Size, size, and more size. A draft deep in the trenches on both sides of the ball, the indicator of a successful 2016 draft resides in the production the Green Bay Packers get from their addition of big bodies. Green Bay’s well-documented need for defensive linemen, linebackers and offensive line depth was acknowledged by general manager Ted Thompson, who used six of the Packers’ seven draft picks on those exact positions. Here are the seven players taken in the draft:
- Round 1, Pick 27: DT Kenny Clark, UCLA
- Round 2, Pick 48*: OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
- Round 3, Pick 88: OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
- Round 4, Pick 131: ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford
- Round 4, Pick 137: DE Dean Lowry, Northwestern
- Round 5, Pick 163: WR Trevor Davis, California
- Round, 6, Pick 200: OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford
*traded with Colts for pick
Much like in past years, the Packers tended to favor players from Pac-12 teams: four of the seven picks came from the conference. In last year’s draft, Thompson used three of the Packers’ eight selections on players from the Pac-12, selecting Damarious Randall (Arizona State), Ty Mongtomery (Stanford), and Brett Hundley, Jr. (UCLA). The names don’t stop there, as two-time MVP and Pac-12 alumna Aaron Rodgers pointed out.
From a positional standpoint, Thompson made it very clear Green Bay’s intentions were to use their picks on the strength of the draft. The timing could not have come at a better time for there to be an abundance of linemen on both offense and defense.
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark was the Packers’ choice over several options with the 27th pick of the first round. Many argued UCLA linebacker Myles Jack was the best overall player in the draft, but concerns about the long-term sustainability of his knee dropped him out of the first round. It was a bit of a shock that Jack fell out of even the top 15 picks and gave Thompson a worthwhile option to consider at the end of the first round. Thompson also passed on numerous other defensive linemen options and Alabama ILB Reggie Ragland, a player many expected Green Bay to take if given the chance.
Clark brings maturity, depth and value to a defensive line that suffered a major setback with B.J. Raji’s departure and Mike Pennel’s suspension. Clark fills the void of a run-stopping nose tackle while still posing a capable threat to get after the quarterback. Similar to his new teammate Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark was a former high school wrestler who maintains a strong lower base that gives him control and leverage at the line of scrimmage. Although just 20 years old, Thompson was impressed with the way he carries himself.
“Just over the phone and certainly at the combine in interviews he carries himself well, he’s articulate. He’ll stand up here, and you’ll be impressed with him,” said Thompson.
Day two was a little more eventful. The Indianapolis Colts held the 48th pick of the draft in the second round until Green Bay traded up in exchange for their 57th, 125th, and 248th overall picks to grab Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs. Thompson and his team had Spriggs rated at a first-round grade and felt it was time to make a move. Picking Spriggs addresses Green Bay’s concerns about depth and ability at offensive tackle, a position of struggle last year when David Bahktiari missed games. Spriggs, however, is not limited to tackle.
“He can play anywhere on the line,” Packers Director of Player Personnel Brian Gutekunst said. “We’ll see how that shakes out. He’s very athletic, ran really fast and benched a lot.”
Spriggs’ athleticism, versatility and experience (he started all 12 games at left tackle as a freshman) is what made him so coveted by Thompson. Not to mention Green Bay has five offensive linemen with contracts expiring after the 2016 season, including Bahktiari, meaning the position needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
With their third round pick and 88th overall, Green Bay took outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell from Utah State. Fackrell brings a tall, lean body (6’5″, 245) to the ever-important edge position in Dom Capers 3-4 scheme, doubling as both a pass rusher and coverage linebacker. He was ranked as the third-highest pass rushing outside linebacker in this draft class by ProFootballFocus. He already has experience playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker in college, providing a smoother, more natural transition to the Packers defense. Julius Peppers is on the brink of retirement and Mike Neal has yet to be re-signed (even more unlikely now), making Fackrell an important pick that should be a solid scheme fit.
Day three was more of the same with a little dash of speed. The two fourth-round picks owned by the Packers went towards building the defensive front seven, yet again. In the span of seven picks, Green Bay took inside linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive end Dean Lowry. Selecting Martinez, strangely, was a sort of fate. Though his dad purchased gear from all 32 NFL teams in preparation for his son’s selection, Martinez’s mother knew where he was headed all along.
“My mom, the funny part of it was, she was always telling me throughout the process, she was like, ‘I believe you’re going to end up at the Packers,’” Martinez said. “And obviously it was just a lucky guess type of thing, but it’s just funny. My mom said right after, ‘Moms are always right.’ I’ll take it.”
The Packers will take it, too. Martinez adds a solid frame (6’2″, 237) at the inside linebacker position that faces a lot of questions this season: Who can effectively cover in the nickel and dime subpackages? How will Sam Barrington play in his return from a season-ending injury? Can Jake Ryan be relied upon as a full-time starter? Look for Barrington and Ryan to be a successful tandem in the middle, but concerns with pass coverage and depth are legitimate. Martinez, luckily, brings both. He is a reliable tackler (141 tackles last season) and has experience covering running backs and tight ends. This is the second year in a row Thompson took an inside linebacker in the fourth round.
Dean Lowry brings size, flexibility, and a high-end motor that fits all across the defensive line. A 6’6″, 296 pound defensive end, Lowry is extremely athletic and well-conditioned for his size impressing scouts with full effort on every play. He tied Robert Nkemdiche with the fastest 40-yard dash (4.87 seconds) for defensive linemen. Lowry will offer versatility on the line and experience at both end and tackle, playing 45 percent of snaps on the outside and 55 percent of snaps on the inside. He has the potential to be the best player in the Packers draft class.
Green Bay’s wide receivers experienced hefty criticism for not being able to separate on routes and being too slow, ranking dead last in 40-yard dash times among receiver groups. Thompson saw the opportunity to add speed and he did just that. California wide receiver Trevor Davis was the Packers fifth-round selection due to his blazing speed (4.42 40-yard dash) that makes him a lethal returner, dangerous after the catch, and a threat downfield with the ability to take the top off the defense. Davis started only one year at Cal but saw an increased role in the offense, finishing second on the team in receptions.
Thompson made sure the offensive line did not go unnoticed. He finished off his 12th draft as a general manager by drafting Stanford offensive tackle Kyle Murphy in the sixth round. Contrary to his newly-drafted teammate Jason Spriggs who excels with athleticism, Murphy is known for his technically sound technique and patience. His feet will have to get quicker playing against NFL edge rushers but he brings solid poise and size (6’6″, 305) for an offensive tackle.
As with any draft, time will tell what went right and what went wrong. This wasn’t a flashy draft by Thompson but he honed in on positions of need and found great value throughout the draft. The board fell favorably and took advantage of Spriggs’ drop in the draft to nab a potential replacement along the offensive line with so many soon-to-be free agents. As it stands now, Clark, Martinez and Lowry should have the most immediate impact given the lack of depth at their respective positions, but Green Bay should reap benefits off this draft for some time to come. This year’s draft isn’t the most exciting, but it is important. Even as the game becomes more pass-happy, winning the battle of the trenches will always stand the test of time.
Overall Grade: B+
Photos courtesy of iuhoosiers.com, stanforddaily.com, and associatedpress.com