GREEN BAY – The general rule of thumb is that it takes three NFL seasons to accurately evaluate a team’s draft class.
The thumb isn’t always right.
There are instances when educated conclusions can be drawn early on. For instance, there is the Green Bay Packers’ 2011 rookie pool, and the educated conclusion is this: They are critical to the team’s success this season. With them, the Packers could be a complete team. Without them, the Packers will be severely limited in several key areas.
After one season, eight of GM Ted Thompson’s 10 draft picks from 2011 are still on the roster, which means they are still projected – if not expected – to contribute in a meaningful role.
They are: First round – Derek Sherrod, offensive lineman, Mississippi State; Second round – Randall Cobb, receiver/return specialist, Kentucky, second round; Third round – Alex Green, running back, Hawaii; Fourth round – Davon House, cornerback, New Mexico State; Fifth round – D.J. Williams, tight end, Arkansas; Sixth round – D.J. Smith, linebacker, Appalachian State; Seventh round – Ryan Taylor, tight end, North Carolina; and Seventh round – Lawrence Guy – defensive end, Arizona State.
That is a lot of young players with key roles on a 15-1 team that returns as a Super Bowl favorite among Las Vegas odds-makers.
Five of the eight contribute either on offense or special teams.
All are areas that Thompson couldn’t address for two reasons: The defense – like an emergency room patient – demanded immediate attention; and these areas all were tended to in the previous 2011 draft.
Thompson’s greatest strength may be his ability to evaluate talent. His second-greatest strength may be his ability to stay true to his evaluations, and therefore the players, rather than falling in love with the quote/unquote “next great player” in the upcoming draft.
While all eyes are on the Class of 2012 and its potential to re-energize the team’s sagging defense, the 2011 group’s performance is critical.
Everything the Packers didn’t get in this year’s draft was accounted for in last year’s. Think about it. The Packers’ need for defense superseded any needs on offense or in the return game.
Fortunately, Thompson’s 2011 draft covered those areas.
Now it is time for second-year players such as Sherrod, Green, House and Williams to step into critical roles at their positions.
Sherrod, who is recovering from a broken leg, was hurt by the NFL’s lockout last offseason. Consider SI.com’s pre-2011 draft evaluation:
“Sherrod has been a consistent player at Mississippi State and possesses all the skills necessary to develop into a left tackle at the next level. He’ll need time to physically mature and add strength to his frame, but he is one of the better blind side tackle prospects in this draft.”
Fate didn’t allow Sherrod’s body the time it needed to develop last season. Now, he has had a full offseason to gain the necessary strength. The Packers are counting on him to provide depth, if not eventually become the starting left tackle.
Green, a powerfully built 6-foot-1, 220-pound athlete, is coming off a knee injury. Reports are that he is fully healed and ready to assume a role as the third-down back in the Packers’ offense.
Some may have preferred a smaller, quicker, more elusive player in that role – a Darren Sproles type – but Green’s limited offseason a year ago stunted his growth. He spent too much time thinking and not enough time reacting until a knee injury ended his season.
Green, I suspect, will surprise fans with his explosion this time around.
While Packers’ fans marveled at Cobb’s exploits in the return game last year, it should be noted that both Green and Cobb were timed at identical 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash last year.
Green has the necessary burst to add punch to the running game, especially as a threat to catch it out of the backfield. Here is SI.com’s 2011 pre-draft analysis of Green:
“Green is a physically gifted ball carrier with the athletic skills and running abilities to make it at the next level. He offers potential as a second back in the NFL if he rounds out his game and carries the ball with more physicality.”
Give Green a chance.
Next up is House, a cornerback, who was beset by an array of injuries during training camp. House, like Green, was a victim of circumstances but shouldn’t be dismissed. Here is SI.com’s pre-draft evaluation:
“House is a talented player who has been productive on the college level. He comes with a great amount of upside and has starting potential in the NFL if he is able to fine-tune his game and consistently do the little things well.”
Fine tuning comes through repetition. House is a big corner (six feet, 200 pounds) who runs a 4.42-second 40-yeard dash. He is being counted on to compete with rookie Casey Hayward as a dime defensive back, and also to bolster the special teams’ coverage units.
For those who are skeptical of the pre-draft reports, please consider what SI.com had to say about Cobb:
“(Cobb) is a versatile skill player who positively affects the offense in a variety of ways. Shows terrific quickness, has a burst of speed, and is dynamic handling the ball. (Cobb’s) a fluid receiver who comes back to the pass out of breaks, easily adjusts to the errant throw, and possesses both soft and strong hands. He plays with intelligence.”
That sounds a lot like the player Cobb has become in Green Bay. The Packers need Sherrod, Green and the rest to do likewise.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.