By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Ten years ago, the 2002 NFL Draft came and went, yet no team felt James Harrison was worth a selection, even in the 6th or 7th round. Harrison went undrafted.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did bring him in for a tryout, and signed the young Harrison, but he never got in on defense in two seasons there, playing only special teams occasionally, and usually being inactive.
After being released again, he was signed by the rival Baltimore Ravens in late 2003. They sent him to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, which was still alive at that time. Had they not been alive, we may not have heard about James Harrison.
The Ravens cut him as well, and he almost quit after being told for the fourth time that he’s being released.
The Steelers signed him again in training camp of 2004 after one of their linebackers, Clark Haggans, suffered an injury.
Harrison said that if it wasn’t for that final chance, he was probably going to give up the dream and retire at age 26 and move on with life.
By the next season, 2005, every NFL fan knew who Harrison was.
The lesson of Harrison doesn’t exactly parallel Jerry Hughes, but neither did Brett Favre either.
Favre was the 33rd selection of his draft, 1991, and a year later his team, Atlanta, decided they’d seen enough of him and determined he had no future in this league, so they happily sent hm to the Packers in 1992 for the Packers first round pick. They felt like they had robbed Green Bay at that time.
Those are two premium examples, but there are many others where Team A decided that a player wasn’t going to help them so they let him go, only to see later that the player actually could make it, or even be a difference-maker elsewhere.
For the Packers, Charles Woodson was cast away by the Raiders in 2006, and unwanted by anyone else in the NFL.
Ryan Pickett was too, that same off-season. He had also been a late first round pick, in that 30-range as Favre was.
Going back to the 1996-97 great Packers, they had a few other castaways on defense in Sean Jones, Santana Dotson, and Eugene Robinson. Gilbert Brown was originally a Minnesota Viking, but they cut him and the Packers scooped him up. He turned out to have a fantastic career in Titletown.
That brings us to today.
Everyone is well aware that the Packers defense, particularly their pass rush, was sickly in 2011. Much of the problem was missing Cullen Jenkins on the DL, and much of the problem was because there was nobody at OLB besides Clay Matthews who could put pressure on QB’s.
The Draft isn’t until late April, and GM Ted Thompson can’t be expected to solve all the team’s holes with rookies. So Thompson should dip into free agency and go after a few guys who, like some of the previous guys mentioned (and hundreds of others not mentioned yet) have been given chances but not blossomed into a superstar. Last year at this time, I suggested the Packers scoop up CB Carlos Rogers from Washington or OLB Manny Lawson from San Francisco. Both guys were still under 30, andboth were former first round picks with obvious talent, like Woodson and Pickett.
Well Thompson was coming off the Super Bowl win, and assumed his cast of characters at OLB, Zombo and Walden, would make a leap forward. He also assumed his second round pick from 2010 Mike Neal would be able to replace the great shoes of Jenkins at DE for Dom Capers defense. Those assumptions proved very wrong.
Lawson had a nice season for the Bengals, who got him cheap. And Rogers had a super season for the 49ers, earning a Pro Bowl nod. Both guys signed one year, cheap deals last off-season, and will hit the market again this off-season. Rogers won’t be cheap enough for the Packers budget, but Lawson most likely will be.
He’s a very versatile, natural OLB in a 3-4 defense. He won’t get 12 or 15 sacks like Matthews does, but he will be an upgrade from what’s there already, and he’s very good both against the run and dropping into coverage.
Adam Carriker is another former first round pick, at 6-6, 315, is only 27 years old. He’s not quite Justin Smith, but he’s a lot closer to Smith than another Justin that the Packers relied on on the DL. Carriker is the perfect size for a DE in Capers’ scheme.
He was a 1st round pick by the Rams (like Ryan Pickett), and after two seasons for the Rams (one missed due to injury), they gave up on him. They sent Carriker to Washington, and all the Rams got were higher picks in both rounds five and seven. It was a coup for the Redskins, in the first degree.
Last year, Carriker registered 5.5 sacks last year for the Redskins. That would have been good enough for 2nd on the Packers defense and more than all the other Packer DL combined. He’s available this off-season and he won’t break the bank. Still just 27, and at that position, he should have plenty of good years ahead of him and his best football in front of him.
He is perfectly suited for the Packers defense, as he was the Redskins 3-4 defense. He didn’t fit well in the Rams 4-3. He was a defensive end in college at Nebraska, but the Rams tried to make him a defensive tackle. He ran the 40 in 4.72 at the NFL Combine.
With the Rams he was a “3-technique” defensive tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme which did not work out and led to his trade to the Redskins. “In St. Louis, we tried to make him a 3-technique and up-the-field rusher,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “For a guy who ran the 40 in 4.7 and was 6-6, 315 pounds, you’d think he could do that. But that’s not what he wants to do. He wants to play with strength and power, and he does a pretty good job of it. He feels so much more comfortable in this.”
Carriker’s 315 pounds is ideal, and he reported at the beginning of the 2010 season that he bench pressed 500 pounds, which helps him in his new position.
Early in the 2010 season the change drew positive reviews, said Rich Campbell of Fredricksburg.com, “I’m buying Carriker as an impact 3-4 end right now. He’s strong enough to set the edge on running plays, and he’s even generating a pass rush on occasion. Carriker stopped Houston RB ArianFoster for a 2-yard loss in the secondquarter after he made a quick step inside the pulling left guard. He also beat a double team on the first play of the second half to stop Foster for a gain of one. Carriker isn’t dominant—but he is flashing.”
Now Carriker isn’t quite Justin Smith or JJ Watt. But Smith too was let go by his first NFL team, the Bengals. It happens.
Carriker is a natural 3-4 DE, and he would be a fantastic addition to this Packers defensive line for his talent, his age, and his character.
Then there’s Jerry Hughes.
Like Pickett, Woodson, Favre, Carriker, and Justin Smith, he was a top-30 something draft pick, who was written off by their team after a few years. Either as simply a bust, not good enough, or not worth their price tag.
Hughes is still in Indianapolis, but he’s been written off as a bust already. He’s done nothing in two seasons for the Colts, but I believe it was more due to the defensive scheme than the player, as with Carriker being stuck into the DT position in a 4-3 defense by the Rams. Jerry Hughes was built for being a standup OLB in a Steelers-like 3-4 defense.
This scouting report is from Walter Cherepinsky, and it echoed the majority of scouts when it came to Hughes in the 34 vs 43.
Summary: Hughes earns my first-round, 4-star grade as a 3-4 rush linebacker. His athleticism and motor is simply too much for me to not grade him out higher than everyone else. He is my No. 1 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft and I expect his stock to soar among the 3-4 teams in the league. He was simply too productive at TCU, and despite his lack of height we can see what Elvis Dumervil did last season with his exceptional first step and speed off the edge.
His size, speed, and agility are perfect for the Dom Capers’ scheme. His numbers at his NFL combine backed that up, and most scouts felt this as well.
Ted Thompson liked Hughes for this position andsources at that time said he was expecting to take Jerry with the 23rd pick in that 2010 Draft. But because Bryan Bulaga slid all the way down to that pick, after being projected as a top-10 or 15 pick, Thompson had to take the OT with the ages of both Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher at the time.
The Colts then took Hughes with their pick at #31 and expected they could turn him into a hand-on-the-ground Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis. They, like the Rams with Carriker, were wrong.
Carriker went to Washington, into his natural position, and has made the Rams look foolish once again.
I believe Jerry Hughes could make the Colts look very foolish as well. The only hiccup here is that the Colts look to be changing their defense to a 3-4, andtheir new coaching staff probably realizes the mistake the previous coaching staff made with Hughes. So he might not be available for a bargain price as Carriker was after two years in St Louis.
I believe these two guys could improve the Packers defense tremendously, and they are both still very young.
These are the two biggest holes on the Packers and if Ted Thompson could go against his normal MO, the Packers could already be closer to their 2010 defense even before the Draft gets here.