Rookie impact a key

Class of 2007 needs to be as productive as Class of 2006

The 2006 Green Bay Packers were greatly impacted by its rookie crop of draft picks.

A.J. Hawk, was everything that he was expected be, leading the team in tackles and was always around the football. Hawk has good speed and showed explosiveness in his blitz technique, plus got better in coverage as the year progressed. Hawk has the ability to develop into one of the finest players at his position. He is off to a great start.

Speaking of great starts, second round picks, Greg Jennings and Daryn Colledge, were the exact opposite of each other. Jennings looked like a veteran wide receiver the first time he put on a Packer uniform. Colledge, on the other hand, was slow out of the gate and was demoted to second string after a lackluster performance in a pre-season game. However, both had good seasons in 2006. Jennings was having a great rookie season until he hurt his ankle against Miami last October. Colledge earned back his starting job at left guard, and never looked back with a very solid season.

Colledge was a perfect fit for the Green Bay zone blocking scheme. Colledge is very athletic and has excellent strength. Although Jennings was never the same after the high ankle sprain, the Packers saw enough to know that Jennings is a great threat opposite Donald Driver. Hawk, Colledge and Jennings have the makeup to eventually become team leaders.

The Packers also did well later in the draft as well.

Besides Colledge, General Manager Ted Thompson helped the Green Bay offensive line during the draft. In the third round, the Packers selected offensive lineman Jason Spitz and also selected offensive lineman Tony Moll in the fifth round. Like Colledge, both are good fits for the zone blocking scheme. They both have nasty dispositions and had good rookie campaigns.

The rookie offensive linemen showed so much promise that Brett Favre said they have a chance to be the best he's ever played with in Green Bay.

Five other draft picks who made the team last year, include LB Abdul Hodge, CB Will Blackmon, QB Ingle Martin, DT Johnny Jolly and S Tyrone Culver. The Packers are expecting all of these players to move their game up a notch or two. Green Bay is hoping that Hodge and Blackmon fulfill their potential in 2007. Both have the talent to be starters, but injuries have slowed down their development. Blackmon has a good chance to be the nickel back and also a returner on special teams in 2007.

So what 2007 rookies will follow in the footsteps of Hawk, Colledge, Jennings, Spitz and Moll? The Packers drafted 11 rookies this year. Green Bay drafted the same amount in 2006 and had 10 players make the team.

The obvious choices to make the team this year are first round pick Justin Harrell, second round pick Brandon Jackson and both third round picks, James Jones and Aaron Rouse. Others that have a chance to make an impact are fourth round pick G/T Allen Barbre, fifth round pick David Clowney, sixth round pick Mason Crosby and seventh round pick RB DeShawn Wynn. A few others will have their chances as well, including sixth round picks Korey Hall and Desmond Bishop, and seventh round pick Clark Harris.

Harrell has a big chance to improve the Packers run defense. The Packers gave up 4.0 yards per carry in 2006. Harrell is a good run defender and also has the ability to collapse the pocket with his penetration. Harrell will be battling Corey Williams for a starting spot.

Jackson has a chance to be the starter at halfback as he battles Vernand Morency for that role. Jackson has shown that he has nice ability in the zone blocking scheme at Nebraska. Jackson is an excellent inside runner and has good hands catching the football.

Jones has good size and some have compared his body to Sterling Sharpe. Jones also has very strong hands and is playing a position that could earn him the third wide receiver spot with a good training camp. Jones has questionable speed, but the Packers will use him more in crossing routes that move the chains.

Rouse, a former linebacker, moved to safety and can lay the wood. The Packers will look to him and Marviel Underwood to push starter Marquand Manuel at one safety spot.

Barbre fits the mold of athletic linemen. Clowney is small, but has world class speed. Hall will have a chance to be the starting fullback, but will really be looked at as a special teams demon. Bishop should also be a special teams stalwart, although he could make some noise at both ILB and OLB. Crosby will be given every chance to unseat kicker Dave Rayner. Crosby has a big leg and the competition at kicker will be one to watch. Wynn has nice ability and can play both HB and FB.

Other undrafted rookies can make the squad as well like DE Jason Hunter and TE Zac Alcorn did in 2006. Some 2007 possibilities include DE Larry Birdine, LB's Rory Johnson and Juwan Simpson, FB's Corey White and Ryan Powdrell and DT Daniel Muir.

The rookies of 2007 must make an impact like the class of 2006, as the Packers have done little in free agency this off-season. There is the chance that Thompson will add an impact free agent or acquire a big-time player via trade before training camp (at least according to George Koonce), but at this point, the youngsters on the Green Bay roster must be players that can learn the NFL way quickly. If the 2007 class is as good as the 2006 class, then the Packers might be as big of a surprise in the NFC as they were last season.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.


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