Mike McCarthy has been quoted on multiple occasions saying that the biggest jump he sees in his players is from year one to year two. This is an important step, especially when one considers the team’s draft-and-develop philosophy. Big second years from Nick Perry, star DB Casey Hayward, training camp star Mike Daniels and LB Terrell Manning would go a long way to establish dominance and depth on the defensive side of the ball in the wake of the playoff loss to San Francisco. While this is all well and good, the class that is making a ton of noise in this training camp is the class of 2013.
Rookies are not expected to have a huge impact outside of rounds 1 and 2. There are a few exceptions of course, and some positions translate better to first year players than others. For example, pass rushers and wide receivers often struggle in year one, whereas running backs, linebackers and defensive backs seem to have less of a problem acclimating to the professional game in year one. The 2013 class of Green Bay Packers is looking like it might break that mold.
My initial reaction to the draft was more positive than most. With that said, I have been rumored to have a “Keep Calm and Trust Ted” lower back tattoo. The way I saw it the team was able to procure two guys who graded out in the first round (Lacy and Jones) and two guys that graded out in the second (Franklin and Bakhtiari). After that I trust Thompson and his scouts to hit a home run or two and strike out once or twice in the later rounds as has been his track record. I also fully expect the team to find one rotational NFL player out of every UDFA class that comes to Green Bay (The Tramon Williams Hall of Fame that includes guys like Dezman Mozes, Frank Zombo, Ruvell Martin and Jarret Boykin).
In no recent season will the rookie class be as important positionally as it will be in 2013. Green Bay’s main weakness has been their inability to run the ball, so the team responded by drafting 2 of the best 3 running backs in the draft (I love Gio Bernard. Love.). Bryan Bulaga started his tenure as the Packers starting left tackle by blowing out his knee. 4th round pick (who was widely slotted in the second round in the pre-draft process) David Bakhtiari has been so impressive in camp that instead of going with Marshall Newhouse at LT, a player that the team is an astonishing 22-6 with at that position, they’re handing the keys to the best player in the league’s blind side to the All Pac-12 tackle. Datone Jones is the first prototypical 3-4 end that the team has had since their switch to the “Blitzburgh” defense in 2009.
The exciting thing for me, and the reason that myself and other sensible Packers fans are expecting another division title and serious run at St. Vince Lombardi’s trophy (instead of eulogizing the season now that a guy we weren’t really sure could play LT is out) is that everything coming out of camp has been incredibly positive about this class. Jonathan Franklin (I can’t mention enough how much I love Jonathan Franklin, I hope he runs for mayor of the world) has looked like the kind of explosive playmaker that the Packers haven’t had at tailback since I’ve been a fan (side note, I remember Ahman Green’s speed and general awesomeness but he ran behind the best Packers line in the Wolf/McCarthy era and really didn’t catch much more than screen passes and you weren’t terrified of him in open space). Eddie Lacy, despite photo evidence to the contrary has looked like the #1 tailback in the draft that he was projected to be for 90% of the pre-draft process. Bakhtiari has excelled in 11 on 11 as well as one on one drills. Even DB Micah Hyde was the darling of the first few days of practice (as I have previously discussed). Datone Jones looks like a rich man’s Vonnie Holiday in practice every day.
The reason that the Packers have been so successful over a long period of time and been able to stay fiscally responsible is the jump that McCarthy talks about. Every season someone takes a step like Clay Matthews and BJ Raji took from 09 to 10. Every season someone like Tramon Williams or Randall Cobb emerges. If Nick Perry becomes an above average OLB across from Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward becomes the perennial All-Pro he can be, those are things that could certainly get the Packers over the divisional round hump. This season, however, it would be a huge deal for this team if the rookie class went against the rookie stereotype and provided instant impact from multiple positions. It just so happens that this team needs serious help in some of the positions where the rookies have been every so impressive.