling 0.50 ERA, plus gave up just 11 hits in 18 innings. No. 31 also had 10 strikeouts and gave up only one walk.

If one looks at Saberhagen’s career stats, his numbers are quite good. He was 167-117 with a career ERA of 3.34, which adds up to a .588 winning percentage, which is better than a lot of pitchers in the Hall of Fame. There are 80 pitchers in the Hall of Fame and Saberhagen has a better winning percentage than 38 of those pitchers.

The career ERA of 3.34 is also good, as he pitched in the American League for 11 of the 16 seasons he played in baseball. The American League has the DH, unlike the National League.

A number of the years when Saberhagen pitched were marred by injuries, which will be addressed later in the story. In fact, Saberhagen was actually in MLB for 18 years, but two full years were lost because of injury.

Saberhagen was also a three-time All-Star, plus won a Gold Glove and also won the ERA title in 1989 when he won his second Cy Young Award.

From 1985 through 1989, there wasn’t a better pitcher in the American League, as Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards, won 82 games and lost 50 and had an overall ERA of 3.27.

When one looks at the 167 wins that Saberhagen had in his career, there are three other starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame that have similar win totals. I’m talking about Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean and Lefty Gomez.

Sandy Koufax

Koufax was 165-87 in his career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers with a career ERA 0f 2.76. No. 32 also won three Cy Young Awards, won a National League MVP , was a World Series MVP twice, a seven-time All-Star, a three-time triple crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts) winner and was a five-time ERA leader.

Dean was 150-83 in his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs and had a career ERA 0f 3.04. Dean was a National League MVP in 1934 when he won 30 games. There was no Cy Young Award then. Dean was also a four-time All-Star.

Gomez was 189-102 with the New York Yankees and Washington Senators with a career era of 3.34. Gomez was a seven-time All-Star, won two triple crowns and was a two-time ERA leader.

When I was promoting Kramer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the things I put out there were the many endorsements from Hall of Fame players that Kramer received in his career before he was inducted. None were bigger than the three he received from Merlin Olsen, Alex Karras and Bart Starr.

Likewise, I wanted to talk with three Hall of Fame baseball players about Saberhagen. The three I talked to were Larry Walker, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers. I never had talked with Walker before, but I did interview Yount and Fingers a few times when I covered the Milwaukee Brewers from 1980 through 1983.

Larry Walker

Walker briefly played against Saberhagen when he was a member of the Montreal Expos and Saberhagen was pitching for the New York Mets. Walker talked about what it was like facing Saberhagen.

“When you look at Bret on the mound, he sort of reminded me of Pedro Martinez,” Walker said. “Not very intimidating. He’s not a mean looking guy. Not big or strong looking. But with both of those guys, once the ball leaves their hands, they definitely become intimidating.

“The life on Bret’s fastball is something I’ll always remember. Similar to Dwight Gooden and David Cone, as his fastball could buckle your knees at times and make you shake your head. I remember the first time I faced him and it was almost like his ball was rising as it came to the plate. Plus he had a sharp curveball and they were just nasty pitches. You were hoping that he wasn’t on that day, so maybe you could scrape out a hit.”

Very humble words from Walker, who once hit over .360 for three consecutive years when he was with the Colorado Rockies, plus won three batting titles and was a five-time All-Star. A superb fielder as well, as he also won seven Gold Glove honors. That all led to Walker being named to the Class of 2020 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons.

Walker also loved being teammates with Saberhagen when both played for the Rockies.

“Bret was as solid as one could be. A guy you love in the clubhouse,” Walker said. “He was always talking and communicating. And that’s a good thing, because it’s rare too, but pitchers normally don’t jell that well with position players, but Bret did.”

Although Walker just recently was named to be a member of the Hall of Fame, he talked about why Saberhagen also should be considered.

“You know, Bret won two Cy Young’s and a was a World Series MVP. He has that definitely going for him,” Walker said. “It’s a fine line. I think he only had a few people vote for him the last time he was on the ballot, which is ridiculous. There are a bunch of players who I think belong, but you kind of shake your head in disbelief that they don’t get more respect from the voters. I know his win total isn’t as high as some of the voters would like, but injuries put a little damper on his career.

“I’m glad that you are promoting Bret. Hopefully you can help open some eyes. You never know. If it (the Hall of Fame) could happen for me, it can happen for anyone.”

Robin in 1982 World Series

When Yount played, he and Saberhagen were considered two of the best players in the American League and in all of baseball. Yount was the AL MVP in both 1982 and 1989. Saberhagen won the Cy Young Award in 1985 and 1989. Saberhagen was also World Series MVP in 1985 and Yount probably would have been in 1982, had the Brewers defeated the Cardinals in that World Series. Yount hit .414 in that World Series and if Fingers (out with an elbow injury) had been available to pitch, the odds were pretty good that the Brewers would have won that Fall Classic.

Yount faced Saberhagen many times in his career.

“I certainly remember his high, hard fastball and his sharp curve,” Yount said. “Those two pitches were outstanding and they turned out to be good enough to win him two Cy Young’s and a World Series MVP. To me back at that time, Bret was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.

“I also remember that we played high school baseball in the same area of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley area. We sort of grew up in the same type of baseball atmosphere.

“Doing what you are doing in promoting Bret is what it takes. I’ve been part of the Modern Baseball Committee for the Hall of Fame a couple of times and we get to discuss and vote on ten nominees who have been presented to our committee. That is how Ted [Simmons] got in.

“Being a two-time Cy Young winner and being a World Series MVP like Bret was, it’s hard to believe he was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year due to lack of votes. Hopefully he can be a nominee on one of the Hall of Fame’s committees so his accomplishments in baseball can be discussed by the members of that particular committee.”

The Hall of Fame has four Era Committees which vote on 10 candidates in each committee for selection into getting a plaque in Cooperstown. The four Era Committees are Early Baseball (Prior To 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987) and Today’s Game (1988 To Present).

Saberhagen is characterized as to belonging to the Today’s Game Committee, as the bulk of his career was played from 1988 to present. The Today’s Game Committee has 16 members, which will be a mixture of Hall of Fame players, MLB executives and writers. The list of 10 candidates for each committee is put together by the Historical Overview Committee.

The Historical Overview Committee is comprised of 11 veteran historians: Bob Elliott (Canadian Baseball Network), Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun), Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News), Jack O’Connell (BBWAA), Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Tracy Ringolsby (MLB.com), Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle), Dave Van Dyck (formerly Chicago Tribune) and Mark Whicker (Southern California News Group).

The Today’s Game Committee will meet again in December of 2021 to discuss who might get inclusion in the Class of 2022.

Rollie in 1981

I also had the opportunity to talk with Fingers about Saberhagen. They both have a couple things in common. Both have been World Series MVP’s and both have won at least one Cy Young Award.

Although Fingers started out his career as a starter like Saberhagen, he eventually became one of the best closers in the history of the game, as he ended up with 341 saves. Fingers retired after the 1985 season, which also happened to be the year that Saberhagen won his first Cy Young and was the World Series MVP as well.

“I remember Bret, as I was with with the Brewers in ’84 and ’85 when he first got started in baseball,” Fingers said. “I remember that he threw really hard. I’m glad I never had to face him because we had the DH, but I know that in his first five or six years he was with the Royals, he was the cat’s meow in the American League, winning a couple of Cy Young Awards and also being the MVP of the ’85 series.

“Bret had some great years. Now he only won 167 games, but he had a pretty good winning percentage at .588. Plus he had 76 complete games, which is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Nowadays in baseball, if you had 76 complete games in total for pitchers over two years, that’s considered good.

“Looking at Bret, obviously winning two Cy Young’s and being a World Series MVP is very good. He was also a three-time All-Star. Two more All-Star appearances might have helped his cause.”

Ironically, in 1985 and 1989, the two years he won the Cy Young Award, Saberhagen was not named an All-Star, which is unbelievable.

Fingers continued talking about the stats of Saberhagen.

“A lifetime ERA of 3.34 is pretty good. So is over 2,500 innings pitched. Having only 167 wins will go against him a bit.  But Sandy Koufax is in the Hall of Fame with less wins (165) than that, but he also won three Cy Young’s and struck out the world when he played. But all in all, Bret had a great career in baseball.”

Fingers was on the top of his game in 1982 when he suffered an elbow injury in early September which cost him the rest of the season and all of the 1983 season. At the time of his injury, Fingers was the defending Cy Young Award winner, as well as the defending AL MVP.

Likewise, injuries have hurt Saberhagen throughout his career in baseball, which definitely curtailed some of the stats he might have put up in the big leagues. Saberhagen and I talked about that and much more when we recently talked about his baseball career.

It was at a fairly young age when Saberhagen thought he had a chance to maybe get to the big show.

“I think I was pitching in high school when scouts were coming around,” Saberhagen said. “I never imagined that I would have the career I ended up having though. I was pretty much throwing just fastballs and curveballs back then.”

But it was when Saberhagen developed a great changeup which really set his career in baseball upward.

“In high school, I was trying to come up with an offspeed pitch. I was trying the knuckleball, but nothing really clicked. But in the minors when I was in AA ball, Tony Ferreira showed me how to hold the baseball to basically throw a screwball. I held my fingers down on each one of the seams and pulled down with my index finger and I was able to control that with a different velocity. That’s what really made a huge difference with my repertoire. Without that pitch, I probably wouldn’t have had the career I did.”

Saberhagen got off to a quick start in the majors, as he made the Royals out of AA ball in 1984 and won 10 games as a rookie with a 3.48 ERA. Things really took off in 1985, when he won the Cy Young Award with a 20-6 record and an ERA of 2.87. Plus he led his team to the World Series title, as he was the MVP of that series.

Saberhagen didn’t do it alone though and he wanted to make sure that the guys who were catching him got a lot of credit.

“The guys who caught me were very knowledgeable and had been around. In 1985, Jim Sundberg caught me and we are talking about a guy who caught a number of no-hitters from Nolan Ryan. With a guy like Jim, he knows what pitches to throw depending on the situation in the game.  I very seldom shook him off.

“I had four guys who I really enjoyed throwing to. There was Jim, Bob Boone, Charlie O’Brien and Jason Varitek. With all four of those guys, if I shook off those guys five times in a game, that would probably be the max. And if you are not shaking off, you get into a nice rhythm and groove.”

Saberhagen was definitely in a groove in 1985 when he won his first Cy Young Award and then really made a name for himself in the 1985 World Series.

“It was funny in the 1985 postseason, as I had struggled against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, who I always seemed to struggle against,” Saberhagen said. “My mindset in the World Series was to get my shit together.”

And indeed, Saberhagen sure as hell did. With the Royal down two games to zero in the series, Saberhagen was faced with a must-win start in Game 3 at Busch Stadium. And No. 31 delivered big time, as the Royals beat the Cardinals 6-1, as he pitched a complete game and allowed just six hits, while he struck out eight and walked just one.

The Royals extended the series to Game 7, when Saberhagen got his second start of the series. This time the game was played at home at Royals Stadium. Saberhagen was again magnificent, as he pitched another complete game, but this time it was a shutout, as the Royals won 11-0 and had their first World Series title. Saberhagen allowed just five hits, as he struck out two and walked nobody.

Because of his performance in the series, Saberhagen was named the MVP.

When I was a kid, I always dreamed about playing in a Game 7 in the World Series and being the hero. I know that is the same dream with many kids who grow up loving baseball. Saberhagen accomplished that goal and it had to be just a fantastic feeling.

“Winning Game 7 of the World Series was my biggest thrill for sure.” Saberhagen said. “Second would be pitching a no-hitter and third would be starting an All-Star game.”

Bret Saberhagen in 1989

Saberhagen remained one of the very top pitchers in the American League for the next four years, which culminated when he won his second Cy Young Award in 1989. That season Saberhagen was just nasty on the mound, as he was 23-6 with an ERA of just 2.16. He also had 12 complete games and four shutouts. In addition, Saberhagen allowed just 209 hits in 262.1 innings.

No wonder he won another Cy Young!

Some shoulder woes affected Saberhagen in 1990, as he was just 5-9 with an ERA of 3.27, but he was named to the All-Star team and got the win in that game. In 1991, Saberhagen bounced back and was 13-8 with an ERA of 3.07.

In 1992, Saberhagen was traded to the New York Mets. In three and a half seasons with the Mets, Saberhagen was 29-21 with an ERA of 3.16. His best year was in 1994, when he went 14-4 with an ERA of 2.74 and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. The most amazing aspect of that season for Saberhagen was his 11-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

At the trade deadline in 1995, Saberhagen was traded to the Colorado Rockies and went 2-1 in three starts.

“Unfortunately, I only pitched three healthy games with the Rockies,” Saberhagen said. “After my third start, the next day we traveled to Pittsburgh and we did our stretching and I went out to warm up and the first throw I made felt like a bomb blew up in my shoulder. The team did a MRI which said the shoulder was fine and just needed some clean up after the season was over.

“Needless to say, it would take me over a half hour to get loose before a ball game and my curveball was not there anymore either. It was tough to throw the changeup and my fastball was all over the place. I ended up getting two more shots of cortisone and I was living on anti-inflammatories throughout that season. I finally had surgery that offseason and the surgery was performed by Dr. Altchek by the Mets. I was put under, but I wasn’t completely out because he wanted to talk with me during the procedure.

“So when he went in, he asked me what happened and I explained. And then he told me that everything in my shoulder was gone. He said that my supraspinatus, infraspinatus and other muscles were all torn. He told me that he wasn’t going to do reconstructive surgery at that point, but that it would probably have to be done later. He just fixed it as best as possible so I could pitch the next year. But by May next year in 1996, my shoulder was still killing me and I did have reconstructive surgery and I missed all of the ’96 season.

“One of the things that I think about is the fact that I was injured quite a bit and if there was one thing in my career that I would like to change, it would be being healthy a lot more. I had a big league uniform on for 18 seasons and I missed two of those seasons completely due to injury, plus had a number of other seasons cut short due to injury.”

In 1997, Saberhagen signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. In five years with the Red Sox, Saberhagen’s point about being injured often is illustrated quite clearly. In 1996, Saberhagen only pitched in six games and in 2001, only pitched in three games due to shoulder woes. Plus, he missed all of the 2000 season.

But in the two years that Saberhagen was able to pitch, he looked a lot like the old Saberhagen, as he was 25-14 in 1998 and 1999 combined with a cumulative ERA of 3.46 for the Sox. He also struck out 181 hitters and walked just 41 (one intentional).

Looking back on his injury woes, Saberhagen reflected.

“Sometimes when you have a MRI, it misses things that are issues,”Saberhagen said. “But back then, that’s what we were working with. And you did what you had to do to get back on the mound. You got your shots of cortisone and lived on anti-inflammatories. That was just the way we were programed. You just had to what you could to get back out there.”

National Baseball Hall of Fame

The bottom line is that when healthy, Saberhagen was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and his two Cy Young Awards and his World Series MVP bear that out. Saberhagen certainly deserves to be nominated to be one of the 10 players discussed by the Today’s Game Committee in the fall of 2021 to debate if he warrants a plaque in Cooperstown.

The 16 people on that committee can make that determination, but at the very least, Saberhagen deserves the opportunity have his name put back into the discussion about being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Milwaukee Brewers: Some Memorable Interviews From Back in the Day

Simba, Rollie and Robin

We are currently living in a very difficult time, as we seem to be living out an episode of the Twilight Zone in the COVID-19 environment. The loss of life has been unimaginable and the arduous process still continues, although there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Obviously our lives have been altered over the past couple of months. For those of of us who love sports, it’s been unfathomable to not see the NBA and NHL postseason in full bloom, especially when one supports the Milwaukee Bucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning like I do. Both teams are among the favorites, especially the Bucks, to win their respective league titles.

Had things been normal, we would be in the heart of the playoffs for both of those leagues right now. In addition to that, two other things that I really look forward to this year have also been missed. I’m talking about March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) and the Masters in golf.

By the way, ESPN in a simulation, had the Wisconsin Badgers winning the NCAA title this year.

We also would be in the second month of the MLB season right now. This is the time of the year when my baseball juices really get going. By June and July, I’m going full-throttle towards baseball.

Come August, the postseason picture is starting to take shape and it gets really exciting. So does the fact that training camp to the NFL gets going around that time and I always get excited around that time, as I love going to watch the Green Bay Packers practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Because of the recent NFL draft, some in the media are building up a soap opera, as Aaron Rodgers had a déjà vu moment when the Packers selected Jordan Love late in the first round. Personally, I don’t see that situation being near as flammable as some in the media believe it is.

But back to baseball now. I’ve been reflecting on the great time I had covering the Milwaukee Brewers from 1980 through 1983. It was a fantastic time for me, as I was basically the same age as many of the players and it was easy to have access to them and the managers.

In those four years covering the Brew Crew, I interviewed just about everyone associated with the team. People like George Bamberger, Buck Rodgers, Harvey Kuenn, Harry Dalton, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando, Don Sutton, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie, Jim Gantner and Cecil Cooper. I also interviewed “Mr. Baseball”, Bob Uecker.

Speaking of Robin, I recently chatted with him about an upcoming story I’m doing on Bret Saberhagen. I also will be doing another piece on the 50th anniversary of the Brewers in Milwaukee and Yount will be adding some commentary.

I never interviewed owner Bud Selig, but I did have a one hour job interview with him once inside his office in the bowels of County Stadium as I was looking to broaden my future in the media.

In those four years, I had a number of very memorable incidents in the course of interviewing people which were unforgettable, at least for me. I’m going to write about four of them here.

Reggie Jackson

One occurred when Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees hit the game-winning homer for the Yanks versus the Brewers at County Stadium. I was an intern at WTMJ (Channel 4) at the time and was working with Mike Hegan that night. I called the studio from the press box after the game and Mike wanted to make sure that I interviewed Reggie so we could get it on the 10:00 sports show.

So I go into the clubhouse of the Yankees and I see Reggie talking to a New York sportswriter. I waited until they finished their conversation when I went up to Jackson and introduced myself and asked for a quick interview. Reggie just looked at me and says, “Get the F out of here kid!” I was totally shocked. That had never happened to me before. I mean sometimes some players on the Brewers didn’t want to do an interview on a particular day, but they were always very cordial.

Anyway, I scurried away from Reggie and called Mike from the clubhouse and told him what happened. Mike told me that I should tell Reggie that I’m working him, as they used to be teammates on the Oakland A’s. So like a good little soldier, I approached Reggie again and I told him that I was working with his old teammate Hegan and that he would really appreciate an interview. Reggie agreed.

So when the camera lights came on and I conducted the interview, Reggie acted like he and I were buddies, as he smiled and laughed and gave me a fantastic interview. When the interview was over, I thanked Reggie and he looked at me and then said with a grin, “Now get the F out of here!”

But I was happy and so was Mike, as we were able to run that interview on the sports on Channel 4 later that night.

Another time the Brewers were playing the California Angels and after the game I went into the Angel clubhouse to do a few interviews. One of the first people I saw was Rod Carew. I once again introduced myself and asked Rod for an interview. Carew didn’t say a thing and just glared at me for about a minute and then just walked away. Needless to say, I was shocked once again. I just stood there for a moment in total disbelief.

But Bobby Grich of the Angels came to my rescue. He came up to me and put his arm around me and said that Rod doesn’t do interviews and he treats just about everyone in the media like that. To help out even further, Grich agreed to do an interview with me, as I talked to him and Brian Downing.

Talking and interviewing players was an awesome experience for me. So was doing that with managers. Two of my favorite interviews were with Ralph Houk of the Boston Red Sox and Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers. Two of the all-time greats.

In terms of the managers of the Brewers, I loved interviewing Bamberger who always had time for me. Just before we would do the interview, Bambi would be cussing like a sailor talking about this or that, but once the interview started, he was on his best behavior.

Whitey and Harvey II

Rodgers always gave me time as well, as did Kuenn. But there was one incident with Harvey that I’ll never forget. One time our cameraman was late getting to County Stadium and so I wasn’t able to do some of the pre-game interviews that I liked to do. Finally he shows up with about a half hour before game time. I see Harvey and asked him for a quick interview. Kuenn read me the riot act about asking him for an interview so close to game time.

Harvey had to see the pained look on my face as I walked away. I was just about ready to head to the press box for the game when there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Harvey with a chaw of tobacco in his cheek. He said to me as he smiled, “Let’s do that interview kid, but make it quick!”

Speaking of managers, I was covering the 1983 MLB All-Star game at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. Talk about a great time. The Brewers were represented by Yount, Cooper, Oglive and Simmons in the game, plus Kuenn was the manager for the American League team.

The opposing manager was Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals. So I see Whitey talking with one of his coaches in the game, Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers. So I approach them and introduce myself and ask for an interview. They said sure.

But the interview quickly became a Joe Pesci parody, as F bombs were flying from every direction as Herzog and Lasorda answered my questions. When they were finished, Lasorda asked me what I thought of the interview. I told him that it was great. It would never get on the air, but the folks at the studio will love it! Herzog then looks at Lasorda while smiling and says, “Let’s give the kid a real interview.” And they did!

Those are just some of the interview stories that I will never forget covering baseball back in the day.

Green Bay Packers: The 2020 NFL Draft Class and Some Possible Moves in Free Agency

Untitled

My interpretation of the 2020 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers was that the team definitely enhanced the preferred offense which is run by head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.

Five of the nine selections by the Packers were aimed at making the outside zone strategy that much more effective. Those five picks were running back AJ Dillon, tight end/H-back/fullback Josiah Deguara, guard/tackle Jon Runyan Jr., center Jake Hanson and guard Simon Stepaniak.

I had the Packers taking Runyan in my final mock draft.

The most publicized pick of the draft was definitely the first round selection of quarterback Jordan Love, who looks to be the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, but like No. 12, also looks to be holding the clipboard for three or so years.

The draft by the Packers did not address the wide receiver situation for the team which has only one sure option in Davante Adams, plus did not help out the run-defense issue that plagued Green Bay all season long in 2019 and became an embarrassment in the 2019 NFC title game versus the San Francisco 49ers. Nor did the team specifically add to the cornerback position, as Kevin King is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season.

I see general manager Brian Gutekunst addressing those issues via free agency. In fact, he already has at the wide receiver position, as he added Devin Funchess to the team.

Plus, Gutekunst also added Christian Kirksey in free agency to play inside linebacker and replace Blake Martinez, who also used free agency to join the New York Giants. Still, even with Martinez, who was second in the NFL in tackles in 2019, the Packers were just 23rd in the NFL in run defense in the 2019 regular season.

To be more active in free agency, the Packers can help themselves by cutting guard Lane Taylor, which will add approximately $4 million more in cap space for the team.

Green Bay might have signaled that move on Saturday, when they took three offensive linemen in Round 6.

Plus the team has to be even more creative in regards to the salary cap.

Why? The Packers are currently just over $11 million under the NFL salary cap. The 2020 draft class alone will cut into that by just over $8 million. Cutting Taylor will give the team about $7 million to use in free agency. That’s not a lot if you want to add a few more players to your roster.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

David Bakhtiari

That’s why doing a contract extension for left tackle David Bakhtiari needs to be a priority. Right now, Bakhtiari’s cap hit is $14.5 million in 2020. But by re-doing his deal and extending it and using a large signing bonus, the Packers should be able to add quite a bit more revenue to use for free agency.

There are some options as to how that added revenue could be utilized.

In terms of helping out the situation at wide receiver and specifically the slot receiver spot in free agency, the Packers may look to Taylor Gabriel, as LaFleur is familiar with him during his time in Atlanta. Gabriel is small (5’7″, 170 pounds), but he’s been effective in the NFL and he’s fast (4.40 in the 40).

The Packers also still see some real upside with Allen Lazard, plus there is also Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown, who have also shown flashes. In addition, there is also Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who seemed an afterthought the rest of the 2019 season after breaking off on a long touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in the seventh game of the season.

In terms of helping out the run defense, one familiar name to look for is Clay Matthews III, who would be a great partner for Kirksey at inside linebacker. When the Packers were struggling to stop the run in both 2014 and 2015, they moved Matthews inside and he made a noticeable difference. As a matter of fact, he was named to the Pro Bowl both years.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Clay Matthews III forces a key fumble in Super Bowl XLV.

Plus, Matthews is very versatile, as he obviously can enhance the pass rush on the outside as well, as he proved last year with the Los Angeles Rams with eight sacks in just 13 games.

The Packers did draft linebacker Kamal Martin and defensive end/outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, but I see both players as having roles on special teams initially.

That’s why also adding a defensive lineman like Damon “Snacks” Harrison in free agency would be huge. There aren’t too many players in the NFL who can stop the run better than Snacks. Pro Football Focus did a piece on Harrison less than a year ago which described Snacks as an immovable force.

Snacks Harrison

Damon “Snacks” Harrison

In terms of adding quality depth at cornerback, I believe the odds are pretty strong that the Packers will be bring back Tramon Williams, who played very well last year for Green Bay at the age of 36.

The Packers did draft safety Vernon Scott, who also played some cornerback at TCU, but he too fits in more as a special team player in 2020.

Finally, even though the Packers did select three offensive linemen in the 2020 draft, bringing back Jared Veldheer would be a very important add, as the team found out in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau last postseason, when Bryan Bulaga couldn’t play due to the flu.

Yes, the Packers did sign right tackle Rick Wagner via free agency to replace Bulaga, but the depth at offensive tackle currently is iffy at best.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 draft class for the Packers, which hasn’t exactly gotten too many favorable grades from many of the “experts” out there.

I recently published a piece on Love, as NFL scout Chris Landry gave his take on his abilities. The one thing that keeps popping in my head about drafting a talent like Love is perhaps due to the injury history of Rodgers. In the last seven years, No. 12 was twice lost for half the season in both 2013 and 2017 due to a broken clavicle. Rodgers missed 16 games overall.

Plus, Rodgers narrowly missed seeing his entire 2018 season wiped out when he suffered a scary knee injury in the opening game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Although Rodgers was able to come back after going to the locker room (in what appeared to be an ACL tear) and lead the Packers to a stirring victory in that game, that injury seemed to plague him throughout most of the season, especially with his throwing motion.

In a perfect world, Love will do exactly what Rodgers did while backing up Brett Favre, which is holding the clipboard and learning the offense, while watching a future Hall of Famer. But if there is an injury to Rodgers, the Packers will have their possible heir apparent ready to go.

I also wrote a recent story on Dillon, as he might be the best part of this draft class, at least initially. Teaming Dillon with Aaron Jones, plus occasionally subbing in Jamaal Williams, gives the Packers a potent running game. Which is one needs to have in the outside zone running scheme for the overall offense to be effective.

AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last season. Adding a talent like Dillon should put the Packers in the top 10.

Another reason the running game of the Packers should be better is because of the selection of Deguara in the third round. I believe that LaFleur sees Deguara to be similar to fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk is both a punishing blocker and a very capable pass receiver. He is a big reason why the 49ers have the best running game in the NFC due to his prolific blocking. Again, the Niners also implement a outside zone running scheme under Kyle Shanahan.

Here is part of what Landry said about Deguara:

Packers selected Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara with the No. 94 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cincinnati’s all-time leader in catches (92) by a tight end, Deguara (6’2/242) was actually invited to the Senior Bowl as a fullback due to his smaller stature. Good news is Bearcats OC Mike Denbrock, who simultaneously serves as the program’s tight ends coach, has a successful track record of producing NFL players at the position. Deguara has the try-hard that front offices crave, which allowed him to pry himself open for the second-highest target share (20%) in the nation at his position last year.

In terms of the rest of the draft class for the Packers, Landry will also give his assessment for each of the players.

Landry’s assessment on Kamal Martin who the Packers selected in Round 5:

Packers selected Minnesota LB Kamal Martin with the No. 175 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Martin (6’3/240) was a two-year starting weak-side linebacker at Minnesota who missed four games as a senior with a foot sprain and knee injury that also kept him out of the pre-draft process. He has the strength, size, and tenacity to play at the next level, but poor technique and vision led to below-average tackling numbers against the run. In coverage, Martin is likely too heavy-footed to reliably cover NFL players, which may force him into a strict special teams role. His aggressive playing style and ability to work through blocks are traits that should translate there.

Landry’s take on the three offensive linemen (Runyon, Hanson and Stepaniak) the Packers took in Round 6:

Packers selected Michigan OT Jon Runyan with the No. 192 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Son of Jon Runyan Sr., a 14-year pro who was once the highest-paid lineman in the NFL, the Wolverines’ left tackle was groomed in the sport and inherited his father’s trademark nastiness in bulldozing oncoming defenders in the run game. His versatility at both left and right tackle in college, as well as the few snaps he took in between at guard, should compensate for his subpar feet, length, and strength at the next level. Overall, Runyan (6’4/306) is an above-average athlete who projects best on the interior line but may be asked to compete at multiple positions in camp.

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan Jr.

Packers selected Oregon C Jake Hanson with the No. 208 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Hanson (6’4/303) was a four-year starting center at Oregon who earned an All-Pac 12 honorable mention every season. His experience and competitiveness have him on the NFL’s radar, but he’s a well below-average athlete. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.50 seconds and lacked the strength to be put in one-on-one situations on tape. Hanson will compete for a final roster spot this offseason as a 23-year-old rookie. It’s clear the Packers made offensive line depth a priority over receiver depth in this draft.

Packers selected Indiana OT Simon Stepaniak with the No. 209 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. All 31 of Stepaniak’s (6’4/313) college starts came at guard, but the Packers announced him as a tackle. Stepaniak likely tumbled in the draft due to a Dec. 2019 torn ACL, though that was not his only injury in the Big 10. The owner of bruising size and strength, Stepaniak played with some real nastiness on the interior, but he gets tripped up by technique. 

Landry’s assessment of the selections of Scott and Garvin in Round 7:

Packers selected TCU DB Vernon Scott with the No. 236 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Scott (6’2/206) played four seasons at TCU, primarily lining up at safety, but he was well off the radar. As a senior, he mad 44 tackles across 10 games with one interception and eight pass deflections. He’ll need to show out on special teams to make the Packers final roster.

Packers selected Miami DE Jonathan Garvin with the No. 242 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Garvin (6’4/263) was a two-year starter at Miami who made 5.5 and 5.0 sacks as a sophomore and junior. Despite the average production, he declared for the NFL Draft early. He has Day 3 speed (4.82-second 40-yard dash) and will have to show more developmental traits to stick on the Packers’ roster.

To many in Packer Nation, the draft selections by the Packers in the 2020 NFL were somewhat confusing. But both LaFleur and Gutekunst have a plan and going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC title game in their first year together gives them some leeway.

Missing on certain players in the draft happens to all NFL teams. That is why utilizing free agency is so important to add to the weak areas of the team that the draft wasn’t able to address.

Gutekunst has proven over the last three offseasons that he is willing to utilize free agency quite often, which is similar to the man who hired him, Ron Wolf.

Time will tell how many more free agency moves that Gutekunst will make before the start of the 2020 NFL season. I definitely see at least a couple more though.

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Running Back AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

In both of the mock drafts I did on the Green Bay Packers for the 2020 NFL draft, I had the team taking Jonathan Taylor in the first round. The Packers instead shocked many in the pro football world by selecting quarterback Jordan Love.

The Packers did take a running back in the second round when they selected AJ Dillon out of Boston College.

The reason I had Green Bay taking a running back early in the draft was how important the running game is in the overall success for the offensive strategy which the Packers utilize under head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.

Yes, I know that the Packers have Aaron Jones, who had a fantastic year in 2019. Plus the Packers have a decent compliment to Jones in Jamaal Williams. Still, the Packers were ranked 15th in the NFL in rushing. Plus, both Jones and Williams are slated to become free agents after the 2020 season. Add to that, LaFleur told the media that he wanted to add a third running back to the mix via the draft.

If the outside zone scheme is really effective, the passing game will be that much better. And that will make quarterback Aaron Rodgers a happy camper, as the play-action passing game will really open up.

For instance, while LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, the team used the outside zone scheme as Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. The running game flourished due to the two-headed monster formed by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In addition to that, so did the success of quarterback Matt Ryan, who was the NFL MVP in 2016.

In 2017, LaFleur became the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and he had to fix an offense which really struggled the year before.

In seven starts as a rookie in 2016, Jared Goff was 0-7 as a starter and had just five TD passes versus seven interceptions for 1,089 yards. That adds up to a paltry passer rating of 63.6.

But in 2017, under the guidance of LaFleur, Goff really took off, as he was 11-4 as a starter, plus threw 28 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 3,804 yards. Goff’s passer rating improved to a very nice 100.4 level.

Not only did LaFleur get Goff on the right track, but the Rams started using the skills of talented running back Todd Gurley much better in 2017 by using the outside zone running scheme.

In 2015, Gurley was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but in 2016, things went south for the former Georgia Bulldog. In his second season, Gurley only rushed for 885 yards and his yards-per-carry average went down by over a yard and a half, as he only averaged 3.2 yards per rush.

But in 2017 under LaFleur, Gurley had a monster year, as he was named Offensive Player of the Year. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards (4.7 average) and 13 TDs, plus caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six more scores.

In 2018, when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, the offense struggled early, as quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury which would linger all season long.

Tennessee didn’t flash statistically under LaFleur (25th in total offense and 27th in scoring), but he figured out the best way to run his offense down the stretch. It led to five straight wins before the Titans were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in the final game of the season, in a game which would see the winner get into the playoffs.

Knowing that he had an ailing Mariota dealing with elbow issues, LaFleur leaned on the running game for the last quarter of the 2018 season. Running back Derrick Henry became a force, as he rushed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in four games to end the season.

Henry carried that momentum into 2019, as he was dominant, both in the regular season and postseason. In addition to that, look at how effective Ryan Tannehill was at quarterback for the Titans.

Which takes me to the selection of Dillon in the second round by the Packers on Friday night. If there is any running back that Dillon can be compared to, it’s Henry.

Like Henry was at Alabama, Dillon was a force at Boston College. In three years with the Eagles, Dillon rushed for 4,382 yards (5.2 yards per carry average) and scored 38 touchdowns.

Dillon was named first-team All-ACC three times at Boston College, plus was named third-team All-American in 2019.

NFL scout Chris Landry also named Dillon to his All-ACC squad, as well as naming him to the third-team on his All-American team.

Landry said this about Dillon before he did drills at the NFL Scouting Combine:

Boston College RB AJ Dillon is a feature runner with power, strength and underrated burst. Dillon measured in at 247 pounds for the combine, making him the heaviest back in Indianapolis. He finished out his Eagles career having taken 845 carries (including 300 or more carries in 2017 and 2019).
Dillon measured in at 6-foot 3/8 inches and 247 pounds and was actually down three pounds from his last listed weight at Boston College, but regardless, he weighed in as the heaviest running back in Indianapolis. Those 247 pounds, by the by, made for an identical match to Derrick Henry’s combine measurement. Dillon would obviously love for his pro career to unfold like that of King Henry and will look to impress in athletic testing this weekend, but keep in mind that Henry’s athleticism at such a weight is an outlier, not the norm.

Landry then said this about Dillon after his workout at the combine:

RB AJ Dillon recorded a vertical jump of 41 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine. We hesitate to invoke the name Derrick Henry when it comes to Dillon, but when it comes to a back performing in tests at size, the 6-foot, 247-pound Dillon (same weight as the Titans back) was putting in slightly better marks than those of King Henry on Friday. His 41-inch vertical jump was the best jump of any running back in Indianapolis — and four inches better than Henry’s 2016 jump — and his 4.53-second 40-yard dash just barely bettered Henry’s 4.54-second rumble from a few years back, while his broad jump went for 10-foot-11, one inch better than Henry’s. He was a clear winner from the day, at least in terms of some of the less agility-centered tests.

The bottom line is that the Packers can now utilize a running back like Dillon in short yardage situations, which was a problem for the team in 2019. Dillon is the type of back who can not only get you a first down in those situations, but also take it to the house.

The 6’0″, 247-pound Dillon is also the perfect type of back to lean on when Lambeau Field truly becomes the frozen tundra in December and January.

Dillon would be the thunder in the Green Bay backfield, while Jones would be the Lightning. Williams will have a role as well, to keep everyone fresh.

Expect to see the running game of the Packers to get much better in 2020, which will also help the effectiveness of Rodgers at quarterback. In terms of who No. 12 will throw to in 2020 besides Davante Adams, I’ll hold off on that discussion in another story.

A Scout’s Take on the Round 1 Selection of Jordan Love by the Green Bay Packers in the 2020 NFL Draft

Jordan Love vs. LSU

In the 2005 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the first round. 15 years later, the Packers drafted the heir apparent to Rodgers, Jordan Love of Utah State, with the 26th pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

The Packers did have pick No. 30 in Round 1 on Thursday night, but then traded up with the Miami Dolphins to move up to pick No. 26. My first guess was that Green Bay traded up to select linebacker Patrick Queen of LSU. I was somewhat shocked when it was announced that the Packers instead took the 6’4″, 225-pound Love with the pick.

That being said, the Packers were among the teams that had virtual meeting with Love before the draft, so obviously there was some interest from general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur. There was a lot to like about Love and his play at Utah State, plus it was important to know he played under three different offensive coordinators in three years while he was an Aggie.

In those three years at Utah State, Love threw 60 touchdown passes versus 29 interceptions for 8,600 yards. Love also ran for 403 yards and nine touchdowns. Love’s best year at Utah State was in 2018 as a sophomore, as he threw 32 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 3,567 yards.

Before the draft, this is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about Love:

Utah State QB Jordan Love does have some Drew Lock in him.
Though immensely talented, Lock was a bit reckless in college and needed a bit of fine-tuning in the NFL in order to be a hit. Love (6’4/225) fills a similar role in this class. While he is nowhere near as sure a prospect as Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, or even Justin Herbert, the potential he assumes due to his arm talent, mobility, and daring mentality is enticing. Look out for some team to swing on Love in the mid to late first round, where many expected Lock to be drafted last year.

Landry was certainly correct about when Love would be drafted. After the Packers did indeed select Love, this was the take by the man (Landry) who once drafted Steve McNair:

The Packers surrendered the Nos. 30 and 136 picks to move up four spots for Aaron Rodgers’ heir apparent. Love fits the prototypical build of a first round quarterback — large, heaves with velocity, can maneuver around the pocket — but was very inconsistent at Utah State despite eclipsing 9,000 yards of total offense. He had a 32:6 TD:INT ratio as a redshirt sophomore before regressing to 20:17 in 2019. While Love worked with a weak supporting cast, blame should be placed on his shoulders, as he ranked 101st-overall in turnover-worthy play rate and 88th in Total QBR, finishing with a pedestrian 175 rushing yards from under center. Quarterback coaches and scouts are still unsurprisingly drawn to his ability to throw outside of structure and to all levels of the field. A polarizing prospect like Josh Allen or Daniel Jones, Love needs to rein in his wild side to be a franchise quarterback. He will benefit from holding Rodgers’ clipboard for multiple seasons, but it remains to be seen how Rodgers reacts to the provocation.

Final 2020 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst 2020 Combine III

Even though we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will still take place starting three days from now on April 23. Which means I’ll be doing my final mock draft exercise for the Green Bay Packers, which I have been doing now for 20 years.

I first started doing my mock drafts when I was with Packer Report, and that continued with Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report (for three and a half years) and now my own site. Over the years, I have had a decent track record in correctly naming some players who the Packers did select in the various drafts.

Over the past several years, I have utilized the wisdom and insight of NFL scout Chris Landry and I basically use his positional draft boards and horizontal draft board to guide me through my selections for the Packers.

In the past, I have done a number of mock drafts each year, some starting shortly after the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl were over. I would then do another mock draft after the NFL Scouting Combine. This year will be different. I’m doing just two mock drafts and this will be my second and final one.

My first mock draft for the Packers in 2020 is right here.

Again, making use of the expertise of Landry is very helpful. I’m talking about a scout, who has also been a coach and an administrator, who has been to every NFL Scouting Combine since it’s inception in 1982.

That’s why I use his various draft boards to help steer me through my selections.

Besides using his draft boards to select any given player, I will also add comments which Chris has made about that particular player, whether at the combine or at other events like East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl practices.

It’s important to note that towards the end of a draft, teams look to improve the special team units on their team. That is what I have tried to do in this mock with my Round 7 selections.

I’m sure Packer Nation is hoping that general manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouting staff will have similar success in drafting like scout Jack Vainisi did in the 1950s, especially with the 1958 draft class which saw three future Pro Football Hall of Famers come to Green Bay.

Based on the two-year track record of Gutekunst running the draft for the Packers, one should expect some trades. I expect Gutekunst to use some of his late-round extra draft picks (five total picks in Round 6 and Round 7) to try and move up in the middle rounds of the draft.

But for this mock draft, there will be no trades.

Okay, the Packers on the clock.

Round 1: Running Back Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Jonathan Taylor in the Rose Bowl

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 226 pounds

Almost seven weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why drafting Jonathan Taylor was a decent possibility for the Green Bay Packers. I still feel the same way today, perhaps even stronger.

In fact, I also had the Packers taking Taylor with pick No. 30 in my first mock draft three weeks ago.

When he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards (plus scored 50 touchdowns) and averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season. Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

This is what Landry said about Taylor at the combine:

Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans (more on him below) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.

The Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur run the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. This bodes well for Taylor picking up the offense quickly.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

There is one other reason that the Packers will have Taylor on their radar. A number of players are due to become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley, cornerback Kevin King and both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs on the team.

The Packers need to try and cover themselves at each one of those positions in the draft, although I do expect the team to do extensions for Bakhtiari and Clark for sure.

Doing an extension for Linsley is questionable, as is the case for King and Williams. I believe the Packers will also extend Jones, but that he won’t be a priority.

That’s why drafting Taylor is a growing possibility for the Packers.

Round 2: Defensive Lineman Raekwon Davis (Alabama)

Raekwon Davis

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 311 pounds

The calling card of Raekwon Davis has been his run-stopping ability on the defensive line at the University of Alabama. Which is not to say, Davis can’t get after the quarterback, as he did have 8.5 sacks when he was a sophomore for the Crimson Tide and he was named first-team All-SEC.

The production for Davis fell off a bit as a junior, but as a senior was named second-team All-SEC.

But stopping the run is what he does best and in four years at Alabama, Davis had 175 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

The Packers need someone to help to disrupt the opponents run game, even with the talented Kenny Clark on the defensive line. The Packers were ranked just 23rd in run defense last year and were thoroughly embarrassed trying to stop the run in the 2019 NFC title game.

Stopping the running game starts in the trenches.

Landry said this about Davis prior to the Citrus Bowl:

Davis is a true senior and two-year starter who can line up on the inside in a base four-man front or at defensive end in a base three three-man front. He’s a powerful run-defender with the length and upper-body strength to stack blockers, locate the ball and shed in time to make the play. He’s not as effective rushing the passer, but pushes the pocket and has enough quickness to get better.

Round 3: Wide/Slot Receiver Antonio Gibson (Memphis)

Antonio Gibson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

The Packers certainly have some dangerous weapons on offense for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to utilize. Running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams come to mind.

The offense would become a lot more potent with the addition of players like Jonathan Taylor and slot receiver Antonio Gibson. Not to mention faster, as both Taylor and Gibson ran a 4.39 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Packers need someone at receiver to take some the emphasis away from Adams. Young players like Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow all have upside. The addition of Devin Funchess will definitely help.

But production from the slot receiver for the Packers stuck out like a sore thumb all year long for the Packers in 2019.

This is where a great athlete like Gibson can step in. Last year at Memphis, Gibson caught 38 passes for 735 yards (19.3 average) and eight touchdowns. In addition, Gibson ran for 369 more yards and four scores. Think jet sweep (like Deebo Samuel) with a guy like Gibson when he’s not catching the ball.

Plus, even though the Packers have a talented return man in Tyler Ervin, Gibson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 for the Tigers.

Landry said this about Gibson at the NFL Scouting Combine:

Memphis WR/RB Antonio Gibson ran an unofficial 40-yard dash of 4.40 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gibson (6’0/228) and Devin Duvernay are currently tied with the fastest unofficial 40-yard dash times among wide receivers at the combine. The Memphis speedster is a position-versatile dynamo who could see work at both running back and receiver in the pros.

Landry also said this about Gibson at the Senior Bowl:

The fact Gibson was even at the Senior Bowl speaks volumes as he was not on the scouting radar before the season began. He’s a receiver in a running backs body.

Round 4: Offensive Tackle Alex Taylor (South Carolina State)

Alex Taylor

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 308 pounds

Even though left tackle David Bakhtiari will eventually get a contract extension before he reaches free agency in 2021 and the Packers signed Rick Wagner in free agency to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who also left via free agency, the Packers need to add some offensive tackle talent in this draft.

Alex Taylor of South Carolina is an intriguing prospect. Taylor is huge, as he goes 6’8″ and is north of 300 pounds. Add to that, he has a massive 36 inch wingspan. You wouldn’t think a guy that big could run very fast, but Taylor ran a 5.09 in the 40 at the combine.

Taylor has started 22 consecutive games for South Carolina State at right tackle and was third-team all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as a junior and third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-MEAC honors as a senior.

While Taylor is learning the NFL ropes, the Packers could also re-sign offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to add to the offensive tackle depth chart, as Veldheer played very well in the absence of Bulaga in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks last postseason.

Landry said this about Taylor at the Senior Bowl:

Alex Taylor has arguably the most upside of any player in the Senior Bowl. His frame and length would be top in the NFL. However he lacks technical refinement, and is a ways away from being a competent NFL protector. Taylor got better over the week, but his lack of refinement was obvious. Taylor could be a top tackle in the NFL. I just wonder if he’ll ever meet that ceiling.

Round 5: Cornerback Dane Jackson (Pittsburgh)

Dane Jackson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 187 pounds

The Packers have two pretty good starting cornerbacks in Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. The third cornerback who the Packers used a lot last year is free agent Tramon Williams.

Williams could be an option to come back, as he played pretty well for someone who recently turned 37. King has two issues in terms of his future. One, he has been injury prone in his career. Two, he will be a free agent in 2021. And who knows if he’ll be back, as David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark and Aaron Jones will be much bigger priorities in terms of doing contract extensions.

Which leads to me to the selection of Dane Jackson of Pittsburgh. Jackson played four years with the Panthers and played in 46 games. In that time, Jackson had 149 total tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions (one for a touchdown), 39 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

Jackson was honorable mention All-ACC as a junior and second-team All-ACC as a senior.

Jackson ran a 4.57 in the 40 at the combine, but his ball awareness makes him look much faster on tape.

This is what Landry said about Jackson at the Senior Bowl:

Dane Jackson was one of the best defensive backs in Mobile. I wasn’t too aware of his tape coming in but his physicality and athleticism in coverage during drills had me excited to see the traits on his tape. It was a great week for Jackson, capped off by being voted the best DB on the South squad by his teammates.

Round 6: Linebacker Chris Orr (Wisconsin)

Chris Orr

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

With Blake Martinez leaving the Packers via free agency and even with the signing of Christian Kirksey, the Packers are still looking for help at inside linebacker. Yes, Oren Burks could come on and be the guy, but after two years of little or no contributions, don’t hold your breath.

There is also a chance that the Packers might bring back Clay Matthews III to play at inside linebacker.

Which takes me to Chris Orr of the Wisconsin Badgers. Orr played in the same type of defensive scheme that the Packers utilize under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, as Jim Leonhard (who played under Pettine in the NFL) runs a similar 3-4 defense for the Badgers.

Orr has sort of flown under the radar in this draft, which is surprising to me. Especially based on what he did his senior year for the Badgers and the great workout he had on his pro day.

In 2019, Orr had 78 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, five passes defended, one recovered fumble and two forced fumbles. Orr played four years for the Badgers and had a great career in Madison overall, which included two interceptions, including one for a 78-yard touchdown.

Because of his great season in 2019, Orr was named second-team All-Big Ten at inside linebacker.

Or didn’t receive an invite from the combine for some ridiculous reason, and all he did was run a 4.65 in the 40 to add to his great stat line.

This is what Landry said about Orr after his pro day workout in Madison:

Wisconsin LB Chris Orr ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at the school’s pro day. Orr additionally logged 20 reps on the bench press to go with a 36.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9-foot-2 before taking part in on-field drills. While the linebacker did not receive an invitation to the combine, some corners of the evaluating community are quite high on Orr.

Round 6: Quarterback Nate Stanley (Iowa)

Nate Stanley

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 235 pounds

I do expect the Packers to select a quarterback in this draft. It might be early if the right QB is on the board, but more than likely, I see the one taken later in the draft.

Which takes me to Menomonie, Wisconsin native Nate Stanley, who played for the University of Iowa and started for three years.

In his career with the Hawkeyes, Stanley threw 68 touchdown passes versus 23 interceptions for 8,297 yards.

Stanley was also a sparkling 3-0 in bowl games he started.

While he is certainly not a real mobile quarterback, he also is not a statue and he can move around the pocket. Stanley also has a rocket for an arm.

Landry said this about Stanley prior to the Holiday Bowl:

Nate Stanley is 2-0 in bowl games (now 3-0). He was just okay against Boston College in the win Pinstripe Bowl win two years ago – throwing for 99 yards and a score – and last season he kept his cool against the tremendous Mississippi State defense hitting 68% of his passes for 214 yards and three scores with a pick. He doesn’t have to bomb away against the Trojans, and he only threw 14 touchdown passes on the year, but he’s the senior veteran who won’t make the big mistake.

Round 6: Offensive Lineman Jon Runyan Jr. (Michigan)

Jon Runyan

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 306 pounds

Chris Landry knows a little about the Runyan bloodline, as he was part of the front office of the Houston Oilers when they drafted Jon Runyon Sr. in 1996.

Like his father did, Jon Runyon Jr. played at Michigan and had a very nice career. In fact, in both 2018 and 2019, Runyan was named first-team All-Big Ten at offensive tackle.

Although he was solid as a tackle in college, his best position in the NFL might be at guard as you will see with the comments of Landry.

Landry said this about Runyan at Day 2 of the East-West Shrine practices:

I was impressed with Jon Runyan on a number of occasions today. The former Michigan tackle has lined up at guard the past two days and looks like a natural at the position.

Landry said this about Runyon on Day 3 of the practices in St. Petersburg:

On the offensive line, Jon Runyan had another solid day and seems to be improving with each practice.

Round 7: Linebacker/Safety Khaleke Hudson (Michigan)

Khaleke Hudson

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 224 pounds

Khaleke Hudson is one of those tweeners. He’s basically one of those hybrids who can play both safety and linebacker. That versatility put together a great career for Hudson at the University of Michigan.

In four years with the Wolverines, Hudson had 225 total tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Hudson had a great senior year for the Wolverines, as he had 102 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and also a blocked kick.

Hudson ran a 4.56 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 30 reps on the bench press.

Landry said this about Hudson at the Senior Bowl:

Hudson’s Senior Bowl week has been outstanding. He weighed in with good numbers and his week never came down from there. He flew around in coverage and kept making plays in every drill. For a stud athlete coming from a pretty big school, the lack of buzz coming into Mobile was pretty surprising. But, it’s safe to say he’ll have plenty of it leaving Mobile.

Landry also talked about Hudson playing both safety and linebacker:

Michigan DB/LB Khaleke Hudson is a safety who converted to linebacker. He moves very well but is engulfed vs size and is not a big asset in coverage. His best skill set is his toughness and awareness. I like him as a sub package situational player and he can excel on special teams.

Round 7: Tight End Stephen Sullivan (LSU)

Stephen Sullivan

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

When one thinks about the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers, most people will recall that the son of Randy Moss played tight end most of the time. I’m talking about Thaddeus Moss. Moss had a nice year catching the ball from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, as he caught 47 passes for 570 yards and four scores.

But like all great teams in the SEC, all positions have fantastic depth, which was the case for the Tigers at tight end. The backup to Moss was Stephen Sullivan, who definitely is not a slouch, plus he did start two games in 2019.

In his three-year career at LSU, Sullivan had 46 receptions for 712 yards and three touchdowns.

Sullivan converted to tight end in 2019 after playing wide receiver for the Tigers in 2017 and 2018.

Besides having great size for a tight end, Sullivan ran a 4.66 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry said this about Sullivan at the Senior Bowl:

LSU TE/WR Stephen Sullivan caught the ball smoothly and moved exceptionally well for his dimensions” during the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice week. Sullivan also run-blocked well during the week. He has a chance to stick on a roster as a mid-late round pick.

Green Bay Packers: Clark Hinkle was the Toughest of the Tough

Clark Hinkle

packers.com

The Green Bay Packers won six NFL titles under head coach Curly Lambeau. Those NFL championship teams have been honored by having a number of the players from those teams get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That would include Lambeau himself, along with Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clark Hinkle, Mike Michalske and Arnie Herber.

There should be at least three other players who also played for the Packers in that era who also deserve a bust in Canton. I’m talking about Lavvie Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Cecil Isbell.

In fact, they all came close to getting in the Hall of Fame recently, as all three were among the 20 finalists for the centennial class in 2020.

I heard all about those players from my dad, as we would be eating dinner talking sports while I was growing up. The Lambeau Packers were the ones my dad grew up watching and by the time he was 18 and serving his country in the Pacific during World War II in the Navy, he had seen the Pack win six NFL titles, including one in person, as he and his dad saw the Packers defeat the New York Giants 27-0 at State Fair Park in West Allis (a Milwaukee suburb) in 1939.

So while I was enamored with the Vince Lombardi Packers in the 1960s and players like Bart Starr, Paul Horning, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke and Herb Adderley, dad made sure that I learned about the earlier version of the Packers under Lambeau.

When I watched the Packers of my childhood, I was in awe of the toughness of players like Taylor and Nitschke and would gush about them to my dad. My father agreed with my assessment, but then told me about the toughest player he ever saw play for the Packers when he was a kid. The player he was talking about was Clark Hinkle.

Hinkle played both fullback and linebacker during his playing days and he was ferocious, both as a runner and a tackler. In addition to that, Hinkle was a fine receiver when called upon, plus could also kick and punt.

But when it came to being just flat out mean and vicious in terms of tenacity, no one could top Hinkle. Not to mention, Hinkle was very talented as well.

The 5’11”, 202-pound Hinkle played much larger than his size. He joined the Packers in 1932 after playing his college football at Bucknell, which was right after the Packers had won three straight NFL titles (before the playoff era started in 1933).

In 10 years in the NFL, Hinkle gained 3,860 yards on the ground. When he retired after the 1941 season, that was the NFL record for rushing yards at the time. Hinkle also scored 35 touchdowns on the ground.

In his career, Hinkle also caught 49 passes for 537 yards and nine more scores. In terms of overall scoring, Hinkle scored 379 points in his career, as he scored 44 touchdowns, kicked 31 extra points and 28 field goals.

Plus just like Lewellen was for the Packers in the 1920s, Hinkle was considered the best punter in the NFL when he played.

Clark Hinkle punting

On defense, opponents of the Packers always kept a close eye on Hinkle, as he would bring the lumber on every play. Ken Strong, who is another Hall of Famer who mostly played with the Giants, said this about Hinkle, “When he hit you, you knew you were hit. Bells rang and you felt it all the way to your toes.”

Hinkle had a great competition with Bronco Nagurski of the Bears, who also played fullback and linebacker. In fact, both Hinkle and Nagurski were selected to the NFL All-Decade team from the 1930s at fullback. They had a number of collisions with each other when they played in the still fierce rivalry between the Packers and da Bears.

Hinkle talked about one of those impacts. “I was carrying the ball and Nagurski charged in to make the tackle. WHAM! We banged into each other. Nagurski had to be removed from the game with a broken nose and two closed eyes. Strangely enough, I suffered no ill effects and was able to continue playing.”

Nagurski certainly respected Hinkle, as he once said, “The toughest man I ever played against.”

In his ten years in the NFL, Hinkle was named first-team All-Pro four times and second-team All-Pro six times. Hinkle also was named to three Pro Bowl teams.

In 1964, which was the second year of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hinkle joined Lambeau, Hubbard, Hutson and McNally in Canton, as they were part of the inaugural class the year before.

In 1972, Hinkle was enshrined into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There are two practice fields across the street from Lambeau Field, one on each side of the Don Hutson Center. One is Ray Nitschke Field, where the team practices in front of the fans in training camp, while the other is named Clark Hinkle Field, which is the practice field closest to Lambeau.

The names for the practice fields are very apropos. Nitschke was as tough as they came during his era in the NFL.

The same could certainly be said about Hinkle when he played in the NFL.

Initial 2020 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Matt LaFleur 2020 NFL Combine(1)

Even though we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will still take place starting a little over three weeks from now on April 23. Which means I’ll be doing my annual mock draft exercise for the Green Bay Packers, which I have been doing now for 20 years.

I first started doing my mock drafts when I was with Packer Report, and that continued with Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report (for three and a half years) and now my own site. Over the years, I have had a decent track record in correctly naming some players who the Packers did select in the various drafts.

Over the past several years, I have utilized the wisdom and insight of NFL scout Chris Landry and I basically use his positional draft boards and horizontal draft board to guide me through my selections for the Packers.

In the past, I have done a number of mock drafts each year, some starting shortly after the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl were over. I would then do another mock draft after the NFL Scouting Combine. This year will be different. I don’t expect to do more than two mock drafts and this will be my first.

Again, making use of the expertise of Landry is very helpful. I’m talking about a scout, who has also been a coach and an administrator, who has been to every NFL Scouting Combine since it’s inception in 1982.

Besides using his draft boards to select any given player, I will also add comments which Chris has made about that particular player, whether at the combine or at other events like East-West Shrine or Senior Bowl practices.

With all that being said, here goes.

Round 1: Running Back Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 226 pounds

Almost four weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why drafting Jonathan Taylor was a decent possibility for the Green Bay Packers. I still feel the same way today, perhaps even stronger.

When he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards (plus scored 50 touchdowns) and averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season. Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

This is what Landry said about Taylor at the combine:

Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans (more on him below) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.

The Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur run the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. This bodes well for Taylor picking up the offense quickly.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

There is one other reason that the Packers will have Taylor on their radar. A number of players are due to become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley, cornerback Kevin King and both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs on the team.

The Packers need to cover themselves at each one of those positions in the draft, although I do expect the team to do extensions for Bakhtiari and Clark for sure. Please check out Tom Silverstein’s fine article regarding this situation.

Doing an extension for Linsley is questionable, as is the case for King and Williams. I believe the Packers will also extend Jones, but that he won’t be a priority.

That’s why drafting Taylor is a growing possibility for the Packers.

Round 2: Wide Receiver Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jalen Reagor

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 206 pounds

In looking at Jalen Reagor of TCU, his skill-set reminds me of Randall Cobb, who spent eight years with the Packers catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.

In three years at TCU, Reagor caught 148 passes for 2,248 yards (15.2 yards-per-catch average) and 22 touchdowns.

Like Cobb did with the Packers, Reagor also return punts and kickoffs and last year the former Horned Frog returned two punts for touchdowns.

In terms of the passing offense of the Packers, Reagor would help fill the void that was missing for the most part all of the 2019 season. That is, getting substantial production from the slot receiver spot.

This is what Landry said about Reagor at the combine:

TCU WR Jalen Reagor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Reagor (5’11/206) outright crushed his jumps earlier on Thursday, logging a 42-inch vertical jump and 138-inch broad jump, both close to the top marks at his position in this year’s class. His 40-yard dash was not nearly as impressive, especially given that Reagor reportedly ran the sprint in 4.29 seconds hand-timed during his collegiate career with the Horned Frogs. We wouldn’t overreact to the 4.47s mark he ran on Thursday, but at the very least, it’s not ideal.

Round 3: Center Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)

Tyler Biadasz

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 314 pounds

As I previously noted earlier, there is a decent chance that the Packers will not be bringing back starting center Corey Linsley in 2021. If Linsley does leave, the Packers could move left guard Elgton Jenkins to center and plug in a new left guard or they might select a player like Tyler Biadasz of Wisconsin to fill the void at center.

Biadasz makes a lot of sense, as the Badgers utilize the same outside zone running scheme that the Packers employ.

The former Amherst, Wisconsin native started all 41 games at center that he played in at Wisconsin through his junior year. He opened some eyes with his play as well. In 2017, Biadasz was a Freshman All-American and was named third-team All-Big Ten. In 2018, Biadasz was named first-team All-Big Ten.

And in 2019, Biadasz was named first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten, as well as winning the Remington Trophy and being a finalist for the Outland Trophy.

This is what Landry said about the former Badger:

Wisconsin C Tyler Biadasz is a rock solid center prospect in this years draft. His pass protection, while not the strength of his game is better than amateur scouts suggests. He understands angles, leverage and has excellent quickness to replace hands and strength to turn defenders.

Round 4: Linebacker Jacob Phillips (LSU)

Jacob Phillips

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 229 pounds

In his three-year career as a LSU Tiger, Jacob Phillips made 218 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.

In 2018, Phillips played alongside of Devin White (now of the Tampa Bay Bucs) for LSU. Talk about a dynamic duo. In 2019, Phillips played next to Patrick Queen, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, just like White was in 2019.

As this was Queen’s first season as a starter for LSU, Phillips took over the inside linebacker leadership role for the Tigers in 2019, as the team eventually won the national title.

His leadership did not go unnoticed by the defensive staff at LSU either. Phillips was described to me as being long and athletic and that he takes coaching well. Also that he runs well and is physical. Good body control in pass coverage. Always is looking to get better.

This is was Landry said about Phillips:

Former LSU Tigers may make up a large share of the top 100 picks this year, thanks to guys like Phillips. He ran a bit faster than expected (4.66 40) and was explosive in the jumps (39-inch vertical, 10-6 broad). His junior-year tape exhibited good athleticism, which meant there was no surprise when he was able to quickly step over pads and fluidly change directions in the field workout. Phillips was a big part of a pretty strong performance by the inside linebacker group on Saturday.

Round 5: Quarterback James Morgan (FIU)

James Morgan

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 229 pounds

James Morgan of FIU is a very interesting story from a Wisconsin perspective. Morgan played his high school football at Ashwaubenon High School, which is basically right in the backyard of Green Bay and Lambeau Field.

Morgan wore No. 4 in youth football to honor Brett Favre, but in high school and in college, has moved on to No. 12 to honor Aaron Rodgers.

Morgan started his collegiate career at Bowling Green before transferring to Florida International University (FIU). His combined stats at both locations are pretty good, as he has thrown 65 touchdown passes versus 34 interceptions for 8,654 yards. In his last two seasons at FIU, Morgan threw 40 touchdown passes compared to just 12 picks.

The Packers and many NFL teams have shown interest in Morgan throughout the scouting process. Some have said that Morgan might be drafted as early as Day 2 of the draft, but Landry does not believe that will happen.

Here is what Landry said about Morgan during the East-West Shrine week practices, as he saw a lot of things he liked :

James Morgan entered Shrine week largely overshadowed by more highly-heralded signal callers, but the FIU passer acquitted himself quite nicely in the three practices. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback displayed a big league arm, remarkable poise, and delivered the ball with touch and accuracy. Morgan also impressed from a mental processing standpoint. He may have been the most consistent quarterback on either side this week, and with many evaluators on hand, I thought he really helped himself.

All that being said, Landry also said this about Morgan, as he threw some cold water on Morgan’s NFL possibilities:

Morgan completed just 57.2% of his passes as a result of poor footwork and release point. He also doesn’t move well outside the pocket and I struggle to see him as even a developmental type prospect.

Round 6: Offensive Tackle Charlie Heck (North Carolina)

Charlie Heck

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 311 pounds

Charlie Heck is the son of Andy Heck, who was a first-round pick out of Notre Dame in the 1989 NFL draft and had a long NFL career.

Charlie has started 35 games for the Tarheels in three season, plus played in eight games as a reserve as a freshman. From the perspective of the Packers, they have to be interested in a versatile offensive tackle like Heck because he has played both right and left tackle.

In his junior year, Heck started 12 games at right tackle and then started 12 games his senior year at left tackle.

This is what Landry said about Heck going into the 2020 NFL draft:

North Carolina T Charlie Heck is a run first right tackle type that will have to grow and develop as a pass protector. While Heck is not a spectacular athlete — testing in the 38th SPARQ percentile of NFL offensive linemen — he comes to the draft well-seasoned after starting 35 games with the Tar Heels.

Round 6: Defensive Back Brian Cole II (Mississippi State)

Brian Cole

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 213 pounds

You know what they say about defensive backs in the NFL. You never can have enough in this pass-happy league. Which is why a player like Brian Cole II of Mississippi State would be an excellent player for the Packers in the draft, seeing as he played against some of the finest receivers in the country in the SEC.

The Saginaw, Michigan native started his collegiate career at Michigan before transferring to Mississippi State. In the last two years as a Bulldog, Cole had 78 tackles, 10.5 tackles for losses and three sacks. Cole also had two picks, two fumbles recovered and one forced fumble.

Cole has good size and speed and has the ability to play near the line of scrimmage in running situations, plus can cover backs and tight ends in pass coverage. Cole is versatile enough to play either safety or cornerback.

This is what Landry said about the former Bulldog at the combine:

Mississippi State DB Brian Cole ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Cole (6’2/213) is considered a potential “box” safety — or possibly a nickel — and this is a pretty solid time for a player of that skill set. He was a productive member of the Mississippi State defense.

Round 6: Linebacker Carter Coughlin (Minnesota)

Carter Coughlin

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 236 pounds

With the loss of outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell to free agency, the Packers will be looking to fortify the depth at that position, even if they were able to bring back someone like Clay Matthews III, who would mostly play inside anyway.

That is why selecting someone like Carter Coughlin from Minnesota would help that situation. Coughlin had a very productive career as a Golden Gopher, as he had 158 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

As a sophomore, Coughlin was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, second-team All-Big Ten as a junior and then second-team All-Big Ten again as a senior.

Coughlin ran a 4.57 in the 40 at the combine, plus had a 36 inch vertical jump.

This is what Landry said about the future of Coughlin in the NFL:

Minnesota EDGE Carter Coughlin posted 15.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks in 2018, and 9.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks in 2019. He plays with good quickness and speed off the edge and once he learns better hand usage can become an effective situation rusher in addition to being an ace special teamer.

Round 7: Defensive Tackle Benito Jones (Mississippi)

Benito Jones

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 316 pounds

Even with the talented Kenny Clark on the defensive line and having a tackling machine like Blake Martinez behind him, the Packers struggled stopping the run in 2019. The Packers were ranked just 23rd in run defense last year and were thoroughly embarrassed trying to stop the run in the 2019 NFC title game.

This is where drafting someone like Benito Jones makes sense. Jones is your typical run-stuffing nose tackle, who also has some pass-rushing ability. In four years at Ole Miss, Jones had 132 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

Jones was named second-team ALL-SEC in 2019.

This is what Landry about the former Rebel:

Ole Miss NT Benito Jones (6’1/316) is a former five-star recruit who led Ole Miss with 10 TFL and recorded 5.5 sacks on his way to receiving second-team All-SEC honors. Though he lacks prototype length for an interior lineman, Jones was a disruptive force displaying impressive strength at the point of attack. He plays with solid leverage and uses his hands well to shed blocks.

Round 7: Safety Josh Metellus (Michigan)

Josh Metellus

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 209 pounds

As I mentioned earlier, you can never have enough defensive backs on your team, plus one is always looking to improve the quality of special teams. That is why you normally see a lot of linebackers and defensive backs taken late in any given draft by teams.

Which takes us to safety Josh Metellus of Michigan. The former Florida native is strong and fast, plus is versatile. In his career as a Wolverine, Metellus had 186 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, one sack, five interceptions (one for a touchdown), 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

As a sophomore, Metellus was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, then was named second-team All-Big Ten as a strong safety/rover and was once again named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a senior.

Metellus is an excellent downhill tackler and shows great awareness in pass coverage.

This is what Landry said about Metellus at the combine:

Michigan S Josh Metellus ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Metellus ranked 11th among the “true” safeties who ran in the event, and he also had a solid vertical jump at 36.5 inches, and a respectable 124-inch broad jump. The 5-foot-11, 209-pound defender also was among the top defensive backs with 20 bench press reps.

Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.