Stills: Draft picks will make team stronger

In his column today, former Packers safety Ken Stills reviews Green Bay's 2006 draft. Stills breaks down why the Packers drafted certain players and if any of them will have an impact on this year's team.

When most football staffs prepare for the draft they usually ask themselves two important questions: Who are the best players in the draft? And can they help us reach the Championship?

Today's teams don't have time to think about a player and his future. Will this guy be a future star for us? Will he help us reach the Super Bowl in a few years? The Collective Bargaining Agreement that the Players Association has signed with the owners allows for quick player movement. A player can move from team to team in a matter of three to four seasons. Back in the 1980's when I was a player a team would draft you with the idea that it was going to build around you. Not in this day and age. Today you're expected as a top draft choice to come in and make an immediate impact on the team.

The 2006 draft started out with a bang. The Houston Texans went away from past trends and drafted defensive end Mario Williams as the No. 1 pick, thus sending shock waves throughout the NFL. Speculation around the league was that Reggie Bush, the "so called" best player in college football, would be drafted first. Well, we all know that never happened and no one could be happier then the New Orleans Saints.

The Packers selected 12 players in the draft. A very balanced draft for the Packers, six players on offense and six on defense.

Let's look at the possible reasoning for the draft picks and try to see if there was a pattern to Green Bay's draft order.

It would make sense that if your team struggled in pass protection then you would probably draft an offensive linemen. If you finish last in pass defense then maybe you would draft a pass rusher or a defense back.

When I look over the Packers 2006 draft, it's possible to say they used this simple strategy in attacking the draft.

A re-evaluation of the 2005 season shows that offensively the team was ranked 18th out of 32 teams, with an average of 318 yards per game. Their top rusher, Samkon Gado finished the season with 582 yards. Their top receiver Donald Driver had 86 catches for 1,221 yards, and their second leading receiver, Antonio Chatman, had 49 catches for 549 yards. As an offensive unit they combined for 30 interceptions, 15 fumbles lost and 27 sacks, finishing the season with a turnover margin of minus-21, 31st in the league. Not very good numbers by anyone standards.

Defensively they finish the season on a very high note. Their season ranking was 7th, only giving up 293 ypg. A very solid year for the defense and very promising for 2006.

Putting this type of information in black and white makes it relatively easy for an organization to establish a game plan. You can see your team's strengths and weakness and you're able to form a game plan to attack those areas. Yes, there are other tangible things, like a player's age, end of contract, retirement, things of that nature that effect the draft, but for the most part overall team performance is priority number one.

In my opinion this is how things probably went on draft day in the Packer war room.

While Green Bay's defense finished in the top ten, selecting A.J. Hawk with the fifth overall pick was more a draft choice of "Here and Now." Hawk was the best player available of the top five players, so let's not pass him by. A necessity for the Packers? Probably not. A good pick? You bet.

A.J. has the potential to be an impact player in Green Bay. He is a 6-foot-1, 246-pound linebacker who runs like the wind and is a legit playmaker. He played in the Midwest (Ohio State) in front of big crowds in big games and should fit in fine with Bob Sanders' defensive scheme. A solid pick for the Packers. A.J. will help strengthen a unit that is the Packers' biggest asset.

Choosing your team's first pick can be a difficult task. It happens every year, some first-round picks end up being a bust. You invest millions of dollars in guy and he can't cover himself with his own shadow.

That's probably how teams with the fourth and fifth pick feel. Unless there's a great group of talent coming out each year, it usually comes down to the first two guys that most teams want, after that it becomes a pick 'em situation.

For the Packers, once that first draft pick was out of the way it was time to get down to business. The team had a game plan and it was ready to put it to work.

Four of the next five picks for Green Bay were on offense - two offensive linemen to shore up the run and pass game, and two receivers to help complement Driver. When you look back at the team's evaluation, these draft picks make total sense and are solid choices.

Daryn Colledge a 6-4, 299-pound guard/tackle from Boise State and Jason Spitz a 6-4, 313-pound center/guard from Louisville. Two big offensive linemen who both played in similar systems in college to what Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski plans on running this season in Green Bay. Both guys show excellent footwork in pass protection and have enough agility and power to run-block and control the line of scrimmage.

The Packers offensive line is still very young with only three players having more than five years experience. It's going to be a challenging training camp for offensive line coaches James Campen and Joe Philbin. The addition of these two players along with the other guys on the roster should help the offense be a more productive unit in 2006.

These were good draft decision by the Packers. A lot of what happened last season didn't pertain to the offensive line, but in order to have a successful offensive unit it starts with the people up front.

Next the Packers used picks 52 and 104 on two top flight receivers, Greg Jennings and Cory Rodgers. Driver had a record-setting 2005 season, but the situation with that was most teams knew in a passing situation where the ball was going. Like most teams in the NFL you need at least two good receivers and a third just to make a defense respect you. It was very easy for teams to game plan against Green Bay last season. Stop the running game and double Driver on passing downs and you can stop this team. They were right. The additions of Jennings and Rodgers should take some of the pressure and double coverage off Driver.

A smart draft move by Green Bay. This should free up Driver and Ferguson giving them more freedom to get open, allowing the quarterback more receiver options.

Jennings (5-11, 197) from Western Michigan and Cory Rogers (6-0, 186) from TCU both led their teams to successful seasons. Both players have excellent speed and the ability to be deep threats. They've also shown the will and desire to catch the ball in traffic. Both players are also specialists and that should bring some renewed energy to Coach Mike Stock's special teams units.

Throughout the draft Green Bay did a nice job of using its conditional picks. In each round starting with Round 2, Green Bay was able to draft two players. In the third round Green Bay did of nice job of using its two draft picks, selecting Abdul Hodge, a line-backer with the 67th pick. Seven picks later they drafted Spitz. The Packers did a nice job of managing their picks and you can see that they had a game plan in place and used it effectively through-out the draft.

Hodge (6-0, 236) is one of those guys who has played in the Midwest (University of Iowa) in big games and in front of big crowds and should have no problem adapting to playing in Green Bay. He should be a perfect match for this Packer defense. I was fortunate enough to have coach Abdul's older brother, Howard, in NFL Europe. If he's half the athlete and competitor as his brother, then the Packers have picked themselves another fine linebacker.

You can start to see the draft strategy of the Packers. Strengthen the offense in key positions and add more athletes to an already pretty athletic defense.

In the final three rounds, Green Bay was able to add two more offensive players: quarterback, Ingle Martin, and offensive linemen, Tony Moll. On defense they added four players. Will Blackmon and Tyrone Culver, defensive backs, and Johnny Jolly and Dave Tollefson, defensive linemen.

A pretty solid draft and, as I mention earlier, very balanced.

As we talk about whether this was a good or bad draft a lot will fall on the scouting department. Most of the coaches don't go out on the road and watch college games, that's why NFL teams have scouting departments.

The question that each team is asking itself is whether the players it drafted match up with the other players that were available on draft day. The scouting department plays a huge part in this equation. As you're out there watching training camp in a few weeks look around. You'll see more scouts watching practice then probably anyone else. They'll be critiquing themselves seeing how well or how poor they've done.

We talk about team and the components of what makes a team. Team is bigger than any of us really know. You've heard it said before: "It starts at the top and flows down hill." This statement is so true. If you don't have great organizational people from the president, general manager, team executives, scouts and head coach then how do you expect to have great players or team?

Team is a lot of things. Do the Packers have what it takes to be a team in 2006?


Ken Stills

Editor's note: Ken Stills played safety for the Packers from 1985-89. E-mail Ken at KSt2983113@cs.com.


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