A Scout’s Take on the Running Back Class in the 2017 NFL Draft

Marlon Mack

Running back Marlon Mack of South Florida.

With the exodus of Eddie Lacy to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week via free agency, the Green Bay Packers find themselves in a bit of quandary regarding their running back situation.

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

The Packers can also re-sign unrestricted free agent Christine Michael, who the Packers brought on last season after he was released by the Seahawks. Other than that, the Packers also tendered an offer to exclusive rights free agent Don Jackson, who received a handful of plays last season with the Packers when injuries hit the running back position hard.

Plus, there are still a number of veteran running backs available via free agency. The list includes Adrian Peterson, LeGarrette Blount and Jamaal Charles.

Fortunately for the Packers and any team in need of help at running back this year, the 2017 NFL draft is extremely deep and talented this year at that position.

With that in mind, I wanted to get the opinion of NFL scout Chris Landry on this group of prospects. I once again was able to speak to Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show earlier this week, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

I first asked Landry to talk about what I believed to be great depth in the running back class in this year’s draft and I mentioned Marlon Mack of South Florida.

“I have Marlon as a high third-round pick,” Landry said. “In the upper-tier third round. I think he, Kareem Hunt of Toledo and the kid from North Carolina State, Matthew Dayes, are all high third-round values.

“You could get what I think would be fourth-round value with guys like Samaje Perine of Oklahoma, Jamaal Williams of BYU, Wayne Gallman of Clemson, all juniors. You’re right, there are guys like Brian Hill of Wyoming, who is an outstanding player. If you want a little back who is shifty, which is not what some people want, you have Donnel Pumphrey [San Diego State] is really good. Elijah McGuire of Louisiana Lafayette is a fifth or sixth-round value.

“There are good players in this draft. I absolutely like Marlon Mack. I think he would be great value at the top of the third round if you can get him there. Maybe even the late second round. We’ll see. I don’t think there is a half dozen players at the running back position who are better than Marlon in this draft. One of them is Joe Mixon, and we know that’s going to be an ownership decision.

“So I think that there is absolutely an opportunity to get healthy at the running back position [in this draft]. And most people prefer the younger guys who don’t have as much wear and tear on them.”

The Packers have a number of needs going into this draft. Mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Positions like cornerback, outside linebacker and inside linebacker. But what if one of the top three running backs were still on the board when they Packers had their selection at pick No. 29 in the first round.

I’m talking about Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.

Would general manager Ted Thompson select one of them if that were the case? The answer is yes, if they were the highest-rated player on the Green Bay draft board.

I asked Landry to talk about the Big 3.

“They all have the same grade, but all are different type of guys,” Landry said. “Fournette is the Adrian Peterson power guy. An impact carry back. Needs to have 25 touches or carries a game. Not as good catching the football.

“Like Dalvin Cook, the more complete back. He can run, has more explosiveness and has more make-you-miss  skills than Leonard. Much more effective catching the football out of the backfield.

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

Running back Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.

“Christian McCaffrey is the smaller satellite back. You can line him up in the backfield, the wing position or the slot position. If you put him in the receiving group, he might be as good as a receiver as there is in the draft. A great route-runner. Superb hands. Nice returner.

“So listen, it’s really like going to a car lot. Do you want a sports car, a minivan, a SUV or a pickup truck? I mean, they are all good, but what do you want? All these guys to me are first-round talent. I think behind them is Alvin Kamara of Tennessee, who has really good explosiveness with size.

“But I’m going to tell you, that on the football field, I’m not so sure that Joe Mixon is not the best running back in this draft overall. But…fill in the blank on Joe Mixon. That is going to be a very tough decision. And I’m not advocating for him off the field. I’m just saying, football-wise, he’s special.”

I had the Packers taking Mack in my second mock draft, but based on Landry’s current grade on the former Bull, the Packers would most likely have to pull the trigger in the late-second round to bring in Mack, as opposed to waiting until the late-third round.

When I talked with Landry this week, I also brought up Joe Williams of Utah, who I had the Packers selecting in my first mock draft. Williams was a dynamo in the second half of the 2016 season for the Utes when he rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns (in six games).

In the the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, Williams rushed for 222 yards and another score, plus caught a pass for 56 more yards.

Then at the East-West Shrine Game practices he impressed Landry, who said this about Williams:

“Utah RB Joe Williams has an outstanding burst and he was a little bit thicker than I anticipated. He is going to be a mismatch in the passing game as he gains more experience. He looks like an ideal change-of-pace back at the next level.”

Just to show you how deep and talented this running back class is in this draft, Landry currently has a seventh-round grade on Williams.

Bottom line, no matter what the Packers decide to do about bringing in a veteran free agent running back, the upcoming draft can certainly upgrade the depth and talent at the running back position for the team.

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

Ted Thompson 2016 Combine

The 2017 NFL draft is about a month and a half away, as it will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

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

We also recently had the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis which lasted from February 28 though March 6.

The only thing left for the prospects to help improve their draft value is the various pro days for the players, which will be viewed by the the scouts, coaches and front office-types who will be in attendance.

Sometimes, a player’s draft value will be severely compromised during a workout, which is what happened last week for cornerback Sidney Jones at the pro day at Washington. Jones suffered a torn Achilles tendon Saturday during the workout.

Jones was projected to be a first round selection as well.

Anyway, it’s been a little over a month since I did my initial 7-round mock draft for the Green Bay Packers.

A number of things have changed since then for the Packers, as free agency has really affected the look of the roster up until this point.

The Packers have seen a number of their players move on from the team in free agency. The list includes center/guard JC Tretter, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, defensive back Micah Hyde, who signed with the Buffalo Bills, outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who signed with the Carolina Panthers (the team which originally drafted Peppers), right guard T.J. Lang, who signed with the Detroit Lions on Sunday and finally running back Eddie Lacy, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.

In addition, tight end Jared Cook will not be returning to the team either, as the Packers bolstered that position by signing Martellus Bennett (New England Patriots) and Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Rams) via free agency.

The Packers also re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry, as well as reserve offensive lineman Don Barclay. The team also brought back restricted free agent Jayrone Elliott, who signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract on Monday night according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

In addition to that, the Packers also brought back cornerback Davon House on Tuesday in another free agent acquisition. House played the past two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Packers originally drafted House in 2011 and he stayed with the team through 2014 before leaving for Jacksonville via free agency in 2015.

The free agency frenzy is not over, as I expect the Packers to re-sign more of their own players, as well a couple of other players from other teams.

In terms of other unrestricted free agents on the Packers, you still have defensive end/outside linebacker Datone Jones (visiting the Vikings on Monday), running back Christine Michael and longsnapper Brett Goode, who are all unsigned at this time. I expect both Jones and Goode to re-up with the Packers.

Then you also have restricted free agent linebacker Jordan Tripp, who was not tendered an offer.

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

Getting back to the draft. In my first mock draft, I had the Packers selecting outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round. I still feel like that the drafting of Watt definitely has a real chance to happen (Watt met with the Packers at the combine), but for this mock draft, I will be selecting different players in each round.

But just like I did in my first mock draft, I selected players who I believe would fit in well with the Packers. Not just because of the schemes the team runs on offense and defense, but also how the player can help the special teams units, which were ranked 29th in the NFL in 2016. My buddy Rick Gosselin does a fantastic job of evaluating and ranking the special teams units for all 32 teams in the NFL each and every year.

One of the reasons I’ve had a decent track record over the years in my mock drafts for the Packers is because I utilize the expertise and insight from NFL scout Chris Landry.

Landry will comment on each and every player I select in each mock draft I do.

Okay, enough of that, let’s take a look at my post-combine mock draft for the Packers in 2017.

Round 1: Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)

Marlon Humphrey

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 197 pounds

Marlon Humphrey was a two-year starter at Alabama, where he had 81 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, five interceptions (one for a score) and three forced fumbles.

Humphrey was a Freshman All-SEC in 2015, as the Alabama won the national championship.

Humphrey played in a number of different coverage schemes with the Crimson Tide and he used his track-star speed and athleticism to his advantage. Humphrey is also a very aggressive tackler both in the secondary and in playing the run.

Humphrey recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.41 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. His three-cone drill time of 6.75 seconds was among the best of his position group.

Speaking of the combine, just like they did with Watt, the Packers also met with Humphrey.

The cornerback position for the Packers definitely needs to fortified in the draft and also in free agency. Humphrey would also add much needed speed in the secondary of the Packers.

Landry said this about Humphrey before the national championship game between Clemson and Alabama: “Humphrey steps into the role as Alabama’s lockdown cornerback this season. He’s physical against the run, and he has legitimate track speed.”

Round 2: Center/Guard Ethan Pocic (LSU)

Ethan Pocic

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 310 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

Landry said this about Pocic after a Senior Bowl practice: “LSU C Ethan Pocic was up and down today. On one particular snap he was beaten by UCLA DT Eddie Vanderdoes with a swim move. On the next, snap he was able to thwart Alabama DT Dalvin Tomlinson on a speed move inside. Pocic showed the type of adjusting that you like to see after a mistake and looks to take coaching very receptively.”

Round 3: Running Back Marlon Mack (South Florida)

Marlon Mack

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 213 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

Right now, the Packers only have Ty Montgomery as a sure thing at running back. And that is just a year after taking on that position full-time after being a wide receiver his first year with the Packers. With the loss of Lacy in free agency, don’t be surprised if the Packers don’t sign a veteran free agent running back themselves.

Drafting a running back will be a focus of the Packers in the draft and Mack would be an excellent addition. I saw him play many times and Mack is the real deal.

Landry said this about Mack prior to the Birmingham Bowl when USF played South Carolina: “Mack will go down a year or two from now as the steadiest offensive player in Bull history. He’s been a reliable workhorse from the moment he stepped foot on campus, working between the tackles and powering through defenders for additional. The consistency of Mack, who rushed for at least 100 yards in all but three of the games he played in 2015, allowed young QB Quinton Flowers to develop incrementally, without having to overextend himself in the early stages of his career.”

Round 4: Linebacker Vince Biegel (Wisconsin)

Vince Biegel II

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 246 pounds

Vince Biegel  was the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school (172 tackles, 21 sacks). That took Biegel to Madison where he was a four-year starter at Wisconsin and was named team captain his senior year. In his career as a Badger, Biegel had 131 total tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, three passes defended and two forced fumbles.

Biegel was named third-team All-Big Ten in 2015 and also second-team All-Big Ten in 2016.

Biegel has excellent quickness around the edge and can diagnose blocks when he dips inside to find the football. Biegel also has nice run-pass recognition and is solid in the running game.  Has also shown decent cover skills. The former Badger plays with a tenacious edge and his motor never stops running.

Biegel was solid in all the drills at the combine and ran a 4.67 in the 40.

At the outside linebacker position, the Packers lost Peppers in free agency and have seen Clay Matthews and Perry miss playing time due to injuries. The team did re-sign Perry and Elliott to bolster the depth. Re-signing Jones is still a possibility, plus the Packers also like the upside of Kyler Fackrell. Still, more quality depth is need at the position, as the Dom Capers 3-4 scheme is based on putting pressure on the quarterback.

Landry said this about Biegel after a Senior Bowl practice: “Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel was hyper aggressive. He is an impressive athlete who needs his athleticism to be honed a bit. Biegel was working tight ends in 1-on-1s and he made a couple of solid plays in coverage. Pass rushing versus tackles was rough today for Biegel, but he’s aggressive and athletic nonetheless. He might be suited to move to an off ball spot.”

Round 5: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin (Central Florida)

Shaquill Griffin

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 194 pounds

Griffin played four years at UCF and started the last two years. In his career with the Knights, Griffin had 113 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, six interceptions (two for touchdowns), 27 passes defended and one fumble recovery.

Griffin played at UCF with his twin brother Shaquem, who only has one hand. Both brothers had big years in 2016, with Shaquem winning the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a hybrid defensive back/linebacker, while Shaquill was named second-team All-AAC at cornerback.

Shaquill has excellent size, speed and strength for a cornerback. He has the physical ability to succeed in press coverage, plus match receivers stride for stride after their release. Is also an aggressive run defender.

Griffin had a very good combine, as he excelled in a number of drills, which included running a 4.38 in the 40 and having a vertical leap of 38.5 inches.

The Packers need to add speed and physicality to the cornerback position and Griffin can deliver in both areas.

Landry said this about Griffin before the Auto Nation Cure Bowl game between UCF and Arkansas State: “UCF boasts a growing history for developing next-level defensive backs. Griffin has a chance to be the next Knight to play on Sundays. He laid the ground floor in 2015 by starting 11 games, two at safety and nine at corner, and posting 50 tackles, two interceptions and a Knight-high 13 pass breakups.”

Round 5 (compensatory): Defensive Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)

Eddie Vanderdoes

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 305 pounds

Eddie Vanderdoes was a five-star recruit coming into UCLA, but injuries have hampered his time in Westwood. Out of the gate though, Vanderdoes showed the ability he showed in high school, as he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 and also received Freshman All-American honors.

Vanderdoes followed that season by being named honorable mention again his sophomore year, as he had 50 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

But the former Bruin star tore his ACL his junior year after playing exceptionally well versus Virginia in the season opener. Vanderdoes came back his senior year and was given honorable mention status for the third time in his career at UCLA.

In his career, Vanderdoes had 122 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Vanderdoes showed off his athletic ability at the combine, as the big man ran a 4.99 in the 40.

Ted Thompson likes selecting defensive linemen out of UCLA, as he drafted Datone Jones in 2013 and Kenny Clark last year. Vanderdoes would add some quality depth to the defensive line, plus would offset the loss of Letron Guion, who will miss the first four games of the 2017 season due to a PED violation.

Landry said this about Vanderdoes after a Senior Bowl practice: “Vanderdoes played exceptionally well today in all areas. He beat opponents with quickness, power and intensity. From the snap he’s tough to stop as he showed a great first step, power in his lower body and he worked his hands incredibly well. Even when it looked like Vanderdoes was outmatched, he won the down.”

Round 6: Linebacker Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Ben Boulware

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 238 pounds

Ben Boulware started his career at Clemson as a special teams demon, before becoming a starter at linebacker the past two seasons. Besides being team captain of the eventual national champion Tigers in 2016, Boulware led by example with his fiery play, as he was named first-team All-ACC both in 2015 and this past season.

In his career at Clemson, Boulware had 261 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles.

Like Biegel, Boulware is a natural leader and never stops playing hard until he hears the whistle. Boulware is compact, but is fast to the football. He seems to have the knack for making a big play. Boulware has also shown some nice ability in pass coverage. No matter what, you are going to get a terror on special teams.

The biggest area in which Boulware can help the Packers immediately is on special teams, which really need help. Boulware will also push Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas for playing time at inside linebacker.

Landry said this about Boulware after a Senior Bowl practice: “Boulware is not a great athlete but he is a terrific football player. Best in the box, he’s instinctive, shows great anticipation and fires up the field. He’s also nasty and wraps up tackling. He struggles moving outside the numbers and in reverse.”

Round 7: Offensive Tackle Jonathan McLaughlin (Virginia Tech)

Jonathan McLaughlin

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 293 pounds

Jonathan McLaughlin started all four years at Virginia Tech and started 49 games overall. In his freshman year, McLaughlin started all 13 games and was named second-team freshman All-American by College Football News.

In his career as a Hokie, McLaughlin started 26 games as a left tackle and 23 games at right tackle. In 2016, McLaughlin was named third-team All-ACC at right tackle.

McLaughlin has a good wingspan and has quick feet, but needs to become more consistent. He shows good power in blocking for the run game.

McLaughlin is better suited for zone-blocking scheme, and has the physical attributes which could see him move inside to guard in the NFL.

With the Packers losing both Tretter and Lang to free agency, there is a good chance that one of their draft picks from last season, either Jason Spriggs or Kyle Murphy, would move inside from the offensive tackle position to play right guard. Because of that, it would be wise to draft a player who has experience at both tackle positions, plus one never knows when the injury bug will bite Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

Prior to the East-West Shrine Game, McLaughlin met with the Packers. As did two other players who I had the Packers selecting in my first mock draft, cornerback Fabian Moreau and running back Joe Williams.

Landry said this about McLaughlin after an East-West Shrine Game practice: “McLaughlin displayed strength in his legs when getting into his pass set, as he was hard to move in one-on-one drills and had a great base. He has a lot of length in his arms and legs and uses it well. McLaughlin could stand to improve his quickness in his feet. McLaughlin had a very good day of practice. He was quicker today and was strong in the 11-on-11 period. He is able to stay low through his blocks and has a strong drive in his run blocks.”

The 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament: Wisconsin Gets the Rodney Dangerfield Treatment (No Respect)

Greg Gard II

Head coach Greg Gard and his Wisconsin Badgers must feel like Rodney Dangerfield tonight. As in, not getting any respect. That’s based on the No. 8 seed they received in the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament.

For a team which has been to three straight Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA basketball tournament, which no other team has done over that time, plus has won more tournament games (11) than anyone in that span, placing the Badgers with a No. 8 seed in the East bracket is a total slap in the face.

Adding to that, the 25-9 Badgers finished tied for second in the Big Ten (12-6) in the regular season and then made it to the title game in the Big Ten tournament as well, yet four other teams from the Big Ten conference had better seeds.

What the F!

Okay, I understand that the 25-7 Purdue Boilermakers received a No. 4 seed, as they were the Big Ten regular season champs (14-4) and they also beat the Badgers in their only matchup.

But to give a No. 5 seed to the 24-9 Minnesota Golden Gophers, who the Badgers beat twice in the regular season and finished ahead of them (11-7) in the Big Ten standings makes absolutely no sense. Plus Wisconsin advanced farther in the Big Ten tourney.

Nor does giving a No. 6 seed to the 24-8 Maryland Terrapins, who the Badgers beat in their only matchup in the regular season, plus knowing the team didn’t even advance to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

The 24-11 Michigan Wolverines received a No. 7 seed, which was helped by winning the Big Ten tourney. Michigan finished 10-8 in the Big Ten in the regular season and split their two games against Wisconsin.

I have no problem with the seeding of the Wolverines, just that the Badgers should have been seeded higher than them. That obviously includes Minnesota and Maryland as well, based on the entire body of work.

I mean it’s great that the Big Ten received seven tournament bids, but Wisconsin certainly deserved better than the seeding they received. Not just because of what they did this past year, but also because of what they have done these past four years.

I would think that the seniors like Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are feeling totally disrespected. Again these are four guys who have seen this team go to three straight Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and one NCAA title game.

2017 Badger Senior Class in Hoops

To me, the seeds of Wisconsin and Minnesota should be completely reversed. The Badgers deserve the right to be playing with the higher No. 5 seed and also to be playing in Milwaukee to begin the tournament.

Oh well, it is what it is. The Badgers now get to face a tough Virginia Tech team coached by Buzz Williams, who used to have the same job with Marquette. If the Badgers are fortunate to get by the Hokies, they will most likely (99 percent chance) get to play against the Villanova Wildcats, the No. 1 seed in the tourney and the defending national champions for the right to get to their fourth straight Sweet 16.

Well, it’s no use crying over spilled beer and bad cheese. The tournament begins for the Badgers on Thursday against the Hokies. I have a feeling that the Badgers want to prove to the NCAA selection committee that they will use this lack of respect as motivation in the tourney.

Rodney Dangerfield also didn’t get a lot of respect. But you know what? Rodney always got the last laugh.

Green Bay Packers: Free Agency is Like a Poker Game to Ted Thompson

ted-thompson-at-the-combine

I don’t know how many of you play poker, but if you ever did or do, you probably wouldn’t like sitting across the table from someone like Ted Thompson. Why? Well, not because he wins all the time, but because you could never get a good read on his hand based on his facial expressions.

Thompson of course is the head honcho in the front office of the Green Bay Packers and he runs his team similar to how he views a poker table. Sometimes he won’t even sit down at the table. Other times, he wins a big pot and then just walks away. But his look will never change.

When it comes to free agency, at least since Thompson became general manager of the Packers in 2005, the former Houston Oiler linebacker rarely dips his toes into the abyss known as unrestricted free agency.

Thompson’s approach to running the Green Bay organization, along with head coach Mike McCarthy, is to utilize a draft-and-develop program.

In 11 seasons since that partnership of Thompson and McCarthy took place in 2006, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

It’s rare that Thompson dips his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.

But when Thompson has signed a free agent player like Ryan Pickett, or signed players who were recently released by the previous teams like Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders), Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) and Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams), the results have been pretty good.

When it comes to re-signing their own players in free agency, Thompson and the Packers often wait close until to the midnight hour in bringing back that player. Thompson has done that over the years with players like corner back Sam Shields, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, wide receiver Randall Cobb and most recently with outside linebacker Nick Perry.

Going into the start of free agency in 2017, the Packers had several players who were eligible to become unrestricted free agents. One was Perry, who the Packers re-signed Thursday morning before the actual start of free agency later that afternoon.

Perry signed a five-year, $59 million contract on Thursday, while the Packers also re-upped reserve offensive lineman Don Barclay to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

Nick Perry

With the signings of Perry and Barclay, the Packers were approximately $30 million under the cap figure of $167 million set for this year.

The Packers have lost three players to free agency already, as center JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns, while defensive back Micah Hyde signed with the Buffalo Bills and outside linebacker Julius Peppers signed with the Carolina Panthers, who were the team who first drafted Peppers back in 2002.

Jason Wilde, citing a league source, reports that the Packers never made offers to either Hyde or Peppers.

That left players like right guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, tight end Jared Cook, outside linebacker Datone Jones, running back Christine Michael and longsnapper Brett Goode as unsigned unrestricted free agents.

Thompson is playing the ultimate poker game of bluffing with both Lang and Lacy, as the Packers are allowing them to visit other teams to see what the market says that they may be worth. It’s important to know, that Thompson has an ace up his sleeve, as reportedly both Lang and Lacy will allow the Packers to match or at least counter the offers made by other teams.

Speaking of poker, both Cook and his agent now know that they overplayed their hand against Thompson and Russ Ball, who is the team’s contract negotiator, on Friday.

The Packers made the re-signing Cook a priority this offseason, as he played a big role in the team’s six-game winning streak to the end the regular season and then also the success the Packers had in the postseason.

In fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers often praised the addition of Cook as being the main reason the offense was clicking late in the season and in the postseason. Rodgers also said that re-signing Cook should be a priority for the Packers.

With that as ammunition, Cook and his agent bluffed Thompson and the Packers one too many times, as the team broke off talks with Cook and then signed Martellus Bennett instead.

The Packers signed Bennett to a three-year deal worth anywhere from $18.5 to $21 million.

This was a rare signing for Thompson, which made this move somewhat shocking. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not that Thompson won’t bring in other players from other teams, as he did that with Woodson, Peppers and Cook, but Thompson shies away from signing “true” unrestricted free agents.

Why? Because they can have an impact on the compensatory picks a team will receive in the NFL draft the following season. Woodson, Peppers and Cook were all released by their former teams before the Packers signed them. That meant that the Packers would not be affected at all in the compensatory pick process.

Martellus Bennett

But the signing of Bennett will, but Thompson still thought it was a risk well-worth taking. Thompson knew all about Bennett, who had played with the Chicago Bears for three seasons before being traded to the  New England Patriots last season.

Bennett, who stands 6’6″ and is 248 pounds, is a tight end who can stretch the seam down the middle with his speed and athleticism, plus is solid run-blocker, which is something the Packers have been looking for at that position for years now.

Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards (12.7 avg.) and seven touchdowns for the Patriots in 2016. In his career with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Bears and Pats, Bennett has 403 receptions for 4,287 and 30 touchdowns.

Bennett was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he was with da Bears.

Time will tell how things will develop with both Lang and Lacy, along with all the other free agents like Jones, Michael and Goode, but one thing is for sure, with the signing of Bennett, Thompson is looking to win at the poker table in free agency.

Even if you can’t tell by looking at him.

The 2017 NFL Draft: The T.J. Watt to the Green Bay Packers Bandwagon is Growing

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

Almost a month ago, I put out my first and only 2017 NFL mock draft for the Green Bay Packers thus far. I plan to put out three more before the actual draft begins on April 27, including one later this week. But in my first mock, on February 10, I had the Packers selecting linebacker T.J. Watt of Wisconsin with pick No. 29 in the first round.

Since then, that prognostication has picked up some steam and the Watt to the Packers bandwagon is growing.

This past weekend, Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote that Watt is well-positioned for the Packers to select at pick No. 29.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com put out a mock draft yesterday in which he had the Packers selecting Watt in the first round as well.

NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah was on the Watt bandwagon early like myself, when he had the Pack taking the Wisconsin linebacker at pick No. 29 in early February.

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock won’t put out an actual mock draft until the night before the draft, but he did compare Watt and his skill set to that of Clay Matthews of the Packers recently.

“The easy comparison is Clay Matthews. He’s an edge rusher who fits best into a 3-4 system,” Mayock told MMQB. “He has a similar game to Clay — an edge who can drop in coverage and has a motor that just won’t stop.”

Watt also told the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday that he will be meeting with the Packers soon. That sure won’t stop any speculation about him going to Green Bay in the draft.

Watt certainly didn’t hurt himself in the workouts at the combine on Sunday either. The 6’5″, 243-pound Watt did well in all categories.

Watt finished 12th among linebackers in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.69. Watt also had 21 reps on the bench press which placed him tied for eighth.

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

T.J. Watt at the combine

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

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

Finally, Watt finished first in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.20.

As Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote this past weekend, the primary needs of the Packers are cornerback, inside linebacker and outside linebacker.

Green Bay must feel pretty fortunate going into this draft, as those three positions appear to be very deep.

It might come down to the old best player on Ted Thompson’s board at pick No. 29 when the Packers make that pick.

The outside linebacker position will probably have some clarity for the Packers at the time of the draft, as I expect Green Bay to re-sign Nick Perry and Julius Peppers.

The agent for Peppers, Carl Carey, confirmed to various media outlets today that Peppers will indeed play in the NFL in 2017.

“There has been communication with the Packers, and there’s a tremendous amount of mutual respect between Julius and the Packers organization,” Carey said. “They’ve been great to him over the years, and that carries a lot of weight with him. Of course, free agency is unpredictable, so we’ll see what happens over the next several days.”

Peppers has been injury-free during his three year tenure with the Packers, but he’s also 37 years-old and will be playing in his 16th NFL season. Like in 2016, I expect his snaps to be limited at times in 2017.

Perry (two games missed in 2016 and 20 games missed in his five-year career) and Clay Matthews (four games missed in 2016 and 15 games missed in his eight-year career) have been anything but injury-free, which is another reason why selecting someone like Watt makes a lot of sense.

The Packers also like the upside of second-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, but as Mayock has said, Watt has the playmaking ability of Matthews. That type of ability is hard to find, as No. 52 has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), plus has six interceptions (two for scores) in his career.

If the Packers did select Watt with the 29th pick of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, it would be the first time since 1948 that Green Bay selected a Wisconsin native who also played his college ball for the University of Wisconsin in the first round.

The Packers selected back Earl “Jug” Girard of the Badgers in 1948. Girard hailed from Marinette, Wisconsin.

Finally, the Packers have to be looking at the lineage of the Watt family in the NFL. Brother Derek, who also played at Wisconsin, is a fullback with the now Los Angeles Chargers and is 24 years-old.

But the brother that people will certainly compare T.J. with is J.J., who has won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times with the Houston Texans.

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

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

A Conversation with David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Before David Baker was named President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early 2014, he certainly had a very interesting background in sports.

The 6’9” Baker was a power forward and captain of the basketball team at the University of California at Irvine from 1971–75. After his college career was over, Baker also played two seasons of professional basketball in Europe.

In terms of professional sports and having a leadership role, Baker was first an owner for the Anaheim Piranhas of the Arena Football League in 1995. But Baker soon had an even bigger job in the AFL, as he was named Commissioner of the league in 1996 and remained in that position through the 2008 season.

Under Baker’s watch, the AFL experienced unprecedented growth in attendance, TV ratings, revenue, corporate sponsorships, merchandise sales, and profitability.

I was able to witness the love for the AFL in person a few times, as the Tampa Bay Storm won two of it’s five overall AFL titles during that time. The Storm’s current team president is former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks, who also was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Excelling in the world of sports runs in the Baker family, as son Sam was a former three-time All-American left tackle at USC and played six years with the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-14.

Sam was the 21st pick in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Dirty Birds. I was writing for Packer Report at that time and I did an interview and story about Sam before the draft, as the Packers were reportedly interested in perhaps selecting Baker at pick No. 30 in the first round.

Another son Ben, who was also an offensive lineman, played his college football at Duke and is now a Senior Manager of Broadcasting at NASCAR in Charlotte.

Baker and his wife Colleen, also have two other children, daughter Leyla and another son named Michael Ray.

When he wasn’t directly involved in sports, Baker has had an extensive and successful background as a business professional.

After obtaining a Juris Doctorate degree from Pepperdine University School of Law, Baker became an attorney in California, as he specialized in corporate mergers, acquisitions and real estate law.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Baker also served as a City Councilman and Mayor of Irvine, California from 1984-88.

Starting in 2010, Baker also became a Partner in Union Village, LLC, the largest healthcare project in the United States. Union Village is located in Henderson, Nevada and became the first Integrated Health Village in the world.

It was in during his time at Union Village, when Baker was approached about becoming the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“The Hall did a national search,” Baker told me. “A guy named Jed Hughes called me. Jed was the head of the sports division at Korn Ferry. Jed used to be a coach for a long, long time with the Steelers, UCLA and other places. Anyway, Jed called and asked if I would be interested in applying for the job and I told Jed that I love the Hall, that I knew my predecessor (Steve Perry) well and I thought it would be great, but that I was really involved in this thing at Union Village and I told him that I just couldn’t do it.

“Jed told me that he would send me the job description via email anyway and if I changed my mind to call him. At that end of the day, I’m cleaning out my email and I was in Atlanta at the time, and I forwarded the job description note to my wife Colleen, with a another little note saying you’ll never guess what happened today.

“Colleen called me about 15 minutes later and told me that we were going to do this thing with the Hall. And I told her that I had already told them no. Colleen said that I should call them back. I countered by saying that we were involved in this big project at Union Village. Colleen then said it was time to pass the baton there.

“I also told her how cold it was in Ohio and then asked why she wanted to do this so bad. And Colleen said, ‘Have you read this thing?’ And quite honestly I hadn’t. And Colleen said that I have to read it because this job is about what you believe.

“You know, my mom and dad could not read or write. And if it wasn’t for sports, and in my case it was basketball, but I always loved football the most, but sports provided me an education and sports introduced me to people who I never would have met otherwise. And it took me to places I never would have gone to.

“But more importantly, it taught me things about lessons in life. Not only did those lessons help me succeed, but even more importantly when I was knocked on my tail in life by mistakes of my own choosing, it helped me survive and get up again.

“For me now at the Hall of Fame, I call it the church of football. It may not be any particular doctrine of a church, but the things that the game teaches, like perseverance, commitment, sacrifice,  teamwork, love, loyalty and discipline, are all things that are taught every Sunday at some church.”

While Baker was heading the AFL as Commissioner, he  got to know his counterpart in the NFL, Paul Tagliabue. During that association, Tagliabue introduced Baker to his right-hand guy, a fellow by the name of Roger Goodell.

That relationship became quite strong over the years.

“Roger and I had dinner once a month for ten years before he became Commissioner of the NFL,” Baker said.

In the three-plus years that Baker has been the head of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has been involved in some very emotional moments when he has told a nominee for induction that they had indeed been selected to enshrinement in the Hall.

As President and Executive Director for the Hall, one of Baker’s duties is to inform a nominee whether he was inducted or not.

In Baker’s first year at the Hall, he had such a moment after first informing both Michael Strahan and Derrick Brooks that they inducted into the Hall.

“The third guy was Ray Guy,” Baker said. “Ray had been eligible 29 years and had been a finalist nine times and had not been called yet. When I got a hold of Guy, I said, ‘Ray, this is Dave Baker, President of the Hall.’ Ray said, ‘Yes Sir,’ in that southern drawl he has.

“So I tell him, ‘Ray, it is my great pleasure…’ I got that far and I could hear him drop to the ground with the phone rattling around. I could hear his wife asking him if he was okay. I thought I killed my first Hall of Famer!

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“Ray took about two minutes to get up and when he got back on the phone he said, ‘I don’t think I understood it until now how big a thing this is for me.’

Baker also talked about what recently occurred last month when he informed Jerry Jones that he was inducted.

“I’ve known Jerry for a couple of decades,” Baker said. “He was one of the owners in the Arena Football League. Jerry is probably the P.T. Barnum of our time. Jerry had 20 of his family waiting with him to find out if he was inducted. And when I knocked on his door, they were screaming and yelling and every single one of them were crying.”

But the induction announcement which touched Baker the most was when Kurt Warner made it into the Hall last month.

“It is a special moment for each one of them who get inducted,” Baker said. “But for me, it was a little more special with Kurt Warner. I had seen him grow up. I had seen him rise (in the AFL). I saw him overcome the donut in his NFL career when he was with the Giants before he went to Arizona.

“I just have the greatest respect for him. More as a human being. Far more than a football player. We share some spiritual values together. But what was real interesting about that was two years ago when Kurt was eligible for the Hall for the first time, I wanted to make sure that I was the one who call him, as we also call the guys who don’t make it.

“I told Kurt that it didn’t happen that year and that I hoped I could call him next year with better news. And Kurt says, ‘Commish, that’s okay. Don’t worry about it. But you have to tell me, did my friend Orlando [Pace] make it?’ Well Pace didn’t make it that year and Kurt was more upset about that than about the fact that he didn’t get in.

“That speaks to the kind of man he is. The next year Kurt did not make it again, but Orlando Pace did get in. But when I knocked on the door this last time, not only Kurt was there, but Brenda and their eight kids were there as well. It was just a great moment when I was able to let him know that he was in.

“To me, Kurt Warner is not only the kind of football player, but the kind of man who belongs in the Hall of Fame. When I’m introduced at places, sometimes I’m introduced as the President of the NFL Hall of Fame. But it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That includes the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. Kurt won championships in the AFL and NFL Europe, plus in the NFL. The only thing Kurt doesn’t have is a Canadian Football League title. I’m just so proud of him.”

Last year, Baker was able to knock on the door of Brett Favre after he was inducted. Some people may not recall this, but Favre and Warner were teammates for a brief period in training camp with the Packers in 1994. The undrafted rookie was released in camp, as the Packers had a pretty good stable of quarterbacks at the time, which included Favre, Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell.

After Warner was released by the Packers, he went to the AFL, NFL Europe and then the NFL again. We all know what happened after that.

favre-and-warner

Baker had an interesting conversation with Favre, as he told him that he was inducted.

“A year ago, I knocked on the door of Brett Favre,” Baker said. “That particular day we deliberated for about 10 hours, but it took 10 seconds to select Brett Favre. So when I knock on Brett’s door and saw him, I first made a joke. I said, ‘Brett, it’s my great pleasure to tell you, provided you don’t retire, that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the 303 greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.’

“Brett heard the first part, but when I got to the second part about being among the 303 greatest players ever, Brett put his hands in his pockets and hung his head humbly like a kid. Because he knew how big this was.”

Big indeed. As Baker explained to me, there are several hundred million men who have played the game of football in some fashion. Of that group, only 2.2 million played college football. And when you take it to the professional level, there are only 27,000 who been be paid to play, coach or officiate in the National Football League.

So to be among the 300-plus players, coaches and contributors in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is truly an outstanding honor.

As I heard these great stories from Baker, I kept thinking about Jerry Kramer. Why? Because he has all the attributes as a player and also as a man to be among the greats in Canton.

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s. Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 133 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton. Kramer is among the 12 who haven’t as of yet.

The fact that Kramer was not only a First-Team All-Decade player, plus was the lone guard on the NFL 50th anniversary team, make his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame truly puzzling.

Kramer was a five-time AP (First-Team) All-Pro and also named as an AP (Second-Team) All-Pro once, plus was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. No. 64 would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer was an integral part of a great Green Bay team coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi. Those teams won five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

In addition to that, the Packers became the only team in the modern NFL to win three straight NFL titles, when Green Bay won it all in 1965, 1966 and 1967.

No. 64 played a key role in a number of those championship contests.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as  some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

Kramer earned a game-ball for his efforts that day in the Bronx.

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

In the closing moments of the game, down by a score of 17-14,  the Packers had to drive 68 yards down the frozen field to either tie or win the game.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.

But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.

Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

jerry-leading-bart-in-the-ice-bowl

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Even with all that, Kramer has still not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987, Kramer was a finalist for induction into Canton nine times. Nine times! That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.

But as all this was going on, a lot of Kramer’s teammates with the Packers were getting inducted. This included players like Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo.

But Kramer’s name was never called for induction. In 1989, another former teammate was inducted. Safety Willie Wood finally heard his name called, after also being a finalist nine times, just like Kramer.

In all, Kramer has seen 11 of his former teammates get inducted, as well as his legendary head coach.

In 1997, Kramer was a senior finalist, but for some reason he did not get the votes necessary for induction.

Many of Kramer’s peers who either played against him or with him and who were selected to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame have endorsed Kramer to receive that same honor.

I asked Baker about Kramer’s bewildering omission from the Hall.

“There is a huge backlog with the seniors, as I’m sure Rick Gosselin has let you know that,” Baker said. “Whether a player is nominated or not can be very subjective. Sometimes it’s by a razor-thin margin.

“The thing that most defines the men who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are the guys who aren’t in the Hall. We are talking about some really spectacular players.”

The senior backlog may get a helping hand in the centennial year of the NFL in 2019. Gosselin, who sits on the seniors and the contributors committees, proposed that a number of worthy seniors be put into the Hall of Fame that year.

Baker talked about that possibility.

“To get into the Hall, it’s really elite and exclusive company,” Baker said. “That’s why I’m considering a proposal to expand the senior section in the NFL centennial to include some more deserving guys.”

Earlier in the story, Baker talked about the various attributes that players learn playing football. Things like like perseverance, commitment, sacrifice,  teamwork, love, loyalty and discipline. These are also things Kramer learned from Lombardi when he played in Green Bay.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer told me awhile back. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s background which helped him achieve great success in the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi read ancient Greek and Latin, plus taught chemistry and algebra,” Kramer said. “He was a very bright man. In a lot of ways, he was more like a teacher, as opposed to a coach. He believed that he was a teacher, first and foremost. For him, teaching and coaching were one in the same.”

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he was more than that. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Kramer is certainly a testament to that, both as a man and as a player.

This is what Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

vince-and-jerry-iii

The voters who named the NFL 50th anniversary team in 1969 would definitely agree.

I sincerely hope that the day is coming very soon when Baker will knock on Kramer’s door and say, ‘Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.’

That is a moment that is long overdue in my opinion, but I know the occasion would be very rewarding for not only Kramer, but also for his family and friends as well. Not to mention all the fans who have supported his enshrinement in Canton for all these years.

Green Bay Packers: 7 Possible Options at Pick No. 29 in the 2017 NFL Draft

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As NFL teams prepare for the 2017 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) have taken place. As did the other bowl games, as some players didn’t get an opportunity to play in an all-star game.

Next on the agenda is the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which takes place next week, starting on February 28 and lasting until March 6.

We will see prospects either improve or slightly damage their draft stock at the combine, depending on how they do in the various drills.

But no matter what happens at the combine, a prospect can either stand by his performance at the combine or try and improve his numbers at his school’s pro day.

After that comes the actual 2017 NFL draft, which takes place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

And while all that is happening, teams in the NFL will be able to improve their roster makeup by utilizing free agency, which officially starts on March 9. Depending on who the various teams add to their roster, that will have an impact as to who the team adds to their roster via the draft.

Bottom line, we are still very early in the draft process. It’s difficult to judge at this point where a player may be slotted in the draft, especially for teams like the Green Bay Packers, who have the 29th selection of the first round.

For all my draft stories, I’m going to utilize the insight and expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry for each player that I write about.

Okay, here we go. I’m going to give it a shot and write about seven potential prospects that the Packers may be able to select at pick No. 29. You will note that only one of my choices played prominently on the offensive side of the football.

Linebacker T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

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Height: 6’5″

Weight: 243 pounds

I had the Packers selecting T.J. Watt in my very first mock draft, which I put out last week.

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

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

Watt can play outside or inside in the 3-4 scheme used by Dom Capers. I expect Watt to be used on the outside more often than not, just like he was with the Badgers. I expect the Packers to re-sign Nick Perry, who along with a healthier Clay Matthews, will be able to assist Watt in putting pass pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

I also think there is a chance that the Packers will re-sign Julius Peppers, but only at their price, plus Green Bay also likes the upside of Kyler Fackrell, who was a rookie in 2016.

Watt has an exceptional motor and like Perry, plays the run extremely well.

This is what Landry said about Watt recently:

“The more I study him, the more I think Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt can play in any base defense. He can play on the edge in a traditional four man front as well as a standup rusher with drop ability.”

Outside Linebacker Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)

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Height: 6’2″

Weight: 265 pounds

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

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

McKinley has a fast motor and is relentless from sideline to sideline. A number of his tackles were within two yards or less of line of scrimmage, which tells you about his speed in reacting to the football.

Just like with the selection of Watt, McKinley can become a huge asset for the Packers at outside linebacker.

Ted Thompson has drafted a player out of UCLA in the first round of the draft in two out of the last four years. Thompson selected Datone Jones in 2013 in the first round, plus picked Kenny Clark last year in the first round.

This is what Landry recently said about McKinley:

“UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley is very athletic looking on film and should do well at the combine. Expect him to run in the 4.55 range with a vertical jump around 37 inches. McKinley ran a 10.70-second 100-meter dash in high school. McKinley may have shoulder surgery after the Combine, but the impending procedure isn’t expected to affect his testing.”

Safety/Linebacker Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)

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Height: 6’1″

Weight: 205 pounds

Before he went to Michigan, Jabrill Peppers was the 2013 USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year while playing in New Jersey. Peppers also won the 100 meters and 200 meters at state in both his junior and senior years in high school.

Peppers went to Michigan to play football because of his admiration of Charles Woodson. In his career as a Wolverine, and like Woodson, Peppers helped the team on defense, special teams and on offense.

In 2014, Peppers had a leg injury which sidelined him after three games. In 2015, Peppers was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was also named first-team All-Big Ten, as he had 5.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass break-ups as a defender, 72 rush yards and two touchdowns on offense and a 27.9 yard kick return average and an 11.4 yard punt return average.

In 2016, Peppers was named first-team All-Big Ten once again, plus was named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, as he moved around on the Wolverine defense. Peppers had 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception.

Peppers also rushed for 167 yards and three scores, plus had a punt return for a touchdown (14.8 yard average) and also had a 26 yard average on kickoff returns.

In the NFL, Peppers looks to be a hybrid player on defense, as he has played in the secondary at safety, plus can come up in the box and play the run well at linebacker, plus cover running backs and tight ends in the passing game.

Peppers can play the role that linebacker Joe Thomas now plays for the Packers on passing downs or could be part of the secondary in the nickel and dime looks that the team employs.

This is what Landry said about Peppers recently:

“Michigan LB/S Jabrill Peppers is an intriguing prospect that will ultimately be a will backer in the Deone Buchanon mold, only lacking the frame of Buchanon. Peppers is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds who is built more like a safety but does not have the range and cover skills of a Landon Collins. If he runs and workout well at the Combine as it will show some cover speed that he doesn’t show on tape.”

Cornerback Tre’Davious White (LSU)

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Height: 5’11”

Weight: 191 pounds

Tre’Davious White was a four-year starter at cornerback at LSU, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, as he had 55 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, seven passes defended and also had a forced fumble.

In his career at LSU, White had 167 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions (including one for a touchdown), 34 passes defended, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

After his senior year, White was named as a first-team Walter Camp All-American and All-SEC selection.

White is also an exceptional punt returner, as he had a punt return for a touchdown for three consecutive seasons from 2014-2016.

The Packers desperately need more talent and depth at cornerback and White would surely help in that area, as well as being a possible option in the punt return game which also needs help.

Landry said this recently about White:

“LSU CB Tre’Davious White might be underrated by some in the scouting circles. While he did regress some last season, his ability to shut down receivers when opponents throw his way is rare and he plays a tough, aggressive style. He has first round skills and would be a steal if he falls into round two.”

Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (USC)

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Height: 5’11”

Weight: 185 pounds

Adoree’ Jackson was a three-year starter at USC at cornerback. Like Peppers did at Michigan, Jackson was a triple-threat on defense, special teams and offense for the Trojans.

On defense in his career at USC, Jackson had 139 total tackles, six tackles for a loss, six interceptions (including one for a touchdown), 28 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

On special teams, Jackson had four kickoff returns for scores, as well as four more in punt returns.

On offense in his career as a Trojan, Jackson had 39 receptions for 628 yards and six touchdowns, as well as rushing for 92 more yards.

Jackson won multiple honors in his career, as he was named a Freshman All-American, Pac-12 Defensive Rookie of the Year and honorable mention All-Pac 12 as a freshman, first-team All-Pac 12 in 2015 and then won the Jim Thorpe Award, as well a being named first-team All-Pac 12 and All-American in 2016.

Thompson has also gone to the well a couple of times to USC in the first round with his selections for the Packers. In 2009, with one of his two first-round selections, Thompson picked Clay Matthews, plus he also selected Nick Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

Like White would do, Jackson would be an outstanding addition to the cornerback position, plus would become a huge factor in the return game.

Landry said this last month about Jackson:

“The winner of the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best cornerback, Jackson moonlighted as a receiver and kick returner at USC. Jackson is a twitched-up athlete who reached the qualifiers for the Rio Summer Games in the long jump event. Jackson’s athleticism isn’t in question, but he’ll need to work on his technique. Despite that Thorpe award, Jackson was inconsistent in coverage for a top prospect in 2016. He is built similarly to Adam Jones when he came out of West Virginia.”

Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

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Height: 6’1″

Weight: 200 pounds

Cordrea Tankersley has excellent size for a cornerback. At Clemson, he didn’t play much his first two years as a Tiger, but was named third-team All-ACC in 2015, as he had 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, five interceptions (including one for a touchdown) and had nine passes defended.

In 2016, Tankersley was named first-team All-ACC and third-team Associated Press All-American, as he had 52 tackles, six tackles for a loss, four picks and 11 passes defended.

Tankersley played a big role on the defense for the Tigers as they won the FBS national championship.

Although Thompson has never selected a player from Clemson in the first round, Ron Wolf did that twice for the Packers, first with Wayne Simmons in 1993 and then with Antuan Edwards in 1999.

Like White and Jackson, Tankersley would be a welcome addition to the cornerback position, plus would add more size.

Before the FBS title game versus Alabama, Landry said this about Tankersley:

“Tankersley likely boosted his stock after coming up with two huge plays in the ACC Championship Game. First, he made a highlight-reel interception by tiptoeing both feet in bounds, then sealed the Tigers’ victory with a diving interception with 1:11 left in the game. It was the first two-interception game of his career. He also broke up another pass and had four tackles.”

Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)

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

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 197 pounds

There are probably three running backs in the 2017 NFL draft who may be selected in the first round. Most experts seem to think Leonard Fournette of LSU and Dalvin Cook of FSU will be the first two running backs off the board.

That may mean that Christian McCaffrey might still be available at pick No. 29 when the Packers select. Although the Packers will be focusing to shore up their defense in round one, especially in the secondary, depending on how the team draft board looks, McCaffrey might be an option.

Why? Right now, only Ty Montgomery is a sure thing to play running back in 2017. Eddie Lacy will be an unrestricted free agent and even if the Packers do re-sign him, which I think they will, it will most likely be on one-year deal to prove his worth to the Packers and the rest of the NFL.

Backup Christine Michael has the size and speed you like and has flashed some nice ability, but has proven to be a liability in terms of knowing his assignments, which has been typical of him throughout his NFL career. Michael will also be an unrestricted free agent.

That’s why a player like McCaffrey might be enticing for the Packers to select in the first round, not to mention that he would be an excellent fit for the team on offense.

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

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

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

Like Montgomery, McCaffrey would create huge mismatches on passing downs out of the backfield, plus would be another player who could help the return game on special teams. Plus, his quick cut ability is a perfect match for Green Bay’s running offense.

Landry said this recently about McCaffrey:

“Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey is one of the more intriguing players in this April’s NFL Draft. He has been compared to a number of players. He is a bigger and faster than Danny Woodhead. He is not as explosive as a Dion Lewis or Reggie Bush but he is an outstanding runner with great vision, balance and body control. While I don’t see him carrying the load, I do see him catching the ball out of the backfield, lined up as a satellite back and getting the ball in a variety of ways. I see him as a cross between Brian Westbrook and Dion Lewis.”

Honoring a Green Bay Packers Fan: My Father and My Mentor, Norm Fox

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Norm and Sis Fox on their wedding day on July 8, 1950

***Note: This story was originally published two years ago.

I was born in 1957. That year is special in the hearts of sports fans in Wisconsin. In 1957, Lambeau Field (then City Stadium) was built to become the new home of the Green Bay Packers, while the Milwaukee Braves also won the World Series that special year.

I grew up in a great sports era, as the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years (including the first two Super Bowls) under Vince Lombardi from 1961 to 1967. I saw the Packers in person on a number of occasions.

Plus I was able to see great baseball players like Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn of the Braves play many times while they were still in Milwaukee.

My dad, Norman Fox, was always there with me.

My passion for sports came from his talks with me. Dad gave me history lessons about the various sports teams, whether it was about the Packers, the Braves or the Wisconsin Badgers. I was also educated about a number of professional sports teams that no longer existed or had moved from Wisconsin.

Dad loved to tell me stories about the Packers back in the Curly Lambeau days when he was growing up.

Dad would quiz me about my knowledge at the dinner table just about every night at our home in Milwaukee. I’m happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Why? I had a great instructor.

My father and mentor passed away on Monday at age 88. I now have a big void in my life. But the lessons he taught me will always remain with me.

Because of dad, I loved all sports, but especially football.

We were both spoiled by the Packers at an early age. Dad was born in 1926, and the Packers won six NFL titles under Lambeau by his 18th birthday, with the last one coming in 1944. Dad was serving his country in the Pacific then with the Navy in World War II.

While I was enamored with players like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jimmy Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Max McGee, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley and so many others in the 1960s, dad made sure I also learned about the Packers of his era.

I was told stories about the great Don Hutson, as well as learning about players like Clarke Hinkle, Cecil Isbell, Johnny (Blood) McNally, Cal Hubbard, Arnie Herber, Mike Michalske and Tony Canadeo.

Dad went to a number of games to see the Packers, both in Milwaukee and Green Bay in those days. In Milwaukee, he would see the Packers play at State Fair Park many times, including the 1939 NFL Championship Game that was played there, as the Packers beat the New York Giants 27-0.

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Cecil Isbell runs with the ball in the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park

Dad also parked cars at old Marquette Stadium in Milwaukee when the Packers played there for one season in 1952. After that, he saw the Packers play many times at old County Stadium, where I was often with him.

Dad also traveled to Green Bay to see the Packers play at both old City Stadium and also the new City Stadium, which later was named Lambeau Field in 1965 in honor of the first head coach and one of the founders of the franchise.

Going to training camp is something I really enjoy. I learned that from my dad, although I never came away with a football like he did, nor did I ever see the Chicago Bears train.

The Bears trained at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin in 1935. Dad and some buddies watched them practice one day. During practice, an errant punt went over the fence and dad scampered to get it.

Dad retrieved the ball and then never stopped running. He was sprinting away from the Bears just like he was a running back for the Packers like Johnny (Blood).

He told me he never ran so fast, as players and coaches for the Bears were yelling at him to come back with the football. But he never did, and he came home with the football that day.

Dad was an amazing athlete. One time, a few years after his football caper with the Bears, he and a couple of friends rode their bikes around Lake Michigan. It took them several days to accomplish this feat, but they did it.

grandpa-football

Norm Fox with his prized football

Throughout the years, dad and I stayed true to the Packers, even in the lean years. Dad and my mom moved to the Tampa, Florida area in 1983 when they retired, but his loyalty to the Packers continued.

I ended up moving to the Sunshine State myself a while after my parents did. I soon met my future wife, Pam. We ended up living in proximity of my parent’s house. Dad and I ended up going to a number of games between the Packers and the Buccaneers at old Tampa Stadium during that time.

We always had a great time. Before, during and after the game. One time we went to a tailgate party which had Ray Nitschke in attendance. Dad really enjoyed seeing No. 66. After a while, it was time to get to the stadium for the game, and I was looking for dad.

I found him near the brat table. He had a brat in each hand, as they had run out of hot dog buns. No matter, those brats were going down!

The Packers became a force again in the NFL starting in 1992, and that continues to this day. Dad really enjoyed the resurgence of the team, as the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI in that era.

He enjoyed watching the Packers when they were quarterbacked by Brett Favre, but he really liked the way the Packers played behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It didn’t hurt that he sort of looked like No. 12 when he was a young man.

grandpa-navy

Norm Fox during World War II

Dad was a happy camper when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV behind the play of Rodgers.

After my mom passed away in 2007, I became the primary caregiver for my dad, as he had been dealing with a number of medical issues for many years, including beating colon cancer twice.

I have taken my dad to our summer home on Lake Michigan for the past seven years for three months or so each summer. The place is just an hour or so south of Green Bay, so I was able to get to check out training camp on many occasions.

Over the last seven summers, my bond with my dad became even stronger. I always made sure that he would tell the stories he had told me about the early Packers to my friends when they would come out and visit.

The stories never got old as I would grill some brats and then play some sheepshead with dad and some buddies.

Those memories will always stay with me, as will the reminiscing of spending quality time with my dad as a youngster.

 You see, Norm Fox was not only my father and mentor, but also my friend.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer and the 1958 NFL Draft Class

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

It’s night and day when one compares the current form of the NFL draft with all the glitz and glamour to the NFL draft of 1958. Two completely different animals. The draft of today is now shown live on two cable networks, ESPN and NFL Network.

It all started when ESPN first started showing the draft live in 1980. The draft has become a monster now with various magazines, web sites and programming by entities like ESPN and NFL Network giving their takes on the college prospects and doing ever-changing mock drafts.

The NFL draft first became part of the league in 1936. There have been many variations to how the draft has been developed to the point of where has evolved today.

The last few years, we have seen the draft run on three consecutive days, with the first round on one night, the second and third rounds the next night and then the fourth through seventh rounds held on the third day.

This year, the 2017 NFL draft will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

Speaking of the 2017 NFL draft, I did my initial mock draft for the Packers last week.

The NFL journey for Jerry Kramer started on December 2, 1957, when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1958 NFL draft.

The draft was much different then, as the NFL staggered the draft on two different dates, with the first part of the draft (Rounds 1-4) being in early December and the last part of the draft (rounds 5-30) being in late January.

Yes, you read that right. There were 30 rounds back then. But on December 2, 1957, Kramer became a Packer, as did three other very talented football players. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should also be in Canton and until he is, there will be a credibility issue there.

Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl. A knee injury really hurt the effectiveness of Currie later in his career, both with the Packers and the Los Angeles Rams.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and to the Pro Bowl five times. Taylor led the team in rushing seven times and led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

The bruising fullback also had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, and he gained more than 100 yards in a game 26 times.

Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Vince Lombardi era. He also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

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

Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the Giants 16-7.

Kramer is most famous for his block in the 1967 NFL Championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.”

jerry-leading-bart-in-the-ice-bowl

With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on DT Jethro Pugh, and QB Bart Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

So, how did Kramer find out he was drafted by the Packers in 1958? “I was in class at the University of Idaho when I was drafted,” Kramer said. “I came out of class and Wayne Walker, who was my classmate and who was also drafted by the Detroit Lions, told me I was drafted by Green Bay.”

In 1958, the GM of the Packers was Verne Lewellen. However, the man who was really responsible about scouting college prospects was Jack Vainisi. Vainisi was a talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Vainisi also played a prominent role in bringing Vince Lombardi to the Packers. It was Vainisi who called Lombardi to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

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

In 1958, there was no such thing as an NFL Scouting Combine. So who did NFL clubs get information on the various college prospects?

“You were sent a questionnaire by teams,” Kramer said. “How big are you? How fast are you? What are your military obligations and so forth. Then, you never really heard back from the teams.”

As Kramer was heading to play in the East-West Shrine game, he was contacted by a Canadian Football League official who told Kramer not to sign until they could talk. Kramer still signed with the Packers, although for a very meager amount by today’s standards.

letter-to-jerry-from-jack-vainisi

“I signed with the Packers for a $250 bonus,” Kramer said. “I spent that money with Walker the weekend of the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco. But actually the $250 turned out not to be a bonus. When I got to Green Bay I found out that the $250 was an advance on the $8,000 contract I had signed.”

The journey to Green Bay was pretty interesting. “I was playing in the College All-Star game in Chicago,” Kramer said. “Up to that point I had never worked out with the Packers or had ever heard from them. Almost zero communications. The Packers sent somebody down from Green Bay to drive us back there from Chicago. There was Taylor, Currie, Nitschke, Dick Christy, Neil Habig and myself from the draft class who got a ride back to Green Bay.”

Once in Green Bay, Kramer almost played himself off the squad. “When we got to Green Bay, the head coach was Scooter McLean,” Kramer said. “I had a very dim view of making the team. John Sandusky, who was my line coach at the College All-Star game, told me I probably wouldn’t make the Packers. John had played the prior year with Green Bay.

“John told me that the Packers had five guards on the roster. He told me I could play in the NFL, but probably not with the Packers. And so I went to training camp and basically played like I was waiting to get traded. Looking over the fence at practice and having a good time.

“Finally Scooter called me to his office one day and asked, ‘What in the hell is the matter with you? One day you look great and then the next day you are looking over the fence and checking the scenery. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. Scooter said ‘What?’ I told him what the coach at the All-Star game had told me. Scooter told me that I wasn’t drafted to get traded and that I was going to start the next preseason game against the Washington Redskins. About 10 days later the Packers traded a couple of guards to the New York Giants.

“It finally came down to the final cut between Ken Gray (another rookie) and myself. And the Packers kept me, although Ken later played with the Cardinals and became a Pro Bowl player.”

The 1958 draft class to me is the best draft class ever drafted by the Packers. In fact, NFL Network had the 1958 class of the Packers rated as the fourth-best draft class of all-time.

Yes, the 1958 draft class of the Packers was very, very good. Just imagine how highly rated this class would be when Kramer finally receives the recognition he so richly deserves—an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The draft today is much different than the draft of 1958. That being said, I’m sure Ted Thompson would be absolutely thrilled to draft players of the caliber of the 1958 draft class of the Packers this upcoming April. Thompson actually has had a pretty good track record drafting players overall.

But the draft class of 1958 was the best ever selected by the Packers. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

The Many Pro Football Hall of Fame Endorsements for Jerry Kramer

jerry-in-the-65-title-game

Over the past week, a couple of Pro Football Hall of Fame members have spoken out on behalf of wide receiver Terrell Owens and his rightful enshrinement in Canton. One was former Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Lofton, as well as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young.

There is no denying that Owens put up some monster statistics in his career in the NFL, but he has also been labeled a bad teammate, as well as a player who never helped lead his team to a NFL title.

That is probably why there has been push back on his induction the past couple of years.

Compare that to Jerry Kramer. Now it’s hard to compare a position player to a lineman, but Kramer truly was a great player, not only in the regular season, but also under the bright lights of the postseason, when his Packers under head coach Vince Lombardi, won five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer played a leading role in the victories in three of those championship games, which were the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.

When Kramer was done playing in the NFL after the 1968 season, he was recognized for his great play, as he was named to the 1960s All-Decade team, plus was also named to the very prestigious NFL 50th anniversary team, as he was the only guard on the first team.

Even with all that, Kramer still awaits his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And unlike Owens, Kramer was the epitome of being a great teammate.

While Owens has received a few endorsements from current Pro Football Hall of Fame members, Kramer has received several from players he played with and against from his era who now have busts in Canton.

Here are some just some of those testimonials that Kramer has received.

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”Merlin Olsen HOF 1982

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame, and quite frankly, I thought he was already inducted.”Frank Gifford HOF 1977

“Jerry Kramer is a fine man and a great football player. He is the type of player and person I feel strongly should also be numbered among the NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame.”Bob Lilly HOF 1980

“Jerry Kramer should have been in the Pro Hall of Fame many years ago.”Doug Atkins HOF 1982

“I support the nomination of Jerry Kramer as an inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jerry Kramer was a great football player and very deserving of this honor.”Alan Page HOF 1988

“When I think about all of the players not in the HOF, the one that mystifies me the most is Jerry Kramer. I don’t understand why he hasn’t, as yet been selected. In an NFL interview, Hall of Fame Vice President Joe Horrigan stated that Jerry accounts for about one-fourth of his mail on a daily basis.

“When you think of the Packers of the 60’s, you remember Lombardi at the blackboard describing the seal of the sweep. Getting that seal was the job of the guards and Jerry was the best at that particular skill. It was his agility and his speed to get out there and make that block that really made the Packer sweep effective.”Bob St. Claire HOF 1990

“It’s difficult for me to understand why Jerry has not been inducted by now. Considering the offensive linemen already enshrined, Jerry should certainly have a place.”Joe Schmidt HOF 1973

“I was truly shocked that Jerry was not a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. I know personally that there was no one better at his position.”Gino Marchetti HOF 1972

“We who played with him in Pro Bowls and against him in our careers, vote 100% for Jerry to join us in the Hall of Fame where he belongs.”John Mackey HOF 1992

“To the Senior Selection Committee: this is to remind you of Jerry Kramer and to put in a good word on his behalf.” – Raymond Berry HOF 1973

“I firmly believe that Jerry Kramer deserves to be in the Hall.” – Mel Renfro HOF 1996

“Jerry Kramer is a Hall of Famer. The Packers would not have been the greatest team in history, if they would not have had Jerry.” – Mike Ditka HOF 1988 

“A lot of folks deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of fame, none more so than Jerry Kramer.”Chris Hanburger HOF 2011

“You have my vote for Jerry for this upcoming class.”Jim Otto HOF 1980

“He was the best in football when I started playing Professionally, and it was his example that I emulated. He belongs with us so let us make his senior candidacy a reality.” Tom Mack HOF 1999

“I think players that somehow had a big impact on the game deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Jerry belongs there for what he did.” – Dave Wilcox HOF 2000

“I am recommending Jerry Kramer as a candidate for membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jerry’s stats and awards speaks volumes. He was a very fine player.”Lem Barney HOF 1992

“I have played against Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers on numerous occasions. I am highly recommending him for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”Chuck Bednarik HOF 1967

“His stats alone do not reveal the respect or dominance Jerry produced as an NFL lineman. Jerry is exactly the representation the HOF embodies.”Tommy McDonald HOF 1998

“Jerry truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I respectfully request your consideration for a guy who has earned every right to be in Canton.”Willie Davis HOF 1981

“When you think of Hall of Fame guards, very few come to mind. But when I think of great guards, I think of Jerry Kramer.

“When you look at Green Bay’s success in the 1960’s, you can’t mention Vince Lombardi, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Jimmy Taylor, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Forrest Gregg and leave out Jerry Kramer. He is the perfect prototype of right guard.

“Jerry Kramer was on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team at guard and every member of that team is in the Hall except him. That is just unbelievable!

“To conclude my opinion on how the Hall of Fame is keeping Jerry Kramer locked out, I will have to quote Vince Lombardi once more…

“What the hell is going on out here?!”Paul Hornung HOF 1986

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You can see all of these testimonials and many more in this great book put together by Randy Simon.

The bottom line is Jerry Kramer was the best of the best in the NFL as a right guard with the Packers in the 1960s.

That is why he was honored and put on the 1960s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL 50th anniversary team.

And that’s also why he has all these great endorsements from his peers who have already made it into Canton.

I’ll leave you with one final endorsement for Kramer. This comes from Jack Youngblood (HOF 2001) of the Los Angeles Rams, who was a teammate of Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history (14 Pro Bowls and nine first-team All-Pro honors).

“If any man has been overlooked for induction, Jerry Kramer is the one. My teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen said: Good Lord, he should be in the Hall. I couldn’t have said it better.