The Green Bay Packers are one of the most effective teams in the league when it comes to drafting players who can have an impact in their rookie season.
In 2014, the Packers enjoyed significant first-year production from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, and Corey Linsley. The same could be said regarding Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Jake Ryan, and (to a somewhat lesser degree due to injury) Ty Montgomery from last year’s draft class.
Green Bay held seven picks in this year’s draft. After yet another relatively quiet free agency period, the team is counting on its rookies to help fill the gaps and improve the weaknesses on the roster that were revealed last season. The players selected were split relatively evenly on both sides of the ball, with four of them playing defense and three playing offense.
But while the hope is that these rookies will make instant contributions to the team, it does not always occur in their first year. The chances are greater that Green Bay’s early-round selections gain traction in the NFL more quickly. What are the expected roles that the Packers’ first three selections, Kenny Clark, Jason Spriggs, and Kyler Fackrell, will play in their rookie seasons?
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA (Round 1, Pick 27)
As the Packers’ first selection in the draft, Clark fittingly has the highest expectations of the team’s incoming rookie class. He will have numerous opportunities to prove he was worth his draft spot, especially when given the current state of Green Bay’s defensive line.
With B.J. Raji retiring and Mike Pennel suspended to begin the season, Clark is the favorite to be the Packers’ starting nose tackle when the season begins. Even if he were to struggle out of the gate, the lack of other options will allow Clark to continue to get reps and adapt to the game at the professional level.
Clark should fit well on the Packers’ line, and will likely have a large role on the defense right from the get go. He is only 20 years old, but the opportunity for him to mature and develop will be accelerated by his instant involvement. He will be an anchor on the defensive line, and demonstrated a strong run-stopping ability while at UCLA. Clark recorded 5.5 sacks during his senior season, and definitely possesses the upside to become an NFL-caliber pass rushing tackle.
Overall, Clark should step into a role as a starter either at the beginning or very early into this season. The young defensive lineman has the talent and ability to adequately replace Raji, and could develop into a strong overall defender by the end of the season.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana (Round 2, Pick 48)
Barring an injury to one of the Packers’ incumbent offensive lineman, it is hard to imagine Spriggs having a starting role right away. While instant starting is unlikely, he is skilled enough where he could step in if called upon. Green Bay clearly saw Spriggs’ potential and traded up in order to select him, meaning the hope is that he will have a significant role in the not-so-distant future.
As far as the 2016 season goes, Spriggs gives the Packers a very solid backup offensive tackle, which could also result in the release of Don Barclay or another one of last season’s second-string linemen. In the event of an injury, which has unfortunately been a common occurrence in recent seasons, Spriggs’ role would involve him being able to step in and perform well.
Beyond 2016, Spriggs’ role should expand drastically. With three of the Packers’ starting offensive linemen set to hit free agency next year, it is unlikely that the team is able to retain them all. Spriggs will be groomed this season to be able to become the left tackle of the future for Green Bay, and his role this year should reflect that slightly longer-term plan.
Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State (Round 3, Pick 88)
The Packers’ defense will likely have a lot more moving parts than the offensive line. Fackrell will get opportunities to show what he is capable of, but will probably have a smaller role than Clark by virtue of the more experienced players ahead of him on the depth chart.
While Clark will probably be a starter and Spriggs a second stringer, Fackrell will find himself behind Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, and possibly Jayrone Elliott. Where Fackrell will really get his chance to shine is in pass coverage. While Perry excels at run-stopping, he sometimes struggles in pass defense. That is when Fackrell could come onto the field to demonstrate his skillset.
Fackrell is very athletic, and his versatility will ensure that he sees the field during his rookie season. He might not supplant someone else to earn a more substantial role, but he will definitely be able to make his presence felt in some capacity. He can continue to develop as a pass rusher while showcasing his pass coverage.
Based on where each of these players was drafted, it is not surprising that Clark will likely play the largest role while Fackrell’s is the smallest. Nonetheless, all three players will probably see the field and begin to gain experience at the professional level in 2016. The Packers’ first three selections will have the chance to prove that addressing the team’s needs through the draft was once again a smart decision.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .