Jerry Kramer Talks About Bob Skoronski

Bob Skoronski blocks for Jim Taylor in the 1966 NFL title game

Bob Skoronski blocks for fullback Jim Taylor in the 1966 NFL Championship Game.

Like the 1958 draft class of the Green Bay Packers, which I wrote about three months ago, the team also hit gold in the 1956 draft class.

This was all due to the great scouting which was done by Jack Vainisi.

Like he 1958 draft class, the selections that Vainisi made in 1956 were outstanding. Like 1958, Vainisi was able to select two players who would eventually be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They would be right tackle Forrest Gregg (second round) and quarterback Bart Starr (17th round).

Starr won five NFL championships as a quarterback, which only Tom Brady has been able to equal. In addition, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in each game.

Starr was also the league MVP in 1966, plus led the NFL in passing three times. Starr is probably best remembered for his thrilling quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining in the legendary “Ice Bowl” on Dec. 31, 1967.

Starr was named All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl four times. Starr was 9-1 as a playoff QB. Starr also had his number retired (No. 15) by the Packers.

In his book Run To Daylight, Vince Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!”  Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers. Gregg was the key staple in the offensive line during the Lombardi years which included such greats as Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Bob Skoronski.

However, only Gregg and Ringo are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which to many is a travesty, especially because of Kramer’s omission. Gregg was also named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.

Vainisi was also able to select two very solid starters in left tackle Skoronski  and defensive back Hank Gremminger in the 1956 draft, and both started for the Packers for 10 years or more.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players during his tenure in Green Bay who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke.

Back to the class of 1956 and specifically Skoronski. Not only did Skoronski play 11 years in the NFL with the Packers, but he was also one of the team’s captains, along with Willie Davis.

Bob Skoronski and Willie Davis before Super Bowl I.jpg

Skoronski was as steady as they came at left tackle, but was never named All-Pro and went to only one Pro Bowl. Skoronski also filled in at center during the 1964 season.

But even with the lack of recognition, Skoronski was appreciated by his coaches and teammates. One of those teammates was Kramer. I had another opportunity recently to speak with Kramer and we talked about the former Indiana Hoosier.

The play that epitomizes Skoronski’s mindset to Kramer happened in the “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field.  The play happened on that legendary 12-play drive, when the Packers drove 68 yards down the icy field with just 4:50 remaining in the game to score the game-winning touchdown on Starr’s quarterback sneak.

But before Starr’s sneak, there was a key play just moments before. It was first and ten for the Packers at the 11-yard line of the Cowboys. Starr called a give play to fullback Chuck Mercein. For that particular play to be successful, a couple of things had to happen.

On the play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulled right. The Packers were hoping that defensive tackle Bob Lilly would vacate his position and follow Gillingham. That indeed happened.

But Skoronski would also need to make a key block on defensive end George Andrie to give Mercein a hole to run through.

Kramer talked about that play to me.

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

Mercein picked up eight yards on the play, and the Packers now had the ball at the 3-yard line of the Cowboys.

“That was a huge play,” Kramer said. “I also loved Bob’s answer when Bart asked him if he could make the block. It was an absolute answer. It wasn’t a ‘Gee, I think I can.’ Or ‘Gee, I’ll give it my best shot.’ Instead it was a definite and resounding yes.

“There was absolute confidence from Ski about making that block. It was, ‘You can count on me.’ And Bob didn’t fail us.”

Bob Skoronski's key block in the Ice Bowl

Kramer then talked about Skoronski the man.

“Ski is a wonderful human being. A lovely man,” Kramer said. “Very bright. An exceptional family man.”

But when it came to football, Skoronski didn’t not like criticism from his coaches, especially from head coach Vince Lombardi.

“Ski didn’t like to be chewed,” Kramer said. “He didn’t mind if Coach didn’t applaud him all the time either. Ski was just comfortable being himself and doing his job. And he did his job well, which is one of the reasons he was a team captain.”

Kramer remembered an incident in which Skoronski had to feel a bit like Rodney Dangerfield while the team was looking at film.

“So we are at this meeting looking at film and Coach Lombardi sees that Skoronski does something,” Kramer said. “Coach can’t think of Skoronski’s name though. So he goes, ‘No. 76, what the hell are you doing there!’

After the meeting Ski goes, ‘Jesus Christ! I’ve been here for eight years and he can’t even remember my name.’

Kramer also remembers a dinner when No. 64 was the emcee. Kramer introduced Skoronski at the event.

“I said that Bob was probably the best lineman on the team,” Kramer said. “Ski got the best grades from the coaches. I also said that Bob was a hell of a football player. I mentioned that he was also our captain. I also talked about the “Ice Bowl” play. I just gave him a very nice introduction.

“Later, after Bob spoke, he came up to me and said, ‘Jerry, that was really a beautiful introduction. That was really nice. I really appreciate that. You meant it, didn’t you?’

“Can you imagine hearing that? Ski was always a bit suspicious when he was complimented. But for those of us who played with him, Ski was most definitely appreciated.”

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Rookie Running Back Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams as a Packer

The Green Bay Packers had a definite need at the running back position going into the 2017 NFL draft and general manager Ted Thompson certainly addressed that situation.

Thompson took three running backs in the draft, including Jamaal Williams of BYU in the fourth round, Aaron Jones of UTEP in the fifth round and Devante Mays of Utah State in the seventh round.

Those three backs will be competing for playing time behind Ty Montgomery, who made the transition from wide receiver to running back last season.

After those selections were made, the Packers quickly released both Christine Michael and Don Jackson from their roster at running back. The Packers then added a couple more running backs to the depth chart, as they signed two undrafted rookies, Kalif Phillips of Charlotte and William Stanback of Virginia Union.

It’s expected that the Packers will keep at least three running backs on their roster in 2017. That number could become four, if the Packers only decide to keep one fullback.

The Packers have to be excited about the production they received from the 6’0″, 216-pound Montgomery in 2016. No. 88 rushed for 457 yards on just 77 carries. That adds up to a 5.9 yards-per-attempt average.

Plus, Montgomery also hauled in 44 passes for 348 more yards.

Still, the Packers are looking for a compliment for Montgomery at running back. The rookie who has the best chance of being that player is Williams.

In his career at BYU, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.

In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40.

This is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about Williams after the Packers selected him:

“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”

Landry was also impressed with Williams at the Senior Bowl. I’m sure Thompson saw the same thing in Mobile that week. By the way, Landry and Thompson have known each other for over 30 years. Their relationship goes back to when Thompson was a linebacker with the Houston Oilers from 1975 though 1984. Landry was a scout for the Oilers at that time.

Landry considers Thompson as a scout’s scout, even as a general manager. Thompson is always on the road scouting, whether it’s the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, pro days or going to college games.

At the Senior Bowl, Williams had quite a performance according to Landry. This is what Landry said about Williams after the first day of practice at Mobile that week:

“BYU’s Jamaal Williams entered as the expected top running back and looked the part after Day 1. Williams is a smooth runner, and was making nice cuts during team drills and was consistently the most productive of the running back group. Williams simply looked natural.”

Jamaal Williams in the Senior Bowl

This is what Landry said about Williams at the next practice:

“I was surprised by the speed and quickness Williams showed. He hits the hole with authority and ran hard all day.”

This is what Landry opined about Williams the following day at practice:

“Williams was one of the better backs of the day. He ran the ball well on the inside, picking his way through the traffic and he also looked terrific catching the ball out of the backfield. He was the best of all the backs in blocking drills.”

In addition to those nice scouting reports on Williams, I also heard from a source who said that another NFL scout was very high on Williams. The source told me that the scout said, “Williams was without a doubt the best value pick the Packers had in this year’s draft and could be the surprise of the entire draft.”

So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like the Packers selected a back who has three-down back ability, as not only does Williams run well, but also is a good receiver and a solid blocking back.

Plus, the other two rookie backs who were drafted have ability as well.

Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA this past season.

At the combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.

This is what Landry said about Jones after the Packers selected him:

“On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”

In two years with Utah State, Mays rushed for 1,221 yards (6.1 average) and 12 touchdowns. Mays missed half of the 2016 season due to an ankle/knee injury.

The 5’10”, 230-pound Mays had a great pro day, as Landry gave his thoughts on the selection of Mays by the Packers:

“Mays (5’10/230) is the third running back the Packers have drafted this weekend, so they’re taking as many chances at their weakest offensive position. He ran 4.52 at Utah State’s Pro Day with an explosive 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump. Mays will compete for a final roster spot.”

So, while it’s still just the middle of May and there are OTAs and training camp ahead for the Packers, right now it looks like the team will utilize a tandem of Montgomery and Williams at running back for the most part.

It appears that Jones and Mays will battle for the third running back job. The ability to perform well on special teams will play a key part in the determination as to who wins in that competition.

But in terms of getting an opportunity to tote the rock for the Packers as a rookie in a combination with Montgomery, Williams looks to be the guy.

Williams, who will wear No. 30, hopes that he will have similar success as the last two backs who wore that number for the Packers, John Kuhn and Ahman Green.

In his career with the Packers as a fullback, Kuhn rushed for 601 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus caught 81 passes for 557 yards and eight more scores. Kuhn was also named to three Pro Bowl squads and also was named first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro once.

Green is the all-time leading rusher in Green Bay history, as he rushed for 8,322 yards, plus scored 54 rushing touchdowns as a tailback. Plus, Green also caught 350 passes for 2,726 yards and 14 more scores. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was also named to four Pro Bowl squads and was named second-team All-Pro once.

If Williams even comes close to the production of Kuhn and Green, not to mention the awards that they both received, the Packers will be more than pleased that they selected the former Cougar in the 2017 NFL draft.

A Scout’s Take on the New and Improved Secondary of the Green Bay Packers

Kevin King II

Kevin King taking back an interception.

The Green Bay Packers definitely needed some help in their secondary after what occurred in the 2016 regular season, as well as the NFC title game versus the Atlanta Falcons.

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

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

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

It really became very apparent in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers were definitely exposed for their weakness at cornerback, as Julio Jones had nine catches for a ridiculous 180 yards and two touchdowns, as the Falcons beat the Packers 44-21.

The problem started in the very first game of the 2016 season when the best cornerback on the team, Sam Shields, suffered a season-ending concussion. A history of concussions forced the Packers to release Shields this offseason.

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

To add to that, the Packers saw one of their unsung heroes in the secondary, Micah Hyde, sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency.

The Packers used free agency themselves to add a cornerback, as the team brought back Davon House, who played the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, after being with the Packers from 2011-2014.

Then in the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers used their first and second round picks to further improve the secondary.

With pick No. 33 (along with pick No. 108) that the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for pick No. 29, the Packers drafted Kevin King of Washington.

King was a three-year starter in the very talented Husky secondary, where he started at safety in 2014, before starting at cornerback in 2015 and 2016.

In his career with Washington, King had 165 tackles, 28 passes broken up, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The 6’3″, 198-pound King put on quite a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. King ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56).

Then with pick No. 61, the Packers brought in some more size and speed for their secondary, as they drafted Josh Jones of North Carolina State.

The 6’1″, 220-pound Jones ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 20 reps in the bench press drill, which was tied for first among all safeties. In addition, Jones had a vertical leap of 37.5 inches (third) and a broad jump of 11 feet (second).

In his career at North Carolina State, Jones matched his workout prowess with his play on the field. In three years with the Wolfpack, Jones had 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 17 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.

I wanted to get some input on the new and improved secondary of the Packers by speaking once again to NFL scout Chris Landry.

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

I first asked Landry about the additions of King and Jones and also about the status of Randall and Rollins.

“One of the things that Ted Thompson learned and Ron Wolf was a believer in, was if you have a need or have a problem, flood the area [of concern],” Landry said. “You don’t know who is going to make it or what’s going to happen. So take as many of those guys as you can who you have high enough grades on to try and make that position better.

“I think King is a big, tall and rangy guy, who is more straight lineish. But he’s got some Antonio Cromartie in him and has the potential to be a really good player.

“Josh Jones is the guy who is going to play the Micah Hyde role. Good player. Physical in the box. Is an inconsistent tackler, but he’ll come up and be physical. With those two [King and Jones], they have two good players, two good prospects.”

Josh Jones II

Josh Jones being physical.

Landry then talked about the overall secondary.

“They are in good shape I think with [Morgan] Burnett and [Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix,” Landry said. “They have two good guys there. But they need to have more versatility. You got to have in this league, three starting caliber safeties and three starting caliber cornerbacks. At least.

“You have to play with six guys and they have to be interchangeable. If you don’t, you are going to be short-handed. Then you start to get an injury and you are down to five or four and then you are really in trouble.

“It’s really important that you address that, and certainly they are going to need [Damarious] Randall and [Quinten]Rollins to come back and play healthy to allow them to play at full strength, which as you mentioned, they were not even close to that last season.”

The secondary is obviously a key in the pass-happy NFL now and I also mentioned that to Landry in closing.

“You have to be able to match up,” Landry said. “That’s the difficult part of it. You have to be a good enough tackler in nickel, because when people make you small they run against you. You have to be physical enough to tackle against the run.

“But you have to be able to also match up against a big slot, a small slot, a quick guy, an outside guy, a X, a Z, or a wide-flex tight end. You’ve got to have different types of guys to match up. You have different type slot receivers, big guys and small guys. You’ve got to have guys like that on defense who can match up with them.

“As you see the number of guys at receiver take up a lot of spots on the roster, you’ve got to have an equivalent number on the defensive side to match up with those guys.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Max McGee

Max McGee in Super Bowl I

Max McGee was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1954 NFL draft out of Tulane. McGee was like many great players on the Packers of the ’60s who arrived before Vince Lombardi came to Green Bay in 1959.

That was all due to the excellent scouting work done by Jack Vainisi. Besides McGee, Vainisi also drafted players like Dave Hanner, Bill Forester, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

Everyone of those players had roles on some or all of the teams that won five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) in seven years under Lombardi.

As you can tell, Vainisi was the talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960. Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

But McGee and many others were around for all five of the NFL championships. No. 85 had a nice career with the Packers, as he had 345 receptions for 6,346 yards and 51 touchdowns. Four times McGee led the Packers in receptions and once he led them in scoring.

McGee also had an 18.4-yard reception average, which is the second highest per-catch average in team history.

In 1961, McGee was named to play in the Pro Bowl.

McGee also punted for the Packers for a number of years. In his career, McGee punted 256 times for 10,647 yards and had a 41.6 average.

Max was certainly a star receiver for the Packers in the Lombardi era, but through 1965-67, McGee didn’t get a lot of playing time, as the team had acquired Carroll Dale, who was opposite Boyd Dowler at receiver.

When McGee did get playing time, he was clutch.  Case in point, the 1966 postseason. Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard TD pass from Starr that was the difference in the 34-27 1966 NFL Championship Game win in Dallas against the Cowboys.

But Super Bowl I was where he really made his legend.

McGee didn’t expect to play, so he snuck out after curfew the night before the game. McGee couldn’t convince his roommate Hornung to go with him that night, so McGee went out on his own. Max stayed out late that evening and didn’t return until shortly before the team breakfast the next morning.

Little did he know what was going to happen that day, as he got a one-hour cat nap after breakfast. Dowler injured his shoulder early in that epic contest and McGee had to go into the game. McGee was startled as he heard Lombardi yell, “McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there.”

Max got his behind in there all right. Besides catching the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl history, McGee put up amazing stats as he ended up with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. That adds up to a 19.7 reception average for the game.

Max McGee in Super Bowl I (II)

Then in Super Bowl II, McGee only caught one pass, but it was for 35 yards, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

In his postseason career, McGee only caught 12 passes, but four of those receptions were for touchdowns and he ended up with a 19.4 yards-per-catch average.

I had an opportunity again recently to talk with Jerry Kramer and he shared some memorable stories about McGee.

“Max was really a good athlete,” Kramer said. “He could play tennis. He could play golf. He could play whatever the hell you wanted to play. And he wanted to bet you on it too!”

In 1967, Kramer’s roommate on the Packers was kicker Don Chandler, while McGee’s roommate was backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski.

The four of them would get together to play golf quite often, with Kramer and Chandler going up against McGee and Bratkowski.

Kramer recalls one of those occasions.

“Max loved to mess with people’s minds,” Kramer said. “He would love to see if you would tighten up in clutch situations. If he could make you choke, he got a real kick out of that.

“Anyway, one day he and Zeke are taking on Don and I. On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.

“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.

“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”

Kramer also remembers that McGee was always quick with the quip to relax people, whether in the locker room or out in society.

“One time we were playing the Cleveland Browns in the preseason,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi would sometimes get himself in a bit of a bind when he spoke to the team, as he didn’t quite know how to end the speech or close it off.

“So Coach is talking to us before the Cleveland game and says, ‘Lot of people here tonight. Big crowd. You might get a little nervous and might even get a little afraid. Are you afraid? Anybody here afraid?’ And without missing a beat, Max goes, ‘Hell yeah, Coach. I’m afraid. I’m afraid Cleveland won’t show up.’

“That loosened the world up for us and it got Coach off the hook.”

McGee also had the penchant for loosening up people in somber circumstances. That was the case when Kramer, McGee, Fuzzy Thurston and several other Packers went to the funeral of former teammate of Ron Kostelnik in 1993. Kostelnik was just 53 years-old.

“So I’m with Max at Ron’s funeral service,” Kramer said. “There were probably 12 or 15 of us there. It was obviously very melancholy, seeing that Ron had died so young. So go over to Fuzzy’s to have a beer afterwards.

“It’s still a bit awkward to chat under the circumstances. Finally, Max looks at me and says, ‘Kramer, the way I got it figured, you’re next!’

“That quip really loosened things up and we all relaxed a little bit.”

Kramer also remembers what happened when McGee first went into Super Bowl I when Dowler had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

“I remember that first series very well,” Kramer said. “Max couldn’t find his helmet when Boyd was injured. So Max is looking around for it and couldn’t find it. Finally someone hands him a hat, but it was much too big for him.

“After Max come in, Bart calls a square-out play that Max runs and the pass by Bart hits Max in the helmet, as it went right through his hands. Not a great way to start for Max.

“But Max soon found his helmet, had a big game and the rest they say is history.”

One of the reasons that McGee was such a big play receiver, was his ability to make double or even triple moves on a defender.

Max McGee in Super Bowl II

Kramer talked about that dynamic.

“Max loved to think on his feet,” Kramer said. “He would see the corner or safety do this or that and he would tell Bart or Zeke. For instance, Max would go inside and make a precise move three or four times to set the guy up and then later fake that same move and go outside.

“Max just loved doing that. He thrived on mental gymnastics.”

While he was still playing with the Packers, McGee and Thurston operated a chain of restaurants for a number of years. And then after his career with the Packers was over, McGee really thrived, as he was one of the co-founders of Mexican restaurant chain Chi-Chi’s.

In addition to that, McGee was also an announcer on the Packer radio network from 1979-1998. His words helped another generation of Packer fans learn about football.

Unfortunately, McGee passed away in 2007, as he accidentally fell off his roof while blowing off leaves and tragically died at age 75.

A number of McGee’s teammates have also passed on. Besides Ron Kostelnik, others who have passed on include Henry Jordan, Lionel Aldridge, Lee Roy Caffey, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Gale Gillingham, Don Chandler and Fuzzy Thurston.

I envision a reunion between these men right now in the spiritual world. I’m sure it’s a festive atmosphere as well, talking about the championships and all the good times. On and off the field. But like he did in real life, I am sure that Max is cracking jokes and keeping everyone loose at that particular party.

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Rookie Offensive Lineman Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

The Green Bay Packers lost a couple of key members of their offensive line in free agency, as center/ guard JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns and right guard T. J. Lang signed with the Detroit Lions.

Tretter had done a good job as a starting center when called upon, plus had also helped out at guard and also at left tackle in the 2015 postseason. Lang was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2016 and was one of the better guards in the NFL when healthy.

The health of both Tretter and Lang was a key concern of the Packers, as Tretter had been sidelined twice for long stretches with leg/knee injuries, while Lang has been playing hurt (shoulder/foot/hip) for a couple of years now.

So with both Tretter and Lang now gone, the Packers had to fill the void in both free agency and the draft. First, the Packers re-signed Don Barclay, not so much to be a starter, but to be a key reserve for almost every position along the offensive line.

It was also announced by head coach Mike McCarthy that offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who was drafted in 2016, would be competing at both right guard and right tackle in OTAs and training camp.

Then on the eve of the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers signed guard Jahri Evans, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. Evans was once one of the very best guards in the NFL, as he was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was named first-team All-Pro four times.

After being released by both the Saints and the Seattle Seahawks before the 2016 season, Evans returned to New Orleans and played solidly in all 16 games after dropping some weight.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the one-year contract is worth $2.25 million, with a $1.15 million base salary, a $200,000 signing bonus, $50,000 per game in roster bonuses ($800,000 total), $100,000 in workout bonuses and $225,000 in likely to be earned incentives.

Then on the third day of the draft, the Packers selected offensive lineman Kofi Amichia of South Florida. Seeing as I live in the Tampa area, I had a chance to view many of the USF football games. And from what I saw from Amichia, I was impressed.

The 6’4″, 304-pound Amichia started two games at right tackle in 2014 before starting 26 straight games at left tackle in 2015 and 2016.

Amichia was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016.

In the NFL, it is expected that Amichia will move inside and play guard and center.

I wanted to get a scouting perspective on Amichia from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

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

When I talked to Landry, I first mentioned what a great pro day workout Amichia had at USF, as he ran the 40 in 4.99, did 32 reps in the bench press drill, had a vertical jump of 33½ inches and a broad jump of 9 feet 6 inches.

I also mentioned that Amichia had scored a 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

Landry was impressed with the selection of Amichia by the Packers.

“He’s very quick. He really understands blocking angles,” Landry said. “He is very smart. He needs to get a little stronger in the upper-body. I like him at center even more than guard.

“I think he’s got position versatility and it’s really good that he can play both spots. A really good value, as they normally do in Green Bay, getting good value in the sixth round. I thought it was a really nice pick for them.”

General manager Ted Thompson has done very well in the middle and late rounds of the draft in selecting good offensive lineman, as Landry eluded to.

For example, the Packers picked Lang (2009), Josh Sitton (2008) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (2013) in the fourth round, while center Corey Linsley (2014) was selected in the fifth round.

They key in selecting a player like Amichia is his versatility. Instead of picking both a guard and a center in the recent draft, the Packers now have a player who can play both.

Time will tell how things will shape up on the offensive line in 2017 for the Packers, but by adding a player like Amichia, they have a player who can provide flexibility along the line in a number of positions.

Being athletic, quick and smart won’t hurt Amichia’s cause either.

Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson Hauls in Quite a Catch in the 2017 NFL Draft

In the 13 years that Ted Thompson has run the NFL draft for the Green Bay Packers, one can tell that he certainly loves draft picks. In six of those drafts now, Thompson has accumulated 10 draft picks or more, which includes the 2017 NFL draft which netted the Packers 10 more players.

Ever since Thompson hired Mike McCarthy as head coach in 2006, the Packers have been primarily a draft-and-develop team.

In eleven seasons using the draft-and-develop philosophy for the most part, that marriage of Thompson and McCarthy has led to a 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances (including eight consecutive), four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

But this offseason and before the draft, Thompson threw a curve ball at the draft-and-develop only strategy. In fact, Thompson and the Packers signed five free agents, which is the most they have signed since 2006, which was McCarthy’s first year as head coach.

The five free agents signed were tight end Martellus Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and guard Jahri Evans.

Those moves set up the draft which took place starting last Thursday night. I’m going to write about each one of the draft picks, plus NFL scout Chris Landry will share his thoughts on each player.

After trading out of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft on Thursday night, the Packers decided to make sure that their defense became bigger and faster in the second and third rounds on Friday night, especially in the secondary.

Kevin King

Kevin King

With pick No. 33 (along with pick No. 108) that the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for pick No. 29, the Packers drafted Kevin King of Washington.

King was a three-year starter in the very talented Husky secondary, where he started at safety in 2014, before starting at cornerback in 2015 and 2016.

In his career with Washington, King had 165 tackles, 28 passes broken up, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The 6’3″, 198-pound King put on quite a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. King ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56).

This is Landry’s take on King:

“King ripped up the Combine with an absurd 99th-percentile SPARQ score and 4.43 straight-line speed. King struggles with short-area routes as most plus-sized corners do, but his ceiling is sky high as a long boundary presence with highlight-reel ball skills. On tape, King reminds of Antonio Cromartie in his prime.”

Josh Jones

Josh Jones

Then with pick No. 61, the Packers brought in some more size and speed for their secondary, as they drafted Josh Jones of North Carolina State.

The 6’1″, 220-pound Jones ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 20 reps in the bench press drill, which was tied for first among all safeties. In addition, Jones had a vertical leap of 37.5 inches (third) and a broad jump of 11 feet (second).

In his career at North Carolina State, Jones matched his workout prowess with his play on the field. In three years with the Wolfpack, Jones had 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 17 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.

Here is Landry’s take on Jones:

“Jones’ stock skyrocketed at the Combine, blazing 4.41 with a 37 ½-inch vertical, absurd 11-foot broad jump, and 20 reps on the bench. An inconsistent tackler with mouth-watering athletic traits, Jones has boom-bust characteristics as a free-strong safety tweener.”

Montravius Adams

Montravius Adams

After adding talent and speed in their secondary with their first two selections in the draft, the Packers added some size, strength and speed to their defensive line, as they selected Montravius Adams of Auburn.

The 6’4″, 305-pound Adams showed his speed at the combine, as he ran a 4.87 in the 40. Adams was third-team All-SEC honors as a junior and second-team All-SEC this past season, as he had a breakout senior season.

In his career with the Tigers, Adams had 147 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 10. 5 sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

This is Landry’s take on Adams:

“Adams’ down-to-down consistency improved as a senior, and scouts at January’s Senior Bowl described his performance as “dominant” in Mobile. While he should push for early-down run-stopping snaps as a rookie, Adams’ pass-rush upside is limited. At his ceiling, Adams likely projects as a 3-5 sack-per-season player in the pros.”

Vince Beagle

Vince Beagle and Vince Biegel

In the fourth round, with the first pick of that round acquired in the trade with the Browns, the Packers went the local product route, as they selected linebacker Vince Biegel of Wisconsin.

That pick was a big hit in our household, as Vince our Beagle, was very pleased with the selection.

The 6’3″, 246-pound Biegel had a great career as a Badger, as he had 191 total tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

In addition to that, Biegel was third-team All-Big Ten in 2015 and second-team All-Big Ten in 2016. Plus, Biegel was a team captain and was part of the winningest senior class in school history, which posted a record of 41-13 (.759), including a 26-7 (.788) mark in Big Ten play and three consecutive bowl wins.

At the combine, Biegel ran a 4.67 in the 40.

This is Landry’s take on Biegel:

“Turning 24 in July, Biegel is an over-aged prospect, undersized by NFL edge-player standards, and got overpowered too frequently in college. An overachieving son of a coach, Biegel projects as a special teamer whose long-term ceiling is likely in the Erik Walden range.”

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

With their second pick in the fourth round, the Packers selected running back Jamaal Williams of BYU.

In his career as a Cougar, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.

In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.

At the combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40.

This is Landry’s take on Williams:

“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”

DeAngelo Yancey

DeAngelo Yancey

With their first pick in the fifth round, the Packers selected wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue.

In his career as a Boilermaker, the 6’1″, 220-pound Yancey had 141 receptions for 2,344 yards (16.6 average) and 20 touchdowns. Wisconsin fans might recall that Yancey lit up the Badger secondary in 2016, as he had six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Yancey ran a 4.53 in the 40 at Purdue’s pro day, plus shined in the three-cone drill (6.84).

This is Landry’s take on Yancey:

“Yancey generated minimal pre-draft buzz because he struggles to separate and drops too many passes, but he is big with some downfield playmaking ability, which makes him flier worthy.”

Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

With their second fifth-round pick, this one as a compensatory pick, the Packers selected running back Aaron Jones of Texas-El Paso.

Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA this past season.

At the combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.

This is Landry’s take on Jones:

“On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”

Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

In the sixth round, the Packers selected offensive lineman Kofi Amichia of South Florida.

The 6’3″, 304-pound Amichia started two games at right tackle in 2014 before starting 26 straight games at left tackle in 2015 and 2016. Because of his size, Amichia will play guard/center in the NFL.

Amichia was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016.

The former Bull had a great pro day at USF, as he ran the 40 in 4.99, did 32 reps in the bench press drill, had a vertical jump of 33½ inches and a broad jump of 9 feet 6 inches.

Amichia also scored a 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

This is Landry’s take on Amichia:

“Has started 26 straight games at left tackle for a USF program that has broken the school’s rushing record in back-to-back seasons – posting 3,501 yards and 44 touchdowns on the ground in 2016 – and consistently ranked among the least sacked teams in the nation. At 6030 304, he runs and moves his feet well.”

Devante Mays

Devante Mays

In the seventh round, where the Packers acquired another pick after a trade with the Denver Broncos, Green Bay first took yet another running back, this time Devante Mays of Utah State.

In two years with the Utes, Mays rushed for 1,221 yards (6.1 average) and 12 touchdowns. Mays missed half of the 2016 season due to an ankle/knee injury.

The 5’10”, 230-pound Mays had a great pro day, as Landry explains in his take on Mays:

“Mays (5’10/230) is the third running back the Packers have drafted this weekend, so they’re taking as many chances at their weakest offensive position. He ran 4.52 at Utah State’s Pro Day with an explosive 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump. Mays will compete for a final roster spot.”

Malachi Dupre

Malachi Dupre

With their final selection of the draft and their second seventh-round pick, the Packers picked wide receiver Malachi Dupre of LSU.

Like Yancey, Dupre has great size, as he’s 6’2″ and 196 pounds. In his career at LSU, Dupre had 98 receptions for 1,609 yards (16.4 average) and 14 touchdowns.

At the combine, Dupre ran a 4.52 in the 40, plus was a top performer in both the vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (135.0 inches).

Here is Landry’s take on Dupre:

“A top-two wideout recruit out of high school, Dupre’s college stats were torpedoed by horrific quarterback play in LSU’s run-first offense. Built like Justin Hunter but not as straight-line fast (4.52), Dupre is a long, lanky, developmental wideout with no clear calling card. Like Hunter, Dupre struggled on college tape with press-man coverage and contested catches, lacking a my-ball mentality. Dupre’s best NFL projection is probably in the Andre Holmes range.”

So, the Packers definitely improved their size and speed in the secondary with the selections of King and Jones.

They also added strength, speed and athleticism in the trenches with their selections of Adams on the defensive line and Amichia on the offensive line.

With the selection of Biegel, Green Bay added a productive edge rusher, plus is a player who has the ability to move inside at linebacker.

And with the selections of Williams, Jones and Mays, the depth and talent at the running back has certainly been enhanced. So much in fact, that the Packers released both Christine Michael and Don Jackson earlier today.

Finally at wide receiver, the Packers added two more big receivers, who have shown a big-play ability in college catching the deep ball. The addition of Yancey and Dupre will push the younger receivers on the team, which includes Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison.

It’s also important to note that Davante Adams will be a unrestricted free agent in 2018 unless the Packers extend his contract.

Bottom line, the Packers have added 15 players to their roster this offseason via free agency and the draft, which does not even include the undrafted free agent rookies the team has signed.

The Packers are a team which has been a participant in two of the last three NFC title games and don’t be surprised if Green Bay makes it three out of the last four with the new additions on their team helping them to get there.

The Packers Have Options Galore at Pick No. 33

Forrest Lamp

Forrest Lamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilson ran a 4.54 in the 40 at the combine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin King

Kevin King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Thompson 2016 Combine II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 243 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Watt by Landry:

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

Round 2: Cornerback Fabian Moreau (UCLA)

fabian-moreau

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 194 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Moreau by Landry:

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

Round 3: Running Back Marlon Mack (South Florida)

Marlon Mack

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 213 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Mack by Landry:

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

Round 4: Center/Guard Ethan Pocic (LSU)

Ethan Pocic

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 310 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Pocic by Landry:

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

Round 5: Cornerback Brendan Langley (Lamar)

Brendan Langley

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 201 pounds

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

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

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

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

Langley also played in the 2017 Senior Bowl.

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Langley by Landry:

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

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

DeAngelo Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 312 pounds

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Brown by Landry:

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

Round 6: Running Back Joe Williams (Utah)

joe-williams-utah

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 210 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Williams from Landry:

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

Round 7: Linebacker Eric Wilson (Cincinnati)

Eric Wilson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 230 pounds

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

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

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

The Packers had Wilson in for a private workout.

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

Here is a summary scouting report on Wilson by Landry:

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

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

Jerry-Ken 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Ringo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry and Fuzzy III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson in 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote about that game earlier this year.

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

Donny Anderson vs. the Falcons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer recalls what happened on the Green Bay sideline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl II

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

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

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

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

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

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