NFL teams make their draft selections based on how they project players several years down the line. That often means prospects are taken who won't impact the team's performance as rookies. However, sometimes franchises find the right balance of long-term potential and NFL readiness. The Packers did exactly that in 2013 when they scooped up Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round.
So how do the members of Green Bay's 2014 draft class project to impact the team in year one? Here's a subjective ranking of all nine draft picks in terms of likeliness to play meaningful roles this season.
1. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix - Safety - Alabama
The obvious choice is the right one in this case. No position on the Packers' roster required more help than the starting safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett. Over the course of last season, Green Bay trotted out Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo, and Sean Richardson and M.D. Jennings in that spot, the latter receiving the lion's share of snaps. It's telling that neither Jennings nor McMillian remains on the roster.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix enters the league as a decorated safety out of Alabama's National Title machine. Other than speed (4.58 40-time), Clinton-Dix possesses all the traits necessary of a high-level starting safety. His 6-1 size is also a welcome addition to a secondary that struggled with tackling at times last year. The Packers expect Clinton-Dix to step into the starting free safety job and hold it down for the foreseeable future.
2. Carl Bradford - OLB - Arizona State
In 2013, the Packers gave 361 snaps to Andy Mulumba and another 200 to Nate Palmer. That's a lot of burn for two mostly ineffectual outside linebackers. Barring tremendous improvement, each could see their playing time reduced if they make the 53. Additionally, Mike Neal seems poised to play more with the hand in the ground this season. By consequence, a considerable amount of his 751 snaps at linebacker will be vacated.
All of which sets up well for fourth-round pick Carl Bradford, who could play the most snaps of any Packers rookie outside linebacker since Clay Matthews in 2009. While no one should expect Bradford to lead the defense in sacks as Matthews did as a rookie, but the Arizona State product could quickly become the third outside linebacker and key rotational pass rusher.
3. Davante Adams - WR - Fresno State
The only thing prevented Davante Adams from a higher ranking is the logjam of quality receivers ahead of him. The Packers already had three quality receivers on the roster before the draft began. Davante Adams will likely begin his NFL career directly behind them on the depth chart. With his skill and leaping ability, Adams will carve out a meaningful role in the offense quickly, perhaps even challenging Jarrett Boykin for a starting role in the offense.
4. Jared Abbrederis - WR - Wisconsin
Much of the same rationale to Adams' ranking applies to Jared Abbrederis. The Wisconsin product begins his career a little further down the depth chart, but his role in the offense will be different. Randall Cobb has played over 80% of his offensive snaps in the slot, but Mike McCarthy has discussed playing him more on the boundary this season. The quick and agile Abbrederis should absorb a share of those slot snaps. He'll also compete for time returning kickoffs and/or punts.
5. Corey Linsley - C - Ohio State
When the Packers took Corey Linsley in the fifth round, it was to bring in a true challenger to J.C. Tretter at center. Because Tretter hasn't played an NFL snap yet, a strong training camp and preseason by Linsley could earn him a spot on the starting offensive line. Alternatively, if Tretter wins out, Linsley won't see the field save for an injury. We'll split the difference and rank him in the middle of the draft class.
6. Richard Rodgers - TE - California
Ted Thompson surprised the draft community when he made Richard Rodgers a third-round selection, but that doesn't mean Rodgers lacks the skill to develop into a quality tight end. But what hurts Rodgers' chances of making a bigger impact in year one is his fluctuating weight (the product of Sonny Dykes asking him to play receiver last season) and the cavalcade of quality pass catchers also on the Packers' roster. When McCarthy wants to spread the defense, he's more liable to utilize his speedier receivers this season than the comparatively rawer Rodgers. Perhaps near the end of the season the Cal product will take on larger role à la Jermichael Finley in 2008, but that's not enough to move him higher on this list.
7. Khyri Thornton - DT - Southern Miss
Khyri Thornton is a high-upside, big-picture draft selection that the Packers expect to pay huge dividends in a couple of years. However, defensive linemen by and large don't perform well as rookies. 2013 first rounder Datone Jones played inconsistently throughout the year and barely at all during the back end of the season. The jump usually happens in year two as recently exemplified by Mike Daniels. Khyri Thornton will learn the nuances of the NFL game in practice and likely wait to 2015 take on a bigger role.
8. Demetri Goodson - CB - Baylor
Goodson has the talent necessary to play in year one, but he doesn't seem to have the opportunity. Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, and Davon House all expect to earn spots on the 53 if healthy with Jarrett Bush and James Nixon joining Goodson in the scrum for a potential sixth roster spot. Unlike Bush and Nixon, the former Baylor corner has practice squad eligibility, allowing the Packers to stash him for a year. That's his best bet of sticking in Green Bay, which makes it difficult to have an impact as a rookie.
9. Jeff Janis - WR - Saginaw Valley State
As physically gifted as Jeff Janis is coming out of Saginaw Valley State, the path to a roster spot (and therefore a year one impact) is treacherous to say the least. He needs to beat out Myles White, Chris Harper, Kevin Dorsey, and Alex Gillett just to sniff the 53, and once there he's road blocked by Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, and likely Jared Abbrederis. The more likely destination for Janis is a stay on the practice squad with a chance to compete for playing time next season.