It's always tough to say exactly what impact a draft class will have in any given year. For example, while Eddie Lacy certainly carried high expectations with him last year, nobody tabbed David Bakhtiari and Micah Hyde to be the contributors they ended up being over the course of the year. On the flipside, Datone Jones exhibited flashes of brilliance during training camp but was slowed by injuries and never became the pass rushing force we hoped he would be.
At the conclusion of every draft, 32 fan bases generally conclude that their team got better. Maybe they don't agree with the selections, but sooner or later everyone gets excited about the infusion of young talent to their team. After the 2014 draft, I have mixed feelings about the impact the Packer's draft class will have on the upcoming season. I read an article by Bob McGinn of JSOnline.com and his opinion is that this draft class might be on the weaker side of things. While I don't hold the same gloomy outlook of Mr. McGinn, I also don't share the general optimism expressed on this site especially with regards to the impact some of our draft picks will have in 2014.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is a solid pick to help improve the secondary. However, I find it highly unlikely that he becomes an instant playmaker in his first year, or maybe ever. To me, he is a rangier, more instinctive, but less athletic Morgan Burnett. An upgrade over MD Jennings to be sure, but not the second coming of Nick Collins. I would put Ha-Ha behind Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, and Matt Elam from last year's draft. It would not surprise me to see Hyde split time with Clinton-Dix at safety.
Davante Adams might just end up being the player with the most star quality, but it will probably take a year or two. I believe he will work his way on the field this year, but it’s a logjam for playing time and Boykin has the edge with experience and chemistry with Rodgers. If he is a stud this year and another young wideout steps up, it makes me wonder if the Packers let Jordy Nelson walk in free agency. Call me crazy, but there is a little bit of a history.
Khyri Thornton and Richard Rodgers are wild cards. At this point in the draft nobody has a clue how any of the draft picks will pan out, but these guys are very unknown. The only thing that is certain is that both are projects and probably not going to be factors in 2014. Mike Daniels took a little bit of seasoning before he started coming on, and I believe these picks fit in that category. I have zero expectations for either to contribute beyond special teams in 2014.
Carl Bradford has a lot of folks excited about him. He has a reputation of playing with a lot of fire, something that can't exactly be said about Mike Neal or Nick Perry. It's tough to say what his role will be because we don't know what Dom Capers has planned for the elephant position. I do not think there is any chance he will be moved inside. Personally, the only way I think Bradford could see some significant playing time is if we cannot get the injury problem figured out. Whether he is an upgrade over a healthy Andy Mulumba or not...time will tell.
Corey Linsley might have as good a chance of starting as Ha-Ha simply because just like at safety there is no returning starter. It would seem it is between J.C. Tretter, Linsley, and maybe Donny Barclay for the starting center position. My money is on Tretter to win the job, but Linsley is an injury away from snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers.
The last three guys might not even make the team. I love Jared Abbrederis, but if he can't show some value in the return game in addition to catching the ball it is going to be pretty tough to crack the 53 man roster. I don't think there would be any chance of sneaking him on the practice squad either. Someone would pick him up. I am hoping that he can beat out the young wideouts already in tow, but I think it is an uphill battle for my favorite pick of the draft. The other two guys are projects and would need to flash a lot to have a chance to make the team.
In short, I don't think there are any big time playmakers emerging from the draft. Contributors? Yes. Solid starters? Possibly. Eddie Lacy impact? I don't think so. For that I think we need to turn to our free agency and in-house development.
Datone Jones needs to make the jump this year. The Packers absolutely need him to become a stud and make a Mike Daniels type of jump. If anyone can change the fortunes of the Packers defense, I believe Jones has as good a chance as any. B.J. Raji should play better this year. I think we have seen his rock bottom and he will at least be motivated to prove he is worthy of a long term deal. The defensive line has a lot of untapped potential and maybe this is the year it explodes.
Julius Peppers could be the playmaker we desperately need on defense. It doesn't matter what position he plays, he brings length, experience, and acumen to a Packers defense lacking playmakers outside of Clay Matthews. Joining Peppers at the new elephant position will be Nick Perry, Mike Neal, and possibly Carl Bradford. I think this is a put up or shup up type of year for Nick Perry. It looked like he was starting to figure it out last year, but he just cannot shake the injuries. If he doesn't show up, I think this might be the year the curtain closes for Perry. Mike Neal apparently showed enough to warrant a moderate contract extension, but I think we understand what we get with Neal. Not stout against the run nor does he have a variety of pass rush moves, but occasionally can use raw strength and athleticism to get to the QB.
Overall, if the Packers hope to improve upon last year they need to be betting on good health and development from guys already in house. Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews have to stay healthy and we desperately need a playmaker or two to emerge on defense. I believe this team is very close to having the talent on defense to win a Super Bowl. If number 12 can stay healthy and the defense picks it up a notch or two, especially in the turnover department, we might not need this draft class to win another Super Bowl.