Camp Countdown: 27 Days — They’re Not Bad

Former first-rounders Nick Perry and Datone Jones haven't been good but they're not busts, either, as these numbers from last season demonstrate.

Would the Green Bay Packers have won another Super Bowl championship had general manager Ted Thompson had another hit or two among his marquee defensive draft picks?

In 2012, he grabbed outside linebacker Nick Perry in the first round and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and cornerback Casey Hayward in the second round. In fact, Thompson went defense with his first six picks, with defensive tackle Mike Daniels and safety Jerron McMillian in the fourth round and linebacker Terrell Manning in the fifth.

In 2013, he selected defensive end Datone Jones in the first round.

In 2014, it looks like he hit on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix in the first round but third-round defensive tackle Khyri Thornton and fourth-round linebacker Carl Bradford might be fighting for their careers later this month.

Including a fourth-round pick used on cornerback Davon House in 2011, Thompson used 10 draft picks in the first four rounds on defensive players from 2011 through 2014. Daniels is the only undisputed good starter from that group, though Clinton-Dix and Hayward have played enough good football that they seem more like answers than questions.

There’s no question that Jones and Perry haven’t played to first-round expectations. Jones lost his starting job to Josh Boyd, a fifth-round pick from the same draft class. Boyd, in fact, played 69 more snaps than Jones last season. Had Perry panned out, the Packers might not have felt compelled to give Julius Peppers a three-year, $26 million contract.

Nonetheless, they’ve hardly been busts. In small doses, both players have performed well.

Jones, who was suspended for the 2015 opener on Thursday, was billed as a three-down player when he was drafted. However, it appears the Packers have closed the book on that idea. After starting three of the first five games, he didn’t start a game the rest of the season and rarely saw the field in the base defense or on run downs. Still, he’s shown a glimmer of being an all-around defender. Surprisingly, he led the defensive linemen in snaps per tackle on running plays by a large margin.

PlayerRun tacklesRun snapsRate
Datone Jones15926.13
Josh Boyd211888.95
Mike Daniels323189.94
Mike Pennel89111.38
Luther Robinson22311.50
Letroy Guion2530012.00
“You look at the end of last year, ‘Tone made two, three, four really big plays for us,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “He made some big plays for us. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed, because I think the kid, once he starts developing, then he gets hurt. Hopefully he can stay healthy because football means a lot to him.”

Outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme earn their fame by sacking the quarterback. Perry has just nine sacks in three seasons, including three last season. However, with his size and strength, he was tremendous against the run last season. According to league data, the Packers allowed 1.29 yards less per carry with Perry on the field compared to when he was on the sideline. That was the best differential among the NFL’s 3-4 outside linebackers, according to league data. Among Green Bay’s outside linebackers, he finished behind only Matthews in snaps per tackle. A lot of Matthews’ production, of course, came after the move to inside linebacker put him in position to make more tackles.

PlayerTacklesSnapsRate
Clay Matthews6991713.29
Julius Peppers4582518.33
Mike Neal4165415.95
Nick Perry2436715.29
“I’m not totally aware of what the outside world thinks, but Nick Perry is a tough, physical football player,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just ask his teammates. What he played through this past year, it was significant. I think it says a lot about him and he’s had some tough moments in the first two years of his career, but the guys that practice against him, the guys that he plays with and the guys in the locker room every day, they have a lot of respect for him. And clearly I do.”

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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