Green Bay Packers: Remembering Travis Williams, aka the ‘Roadrunner’

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

I was reading a story today by Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame Sports Network in which he names his all-time NFL special teams unit.

Now nobody studies NFL special teams units like Gosselin does. Since 1980, Gosselin has studied and ranked all the special teams units in the NFL. That has gone on now for 38 years and his rankings are must-read material.

Back in 1980, Gosselin was covering the Kansas City Chiefs. The special teams coach of the Chiefs then was Frank Gansz. It was by talking with Gansz that Gosselin learned the formula about how to rank special teams units.

Before I read the story on his all-time team, I was wondering if Travis Williams of the Green Bay Packers and later the Los Angeles Rams was on Gosselin’s 53-man unit. It turns out that he wasn’t, as the returners which Gosselin has on his team are certainly worthy of getting that honor.

The three kickoff returners Gosselin has on his team are Gale Sayers, Josh Cribbs and Mel Gray. The three punt returners are Devin Hester, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Rick Upchurch.

Everyone of those players were consistently very good at returning kicks throughout their NFL careers, as opposed to Williams, who made a name for himself in 1967, which also happened to be his rookie year in the NFL.

In that season, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards, which averages out to 41.1 yards-per-return, which is still a NFL record. No. 23 returned four of those 18 kicks for touchdowns and almost had a fifth against the Chicago Bears.

Travis Wiliams

Williams was never able to replicate that performance again on a consistent basis, but he did score again on returns on two occasions for the Packers in 1969, when he returned a punt for 83 yards and another kickoff for 96 yards.

Also, in 1971 when he was a member of the Rams, Williams returned another kickoff for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Besides flashing outstanding ability as a kick returner, Williams also showed that he could be a game-changer when he played running back.

Never was that more true than in the 1967 Western Conference title game, when the Packers played the Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium. The “Roadrunner” was the star of the game for the Packers.

No. 23 didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.

Right guard Jerry Kramer talked to me about that first TD run by Williams.

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

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

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

The 1967 season was a special one for the Packers, as the team won it’s third straight NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi. That feat has never been duplicated either. That season was also the last year the Packers were coached by Lombardi.

The Packers also won their second straight Super Bowl that season, which was an outstanding feat based on all the injuries the team had that season.

In 1966, quarterback Bart Starr was the NFL MVP. But for the first part of the 1967 season, Starr was affected by a number of injuries which forced him to miss two games.

In addition to that, when the season started, the Packers no longer had halfback Paul Hornung or fullback Jim Taylor as starters in the backfield. That combination was considered to be the best in the NFL for several seasons.

Hornung was claimed by the expansion New Orleans Saints when Lombardi had put him on the Green Bay expansion list. No. 5 never played with the Saints however, as he was forced to retire due to a neck/shoulder injury.

Taylor did play for the Saints that season, as he played out his option in the 1966 season and signed with the Saints in 1967.

With Hornung and Taylor no longer available, Lombardi made Elijah Pitts his starting halfback and Jim Grabowski his starting fullback. Both were having solid seasons when in Week 8 of the 1967 season against the Baltimore Colts, both Pitts and Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries.

Lombardi then added fullback Chuck Mercein to the team via waivers and Green Bay now had a one-two punch at both halfback and fullback throughout the rest of the 1967 season.

Donny Anderson and Williams shared time at halfback, while Mercein and Ben Wilson shared duties at fullback.

The result? The Packers finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Travis Williams in the Ice Bowl

When the postseason came around, Lombardi utilized all of his backs, depending on the opponents.

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl”, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.

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

In 1967, Williams was part of a rookie class, which included Bob Hyland and Don Horn. I wrote a piece about that class a little over a year ago.

Williams first showed his kickoff return prowess in Week 7 of the 1967 season, when he returned a kick for 93 yards and a score against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

At the time of that kickoff return, the Packers were trailing the Cardinals 23-17 in the fourth quarter. The Packers ended up winning that game 31-23.

Two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns at Milwaukee County Stadium, Williams really put himself on the NFL map. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries in the game.

Williams returned his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown against the Rams in Week 13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 104 yards.

As a running back in the 1967 regular season, Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 yards-per-carry average) and one score, while he caught five passes for 80 yards (16 yard average) and another score.

In the postseason, Williams rushed for 137 yards (4.6 average) and had two touchdowns (both against the Rams).

As it was, Williams only showed glimpses of what he did in 1967 throughout the rest of his career in Green Bay and in the NFL.

In 1968, Williams only had a 21.4 average in returning kicks (no touchdowns) and only rushed for 63 yards the entire season.

In 1969, Williams appeared to have bounced back in fine fashion, as he had two return touchdowns and also rushed for 536 yards (4.2 average) and four scores. No. 23 also caught 27 passes for 275 yards and three more touchdowns.

But in 1970, Williams again regressed, as he had just 276 yards rushing (3.7 average) and one touchdown, plus caught just 12 passes, one of which was a score.

In 1971, new head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded Williams to the Rams, where the “Roadrunner” had his last season in the NFL because of a knee injury.

Sadly, Williams died at the young age of 45 in 1991 of heart failure after a long illness. Williams had dealt with homelessness, poverty and alcohol for a number of years leading up to his death.

Williams had battled depression due to the deaths of his wife, mother and sister in 1985.

It was a tragic end to the life of Williams, who had been the brightest of lights for the Packers in the glorious season of 1967.

It was in that season when the “Roadrunner” set a kickoff return record which has yet to be broken. That didn’t get Williams on Gosselin’s all-time NFL special teams unit, but I certainly believe that Williams deserves honorable mention for his kick returning skills.

Reviewing the 2018 NFL Draft of the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst as GM

The 2018 NFL draft for the Green Bay Packers is now over. How would I view the draft for the Pack overall? I have a number of thoughts. In conjunction with my opinion, I’m going to use the scouting insights of NFL scout Chris Landry.

Much like in the 2015 NFL draft which was run by then general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers focused on the cornerback position in the first two rounds. In that regard, I think new general manager Brian Gutekunst did quite well, especially based on the pre-draft scouting report by Landry.

Landry had both Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson rated with a 6.4 grade, which classifies as an early second-round value. Both players were on his horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position). Alexander was ranked No. 37, while Jackson was ranked No. 30. Jackson was ranked third, while Alexander was ranked fourth on Landry’s cornerback draft board.

I had the Packers taking Jackson in the second round in my third mock draft.

Green Bay desperately needed to upgrade the talent and youth at the cornerback position in this draft and they did just that. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has to be happy with these selections.

Later in this article, you will see Landry’s breakdown on the selections of both Alexander and Jackson, as well as all the other selections that the Packers made in the draft.

I also saw that he Packers definitely got bigger and faster at the wide receiver position with the three players they selected. J’Mon Moore of Missouri is 6’3″, weighs 207 pounds and ran a 4.48 in the 40 at his pro day. Marquez Valdes-Scantling of USF is 6’4″, weighs 206 pounds and ran a 4.37 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Equanimeous St. Brown is 6’5″, weighs 214 pounds and ran a 4.48 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry had both Moore and Brown ranked on his horizontal board, which ranks players from first to fourth-round value. Landry has Brown ranked No. 86 and has the former Fighting Irish star graded with a 5.9 mark, which means a third-round value. Landry had Moore ranked No. 129 and has the former Tiger star graded with a 5.5 mark, which means a fourth-round value.

I had the Packers taking Brown in my first mock draft.

Valdes-Scantling was not on Landry’s horizontal board and was graded with a 5.4 mark, which means fifth to sixth-round value.

The Packers had a lot of question marks at wide receiver prior to the draft. For one, the team released Jordy Nelson. Secondly, the best wide receiver on the team, Davante Adams, who the Packers signed to a four-year $58.75 extension in late December, is coming off a season with multiple concussions. Finally, Randall Cobb is is in the final year of his four-year $40 deal, one which he has not exactly lived up to.

Adding Moore, Valdes-Scantling and Brown gives the Packers a lot of options at the wide receiver position, as well as speed and size as I mentioned earlier.

I’m sure quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t unhappy with the selections of these big and talented receivers. Nor was head coach Mike McCarthy.

In the third round the Packers picked linebacker Oren Burks. While I would have preferred adding an edge rusher at that point of the draft, the Packers have been trying to find a cover-linebacker for years now in the pass-happy league that they play in. It appears that Burks can fill that role.

Landry did not have Burks ranked in his horizontal draft board, but did have the former Vandy star graded with a 5.4 mark, which means a fifth to sixth-round value. Obviously the Packers graded Burks differently.

I liked the selection of offensive lineman Cole Madison in Round 5. I had the Packers taking Madison in my second mock draft. Landry had Madison ranked No. 9 on his guard draft board, although Madison played right tackle throughout his career at Washington State. Landry also had Madison ranked No. 158 on his horizontal draft board with a 5.5 grade which means fourth-round value.

And believe it or not, I had no problem with the Packers selecting punter JK Scott of Alabama in Round 5. Landry has Scott ranked as the second-best punter on his specialists board and gave the former Crimson Tide star a 5.4 grade, which means fifth to sixth-round value. It’s not a good omen for current Green Bay punter Justin Vogel that the Packers initially assigned Scott the same No. 8 that Vogel wears.

I also had no problem with two (DE James Looney of Cal and OLB Kendall Donnerson of Southeast Missouri State) of the three players that the Packers picked in Round 7. I do have a problem with one of them, long snapper Hunter Bradley of Mississippi State. More on Bradley in a moment.

Landry gave Looney a 5.4 grade, which means fifth to sixth-round value. Landry did not  have Donnerson listed on his horizontal or linebackers draft board, but as you will see on his evaluation below, he definitely believes Donnerson has some definite upside.

In terms of selecting Bradley, I’m still scratching my head. I can’t recall the Packers ever drafting a long snapper before. Green Bay has drafted players who played different positions and who could also long snap, but never just a long snapper. I saw some players on the draft board at the time Green Bay picked Bradley who could have helped the Packers more in other areas.

The selections of both Scott and Bradley tell me that the Packers are making a concerted effort to improve the special teams units of coach Ron Zook. Both Scott and Bradley would have to really mess up the bed in training camp to not make the team.

Overall, the big problem that I had with this draft with the Packers was not addressing the pass-rushing issues (except for Donnerson in Round 7) that the team has. It’s great to improve the secondary and to draft a cover-linebacker like the Packers did in this draft, but if an opposing quarterback has too much time to pass, he’ll eventually find an open receiver.

Again, just look at last season. The Packers were tied for 17th in the NFL in sacks last season with 37. That is almost 20 sacks behind the NFL leader, the Steelers, who had 56.

The lack of a potent pass rush by the Packers led to the secondary being exposed last season. Green Bay was ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0.

Not only that, the Packers also allowed opposing QBs to complete 67.8 percent of their passes. The Pack also allowed 30 touchdown passes and only had 11 picks. The defense also allowed 55 completions of 20 yards or better.

The secondary will be better with Alexander and Jackson, that is for sure. Burks should be a solid cover-LB. But where will the pass rush come from? Yes, the Packers still have Clay Matthews (7.5 sacks in 14 games) and Nick Perry (seven sacks in 12 games) at OLB. Plus, the team added DE Muhammad Wilkerson. And maybe players like Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel will become the pass rushers like they were in college at OLB. But all of those players, minus Wilkerson, did not exactly light the world on fire last year with pass pressure for the Packers.

I was also shocked that the Packers did not select one player from Wisconsin. They may have wanted to add a Badger or two, but were unable to due to another team selecting that player before the Packers had a chance to. I do know the Packers were very interested in tight end Troy Fumagalli, who was selected by the Denver Broncos in Round 5.

Finally, Gutekunst put the Packers in a great position in the 2019 NFL draft by acquiring a first round pick from the New Orleans Saints.

Below is Landry’s breakdown of all the selections that the Packers made in the 2018 NFL draft.

Round 1: Cornerback Jaire Alexander (Louisville)

Jaire Alexander II

Green Bay gave up the No. 27, No. 76 and No. 186 picks to move up nine spots. The Packers are also receiving a seventh-rounder (pick No. 248). Alexander (5’10/196) converted from wide receiver and broke out for five interceptions as a sophomore in 2016 before missing all but six games as a junior with a broken hand and recurring knee injuries. Alexander had a 28.6% completion rate and a 19.9 passer rating allowed in 2017, lowest among draft-eligible corners. A twitchy athlete with ballhawking flashes and sticky man-cover skills, Alexander blazed 4.38 in Indy and destroyed agility drills. His lone weakness on tape came in run support, where Alexander needs to improve as a tackler. Long term, Alexander offers high-end No. 2 or low-end No. 1 cornerback upside.

Round 2: Cornerback Josh Jackson (Iowa)

at Camp Randall Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jackson (6’0/196) dabbled at wideout his first two years as a Hawkeye before breaking out to lead the nation in interceptions (8) and pass breakups (26) as a 2017 redshirt junior cornerback, earning first-team All-American and Big Ten DB of the Year. Jackson had an anemic 32.2 passer rating allowed in 2017. Although Jackson lacks blazing straight-line speed (4.54), he tested as a top-five SPARQ athlete in this cornerback class and offers field-flipping ball skills. Most scouts thought Jackson would be better in zone than man coverage. The Packers just doubled up at the position after taking Jaire Alexander in round one.

Round 3: Linebacker Oren Burks (Vanderbilt)

Oren Burks

Burks (6’3/233) was a four-year starter in the Commodores’ back seven, initially manning safety, moving to “star” (linebacker/safety hybrid) as a junior, and settling in at inside linebacker as a senior, all told recording 15.5 career tackles for loss and five interceptions. Burks’ stock soared at the Combine, testing as a 95th -percentile athlete with 4.59 speed and a quick three-cone time (6.82). Burks once would have been labeled a “tweener,” but the value of his style of play and versatility has grown in a pass-heavier NFL. He’s a sleeper to become a Mark Barron-level defender.

Round 4: Wide Receiver J’Mon Moore Missouri

J'Mon Moore

Moore (6’3/207) was a three-year starter for the Tigers, graduating with a 158/2,477/21 career receiving line at 15.7 yards per catch. Moore had 391 of his 2017 receiving yards on 20-plus-yard catches, third most in the SEC. An 85th-percentile SPARQ athlete with 4.49 (Pro Day) speed and a 38-inch vertical, Moore’s pre-draft concerns were rawness and off-field concerns, but he is every bit an NFL-caliber wide receiver on game tape.

Round 5: Offensive Lineman Cole Madison (Washington State)

Cole Madison II

Madison (6’5/308) made 47 starts at right tackle on the Cougars’ offensive line, earning second-team All-Pac 12 as a senior and ranking fifth among Pac 12 offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency rating (97.7). Just a 14th-percentile SPARQ athlete, Madison was a quality college starter who will likely struggle in the pros. He would do well to carve out a Sam Young-like swing tackle career.

Round 5: Punter JK Scott (Alabama)

JK Scott

Scott (6’6/208) punted for the Crimson Tide all four years, graduating at the school’s all-time leader in gross average (45.6). Scott dropped 50% of his 2017 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and doubled as Alabama’s kickoff specialist. Scott showed enough versatility, leg strength, and accuracy in the SEC that he has a shot to become a long-term NFL solution at punter.

Round 6: Wide Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (USF)

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Valdes-Scantling (6’4/206) transferred from NC State to USF for his final two seasons, where he logged a 75/1,294/11 career receiving line and averaged 17.3 yards per reception. Valdes-Scantling padded his resume with a 4.37 forty and 10-foot-4 broad jump in Indy. Valdes-Scantling’s sheer size and speed give him Devery Henderson-like potential, but his ball skills and route running are both well below average on tape. Valdes-Scantling is a one-trick pony, and isn’t great at the one trick.

Round 6: Wide Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame)

Equanimeous St. Brown II

Brown (6’5/214) turned pro after starting two years for the Irish, logging a 92/1,484/16.1/13 career receiving line, and regressing from 961 yards and nine TDs with DeShone Kizer as a sophomore to 515/4 as a junior in a much worse passing attack. St. Brown blazed 4.48 at the Combine and showed he’s been in the weight room with 20 bench-press reps. A height-weight-speed projection with Jekyll & Hyde game tape, St. Brown offers No. 1 wideout traits with some Dorial Green-Beckham-like moments mixed in. He’s a classic boom-bust pick.

Round 7: Defensive End James Looney (California)

James Looney

Looney was a Shrine game invite and is an upfield disruptor. At Cal he often created instant penetration after jumping the snap, creating plays for loss. Looney then went to the NFL Combine at produced an athletic profile in the 93rd percentile, which is outstanding. Looney finished his collegiate career with seven sacks.

Round 7: Long Snapper Hunter Bradley (Mississippi State)

Hunter Bradley

Bradley is the first snapper of longer than normal snaps to be selected this year. Being a seventh-round pick makes it likely Bradley snaps the snaps longer than other snaps for the Packers this season.

Round 7: Outside Linebacker Kendall Donnerson (Southeast Missouri State)

Kendall Donnerson

Donnerson (6’2/248) was a two-year starter at SEMO, earning first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference as a senior with 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Donnerson put himself on the map with a monster Pro Day workout, running 4.44 with a 40-inch vertical and 7.03 three-cone time. Donnerson is a developmental project, but he offers pass-rush upside based on his H/W/S combo.

 

Green Bay Packers: Reflections on Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft and Possibilities on Day 2

Jaire Alexander

For the second year in a row, the Green Bay Packers selected a very good cornerback with nice upside with their first selection in the NFL draft.

Last year, the Packers traded out of Round 1 (pick No. 29) and picked cornerback Kevin King with pick No. 33.

Last night the Packers once again traded down and then up, this time with new general manager Brian Gutekunst running the show for the very first time. Green Bay had pick No. 14 and had a number of excellent prospects to select from, which included safety Derwin James of Florida State, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech and edge rusher Marcus Davenport of UTSA.

The Packers opted to trade back with the New Orleans Saints, which put the Packers at pick No. 27. The trade also garnered the Packers a fifth round selection in this draft (pick No. 147), plus a first-round pick from the Saints in the 2019 NFL draft.

Gutekunst showed his aggressiveness by trading back up, as he utilized his long association and friendship with John Schneider of the Seattle Seahawks. The Hawks were desperate to get a pick in either the second or third round, as they did not have one in either of those rounds. So the Packers traded their first round pick (pick No. 27), a third round pick (pick No. 76) and a sixth round pick (pick No. 186) to move up to pick No. 18 in the first round, plus got a seventh round pick (pick No. 248) from the Seahawks as well.

With that pick, the Packers selected cornerback Jaire Alexander of Louisville, who ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Speaking of scouts, NFL scout Chris Landry had Alexander ranked fourth on his cornerback draft board and gave him the same 6.4 grade that he gave Josh Jackson of Iowa. That 6.4 classification means potential starter and early second round value. Landry had Alexander ranked No. 37 on his horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position).

Here is the scouting report Landry put out on Alexander prior to the draft:

Tough, instinctive long corner with very good overall athletic ability. Quick burst, fluid hips. changes directions easily and can effectively play off or in press. Can mirror, anticipate and has good hands and and ball skills. He needs to improve his run strength. Not a very good wrap tackler and slow to shed blocks. Fast, fluid productive corner who with improved strength, technique and discipline can be an effective corner on the next level. Has played mostly on outside but has the fluidity and quickness to slide down over the slot. His return skills will add to his value.

Watching the draft unfold last night brought me back to last year’s draft. Then I had predicted that the Packers would select outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round in my final mock draft. Watt was there for the taking at pick No. 29 for the Packers, but Green Bay traded away that pick to Cleveland and on the very next pick (pick No. 30), the Pittsburgh Steelers picked Watt.

Watt ended up being named to the NFL All-Rookie team as he had seven sacks, seven passes defensed, a pick and a forced fumble.

Last night was a case of deja vu for me. I had predicted that the Packers would select Davenport in the first round in my final mock draft this year. Once again, Davenport was there for the taking. But alas, the Packers traded the pick to the Saints and Davenport was the player who New Orleans selected.

Time will tell if Davenport can have the same impact for the Saints this year as Watt had for the Steelers in 2017.

T.J. Watt as a Steeler

T.J. Watt

Still, the Packers made a very nice addition to their secondary, as director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan of the Packers said to the media last night.

“Jaire is a guy that we targeted all along,” Sullivan said. “We liked him from the outset. He’s a good football player.

“Very few corners, when they play the game when the ball’s in the air, can you feel them close space. He’s one. When you watch him play, you can feel him close space when the ball’s in the air, both playing forward and backward. The kid can run. On top of that, he’s quick and he can change directions and do those things.

“We’re just excited about the skillset as a whole. We think he has the make up to be a high-caliber player.”

That’s all good, but what will the Packers do on Day 2 of the draft? Right now, the Packers only have one selection, which is pick No. 45 in the second round. That pick will be announced by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer.

It’s also possible that the Packers will try and trade back into the third round, as they have plenty of ammunition to do so, as Green Bay has two fourth round picks and four fifth round picks.

Based on what Gutekunst told the media last night, I think trading back into the third round is a good possibility.

“The way that our board looks now, I would assume we’d move around a little bit,” Gutekunst said. “We have a lot of picks, and there’s areas of the board that we feel really good about, so I would assume that we would.”

So, who will the Packers target tonight? A pass rusher has to be the priority. The good news is that there are still some very good prospects who can help in that regard. In fact, Landry has three of them rated in the top 30 of his horizontal draft board.

Let’s look at those players and the scouting report that Landry has put out on each of them.

No. 23 Harold Landry (Boston College)

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 252

May slip do to his lack of production this past season (due to injury) but I feel someone will get a steal as I feel his plays bigger and stronger than his size which helps him play contain effectively and hold down the point. Love his instincts and patience—doesn’t overpursue and rarely out of position. He can be an 3-4 OLB who can play from a 3 point stance in nickel. Top notch competitor, like his athleticism to play pursuit and close to QB with great bend and flexibility.

I had the Packers taking Landry in the first round in my first mock draft. The former Golden Eagle also ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the combine.

No. 24 Arden Key (LSU)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 238 pounds

Long, athletic pass rusher with a nice get off and burst to get and close the corner. He has instincts to react to and play the ball. On the down side, he has off field issues that still are a question within the league. He played and prepared poorly last year and doesn’t do good job of keeping his body in shape. He needs to improve his upper body strength as he is slow off blocks. Has the pass rush traits to be the top edge rusher off the board but has moved himself down boards due to his attitude and play. A major trust issue for teams but his talent will get him a shot somewhere.

Landry told me earlier this year that if Key didn’t have the issues which have moved his draft stock down, he would most likely would have been a top 10 pick overall.

No. 29 Lorenzo Carter (Georgia)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 250 pounds

Long, high motor guy with a narrow frame but plays with good strength and power. Shows good edge rush speed, stays low and knows how to string moves together. Shows good instincts and awareness dropping into coverage. He lacks short area quickness and is more of a build up speed guy due to his length. I don’t like him in coverage. I see him as a 3-4 OLB who is better playing forward than backwards.

Carter ran a 4.5 in the 40 at the combine.

If the Packers can nab any of the three players above in the second round, especially either Landry or Key based on their sack production in college, they would have to be thrilled.

Both Landry and Key had great seasons as juniors in 2016.

Landry had 50 total tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed and seven forced fumbles. The number of sacks and forced fumbles led the country in those categories.

Key had 55 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Arden Key

Arden Key

There is another pass rusher that the Packers might look at if these three players are gone by the time they pick in Round 2. That player is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of Oklahoma. In his last two seasons with the Sooners, Okoronkwo had 146 total tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, two fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles.

Okoronkwo is a little on the short side, as he goes 6’1, 253 pounds, but has been very productive.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Okoronkwo, who he has rated No. 49 on his horizontal draft board.

Very productive player with a great motor, instincts and strength. He can play Will linebacker in a 4-3 and might also be able to handle the Sam backer position. Shows good pass rush ability with lots of length, plays with strength and is effective in pursuit. He is not comfortable dropping into coverage so I have some concerns about him at linebacker while I don’t see the size allowing him to play down regularly in the league.

Bottom line, the Packers must focus on getting an edge rusher in the second round. A good pass rush will help the secondary problems that the team had last season.

The Packers were tied for 17th in the NFL in sacks last season with 37. That is almost 20 sacks behind the NFL leader, the Steelers, who had 56. The pass rush of the Steelers was certainly helped by the addition of T.J. Watt.

The lack of a potent pass rush by the Packers led to the secondary being exposed last season. Green Bay was ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0.

Not only that, the Packers also allowed opposing QBs to complete 67.8 percent of their passes. The Pack also allowed 30 touchdown passes and only had 11 picks. The defense also allowed 55 completions of 20 yards or better.

So, the focus has to be on getting a better pass rush in Round 2.

In Round 3, if the Packers can trade back into it, the Packers will have a number of positional options. They can add a wide receiver. Or an offensive lineman. Or even another cornerback.

But the first focus tonight should be on improving the pass rush for the Packers in 2018.

Final 2018 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst as GM

We are now just one night away from the 2018 NFL draft in Dallas. Every NFL team has it’s draft board set up now.

This is because of all the hard work that the scouts and those in the front office have done, as they have scouted the bowl games, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl), the NFL Scouting Combine and finally the pro days.

Plus, each team has tried to utilize free agency to lessen the need at certain positions in the draft.

The Green Bay Packers under new general manager Brian Gutekunst certainly did, as he added players like tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Tramon Williams to the team.

The Packers also re-signed cornerback Davon House.

But with the good, comes the bad. The Packers also had to release wide receiver Jordy Nelson, which opens up a need at that position in the draft.

In this, my final mock draft, I am once again using the expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry. As I work through my thought process in selecting players for the Packers, I will utilize Landry’s horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position) and also his various positional draft boards.

Since my association with Landry began several years ago, I have had a decent track record in correctly picking some of the players who the Packers have picked. Yes, getting guidance from a very good NFL scout helps, but sometimes it’s a case of a blind squirrel finding an acorn.

No matter, the Packers have 12 picks in this draft. That includes their own in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus four compensatory picks (one in fourth round, two in the fifth round and one in the sixth round) and another pick in the seventh round due to a trade with Buffalo.

Plus, because of a trade with the Cleveland Browns to acquire quarterback DeShone Kizer (for cornerback Damarious Randall), the Packers also switched picks with the Browns in the fourth and fifth rounds, which means that the Packers pick first in each round.

On Friday night, the second round pick of the Packers will be announced by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer.

In my last mock draft, I surmised that another trade might be forthcoming between the Packers and the Browns on draft day. I sincerely believe that is a very good possibility. It may not occur in the manner in which I think it might, but I see John Dorsey having more than one conversation with Gutekunst in the draft to talk about some maneuvering.

And it might not be the Packers trading up in that scenario, but instead trading back.

We shall see.

One of the other things that I see happening is the possibility of adding some former Wisconsin Badgers to the Packers this year.

And I’m not saying that because I’m a homer for the Badgers. It’s because of the relationship between new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine of the Packers and the defensive coordinator of the Badgers, Jim Leonhard.

I wrote about this possibility back in February. I said this in the piece:

Pettine was named head coach of the Browns because of his prowess as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. In five years at that position, four with the New York Jets under head coach Rex Ryan and one with the Buffalo Bills, Pettine always coordinated a top 10 defense.

From 2009 though 2012 with the Jets, his defenses were ranked first, third, fifth and eighth in the NFL in total defense, while in 2013 with the Bills, his defense was ranked 10th in that category.

There was one player who was a constant for Pettine, both as a coordinator and one year as a head coach. That player was safety Jim Leonhard, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Leonhard played under Pettine with the Jets from 2009 through 2011, then again with the Bills in 2013 and then finally with the Browns in 2014, which was Pettine’s first year as head coach.

Leonhard was basically the coach on the field as Pettine put out his defense. Not only that, but Leonhard put out one of the very best defenses in the FBS last season with the Badgers and a number of his former defensive players will be available in this upcoming draft.

Leonhard basically runs the same type of defensive schemes at Wisconsin that Pettine has used with his various teams in the NFL. That is why I believe you will see a Badger or two on the Packers next season. Maybe even more than that, as you will see in the draft below.

Okay, enough of the hot air, it’s time for my final mock draft.

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

Marcus Davenport IV

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

I have had the Packers picking Marcus Davenport of UTSA with pick No. 14 for three consecutive mock drafts now. In my first mock draft, I had the Packers selecting Harold Landry, who is similar to Davenport in a number of ways, but is smaller.

On his horizontal draft board (best overall players), Landry ranks Davenport at No. 7, so if Davenport is still available at No. 14, the Packers would have to feel fortunate.

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

The only way I could see the Packers not taking Davenport if he still was on the board, is if someone like defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama or guard Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame fell to that point of the draft.

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

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

Round 2: Cornerback Anthony Averett (Alabama)

Anthony Averett

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 183 pounds

Landry has Anthony Averett of Alabama listed eighth on his cornerback draft board, but gives him the same grade as Isaiah Oliver of Colorado (fifth), Donte’ Jackson of LSU (sixth) and Carlton Davis of Auburn (seventh).

Averett of started 27 games in his junior and senior seasons with the Crimson Tide. In those two seasons, he had 96 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, one interception, 16 passes defended and two forced fumbles.

In his junior year, Averett was named the team’s defensive MVP in their national semifinal win over Washington (eight tackles, one sack and one forced fumble).

Averett has been part of a very talented and deep Alabama defensive backfield in his years in Tuscaloosa.

One of the things that stands out among a number of the defensive backs at Alabama is the great speed that some of them have. Averett is no different, as he ran a 4.36 in the 40 at the combine.

In high school in New Jersey, Averett won state titles in the 55-meter dash and the high jump.

The Packers need to get faster at cornerback. Not only that, but they need to be more physical when they take on opposing wide receivers and running backs. Averett can help out in both cases.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Averett:

Excellent coverage technique with speed and agility. He does a nice job in press and nice job in “off”. I like his skill set once he improves his strength. Quick burst out of his pedal combined with good long speed. Effective re-routing receivers off the line of scrimmage and plays the ball well in the air. He is quick to fill vs the run and is an outstanding special teams player.

Round 3: Wide Receiver Dante Pettis (Washington)

Dante Pettis II

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Pettis:

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

Round 4: Cornerback Tony Brown (Alabama)

Tony Brown II

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 198 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Landry said about Brown in his scouting report:

A one-year starter at Alabama, Brown was featured at the “Star” position on the Alabama depth chart as a nickel defender and the first defensive back off the bench. He lined up primarily inside when the Tide had three cornerbacks on the field, occasionally moving outside, playing both press and zone coverages. Brown has blur speed and adequate size/length to match up with any type of receiver and make plays on special teams coverages. While he has the wheels for a starting cornerback, he often plays out of control and his inefficient lower body mechanics are an issue mid-transition. His poor ball production (eight passes defended, three interceptions) shows on tape, lacking the instincts to turn, locate and make plays on the football downfield. Overall, Brown has the body type and raw speed that belong in the NFL, but he has relied on his natural gifts to get the job done much of his life and needs to buy into honing his technique (and adapting a professional approach) if he has any chance in the NFL.

Round 4 (compensatory): Offensive Tackle Jamarco Jones (Ohio State)

Jamarco Jones

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 299 pounds

Landry has offensive tackle Jamarco Jones of Ohio State ranked No. 125 on his horizontal draft board and No. 12 on his offensive tackle board.

Jones learned behind Taylor Decker his first two years as a Buckeye. Jones still played in 23 games though and was used quite a bit as the sixth offensive lineman for the team.

But once he became a starter, Jones earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as the starting left tackle for the Bucks in 2016.

Then in 2017, Jones was named first-team all-conference honors as a senior, starting all 14 games at left tackle for the Big Ten Champion Buckeyes.

The Packers need to add solid depth at offensive tackle, mostly due to all the injuries the team has had at that position. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has certainly had his share of injuries (hip, knee and ankle) over the years. When healthy, No. 75 is one of the best right tackles in the NFL, but once again in 2017, the injury curse struck, as Bulaga tore his ACL in Week 5, which cost him the rest of the season.

Bulaga has missed 43 games due to injury in his eight years with the Packers.

The backups to Bulaga and left tackle David Bahktiaria (one of the best in the NFL) didn’t fare much better. Jason Spriggs (knee) and Kyle Murphy (left foot) only played in 10 games combined in 2017 due to injuries.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Jones:

Athletic feet in pass pro to reset and react to movement…wide base with efficient pace to his slide…rarely beaten by edge speed alone…quick to answer counter moves…looks comfortable at the second level and sustains in space…drops his hips and runs his feet to create movement in the run game…
Ties up defenders, but doesn’t overwhelm anyone…core strength issues at the point of attack…doesn’t have pop in his punch to shock or redirect rushers…long legs, high cut and locked hips…rushers take advantage of his leaning and overeager pass-sets…hard outside shuffle and late to protect vs. inside moves…struggles to retrace his steps…late cutting off the linebacker at the second level…inconsistent angles on reach blocks…hand placement is improved, but he is more novice than expert in this area…defaults to grabbing once rushers gain an inch. Jones isn’t a dominating blocker, but he gets in the way and finds ways to keep his man occupied, projecting as a down-the-road starter once his technique and functional strength improve.

Round 5: Center/Guard Will Clapp (LSU)

Will Clapp II

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 314 pounds

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

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

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

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

Living in the Baton Rouge area, Landry knows all about the LSU players. Here is his scouting report on the former Tiger, in which he pulls no punches about Clapp:

Tough, smart kid who’s limited skill set shows up on tape repeatedly. He is a below average athlete lacking upper body strength, limiting his ability at the point of attack. He doesn’t see or feel defensive pressure often losing leverage. He has some versatility but does nothing consistently well. His overall lack of balance and body control limits him.

Even with that somewhat scathing report by Landry, Clapp has earned first-team All-SEC honors for two years in a row at both center and guard. The kid must be doing something right.

Round 5 (compensatory): Tight End Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

Troy Fumagalli II

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

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

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

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

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

Right now, the Packers only have two tight ends on their roster with NFL experience. Graham and Lance Kendricks (another former Badger).

This is Landry’s scouting report on Fumagalli:

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

Round 5 (compensatory): Wide Receiver Daurice Fountain (Iowa)

Daurice Fountain II

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 210 pounds

Daurice Fountain’s hometown is Madison, Wisconsin, where he went to James Madison Memorial High School, where he was named first-team All-State at wide receiver.

In four seasons at Northern Iowa, Fountain caught 150 passes for 2,077 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Landry said this about Fountain after he was named Offensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Game, as he had three receptions for 61 yards (20.3 average).

Speed was not an issue for Fountain, and neither was catching the ball. Fountain caught the ball very well, except he was doing it at full speed, down the field and running past defenders. I was also impressed by his feistiness and willingness to compete. He leaves Shrine week with a draft grade a full round higher than the one he arrived with in St. Petersburg.

Landry also said this about Fountain in his scouting report:

Good length and leaping skills who can adjust to ball with good ball tracking skills. strong acceleration out of his plant. gains proper route depth. lacks strength–struggles vs jam. Doesn’t know how to properly stem his routes. Although he is far from a finished product, Fountain has an intriguing blend of play speed, body control and quick hands to pluck the ball away from his body. To survive in the NFL, he needs to be more physical to the football and improve his play strength.

Round 6: Linebacker Jack Cichy (Wisconsin)

Jack Cichy II

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 234 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although Landry graded Cichy low because of his medical issues, you can see in his scouting report that he feels “Three-Sack Jack” can be special when healthy:

A two-year starter at Wisconsin, Cichy moved from outside to inside linebacker as a sophomore and was a budding star in the Badgers’ 3-4 scheme before two devastating injuries. Over the last two seasons (28 games), Cichy has appeared in only seven games and hasn’t played a snap since October 2016. When healthy, Cichy competes with a quick trigger and shows off his impressive blend of athleticism and smarts. He fits all the stereotypes of a former walk-on with his non-stop hustle and enormous chip on his shoulder and his football character will instantly endear him to NFL teams. Overall, Cichy is a loose athlete with outstanding instincts, toughness and finishing skills to be a starting NFL linebacker, but his draft projection will be reliant on the medical examinations.

Round 6 (compensatory): Running Back Justin Jackson (Northwestern)

Justin Jackson II

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 193 pounds

In four seasons at Northwestern, Jackson rushed for 5,440 yards and 41 touchdowns, plus caught 122 passes for 858 yards and another score.

Jackson was named honorable mention All-Big Ten his freshman year as a Wildcat, plus was named second-team All-Big Ten in his three remaining years at Northwestern.

Jackson also played in the 2018 East-West Shrine Game, where he rushed for 39 yards in just seven carries. Jackson also caught five passes for 17 yards.

Jackson ran a 4.52 in the 40 at the combine, plus did 13 reps on the bench press, jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical jump, leaped 122 inches in the broad jump, ran 6.81 seconds in the 3 cone drill, ran 4.07 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and ran 11.06 in the 60-yard shuttle.

The Packers invigorated their running attack last season, as two rookies (Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones) stood out. The other rookie who was drafted last season, Devante Mays, did not fare well when given limited opportunities (two fumbles).

Ty Montgomery has been too injury prone, both at running back and wide receiver. I see Montgomery being used primarily as a receiver in 2018.

Adding a back like Jackson make sense, because he not only adds to the depth at RB, but also because he is made for the type of offense that the Packers run.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Jackson:

Lacks the size for a power back and the speed of a smaller back. I do like his run skills—vision, patience, anticipation and short area quickness. He is a very durable player but needs to improve his skills in the passing game. Back end roster guys who can stick due to toughness and run skills but limited athletically to be anything more.

Round 7: Safety Natrell Jamerson (Wisconsin)

Natrell Jamerson III

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 198 pounds

I know what some of you are thinking. Another Badger? But what is there not to like about a player like Natrell Jamerson late in the draft?

Jamerson really helped himself with a solid senior season at Wisconsin, as the safety had 51 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions (one for a touchdown) and 10 passes defended.

Jamerson also has experience at cornerback as well, as he played there as a sophomore and as a junior.

The secondary of the Packers was a mess in 2017. The safeties did not exactly stand out either. Morgan Burnett left via free agency. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took a definite step back with his play last season and rookie Josh Jones missed way too many assignments. Kentrell Brice has not exactly shined when given the opportunity to play either.

Landry said this about Jamerson after the opening day of practice at the East-West Shrine Game:

Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson had an impressive opening day. In the team scrimmage, he flew across the field to track down an interception in front of a receiver and cornerback. It was a very nice play as Jamerson showed speed and an ability to track the ball. Jamerson (6-0, 198) is a versatile athlete who could end up really helping himself this week.

Jamerson was named Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, as he scooped up a fumble and ran it back 68 yards for a touchdown.

At the combine, Jamerson ran a 4.40 in the 40 and had 25 reps in the bench press.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Jamerson:

A one-year starter at Wisconsin, Jamerson moved from wideout to cornerback early in 2015 and made a seamless transition to free safety in 2017, handling centerfield duties as the last line of defense. He wasn’t a playmaker who leaped off the film, but he wasn’t out of position either with the speed and want-to for the safety position. Jamerson is comfortable covering slot receivers with the coordinated lower body to stay on top of routes. There are no questions about his weight room strength, but his lack of size shows up on tape vs. both the run and pass. Overall, Jamerson has the secondary versatility to earn a spot at the back-end of a NFL roster, especially with his presence as a gunner on special teams.

Round 7 (compensatory): Outside Linebacker Darius Jackson (Jacksonville State)

Darius Jackson II

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 242 pounds

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

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

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

Jackson only ran a 4.87 40 at the combine. But at his pro day, Jackson was better in almost all of the drills he did at the combine, including the 40, as he ran a 4.76.

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

Here is the scouting report on Jackson by Landry:

A three-year starter at Jacksonville State, Jackson was an ideal fit as the hybrid “Bandit” pass rusher in the Gamecocks versatile front, rushing standing up and with his hand on the ground. He (and his classic neckroll) lived in the opponent’s backfield and is the school’s all-time leader in sacks, tackles for loss and negative yardage, earning OVC Defensive Player of the Year honors his junior and senior seasons. He is a quick player in everything he does, but is more of a face-up rusher than natural bender, which will limit the ways he can attack the pocket in the NFL. Overall, Jackson is a fierce competitor and relies on his relentless energy, but his hand placement and timing are the keys to unlocking his pass rush skills in the NFL – late-round developmental prospect.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Dick Schaap

Dick Schaap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry with David Baker

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Brian Gutekunst in the GB draft room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Davenport II

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

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

Round 2: Cornerback Josh Jackson (Iowa)

Josh Jackson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry gives on Jackson:

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

Round 3: Wide Receiver Dante Pettis (Washington)

Dante Pettis

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Pettis:

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

Round 4: Cornerback Tony Brown (Alabama)

Tony Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 198 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round 5: Tight End Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

Troy Fumagalli

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

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

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

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

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

This is Landry’s scouting report on Fumagalli:

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

Round 6: Center/Guard Sean Welsh (Iowa)

Sean Welsh

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 300 pounds

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry gave on Welsh:

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

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

Leon Jacobs

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 230 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report of Jacobs:

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

Round 7: Offensive Tackle David Bright (Stanford)

David Bright

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 307 pounds

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

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

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

This is what Landry has said about Bright:

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

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

Phillip Lindsay

Height: 5’8″

Weight: 190 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry gives Lindsay:

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

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Quest for a Second Stanley Cup

Dave Andreychuk with Lord Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrei Vasilevskly and Victor Hedman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the my Stanley Cup story from 2004:

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

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

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

Vinny Lecavalier

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

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

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

Ruslan Fedotenko

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

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

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

2018 NFL Scouting Combine

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

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

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

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

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

I’m thinking that there could be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.0 = Definite Top 5 Pick

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

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

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

6.5 = Mid to Late 1st Round Value

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

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

Marcus Davenport III

Marcus Davenport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every player listed above would enhance the Green Bay defense.

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

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

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

Leighton Vander Esch

No. 38 Leighton Vander Esch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To me, it’s a win-win for both teams.

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

nfl draft packers banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.0 = Definite Top 5 Pick

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

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

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

6.5 = Mid to Late 1st Round Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornerback/Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 201 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Fitzpatrick:

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

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

Marcus Davenport III

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

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

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)

Tremaine Edmunds

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 253 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Edmunds:

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

Safety Derwin James (Florida State)

Derwin James

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 215 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornerback Denzel Ward (Ohio State)

Denzel Ward

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 191 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Ward:

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

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

Tramon Williams Super Bowl XLV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about apropos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tramon Williams vs. the Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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