Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)-#21st Overall Pick
This past season was definitely a season of challenge for the Green Bay Packers as the Pack was forced to deal with replacing franchise QB Aaron Rodgers and the declining skills of their defense. After starting out the season 5-2, Green Bay went win-less in their next 5 games, losing to teams such as the lack-luster New York Giants and tying the lowly Vikings. Regardless though, the Packers managed to win three of their last four games and make it into the playoffs on a last-second throw from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb against Chicago. To say the least, the Packers got extremely lucky this season. With the offense that the Bears had, they probably should have won the division considering their ability to put points on the board, but unfortunately their defense just could not stop the pass and thus the Packers won the number four spot in the NFC. In the playoffs the Packers luck ran out as Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers once again took down the Cheese heads in the playoffs in the Packers’ own place, winning on a last second field goal. While the Packers did have their franchise QB injure his shoulder for the majority of the season, their defense was one of the main reason they weren’t able to make it to the Super Bowl this season. Had the Pack not allowed Kapernick to rush for 98 yards on 7 carries, perhaps this game would have been different. But that’s not the way life turned out and that’s why we’re here today to examine what the Packers should 21st in the draft. So without further delay here’s the way 2013 turned out for the Packers and exactly where they need to improve their team in order to be successful in 2014.
With one of the best passing games in the NFL, the Packers made one of the best offensive draft picks in 2013 by picking top RB prospect Eddie Lacy out of the University of Alabama. This season for the Packers, Lacy was able to lead all rookie rushers this season with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Although many may accredit Lacy’s 1,178 yards to his 284 carries, however this season Lacy averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 8 games of 82 yards or more, including 5 games of over 99 yards on the ground. This season along with James Starks, Lacy and the Packers running game rushed for 133.5 rushing yards per game this season (ranked seventh in the NFL). What was so great about this Packers offense this season was not the fact that they ranked sixth in the league with 266.8 passing yards per game (Packers have been doing that ever since Favre came into Wisconsin, but the fact that they were able to combine their outstanding passing game with their powerful running game seamlessly. Not only was Lacy effective during the season, but his counterpart James Starks was also an extremely effective back for the Packers. This season Starks was able to run for an oustanding 493 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 89 carries (an average yards per carry of 5.5). What the running game of Eddie Lacy and James Starks showed us was that the Packers could stay true to their passing game, while still being able to rely on their running game when needed.
Speaking of said passing game, in 2013 Aaron Rodgers and back-up Matt Flynn combined for 266.8 passing yards per game to go along with 24 passing touchdowns. Although the Packers receiving corps endured some injuries to Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finely and Jarrett Boykin, the Packers made the best of a bad situation as Jordy Nelson went for over 1,300 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013. For the Packers receiving corps and passing game in general in 2013, while they didn’t have Aaron Rodgers or Randall Cobb for the majority of the season, they made do with the combination of Jordy Nelson and former Raider and Seahawks Matt Flynn. During Flynn’s 4-game reemergence back into the Packers, the 28 year-old out of Tyler, Texas went and threw for 229.2 yards per game along with 7 touchdowns. Now I’ll be the first one to admit that Rodgers is one of the best QBs in the league and about 83% better than Matt Flynn. But for the purposes of this article I will say Flynn did an adequate job of helping the Packers, he wasn’t amazing but at the same time he wasn’t totally dreadful in the absence of Rodgers.
When looking at this draft and whether or not the Packers need anything this draft on offense I believe that they are basically set. They have the running game in Eddy Lacy and James Starks, they have the receiving corps with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and they have the MVP QB in Aaron “A-A-Ron” Rodgers. As far as the Packers are concerned they are pretty set on offense. One thing the Packers ownership may want to look into this off season is acquiring some offensive line talent in the case that the Packers offensive line experiences some difficulties. For example in 2012, the Packers offensive line played horrendous football, allowing a total of 51 sacks to Aaron Rodgers (second worst in the NFL last season). This year they improved slightly, allowing 45 sacks (ranked ninth in the NFL this season), however the Packers offensive line could still use some major help on their offensive. Thus I believe that the Packers won’t necessarily use their first round pick to take a offensive lineman, however come second or even the third round, look for the Packers to go out and help their struggling offensive line.
This season, perhaps one of the main reasons why the Packers lost or tied as many games as they won was because of their defense. Last season yardage wise the Packers ranked 25th in the league in yards, giving up 372.3 total yards per game, 247.3 of those yards coming through the air while the other 125 of them came on the ground (ranked 24th and 25th in the league, respectively). Although many times total yards given up per game isn’t a major indicator of teams defensive success, points allowed per game is. This season the Packers were ranked 24th in the league with 26.8 points per game allowed. What was even worse was that this season the Packers pass defense allowed 11 games where the opposing QB passed for two touchdowns or more in the game, four of those games included the Packers allowing 3 passing touchdowns to opposing QBs. As well, the Packers allowed opposing QBs to pass for over 320 yards in not one, not two, not three, but five games this season. If the Packers are ever going to get back to the Super Bowl, they are going to need to clamp down and concentrate on stopping opposing passing games at all costs. The Packers cannot have another season where they allow 30 passing touchdowns to opposing QBs, especially considering that their offense is so powerful and can put its own points on the board.
Not to mention, when stopping the run the Packers were less than adequate this season as well. With 125.0 rushing yards allowed per game, the Packers ranked 25th in league in rush defense. What really killed the Packers rush defense was not a fact of playing poorly all season long, no. In fact, the Packers through the first seven games allowed an awesome average of 71.4 rushing yards per game (a streak which watched as the Packers went 5-2). However, over their next nine games after week eight, Green Bay’s rush defense ended up allowing opposing backs to rush for an outlandish 146.1 rushing yards and one touchdown per game, including two back-to-back games against the Vikings and Lions in which both teams rushed for over 200 yards against the Pack. This season the defense didn’t have a problem with being inconsistent, but rather being consistently bad.
The over-arching reason for the lack of success of the Packers this season can be traced back to injuries, but at the same time the play of the left side of the Packers’ front seven and free safety M.D. Jennings helped to contribute to most of the Packers defensive woes. For example defensive end B.J. Raji, after four impressive campaigns to start of his career, only recorded 17 combined tackles and 3 tackles for loss. On the right side of the defensive line both Mike Daniels and Mike Neal played pretty well, recording a combined 70 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. Considering that, the Packers should have placed Daniels or Neal on the opposite side of the line instead of having Raji (Neal played linebacker as well as defensive end during the season). As well, the Packers outside left side linebacker in Nick Perry wasn’t really much of a defensive presence in 2013, only recording 28 combined tackles and zero tackles for loss. If the Packers need any more help, it is on the left side of the front seven.
However, the Packers still had some defensive woes in the secondary with free safety M.D. Jennings not recording a single pass defended in 2013. The Packers corners this season played actually pretty well considering, defending 38 passes and intercepting eight passes from opposing QBs. However where the Packers could have used better play was from their safeties especially Jennings. Starting safeties Jennings and Morgan Burnett and Chris Banjo only combined for 7 passes defended and zero interceptions. In 2013 the Packers ranked 25th in the NFL, recording only 64 passes defended.
Other Draft Options
In order for Green Bay to be successful in 2014, they need to improve their knocking-down-passes abilities if they are going to go far. If the Packers are going to have a strong season next year and prevent big plays on both the rushing and passing side of the ball, then look for them to stock up at the safety position and defensive end position. This draft I see the Packers going with a defensive pick for their first pick, picking up perhaps a free safety or defensive end and then in the second round end up going with an offensive lineman to help out the still shaky Packers front five. If the Packers did have a higher pick I would have them drafting a close relative of LB Clay Matthews in offensive tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. Matthews played wonderful football at Texas A&M, protecting Johnny Manziel during his Heisman season. Regardless, the majority of the Packers picks this 2014 draft should go towards their defensive efforts and their defensive efforts alone seeing as though their defense was the cause of most of the Packers’ losses last season.