It's still too early to get a full sense of the 2012 rookie class, but it's hard to ignore the dynamic impact these rookies have had for the Packers so far this year.
It’s clear at this point that Ted Thompson has won the war for the hearts and minds of Packer Nation. It was touch and go for a while, but not most Packer fans will sing the praises of draft and develop and be patient as each rookie class comes along in its due course. So each year we are excited about the rookie class, especially the first round pick and any guys involved in dramatic trade ups, and we look back at how well they are coming along.
This year is different.
It’s hard to say exactly where things went so different from this year to previous years. Maybe it was all the trades. Maybe it was the imbalance of the defense. Maybe it was just how bad the defense was last year and the almost naïve hope all of us had that this rookie class would inject life into an ailing defense. Whatever the reason and wherever it started, very early on this rookie class seemed different and quickly became the storyline for the entire season.
So now that we are through the midpoint of the season and entering into the final stretch where the Packers playoff hopes come together or fall apart, let’s take a look at this class as a whole and each of members of the class and see how they are shaping up, the impact they had, and the hope they still promise to bring for the Packers.
1st Round Pick Nick Perry: Year to date grade – I
Admit it, you were probably underwhelmed by this pick when it came in. If so you are not alone, I know I was personally, but it also seemed that many parts of Packer nation were genuinely wondering if Perry could make the transitions needed to play OLB and be the running buddy that Clay Matthews has needed his whole career. The drafniks were split when the pick came in, some loved it and were Perry believers…others were cool to the idea and thought he had an inconsistent motor. The burning question was could Perry make the transition and seeming to fight it through the draft process?
Unfortunately there is not a good answer to that question right now. We do know that Perry is able to bring pressure to the quarterback. We also know that Perry does a good job of taking pressure off of Matthews and freeing him up to sack the quarterback. Case in point, Matthews has 9 sacks on the year, but only 1 since Perry left the line up at Houston.
Perry’s injury has caused the season to be a bit of a wash. There is real promise there, but it’s going to take time for him to develop. He is not as good in stopping the run or coverage as would be liked, but he is a pretty darn good pass rusher and a much needed complement to the Packers defense. Hopefully he comes back next year ready to rock and grows more in the offseason.
2nd Round Pick Jerel Worthy: Year to date grade – B-
If you go back through the draft threads you’ll see countless fans hoping beyond hope that TT digs deep and trade up to get Worthy in the second round. When he did just that Worthy gained as much hype as a first round pick, and had all the hope that goes along with that. It’s not hard to understand why Worthy was so demanded for and why so many expectations were placed upon him. Worthy excelled at Michigan St. as an interior pass rusher, and this was something that the Packers have needed since Cullen Jenkins left after the Super Bowl run. So far Worthy has not been as consistent at this part of the game as many would like. He shows up sometimes and then disappears for long periods of time. What is interesting though is that he is a much better run defender than many expected. This is great news for Packer nation because it means that Worthy is quickly developing into a solid all around 5 technique for the 3-4 defense. It also shows a level of unselfish play from Worthy, and may show a bit higher motor than many expected of him coming out of college.
Worthy may not be the pass rushing terror that many were hoping for right away, but he still has plenty of time to grow into that role. Worthy is still showing that quick twitch and ability to get off the ball that he was known for in college, and with time with professional coaches to teach him a few extra moves, he may turn into the player many Packer fans expected of him. Throw in some very good run defense and he should help the Packers keep a deep defensive line rotation for years to come.
2nd Round Pick Casey Hayward: Year to date grade – A+
There may have been one draft guru, Mike Mayock, who liked this pick when it first came in. Mayock talked about the ball skills and instincts, most others talked about his lack of top speed and wondered if he would only turn into a slot corner. With the questions surrounding Perry and the excitement over Worthy, Hayward was the forgotten man of these first three picks. In camp he had a long protracted battle with Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields, and Davon House. Honestly he never looked much better than any of them. He started buried in the depth chart as the dimeback and saw the field occasionally.
Then he took the league by storm.
Hayward has to be the lead dog for defensive player of the year right now. Since breaking on the scene in Indianapolis he has had an interception in all but two games. He leads the league for interceptions by a rookie and is tied for second in the league with five. He has shown great instincts for being able to break up pass plays, and best of all he is getting better with each week.
There is not enough that can be said about Casey Hayward. He is probably the most underrated pick of this draft, has turned out to not only be a steal….but also an essential piece of an improving defense and secondary. The future looks bright for the Packers in the secondary.
4th Round Pick Mike Daniels: Year to date grade – C+
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the amount of fight in the dog. It’s clique maybe, but it just seems to fit Daniels. A bit undersized to be an every down 5 technique for the Packers, Daniels was drafted to be a situational pass rusher and bring his high motor to a group that languished last year. It’s safe to say that has worked so far. Daniels has notched two sacks so far and recovered a key fumble in the game against the Lions. Depth and heart are key things for the defensive line and Daniels brings both.
4th Round Pick Jerron McMillian: Year to date grade – A-
There always seems to be a head scratching pick from a Ted Thompson draft, where he selects someone that does not seem to be on many people’s radar. Sometimes this works out well (hello Nick Collins and Greg Jennings), sometimes not so much (hello Justin Harrell). McMillian is another one of those picks. Coming from a smaller program in Maine, and playing a position that is drafted a bit lower than its impact, safety, many wondered why the Packers would gamble on a guy like this….especially when so many other big school products at the same position were still left on the board.
McMillian has proved many of those doubters wrong. He has displayed an ability to go after the ball, deflect and intercept passes, and bring guys to the ground in the open field. This is an aggressive style that the Packers were missing since Collins went down in week 2 last year…and something the defense sorely needed. Right now McMillian is able to come along slowly by splitting reps with second year man M.D. Jennings, and eventually Charles Woodson when he returns to the lineup, but even in this limited role McMillian has shown an ability to make plays and help the Packers win. Case in point, it was McMillian who had perfect coverage on Tony Scheffler to seal the victory for the Packers this past Sunday.
5th Round Pick Terrell Manning: Year to date grade – I
Manning is a player in a bit of a holding pattern. He has gotten some snaps and fit in on special teams, but he has not done much. Most of the damage was done in training camp when he fought off a rare disease that crippled his play. The good news for Manning is that injuries to the LB corp has allowed him to get some game reps and show a bit of what he can do. There is still plenty of reason to believe he can work out for the Packers, but it’s going to take an offseason for him to come around.
7th Round Pick Andrew Datko: Year to date grade – I
Datko had a rough start to training camp but slowly came around. Right now he is sitting on the practice squad, but may get a chance to move up to the active roster if more injuries occur along the offensive line. The signs point to Datko eventually developing into a decent swing tackle, a position the Packers are probably going to need depth at in the future.
7th Round Pick B.J. Coleman: Year to date grade – I
Coleman is the main reason why the Packers probably won’t draft a QB next year. He seems to have potential to be a good backup, but it’s going to take time and polish for him to get there. Right now Coleman is on the practice squad learning from the best and developing his game. He shouldn’t see time on the 53 man roster or active game day roster unless the worst happens.
Undrafted Free Agent Dezman Moses: Year to date grade – B+
Moses was the winner of the Vic So’oto everyman roster spot this year, by working his way up to a place on the 53 man roster. Unlike So’oto, Moses shows an ability to get the QB and make plays happen, such as his strip sack of Matthew Stafford this past week in Detroit. Moses has had his rough patches this past year drawing some unnecessary rough penalties, but his style of play brings energy and excitement to the defense. He may even be a decent solution to replace Nick Perry while Perry sits on IR.
Undrafted Free Agent Jarrett Boykin: Year to date grade - C
How much should be expected of Boykin so far? It was a surprise that he made the team. It was a surprise that he has been pressed into service. It's not a surprise what he has been able to do though. Boykin has always been a good route runner and possession receiver. That's not bad and not a knock on him. It's his game and he plays it well...and what more do you really want out of a sixth or seventh option in the passing offense?
Undrafted Free Agent Greg Van Roten: Year to date grade - I
I'ts impressive he's on the roster. He's the next man up if there is an injury along the interior line, but he hasn't gotten serious minutes so it's a bit of an unknown where he is at right now.
Undrafted Free Agent Don Barclay: Year to date grade - I
Another depth offensive lineman who is on the bench but will be counted on if an injury occurs. Like Van Roten, he hasn't gotten enough playing time (thankfully) to make a meaningful judgment about where he is at this moment.
Overall grade for the class so far – A
The Packers have relied on their rookies this year like no other. Stand out play from Hayward and McMillian as well as solid play from Perry, Worthy, Daniels, and Moses has allowed this defense to improve from last year and withstand devastating injuries to Charles Woodson, Desmond Bishop, Sam Shields, and Clay Matthews. It’s a testament to Thompson’s ability to draft for value and scout talent. In the end though, Elliot Wolf was right, Thompson killed it this past draft weekend.