The last two draft classes have been interesting, and it could be argued that they have been oddly symmetrical. In both years the Packers leaned towards one side of the ball, using six picks and the first three picks of the draft were all used to upgrade in the units in question. Granted, 2011 was a bit more balanced of a draft class than 2012 overall. In 2011 the Packers used 10 draft picks on players, six on offense and four on defense. In 2012 only eight picks were used with six being used to bolster the defense. Despite this difference, each draft used a significant amount of resources to reinforce on phase of the game. How will this play out throughout the Packers' training camp this year?
Before we start going down discussing this question I want to take a moment and admit that it might be better to discuss this topic next year. It's tough to place expectations too early on rookie players. There is a different mentality and culture to being a professional football player than being a college football player. The players are bigger, faster, and stronger. On top of that the game is more complex and requires a higher level of professionalism from its players in order to perform at a high level. It takes a rookie most of his rookie year in order to adjust to that reality and higher standard of competition, and so to compare a group of rookies against a group of second year players who are now theortically adjusted is slightly unfair.
Despite this fact I want to press on with the question because each class has members looking to make a significant contribution this year. So which class will have more members become key contributors this year? Which class will cause us to stand up and take notice this year?
Key Contributors for the 2011 Class:
Randall Cobb - Lots expected here with Cobb taking returner duties again, but also more of a role in the offense as well. Heck, I even saw him take a snap or two as the back up holder at practice on Thursday. It may not be as certain as some plays, but Cobb doing some holding could lead to some interesting fakes if you think about it.
Alex Green - I can't say enough about the hope I have for Green this coming year. I know knees take a full year to heal and get the guy back to 100%, but even in a limited role Green can be just what this offense is needing to make it a touch more balanced.
D.J. Williams - Andrew Quarless is going to be out for the foreseeable future and so a #2 TE needs to emerge. Tex did a great write up on the state of TE battle at the moment, but one guy who is turning heads early in camp is Williams. If he can continue to do so he might put together a special season.
D.J. Smith - Even though last year's draft is notable for its offensive talent, Smith could be a pleasant surprise. Right now Bishop has been out, but Smith has been in and it seems like the defense hasn't missed a beat. Having Smith continue to push for playing time should be an interesting development through camp.
Key Contributors for the 2012 Class:
Nick Perry - He's already playing with the ones and so far doing fine. That's all you need to know right now. Perry being a solid starter this year should take the pressure off Clay Matthews and help bring the pass rush that the defense sorely needed last year.
Jerel Worthy - If the pass rush is sorely needed much of that need is an interior pass rush. Worthy can bring that. So far Worthy has impressed with his energy and ability to get push. If that can translate then Packer fans may just have a dream situation with the 2-4-5 lineup this fall.
Mike Daniels - The lesson that the Giants seem to teach the NFL every time they win the Super Bowl is that the pass rush is best when you can do it in waives. Perry and Worthy are exciting prospects, but it's Daniels' presence that can give the team that deep reserve of fresh legs to chase the QB. So far Daniels has proved to be slippery and tenacious as advertised; hopefully he can keep that up.
Andrew Datko - Derek Sherrod is not sure when he is going to be able practice again. This means that Datko is going to be counted on earlier than we might of expected, at least the early part of camp. If Sherrod's injury lingers into the preseason, or even the regular season, then Datko may be the key to the Packers have depth at the important tackle position.
So which class do you think is going to rise to the occasion? The 2011 class has some big names and talented players, but the 2012 class has two key starters in an area the Packers sorely need. It will be interesting to watch as the pads come on and training camp continues.