Tag Archives: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Green Bay Packers Draft Preview

28 Apr
NFL Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft begins Thursday night in Chicago.
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

With the 30th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select…

Ah, it’s that time of year, football fans: draft week. Optimism reigns supreme throughout the league’s 32 front offices and fanbases alike. Every team has a chance to win Super Bowl 50. Except the Bears, which is ironic considering Chicago is the host location of this year’s draft.

All jokes aside, the dawn of a new season is upon us. And with that season comes an opportunity for the Packers and their fans to move on from arguably the biggest collapse in NFL postseason history. The Packers’ 28-22 overtime loss against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game will never be erased from memory. It stings. It will always sting. But it’s time to move on.

No Super Bowl festivities took place in Titletown at season’s end. Yet there were still celebrations in the form of going-away parties for A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Packers fans even offered to help pack their suitcases for them as they departed for their new homes in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, respectively.

OK, maybe that didn’t happen. But I’m sure no one held the door for them on the way out of Green Bay.

The duo’s abysmal performance on gamedays surely had Packers fans raising their right hands and insisting they could play the inside linebacker position more effectively. And, to be fair, some of them probably could.

Funerals took place to mourn the careers of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, who left the fruitful pastures of Green Bay for train wrecks in Cleveland and Jacksonville. But both players will rest peacefully, knowing they’re being paid a pretty penny to never sniff a Super Bowl again.

Nevertheless, the offseason continued. Free agency came and went. Outside free agents remained unsigned. And as sure as the sunrise, Ted Thompson haters came out of hibernation, equipped with pitchforks and picket signs.

I don’t understand how so much unwarranted criticism can be directed toward a general manager who has led the Packers on one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. It’s not good enough, apparently. As human beings, and especially sports fans, we’re never satisfied.

This generation of Packers fans has become accustomed to winning, seemingly unaware of the preceding dark ages that took place during the ’70s and ’80s. Coaches and general managers from other teams would threaten to trade players to Green Bay if they underperformed. It was a wasteland.

The Packers are thriving in today’s NFL, and their fans should appreciate these times because success doesn’t last forever. Keep things in perspective.

Year in and year out, fans beg Thompson to forgo his obligation to the salary cap and throw massive sums of money at free agents who, in all honesty, are free agents for a reason.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson.
Photo Credit: fansided.com

Money. Injuries. Age. Regardless of the red flags pinned to each free agent’s backside, more often than not, a cheaper asset is available in the draft.

And how, exactly, has Thompson managed to build a perennial contender?

Through the draft.

This is where Thompson earns his money. Sure, he has undoubtedly made some poor selections he’d like to have back, but it’s unrealistic to expect any general manager to hit home runs with every draft pick.

For the free agency fanatics, consider this: a bad draft pick is far less detrimental to a team’s salary cap than a free agent acquisition that doesn’t pan out. You don’t build a roster through free agency. You merely supplement it. Thompson has done that. Next time the Packers win a game, win the division, win the Super Bowl, don’t forget about the man in the booth who makes it all happen.

And I digress. Let’s get started.

With key contributors returning, such as Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga, the Packers remain equally as formidable as the squad that came within 3:52 of reaching the Super Bowl last season. A strong draft could potentially put the Packers over the top. And for a team that’s built on a draft-and-develop philosophy, that’s not such a bad proposition.

But there are holes to be filled.

Inside Linebacker

Hawk and Jones aren’t coming back, much to the relief of many fans. But someone has to step in alongside probable starter Sam Barrington and fill the void, make a difference – something Hawk and Jones didn’t do, at least not in a positive way. Clay Matthews moved inside temporarily last season to help shore up the run defense, but the Packers would ideally like to send him back outside as a permanent pass-rushing threat.

A number of quality inside linebackers could be available to the Packers in the first round. At 30th overall, the best options will likely include Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State), Stephone Anthony (Clemson), Denzel Perryman (Miami – Fla.) and Paul Dawson (TCU).

Inside linebacker is the Packers’ greatest need, but none of the aforementioned prospects received a first-round grade and there isn’t a standout player in this class.

Thompson believes in drafting the best available player, not necessarily based on need. He doesn’t reach for players, either. For that reason, the Packers could go a different route.

Cornerback

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the Packers’ first-round selection at 21st overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Photo Credit: jrn.com

With the departures of Williams and House, the Packers need to address cornerback early in the draft. Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde were primarily slot corners last season. Hyde also played safety until rookie fan-favorite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took over full time. Either Hayward or Hyde will be thrust into a starting job opposite Sam Shields. But depth at the position must be improved.

The following cornerback prospects have more talent than their inside linebacker counterparts and could potentially be available when the Packers are on the clock: Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Byron Jones (Connecticut), Marcus Peters (Washington), Eric Rowe (Utah) and Jalen Collins (LSU).

Defensive Tackle

Defensive tackle isn’t as much of an immediate need as inside linebacker and cornerback, but it’s worth considering for the future. B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion are both returning on one-year deals, which is encouraging in the short term but concerning in the long term. Additionally, Raji missed all of last season with a torn biceps, and Guion was arrested during the offseason.

The best options at defensive tackle who might be available at 30th overall are Malcom Brown (Texas), Eddie Goldman (Florida State), Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma) and Carl Davis (Iowa).

The Packers could also address tight end, but unless they land Maxx Williams (Minnesota) or Clive Walford (Miami – Fla.) it’s not worth taking one until later in the draft.

Most experts agree this is a relatively weak draft class. Many believe the bottom of the first round will feature second-round talent. This puts the Packers in a difficult position – a position I wouldn’t be surprised if Thompson trades out of.

As a matter of fact, that’s my prediction, albeit an unsexy one.

Trading down would allow the Packers to acquire an extra pick and select an inside linebacker at the top of the second round, where the value matches the need.

Thompson loves to trade down. Historically he’s been successful in doing so. With the 30th overall pick in hand, the Packers are in prime position to move out of the first round and still draft a player near the top of their board.

Over the years, fans have come to expect the unexpected from Thompson. It wouldn’t surprise me if he selected an offensive lineman and sent Packers nation into an uproar.

Regardless of how Thompson handles the draft, the Packers are locked and loaded for another Super Bowl run this season.

Enjoy the ride.

Packers are team to beat in NFC North

31 Jul
Packers defeat Bears

Aaron Rodgers’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, with 46 seconds left on 4th-and-8, gave the Packers their third straight NFC North title. They defeated the Bears, 33-28, at Soldier Field.
Credit: martynneil.files.wordpress.com

It was 4th-and-8 at Soldier Field. The Packers’ playoff hopes were dwindling. They trailed the Bears on the road, 28-27, in the 2013 regular season finale. The next 46 seconds would determine the winner of the NFC North.

We all remember the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the snap. He faced an immediate rush from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Fullback John Kuhn arrived in a knick of time, blocking Peppers just enough to prevent him from reaching Rodgers. The former MVP rolled out to his left and heaved a dime to Randall Cobb, who bolted past a flatfooted Chris Conte to haul in a 48-yard game-winning touchdown, propelling the Packers into the playoffs.

The Bears were stunned – an all-too-familiar feeling against their archrival. The Packers went on to win the division for the third straight season, but their playoff campaign was short-lived, as they were bounced from the postseason by the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round.

During the offseason, the gap continued to close in the NFC North.

The Bears improved their defensive line with free agent acquisitions Lamarr Houston (Raiders) and Jared Allen (Vikings). They also boast the best wide receiver duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. There’s hardly a debate about that. The Bears’ offense could be one of the most explosive units in the NFL this season, but it may come down to the play of quarterback Jay Cutler, who Marshall recently declared will be the 2014 NFL MVP. If the league is looking to further investigate substance abuse among its players, Marshall could be their next target after such a ludicrous statement. Confidence clearly isn’t lacking in Chicago, but there’s quite a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Considering the hype in Chi-town, you’d think the Bears were the team with three straight division titles. That’s not the case. However, they remain the Packers’ most prominent threat in the division.

The Lions were perhaps in the best shape to seize their opportunity to win the division last season, but their discipline issues proved costly, as they were their own worst enemy down the stretch. New head coach Jim Caldwell – with his level-headed demeanor – will be a much-needed breath of fresh air for Detroit. Caldwell is more respected than former head coach Jim Schwartz. But let’s be honest, that’s not saying much. On the plus side, you most likely won’t see Caldwell trying to start a fight with an opposing coach after the postgame handshake, which can only be good news for Lions fans. The Lions added tight end Eric Ebron in the draft and former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in free agency to complement Calvin Johnson in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if the Lions turn things around this season and make a run at the division title.

The Vikings can’t really be considered a serious contender in the division until they figure out their quarterback situation first. They have three quarterbacks competing for first-team reps in training camp, including their 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Teddy Bridgewater. The other potential suitors for the position include Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder, whose days as the Vikings’ starter appear to be all but over. If history is any indication, quarterback controversies don’t typically end well. It’s a shame, too. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is waiting for an opportunity to breakout. He’s one of the most explosive playmakers in the league, and he showed flashes of brilliance last season. The Vikings just need to find a way to get the ball in his hands. Of course, Adrian Peterson is always a threat in the Vikings’ backfield, but at 29 years old, he appears to be losing ground on his quest for a Super Bowl ring. Unless the Vikings turn it around, Peterson will be remembered as one of the best players to never win a championship.

Now, the good stuff.

The Packers are the class of the NFC North. That trend will continue until another team steps up and decides it’s had enough. Despite remaining in familiar territory atop the division the past three seasons, the Packers certainly can’t be satisfied with one-and-dones in the playoffs. They’re not far off from another Super Bowl, though.  Here are the four reasons why the Packers will win the NFC North in 2014.

Lack of experience within the division: Entering his ninth season, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is the longest-tenured head coach in the division by far. Bears head coach Marc Trestman is heading into his second season, and the aforementioned Caldwell – who has three years of previous experience as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts – and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer are entering their first season with their respective teams. Don’t underestimate the importance of having the same coaching staff year-in and year-out. It typically takes time for players to adjust to a new coaching style and system.

Additionally, we saw the Lions and Bears unravel with an opportunity to take control of the division at the end of last season while the Packers were ailing. Let’s face it; neither team had much experience with a division lead during the past few seasons, and that won’t change until they start winning meaningful games in November and December. The Packers have proven to be the team with the most resilience in the NFC North, and McCarthy’s experience is primarily responsible for their stranglehold on the division.

Julius Peppers and an improved defense: The Packers don’t have the reputation of being an aggressive team in free agency. That altered a bit in March when they scooped up Peppers, who spent the last four seasons with the rival Bears. Those in Chicago hold a firm belief that Peppers has lost a step. They accuse him of taking plays off. Regardless of their beef with Peppers, they most likely aren’t happy about seeing him end up in Green Bay, especially opposite Clay Matthews. Peppers and Matthews have never had the benefit of being paired with another player of their caliber.

They do now.

The Bears misused Peppers as an every-down player, which may have resulted in his declining performance. He’s no spring chicken anymore. The Packers plan to use Peppers in a variety of positions, formations and situations, maximizing his effort when he is on the field. He also has been reunited with Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who coached Peppers for several seasons in Carolina. The comfort and familiarity will allow Peppers to excel in the Packers’ defensive system. Even at 34 years old and in the twilight of his career, the aging Peppers is a physical specimen and has the ability to make a difference. He has almost everything – size, speed, versatility, athleticism, and now, added motivation from his doubters. If he can put it all together this season, he might end up with the one thing he doesn’t have: a Super Bowl ring. If nothing else, the Packers have acquired a seasoned veteran who will be a mentor to their young crop of defensive players.

The team selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick in the draft, and he may not even start due to Micah Hyde’s transition from cornerback to safety. Even so, the Packers have a lot of depth at the position. Paired with Morgan Burnett, either player will be an upgrade over Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings, who started for the Packers in 2013. Also in the secondary, cornerback Casey Hayward is fully healthy, after missing a majority of games with hamstring issues last season.

In recent years, the defense has been the Packers’ weakness. It finished 24th overall last season. With the addition of Peppers, as well as returning players, there’s no reason to believe the defense won’t be average, at the very least. It is poised to become a top-10 unit this season. Defensive end Mike Daniels already has expressed his desire for the defense to have a more physical mentality and match the offense’s production. If the offense and defense are clicking at the same time, the Packers will be even more of a threat, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Eddie Lacy: Roll tide, right? The reigning offensive rookie of the year, Eddie Lacy, put the Packers on his back last season when Rodgers was out for seven games with a broken collarbone. He often faced stacked boxes due to the Packers’ lack of reliable quarterback play, but his punishing running style allowed him to grind out 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers plan to increase Lacy’s role in the offense and involve him more in the passing game. His 35 receptions last season are nothing to scoff at, but you can expect that total to increase this season. There are so few three-down running backs in the NFL, but Lacy is a true workhorse in the Packers’ backfield.

With Rodgers’ return, Lacy will undoubtedly face more favorable defensive looks in 2014. It’s no wonder Lacy is always smiling. He knows what lies ahead. Now that the Packers have a formidable rushing attack with Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, the possibilities are endless for the Packers offense.

Aaron Rodgers: It’s enviable that Brandon Marshall thinks Jay Cutler will be the MVP in 2014, but for that to happen, Cutler would need to be the best quarterback, and player, in the league. He’s not even the best quarterback in the NFC North. Injuries happen to every team during the course of the season, but the Packers had the worst injury bug in the NFL last season. They lost Rodgers for seven games, and that alone is enough to make the argument.

When Rodgers is playing, the Packers are as dangerous as any team in the NFL. He’s that good. Not only that, he has a mutually beneficial relationship with Lacy. In total, Rodgers and Lacy only played in six games together last season, but the pair will make each other better. If teams stack the box to defend against Lacy, Rodgers will beat them through the air. If teams play deep in the secondary to defend against Rodgers, Lacy will run wild. And the last thing opposing defenders want is to face Lacy head on. Ultimately, defenses will have no choice but to respect the running game, leading to a plethora of opportunities for Rodgers. On paper, it would seem the Packers offense will be unstoppable in 2014. The end result will be one of the best seasons of Rodgers’ career.

The pieces are in place for the Packers, but the Bears and Lions won’t back down, either. The NFC North will be one of the most interesting division battles to follow in 2014, but when all is said and done, the Packers will be on top.

Who do you think will win the NFC North?