Monday, April 09, 2007

It's Been Decided

I know what the Packers should do with the sixteenth (sigh) pick of the draft. Here it is: draft Reggie Nelson, safety, of the University of Florida.

This may provoke some whines about how we need to give Brett some more toys to play with since it may be his last season, or some reiterated complaints about how we have no impact players on offense. And I agree with most of those complaints. We don't have any true standouts on offense. Our tight ends are either coming off dreadful seasons (Bubba) or unproven (Alcorn, Humphrey). Our running backs are either green and injury prone (Morency) or relatively untalented (Herron). Double-D is only getting older, Jennings dropped off significantly with his ankle injury, and there are no other wideouts worth worrying about. With this lackluster talent level at the skill positions, if I were Ted Thompson, I would feel bad about not giving Favre a hot offensive talent to play with. Plus, drafting defense with our first round pick will certainly piss Brett off. But we should do it anyway for several reasons.

First, I'm not sold on any of the offensive picks that folks think will be available at 16. Greg Olsen, the TE from Miami? Don't we already have a Miami TE? Plus, isn't he the workout warrior type, whose pre-draft workouts were more impressive than his production on the field? Lame. And he may not even be available at 16. Also, I never like the "only [name your position] that gets a first round grade" guys. It always makes me think that he's just in there because the draftniks feel they have to have a player at every position (except guard and center).
Marshawn Lynch? His various highlight reels look pretty good, I admit. I especially like his pass catching ability. But Ahman already satisfied my personal quotient for running backs with domestic violence issues. And I don't see all that much burst in the highlights, those moments where you look for someone to put on the gas and speed away from defenders. If you're not showing that in college, chances are you're not going to show it in the NFL, and for a first round running back, I want someone who can go the distance. Plus, for running backs generally, I'd rather take a gamble on an injured guy who could blossom like McGahee and Gore have. Filling that role, I have my eye on Louisville's Michael Bush, who I'd like to see us take in the second or third round.
The wideouts who may be available at 16 all seem decent. Ted Ginn, the straight line speedster from Ohio A&M is a great college returner, but seems to lack some wide receiver skills. Plus, he's way smaller than I thought he was. I like the Meachem kid from Tennessee, but I believe he's only had one healthy year. Basically, it doesn't look like either of them will be Calvin Johnson, who looks like Javon Walker on steroids. Although there is some good history of receivers taken 16th (Jerry Rice and, to a far lesser extent, Santana Moss are standouts) not that that means anything.

Second, I don't like drafting out of desperation. Drafting Lynch, as the vast majority of the mock drafts have us doing, reeks of desperation. Eeek, a newly created hole on team--must fill hole. Drafting Ginn, or Meachem or Bowe from LSU, seems equally desperate, as our wideouts, beside DD, were iffy to poor last year, and we haven't had a decent returner since Rossum left. The same problem applies at TE in re Olsen. I understand and acknowledge that we are quite thin at RB and TE, and old and not particularly talented at WR, and that we haven't added any offense in free agency. But drafting an offensive skill player seems so predictable, and worst of all, predictably desperate. It'd be like the 'Queens drafting Troy Williamson with the pick they got for trading Moss: an obvious attempt to fill a gaping hole. When people make reaches for that kind of stuff, things go wrong.

Third, based on the last four or five games of last season, we are capable of having a pretty damn fine defense. (I know I'm being semi-irrational, since in the games before that we got annihilated by the Jets and the Pats, and the last four teams we played were not good, but just roll with me here.) Since moving Cullen Jenkins to RE on running downs, and cutting down on the occasional colossally blown pass play, the D was very tough. People seemed to be getting Bob Sanders system, Kurt Schottenheimer's inability to coach the secondary seemed to be waning, and, as optimistically predicted, Al "Personal Foul" Harris's tight man to man coverage forced lots of bad passes into the arms of Woodson. Hawk and Poppinga seemed to be developing. Corey Williams and Jenkins were giving decent push up the middle, while Kampman continued his Pro Bowl season. Though our corners are getting old and we need to think seriously about their replacements, I think we have it in us to be a top D this season and beyond, especially if Nick Collins continues to step up. So I support adding potential impact players to a strength in effort to create a dominant side of the ball. As the Bears, the Ravens, and others have shown, a dominant D can keep you respectable, even with a middling offense, which we're bound to have once Brett retires. Think of it this way--wouldn't it be better to have a kick ass defense and a relatively poor offense than a pretty good defense and a mediocre offense? I say yes.

Now, fourth, why draft a safety? Hello, where was the gaping personnel hole in our defense last season? That's correct, right between the numbers of the tragically slow Marquand Manuel, who seems like a nice guy and has a neat personal story, but was just not very impressive on the field. There were certainly blown pass coverages that weren't his fault, but there were definitely some that were. Plus, he looked achingly slow out there. Poppinga and Manuel were our weakest links in pass coverage, and Poppinga at least has the speed and the inexperience where you hope he'd improve. So what we need, in my mind is a freakishly fast, nasty, savvy, and athletic safety, who can cover linebackers and has the range to play center field on passing downs, and can also come up and deliver the solid hit on run plays.
Plus, safety is the type of position that gets overlooked in the draft, unless someone is a huge athletic freak, like Sean Taylor. Defensive linemen and cornerbacks are more traditional priorities, because they're generally thought of as more valuable positions. But in a day and age where tight ends are more involved than ever (safeties often end up shadowing TEs), people are motioning backs out into the slot with regularity, and teams play nickel nearly half the game, safeties are growing in importance. A versatile safety, like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu or Brian Dawkins, can be an impact player on defense. To put it bluntly, I believe that in traditional drafting theory, safeties are undervalued, and they tend to slip more than they should. So, based on where we're drafting, I could see some top safeties (and hopefully Nelson) slipping as teams make runs on defensive ends and tackles, meaning a safety at 16 could be a good value, and may be a better value than the third rated DE, or the second rated RB. Consider-- Polamalu drafted 16th in '03, Reed drafted 24th in '02. Those guys are probably two of the top 20 defensive players in the league. They were both impact players on great college teams (Polamalu on an 11-2 USC team that dismantled Brad Banks' Iowa squad in the Orange Bowl and Reed on Miami's national champs that pounded Nebraska), and I think they both suffered in the draft because teams undervalued the safety position.

But then fifth, why Nelson? I'm probably getting over-excited, but when I look at Nelson, I see Polamalu and Reed. I see an insanely fast and athletic guy (4.35 or 4.37 forty and a bigger vertical than Alando Tucker), who loves to hit, has a nose for turnovers, and makes big plays (Nelson blocked seven kicks during his collegiate career). I see a guy who led his team to greatness, just like Reed and Polamalu. Who was the defensive star of perhaps the most talented team in football. Plus, he's got dreadlocks, so he'd fit right in with Al. I think he's going to be an impact safety like Brian Dawkins (who actually compares him to) or Reed or Polamalu. And by drafting him, the Packers could replace a defensive weak spot with a potential star. This could be a pick that pushes the defense from just good to outstanding. And given how young our defense generally is, could keep it there for years to come. Accordingly, I vote for Reggie Nelson, if he's there, for our first round draft pick.

(Of course, being a non-expert, I encourage TT to draft the player he thinks most likely to become a star. I just hope that it's Nelson.)