By: Jim Boyce
The Green Bay Packers entered 2016 as a popular pick to win the Super Bowl, at the very least just about everyone assumed another playoff appearance was on the way. Yet the Packers are 4-6 and face nearly impossible odds of making the playoffs. Injuries are the easy scapegoat but there are more issues than just the inactive list.
GM Ted Thompson lives by a draft and develop philosophy which has proven effective over the last decade. Avoiding the risks that come with a high priced free agent bust, something that happened too often when Mike Sherman was GM, the Packers have never found themselves in trouble due to cap limitations. However it seems that in recent years the team has not been getting the returns out of the players drafted that they did earlier in Thompson’s tenure. I believe this may be the root of Green Bay’s current struggles.
When Green Bay won their last Super Bowl they were carried by young players. Aaron Rodgers had developed well beyond what most had expected. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, both 2nd round picks, had huge performances against the Steelers. One of the teams biggest hits that season was the loss of Tight End Jermichael Finley, a 3rd round pick in 2008 who brought a blend of size and speed to the position. The Offensive Line featured a young Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang as well as a rookie Bryan Bulaga.
The defense was led by second year linebacker Clay Matthews, who finished second in Defensive MVP voting that season. The secondary featured undrafted Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as well as a former 2nd round pick in safety Nick Collins. Notice a trend here? Players anywhere from two to five years into their career made game changing plays in the Super Bowl as well as the playoff run leading up to it.
Beginning with 2012 only a few true difference makers have developed. Mike Daniels has unquestionably gone above and beyond and is likely Thompson’s best pick of the last five drafts. Nick Perry is finally having a productive year in his 5th season but still disappears for stretches. If the Packers want to bring him back next year, they will likely need to overpay.
For two seasons Eddie Lacy looked like a game changing back. Then he battled weight issues and injury and is likely finished in Green Bay. David Bakhtiari was a great find by Ted in the 4th, and still has a chance to develop into a Pro Bowl player. Outside of the guys mentioned from 2012-2013, many are no longer on the team or have not developed into anything more than roster depth.
The same can be said about the last three draft classes, though I will not mention the 2016 class as I feel more than ten games is necessary to draw conclusions. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix has had a good start to his career, but will need to continue developing to reach the level of a Nick Collins. Davante Adams has had a nice rebound season, but does he have the speed to ever become a threat the way Jennings or Nelson were? Richard Rodgers was a 3rd round pick, and for that price simply has not become the starting caliber Tight End you need to find there.
One thing that is apparent about the 2016 Packers is that they lack play makers on defense. Damarious Randall has shown a penchant for getting his hands on the football. His interception against the Lions truly the definition of “forcing a turnover” as he ripped the ball out of the receivers hands on what should have been a completed pass. Those kinds of plays change games and have been sorely missing over the last month. Quentin Rollins has been disappointing in his second season after a good rookie season. Jake Ryan, Ty Montgomery, and Aaron Ripkowski all have roles on the team, but will any become Pro Bowl level players?
2016 might be a lost cause, but for 2017 and beyond the Packers desperately need more guys drafted throughout the last three seasons to develop into difference makers. Thompson’s drafts are what fueled the run of success from 2009-2015. The Packers still have Aaron Rodgers but one man can not win games on his own. It is time for the young players to step up and become game changers as opposed to just guys.