Are Packers Contenders Again Following Draft?

Is a draft that lacked the sizzle of big stars from big schools enough to get Green Bay back in the championship hunt? For several reasons, we say the answer is "yes."

Are the Green Bay Packers closer to a Super Bowl championship team today than on the eve of the draft?

The obvious answer is yes. The true answer is an overwhelming yes.

The always-entertaining, never-relevant draft grades at least provide some sort of guide.

NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang gave the Packers an "A" — one of just five he handed out.

Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke and Doug Farrar gave the Packers an "A" — one of three teams to receive such a high mark.

ESPN.com's Todd McShay called the Packers the "most improved" team in the NFC North.

His colleague, Mel Kiper, gave the Packers a "B" — questioning only the failure to get an inside linebacker.

Green Bay's draft was so good that it was the lead story on NFL.com's draft page, with Bucky Brooks giving it a B-plus.

It was enlightened thinking from the national punditry, considering Green Bay's draft lacked big-name, big-school sizzle beyond first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix.

The second-round pick was Fresno State receiver Davante Adams, not the bigger-named receivers available from Indiana and Penn State. The third-round picks were Khyri Thornton, a defensive lineman from one of the worst programs in the nation, and Richard Rodgers, a tight end who was called "slow and fat and out of shape" by his offensive coordinator.

The first half of Day 3 had a bit more glitz with Arizona State's playmaking linebacker Carl Bradford, Ohio State center Corey Linsley and Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis. General manager Ted Thompson swung for the fences with Baylor corner Demetri Goodson in the sixth round and Saginaw Valley State receiver Jeff Janis in the seventh.

The draft grades, of course, don't mean a thing. Draft picks are the lifeblood of Thompson's draft-and-develop philosophy, but nobody is counting on the newcomers to be solely responsible for reversing the downward momentum of a team that has been on heading the wrong way the past two seasons.

Time and again, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has spoken of the need to have three playmakers capable of changing the fortunes of a game. When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, they had Clay Matthews, Nick Collins and Charles Woodson. In 2013, they had only a one-handed Matthews — then no Matthews at all.

In 2014, Capers might have his playmaking trio once again. If Matthews can stay healthy, there's one. If Casey Hayward can stay healthy and return to his 2012 former, perhaps he's No. 2. The addition of Julius Peppers might be No. 3. Maybe Mike Daniels takes another step forward after his breakout 2013, or maybe it's last year's No. 1 pick, Datone Jones.

Clinton-Dix, even if he is merely above-average, provides a dramatic upgrade over M.D. Jennings at safety. And if Clinton-Dix can approach expectations, maybe Morgan Burnett gets his career back on track after a disappointing 2013.

Compare the Packers' dime personnel in 2013 to what could be on the field in 2014. In 2013, Jennings was in at safety and Hayward was out as one of the slot defenders. In 2014, Jennings is out at safety and Hayward is in at the slot. And how about the potential of the pass rush with some combination of Daniels, Jones, Neal and Peppers as the interior rushers, paired with some combination of Matthews, Neal, Peppers, Nick Perry and Bradford as the outside rushers. No, the Packers didn't upgrade at inside linebacker. But somehow, there has to be a way for Capers to keep A.J. Hawk (or Brad Jones) off the field as the dime linebacker — at least on occasion. You'd hate to lose Matthews as a pass rusher, but perhaps he's the solution as the third-and-long inside linebacker considering the other pass-rushing options.

"We're going to be a better defense this year," coach Mike McCarthy said at the conclusion of the draft on Saturday. "You can write that in big letters. I think we said something about that (with the running game) last year."

Offensively, the Packers had a dire need for passing-game weapons. Gone over the past two offseasons are Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and, presumably, Jermichael Finley. In were ... Kevin Dorsey? Thompson added receivers Adams, Abbrederis and Janis and tight end Rodgers. Who knows if (or how many of) the rookies will contribute. With four new faces, the odds are in Thompson's favor of getting one instant performer.

No wonder McCarthy said the Packers "absolutely" are a better team following the draft. Are they good enough to compete with Seattle and San Francisco? With a healthy Matthews and Hayward, the addition of Peppers, and Clinton-Dix headlining a nine-person draft class, the potential certainly is there.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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