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An Optimist's Guide to the 2014 Draft

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
May 26, 2014

 

The 2014 draft for the Packers has been generally well-received by fans and "experts" alike. The team was able to address several key areas of need, and it was easy to understand the team’s strategy and thought process.

But as with so many things in life, there may be a bit of a letdown after the big event actually happens. Whether we're in a wedding or winning a Super Bowl, once the dust settles many of us find ourselves thinking, "That was it? It’s over?"

The news cycle has already moved on. Other sports dominate the daily headlines. Football fans now have to wait to get tiny morsels of information from glimpses of OTA workouts.

In the case of the draft, many fans also suffer another phenomenon. Perhaps Garth Brooks once said it best:

"Happiness isn’t getting what you want. It’s wanting what you got."

Consider the case of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He was the top-rated safety on most draft boards, and the thought that he would still be available for the Packers didn't seem like a very realistic possibility in the days leading up to the draft.

The Packers ended up drafted Clinton-Dix in the first round, filling what seemed to be their biggest need going into the draft. And while most fans initially seemed happy with the development, it didn't take long before seeds of doubt started creeping in on blogs and around water coolers throughout Wisconsin.

…He only ran 4.59 at the Combine…

…Alabama players are overhyped and don’t make it in the NFL…

…He only had two interceptions last year…

In the interest of providing a public service to Packers fans, we are going to avoid such thoughts. During this post we will make an effort to look at the positives of this year’s newest additions. A post-draft love fest, if you will. After all, one of the best things about this time of year is that hope springs eternal.

So with that in mind, let's turn our attention to this year's newest Packers players...

 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: The esteemed Bob McGinn shared concerns for the Alabama safety's timed speed. Some noteworthy talent evaluators did not see it as much of a concern.

Longtime NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt had Clinton-Dix at a hand-timed 4.50 at the Combine, a full tenth of a second faster than Calvin Pryor selected seven picks earlier. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said that Clinton-Dix had the best range of any safety in the draft, and that he played faster than his timed speed. ESPN's Mel Kiper found himself in an unusual spot: at a loss for words.

"Clinton-Dix fills a huge need for this team, and I consider him a great value at this slot," said Kiper. "I don't even know what else to say about it."

Hearing praise from the talking heads is one thing, but consider what Bill Polian had to say. Polian was the General Manager and architect of a Super Bowl winning team in Indianapolis.

"He will fit perfectly into Dom Capers' defense," said Polian. "He's the perfect free safety in the sense that he has great instincts, great tackling ability, sure tackling ability, very good ball skills, great recognition skills in reading and reacting to offensive patterns. A little bit short in the speed department, but he makes up for that with instinct. This is a position that the Packers needed to upgrade, and he's right from central casting according to Dom Capers."

Having previously served as a General Manager in the NFL and now in his current role as Executive Director for the Senior Bowl, Phil Savage has seen countless prospects up close and personal. He is very impressed with the long-term potential Clinton-Dix offers the Packers.

"You're getting a very good young player that has the potential to really develop and grow into a major talent," Savage told Packer Report's Bill Huber. "He's only a third-year junior. He can add weight, he can add some girth to his body. He's got excellent range, he's got ball skills, he will tackle.

"If he had stayed in school, I'd venture to say that he would have been a top-15 pick next year. I think there's a high degree of upside with Ha Ha."

While it will still be quite some time before we know whether Clinton-Dix will realize that potential and excel on the field, he at least looks the part. ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde took notice of the rookie's stature after seeing him for the first time a week ago.

"The biggest thing that I saw was not when he was on the field, but when I stood next to him when we were talking to him," Wilde said after the first rookie practice with the media present. "He is bigger and thicker than I thought he was. He's wider across the chest, and taller than I thought he was going to be."

Size matters in the NFL.

As for the thought that Alabama defensive players are often busts in the NFL, they also used to say that about Jeff Tedford-coached quarterbacks. Ask Aaron Rodgers what he thinks of that theory.

 

Davante Adams: The Packers chose Adams with the 53rd overall pick. Greg Gabriel spent 30 years scouting in the NFL, and thought Adams would be drafted higher than that.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see him drafted in the first (round)," Gabriel wrote prior to the draft. "I see him as a guy that could go anywhere from the bottom third of the first to the top third of the second round. In other words, a 20-to-40 guy."

Gabriel cited Adams' strength and his ability to snatch the ball from defenders. He is not alone in that assessment.

"(Adams) is like a torpedo going after a battleship when he sees the ball in flight," said Dave-Te Thomas, head of Scouting Services Inc., a consulting service used by every NFL team. Thomas joined Packer Report's Bill Huber for a recent chat. "Give him James Jones' jersey and tape ADAMS on the back—same player, different age."

One term that seems to consistently come up when football people talk about Davante Adams is "catch radius." ESPN's Sports Science measured Adams' catch radius as larger than Bengals star receiver A.J. Green, and recorded a diving catch range of 19 feet. That was the largest of anyone they recorded in this draft class.

ESPN's Todd McShay called Adams his favorite pick of the draft for the Packers. Mike Mayock thought the pick made a lot of sense too.

"This is a big, physical (receiver)," said Mayock during the draft telecast. "He's very young. His best football's ahead of him. If I'm that young man, I'm going to attach myself to the hip of Aaron Rodgers and I'm not going to let him out of my sight."

As Mayock alluded, there can be no doubt that the Packers must have found it intriguing that all of Adams' production in college came at such a young age. He scored 38 touchdowns at Fresno State...finishing 16th all-time in FBS history...in only two seasons. Adams entered the draft after his sophomore year.

One person who has seen Adams up close and personal more than almost anybody else is his quarterback at Fresno State, Derek Carr. In an interview with the Journal-Sentinel's Tyler Dunne, it was clear that Carr clearly thinks his favorite college receiver's arrow is pointing sharply upward.

"I'm scared to see what he can be in a couple years," said Carr.

 

Khyri Thornton: This was the first pick that sent many fans scrambling to their favorite draft rankings websites, because at first blush it appeared to be something of a reach. Upon further examination, Thornton may actually be the most intriguing of all the players the Packers drafted.

CBS Sports' Rob Rang characterized Thornton as a "diamond in the rough" sleeper. Todd McShay noted Thornton's "quick first step and explosive power as a one-gap disruptor." Mike Mayock noted that Thornton "flies all over the field.".

"There's an energy," Mayock continued. "There's a motor."

Dave-Te Thomas was not surprised at all when Thornton went off the board late in the third round. He had Thornton pegged as a second-round talent who was rising up draft boards, and noted his ability as a run stopper.

"Thornton has allowed only seven first downs on 77 running plays directed at him," Thomas wrote in a scouting profile that was released to Packer Report. "Runners have failed to gain positive yardage on 21-of-77 carries directed at (Thornton in the) last two years."

Thomas went on to say that he thinks Thornton could be groomed to replace B.J. Raji. During a recent post-draft chat he likened Thornton to two former NFL players: Casey Hampton and Richard Seymour.

"Think Casey Hampton and the other nose guys," Thomas said. "They occupy multiple blockers and that's what he does."

Perhaps it is Thornton's versatility that is most impressive, especially considering the multiple fronts the Packers like to show opposing offenses. Thomas thinks Khyri Thornton can be groomed to play whatever role Green Bay may need at any given time.

"Thornton can do a bit of (Richard) Seymour...play on the edge, at weak side defensive tackle, and over center."

The scouting report summary Thomas made available to all 32 teams is enough to see why selection of Thornton may be the most intriguing of the draft:

"Whether in a 3-4 as a nose guard or in a 4-3 alignment as an under-tackle, if he continues to grow and add strength, few blockers at the professional level will have success in containing him."

 

Richard Rodgers: With Aaron Rodgers at the helm and a newfound running game, the Packers offense should prove to be very dangerous. Theoretically, a threat at tight end would only loosen up opposing defenses even more.

Richard Rodgers was selected with the third round compensatory pick the Packers received as a result of losing Greg Jennings in free agency. Like the Thornton pick 13 slots earlier, this was met with skepticism by many. And for many of the same reasons.

Like Thornton, Rodgers toiled away on a team that was abysmal. The California Golden Bears were 1-11 and didn't exactly offer an abundance of highlights. The team struggled mightily under a new head coach, and by most accounts Rodgers appeared to be poorly utilized. One year he was a massive tight end, the next year he was a slimmed-down slot receiver. As a result, a lot of projection had to be involved when it comes to determining how he should best be utilized in the NFL.

Josh Norris formerly assisted in the Rams' scouting department, and now writes for NBC Sports. He was one of the few voices that had Rodgers ranked as a top-100 player (he was drafted 98th). Norris thought that Richard Rodgers was an under-the-radar tight end prospect that may eventually turn out to have Pro Bowl potential.

Greg Cosell also thought highly of Rodgers' potential. Cosell is an NFL analyst and senior producer for NFL Films, and his depth of knowledge and attention to detail during film study is highly regarded throughout the sport. Cosell was asked during a pre-draft interview on the Ross Tucker Podcast if he thought any tight ends might surprise, after the initial "big name" prospects were gone. Cosell brought up Richard Rodgers, and compared him to another young tight end.

"Think of Jordan Reed last year with Washington, and the impact he had," said Cosell. He was referring to the Redskins rookie who had the most impact of any tight end from his class. Reed led all rookies at his position with 45 receptions for 499 yards in limited duty, before his season ended in Week 11 due to an injury.

"I think (Rodgers) has some similarities to Reed when he came out of Florida," Cosell continued. "Rodgers is bigger than Reed, he's maybe not quite as athletic, but I think he'd be utilized in the same way. He's another one of those detached athletic finesse tight ends with excellent pass catching ability and he gives you that dimension, and we know that those players have an increased value in the NFL. So I think he's someone who you can keep an eye on."

One person that will keep a close eye on Rodgers' development is his offensive coordinator his last year in college, Tony Franklin. He thinks that Rodgers is immensely talented.

"He has the best hands of anybody I've ever coached," Franklin told Packer Report's Bill Huber. "He's just got remarkable hand-eye coordination and ball skills.

"If Richard had stayed another year in college, Richard would have had an opportunity to be a first-round draft pick and be a great player."

 

Carl Bradford: The Packers have talked about employing a so-called "elephant" position in their defense. That may not come as anything new to their fourth-round pick, Carl Bradford. He haunted opposing quarterbacks while playing a similar "devil" position at Arizona State, and that experience may translate very well if the coaches indeed play him on the edge as they intend.

If there is one word that can describe Bradford's play, it may be "relentless." He just doesn't stop coming. His 20 sacks and 39 tackles for loss over the last two years can attest to that.

What may be even more exciting for Packers fans is that he may just be getting started.

"He's just scratching the surface," said Todd Graham, Bradford’s head coach at Arizona State. Graham shared some of his thoughts on Bradford with the Journal-Sentinel's Tyler Dunne.

"He's smart. He's one of the smartest players I've had. Explosive. And he's going to get so much better. Heck, I tried to talk him into coming back. He's just getting started on how good he's going to be. He's going to be a tremendous player. He's a guy who will start with the potential to be an all-pro."

Granted, his coach may be biased, but Bradford didn't go unnoticed by scouts either. He was rated as a second-round prospect by many accounts, and the Packers seemed pleased he was available in the fourth round.

"We feel fortunate he was there," said Packers Director of College Scouting Brian Gutekunst. "A lot of times, guys with that kind of production don’t usually last."

Longtime personnel man Gil Brandt said that Bradford reminds a lot of people of Terrell Suggs, in terms of his mannerisms and the way he plays. He will bring fire and tenacity to the Packers defense.

One thing that detractors bring up is his lack of ideal size (under 6'1") and short arms (just over 30"). For his part, Bradford seems unconcerned.

"I can't cry about my height," Bradford said. "I can't cry about how long my arms are. I control what I can control and that's my effort.

"People can't see the lion roaring inside of me."

 

Corey Linsley: By most accounts, the big name from the crop of centers entering this year's draft was Weston Richburg from Colorado State. He ended up being drafted early in the second round by the Giants.

Linsley is stronger, and that's what jumped out to Lance Zierlein.

Zierlein is an NFL analyst who has written for the Houston Chronicle and The Sideline View website. As the son of an offensive line coach who worked for over 30 years in the NFL and college ranks, Zierlein's offensive line rankings grab the attention of those who follow the draft.

Zierlein ranked Corey Linsley as a third-round talent, just slightly behind Weston Richburg. As mentioned previously, much of what jumps out about Linsley is his strength...he can bench more than 500 pounds and was one of the strongest linemen at the combine.

"Linsley is unmatched in this year's draft from a power standpoint at the center position and would overwhelm weaker interior linemen," wrote Zierlein in his pre-draft rankings. "One of the most 'under the radar' center prospects in this draft despite playing at Ohio State, (Linsley is) said to be borderline 'arrogant, but in a good way.' (He has the) mentality that teams want from centers and unusual power from a center."

"Arrogant, but in a good way." That sounds like a character that just might fit in along with the likes of T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton.

Linsley has already shown a work ethic in college that should earn the respect of his teammates in Green Bay. His offensive line coach at Ohio State said that Linsley would be the first to arrive every morning at 5:45, and would come back after classes later in the day as well.

The road wasn't easy for Linsley. As a freshman in high school he had to be talked into playing football by his coach. As an oft-injured freshman who hadn’t matured yet, he spent more time on the field playing trumpet in the marching band than as a football player. But by the end of his junior year, his coach told his assistants that he believed Linsley would one day play in the NFL.

Now Linsley is almost there, and may even have a chance to start as a rookie.

 

Jared Abbrederis: Four reps on the bench press. That is all Abbrederis was able to muster during the Scouting Combine, and it may be part of the reason why he slipped down to the end of the fifth round. But when the game film is turned on, there is one part of his game that stands out above all else.

"I thought Jared Abbrederis, as a man-to-man route runner, might have been the best route runner in this draft class," said Matt Waldman, author of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. "It's such a rich wide receiver class, to say he's the best man-to-man route runner says something right there."

When asked about the low number of reps on the bench press, Waldman seemed unconcerned about the former Badger's functional strength.

"I think he’ll develop it. The strength thing is a little bit overrated when you talk about press coverage. It's often about technique. It's often about understanding the position that your opponent is playing, and using those techniques at the right time. He handled himself extremely well against (Ohio State All-American cornerback) Bradley Roby. I'm not the least bit concerned about that. I think that if he has the base skills and techniques to do his job, that's what you’re looking for. The rest is gravy."

If there are doubters about his strength, speed, size, or anything else, it wouldn't be anything new for Abbrederis.

There was doubt he would play football again after he broke his leg during his sophomore year of high school.

There was doubt he would get a walk-on scholarship offer at the University of Wisconsin, after being passed over as a star prep quarterback.

There was doubt he would be able to make the switch to receiver, and whether he would ever get on the field and become a meaningful contributor.

There was doubt he could be a bona fide number one wide receiver after his teammate Nick Toon graduated and went on to the NFL.

Each step along the way, Abbrederis has proven his doubters wrong. Now he wants to prove it to the 32 NFL teams that passed him over four (or more) times.

"It doesn't matter how you get here," Abbrederis told the Journal-Sentinel. "It's what you do with the opportunity you have. You can be first round; you can be undrafted. It's what you do once you get here that's going to make you stay."

Betting against Abbrederis doesn't seem like a good idea these days.

 

Demitri Goodson: The Packers spent their sixth round pick on a project at cornerback. Considering the careers of raw, undrafted players like Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, the Packers have had pretty good success with projects at that position.

Demitri Goodson looked like he was developing into a good football player in high school, earning recognition as a sophomore standout cornerback. He then decided to focus solely on basketball. According to his mother, part of the reason was that his older brother Mike was making a name for himself on the gridiron at Texas A&M and Demitri wanted to be known for something different.

Goodson...who goes by the nickname "Meech"...poured everything into basketball and earned a scholarship to Gonzaga University, where played three years before deciding once again that he wanted to switch things up.

"I had started to think about my future plans," Goodson said. "There are only two rounds in the NBA draft compared to seven for the NFL."

His high school coach reached out to some contacts at Baylor University, and Goodson eventually ended up leaving Spokane, Washington for Waco, Texas. He made an impression on his new coaches right away.

"He was always making plays at practice," said Carlton Buckels, his position coach at Baylor. "Nobody could run by him. He was very impressive. He turned heads every day...I'm talking from the head coach to the defensive coordinator to myself."

Goodson has good size (just under 6'0" and 197 pounds) and athleticism (4.46 40-yard dash), but what sets him apart are his quick reactions and ball skills. In his only full year as starter he led the Big 12 Conference in passes defended, besting eighth overall draft pick Justin Gilbert despite playing two fewer games. He was growing up in a hurry.

"When he first got (to Baylor), it was all bad," said K.J. Morton, Goodson's teammate at Baylor. "But just watching the reps and watching the progress, it was like...man. I always told Coach (Art Briles) even though (Goodson) doesn't have the technique and everything, it's effort, and he had it. Once he put everything together, it was amazing to watch him grow."

As time went by, his teammates and coaches weren't the only ones who noticed Goodson's talent on the field. The eyes of the NFL were soon upon him.

"He has a high ceiling, and that's what teams want," an NFC scout told the Houston Chronicle. "He has all the traits. He just needs to keep working on his finesse and the skills. But teams know that, so he just needs to continue to develop."

How quickly will he develop? Goodson knows he has a lot to learn in terms of scheme and terminology, but there's no lack of confidence there.

"I'm going to be a steal."

 

Jeff Janis: If height, weight, and speed were all that mattered, Jeff Janis would be a first round pick. Standing just under 6'3" with a thick build, he blazed a 4.42 40-yard dash at the Combine and looked effortless doing so. (He has been unofficially timed at 4.30.) If that weren't enough, he completed a 6.64 three cone drill (third-best among his peers) and had 20 reps on the bench press (also third-best).

Simply put, Janis is a beast. But he wasn't always that way.

He was a late bloomer in high school. Major colleges didn't think much of him. He finally blossomed into a dominant receiver at Division II Saginaw Valley State, where he played like a man among boys.

Janis averaged over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns the last two seasons, and was so much better than his competition that he didn't even have to bring his "A" game all the time. How will that athleticism translate to the NFL? Only time will tell.

For as many weapons the Packers possess, one thing their offense lacks is a deep threat that can blow the top off of opposing defenses. Jordy Nelson ran a 4.51 40-yard dash coming out of college, but is several years removed from that now. Randall Cobb ran a 4.46, but isn't the big downfield target Janis could be.

Before Janis will be able to contribute, he will need to learn the technical aspects of the game. He has a pretty good idea where to start.

"I plan on listening to my coach and watching the veterans to see how they do things," Janis told Pick 6 Magazine. "Jordy is one of the most fundamentally sound receivers I have ever seen, which is a great quality to have. I plan on trying to become a guy like him."

 

 


 

 

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