Oh hello there. Yes, I still exist. Feels good to dust off the column and start writing again about the Packers!
And what better way to jump back in than to discuss the upcoming draft prospects. The 2016 NFL Draft is nearly here. Pundits galore are putting on their prognostication caps and looking in their proverbial crystal balls to try to predict whom the Packers will take in the first round. Throw in the unpredictability of Ted Thompson, and any educated guess is as good as the next one.
As the Packers fell to the Cardinals in the playoffs this past January, my first reaction to the draft was to go with an inside linebacker. It was a glaring need. Clay Matthews was a reasonable facsimile but still felt like a bandaid on a giant sucking chest wound. It’s a position that has begged to be filled with a higher level of true ILB talent for years.
But then the offseason occurred.
BJ Raji walked away from football. Mike Pennell managed to get himself suspended for the first four games of the season for performance enhancing drugs. And then there is Letroy Guion. He’s neither the long-haul guy nor a defensive anchor for the team. His run-ins with the law still leave a very huge question mark over his head when it comes to his longevity on the team.
So it appears that the Packers need both an inside linebacker and a wide-body on the defensive line as they head into the 2016 season. In my opinion, those are the two areas the Packers cannot go wrong strengthening through the draft. Yes, the Packers signed Larentee McCray. But he’s an OLB. That doesn’t fix the ILB solution.
So ILBs and Wide Bodies it is then.
That said, the Packers have drawn talent in recent years from the Crimson Tide’s ranks on both sides of the ball. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has stepped into the safety roll quite well and are rejuvenated and slimmed down Eddie Lacy appears to poised for a comeback season at running back.
Yes, I am an unabashed Alabama fan. And no, it isn’t really a factor here. No, really. Alabama factors into draft choices because Nick Saban has made a career of finding the best of the best blue chip high school players and the occasional junior college transfer and converting them into a powerhouse pro-style defense that could go head-to-head with many an NFL team. When looking at the options representing Bama in the NFL Draft, there are many choices that could fit the Packers’ immediate needs well.
Let’s start with Inside Linebacker Reggie Ragland.
No, he’s not the powerhouse that CJ Mosley is, but he’s still not a slouch as a linebacker. At 6’1″, 247 pounds, Ragland is often described as old school. Last season he had 97 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and broke up 6 passes. He is a heavy hitter, as in vicious and unmerciful. There’s no question about that. He brings a brutal physicality to his game that has been lacking in this position in Green Bay. He could be the bazooka brought to a knife fight.
While he excels in zone coverage, there is still a question mark whether he can handle the man-on-man rigors of the NFL, he has shown to learn from his mistakes as well. His missed tackles dropped from 10 in 2014 to 3 in 2015. He has improved on his ability to understand the geometry (ie, angles of play) of defense. Yes, he has been known to be a tad overagressive on pursuit angles, but he has improved over time. He is a good student of the game, and his football IQ definitely rose during his senior year at Alabama.
In short, Ragland has a very strong work ethic. He won’t be a Nate Palmer on the field content to watch as the play passes him by. I just love that CBS Sports describes him as the “dirtiest jersey on the field and plays each snap like it is his last.”
That’s a Lombardi player if there ever was one.
But what about the Wide Body need on the Defensive Line?
The off-season changes everything. Suddenly the line is starting to appear to be skimpy at best and a liability at worst.
Alabama has two good options to draw from. Each would meet the Packers needs quite well.
A 6’3″, 307 pound brick wall, Reed could easily slip into Raji’s shoes without missing a beat. While endurance could be a factor, he is wicked productive during his time on the field. Playing only 55% of all snaps, he still managed to 108 tackles last year. Even more impressive, Reed did not have a single broken or missed tackle. If he’s going to take you down, you had best be ready to hit the turf.
He excels in stopping the run in a class all of his own. NFL.com describes his hands as “catcher’s mitts.” He has an elite ability to read running backs and stop them before they can get going, and he will keep on pounding until the whistle blows. And then there’s the fact that he has surprising speed for the Mack Truck that he is. That’s definitely something the Packers have lacked in recent years. How many times did you want to throw a brick through your television because the Packers got gashed yet again on the run?
But with that in-a-class-of-his-own talent stuffing the run, his biggest liability is the pass rush. There’s no ignoring that factor. In fact, he was often subbed out during obvious passing downs. Thus far he hasn’t been able to evolve his game to break through the gap and invade the pocket. That is definitely a contrast to Raji’s abilities on the field.
So when looking at Reed, is stuffing the run enough for the Packers’ offense?
On the flipside, if pass rush is what the Packers are looking for in a big nasty lineman, look no further than Robinson. At 6’4″, 307 pounds (so is 307 code in Alabama for likely more, and freaking huge?)
Where Reed excels in destroying the run, Robinson is a better pass rusher. It’s not his forte, but he can fill that need in some capacity.
He is another one of those quintessential hard-tackling Bama big nasty. He will win any one-on-one match-up and can toss a blocker like a ragdoll. He possesses a Hulk!Smash brute force that reminds me a bit of Johnny Jolly. He has been consistently utilized to tie up a blocker to allow a linebacker to slip in unimpeded. Imagine the damage a Robinson/Matthews one-two punch could bring to the Packers defensive game?
Last year, he had 46 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. While his numbers are not as stellar as Reed’s, his abilities are not necessarily what is reflected on paper.
But is that lack of productivity his greatest liability? Is he spinning his gears and wearing out too fast all for nothing? Like Reed, he has only played half of the defensive snaps. And then there is his pad level. It tends to be a bit too high and that is where he loses leverage in a match-up. With that, he lacks the nimble quickness of a BJ Raji.
In the end, all three of these players would bring an immediate impact to the Packers’ defense. They would each be ready to hit the ground running come this September and shore up weaknesses the team currently has.
So do not be surprised if Ted Thompson decides to add another Crimson Tide player to the Packers fold. All three of these men played a pivotal role in Alabama’s journey to the National Championship this past year, and it would be exciting if one of these three holds up a green jersey come draft night.