NFL Future Power Rankings: Evaluating the core of every franchise as it projects for the 2015 season
NFL Future Power Rankings
~Evaluating the core of every franchise as it projects for the 2015 season
~By Trent Dilfer, Mel Kiper, Gary Horton, Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider
Peering into the future of the parity-driven, rapidly changing NFL can seem like a daunting challenge. For starters, teams turn over, on average, about 20 percent of their rosters each season. But when you consider that most of the players caught in that roster churn are essentially replaceable parts and that the true pillars of a franchise — stud quarterbacks and young impact players — usually remain firmly fixed in its foundation, you can see it is possible to get a glimpse of how each team projects down the road. And you can see that some roads are paved a little more smoothly than others.
In consultation with former NFL GM Bill Polian, we pinpointed five categories essential to projecting the future of an NFL franchise: roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching staff. We then weighted each category according to its importance to success. (For a more detailed breakdown on each category and its weighting, see our methodology). Next, Polian stepped away to allow four of ESPN Insider’s other NFL experts — Mel Kiper, Trent Dilfer, Gary Horton and Matt Williamson — to evaluate every franchise in each category as they project for the 2015 NFL season.
Will their evaluations flawlessly stand up in three years’ time? In a league as fluid as the NFL, it is unlikely, and we acknowledge that. But they provide some interesting conclusions about what’s truly important to succeeding on a perennial basis in the NFL, specifically the value of a franchise QB. And although some teams might experience a down year, the squads at the top of this list are well suited for sustained success over the long term.
These ratings also provide a broad, well-informed outline of which teams are heading in the right direction and which have plenty of work to do before they climb into the ranks of Super Bowl contenders. So, how do our experts see the NFL stacking up in 2015? Take a look.
LAST SEASON: 15-1 (first place NFC North)
The bar graphs reflect the average rating given by the voters for each category.
Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.
Roster: With impact players on both sides of the ball, the high-scoring Packers might actually have more stars on defense than offense in three years. This is especially true among their front seven, led by DT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Matthews. The Packers’ WR group is aging and the run game is inconsistent, but the Packers will continue to find quality weapons for QB Aaron Rodgers. — Gary Horton
Quarterback: Right now, Rodgers plays the position about as well as we’ve seen it played. He’s also only 28. That said, is Green Bay comfortable with the current backup situation of Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman? Matt Flynn‘s absence at least creates the question. — Trent Dilfer
Draft: The Packers worked hard to fix the front seven in the 2012 draft. How well they are able to draft pass-rushers will define the next few years, but this is an exceptional scouting department in which finding great value is routine. — Mel Kiper
Front office: GM Ted Thompson heads a very efficient scouting staff and believes in building a team through the draft rather than spending a lot of money in free agency. What’s more, the Packers often re-sign that in-house talent, using the open market only to fill specific needs. It’s a model that promotes enduring success. — Horton
Coaching: This coaching staff has great experience and stability and combines a blue-collar work ethic with extreme attention to detail. Nobody in the NFL teaches basic fundamentals like this staff, headed by Mike McCarthy. The Packers are creative and innovative on both sides of the ball, work well together and respect one another. This is a family atmosphere that coaches embrace and do not want to leave. — Horton
LAST SEASON: 13-3 (first place AFC East)
The bar graphs reflect the average rating given by the voters for each category.
Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.
Roster: Led by TEs Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and LB Jerod Mayo, the Pats are absolutely loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball. Depending on QB Tom Brady, and quarterbacks are not relevant for this category’s rating, New England should be among the best teams in the league for the foreseeable future. — Matt Williamson
Quarterback: He’ll be 35 in Week 1 of 2012, but Brady looks as comfortable as he has ever been. The tight ends are devastating, and now a deep threat has re-emerged. Beyond Brady, I really like Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett lurks deep on the bench as an intriguing talent. The Pats are loaded here. — Dilfer
Draft: More misses than people realize, but huge hits on Gronkowski and Hernandez — which were actually risky picks — changed the whole offense. Now, selections of DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower will help decide how we’ll remember the final years of the Brady era. If the defense improves, more Super Bowl trips await. — Kiper
Front office: The Patriots’ “Front Office” is awfully similar to their Coaching category below. Of course everything here revolves around Bill Belichick, and few should doubt his ability to assemble a great NFL roster. — Williamson
Coaching: Belichick is the best head coach in the league and has a tremendous ability to consistently find excellent assistant coaches. There is no reason whatsoever to think that will change down the road unless Belichick decides to hang it up. — Williamson
LAST SEASON: 9-7 (first place NFC East)
The bar graphs reflect the average rating given by the voters for each category.
Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.
Roster: Today, this is a very solid roster with playmakers on both sides of the ball, but there will be some needs to fill in the next couple of years. The Giants will be young and competitive at WR with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks & Co., but this is an old O-line and running back will need to be upgraded. On defense, they have stars in DE Jason Pierre-Paul and (I believe) CB Prince Amukamara to build around. — Horton
Quarterback: He has the baby-brother look, but Eli Manning turns 32 this season, and since his 1-6 record as a rookie, he has started all 16 games in seven straight seasons. He has had his INT issues but is an elite passer when he gets comfortable with his targets. He has many good years ahead. — Dilfer
Draft: Nicks and Pierre-Paul constitute back-to-back aced first-round picks in 2009 and 2010. They need to get more from Amukamara and hope RB David Wilson stays healthy. But adding major value while winning Super Bowls isn’t easy. — Kiper
Front office: Although senior vice president and GM Jerry Reese runs the show, there are several layers of accountability. Stability is critical, the roles are well defined, everybody is on the same page in player acquisitions and the coaches are encouraged to have moderate input. They have a philosophy they strongly believe in, and their decisions are not based on emotion and whimsical changes. — Horton
Coaching: Tom Coughlin runs one of the most stable coaching staffs in the league. It is loaded with NFL veterans who have been with him for a long time, and the continuity is very impressive. This is not a flashy staff, but the coaches are very thorough and consistent. As long as Coughlin wants to coach, the Giants will have a stable situation. But he could retire in the next couple of years, and that could change everything. — Horton
Rest of list here
By Tyler Dunne
Green Bay - The state of tackling in the NFL today is not promising. Reasons abound. But Joe Whitt isn’t concerned about league-wide trends, about what’s going on beyond these walls.
“I’m just worried about the state of tackling on our football team,” the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach said. “It wasn’t good enough last year.”
Step 1 to Green Bay’s defense rebounding is simpler than a revived pass rush or tighter coverage in the secondary. They have to tackle better. Yards after the catch – after any contact, really – often demoralized the Packer defense in 2012.
As we’ve discussed, tackling across the league has eroded over the past decade. In Green Bay, it took a nosedive last season.
Fixing this won’t be easy. Practice time has dwindled. Today’s defensive back is conditioned differently in 2012 than even 2000. And unfortunately, there’s no time machine around for coaches to send Sam Shields back to Pop Warner to play defense – something he never did full time before 2009.
But coaches can be blunt. They can hold players accountable. They can eliminate excuses.
“It’s a mind-set,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “The guys that (tackle), will play. The guys that don’t will be sitting on the bench. . . . That simple. They understand it. It was painful for us to look at it last year.”
It wasn’t so much the final number of yards the Packers allowed that irritated the coaching staff.
Repeatedly, defensive coordinator Dom Capers emphasized that opposing passer rating and turnovers are what they value. Capers harps on the big plays. And last season, many big plays were the direct result of whiffed tackles.
A sampling of the pain Perry speaks of:
On Hakeem Nicks’ 66-yard touchdown to open the New York Giants’ playoff win at Lambeau Field, 48 yards came after contact. Safety Charlie Peprah, eyeing a knockout, ricocheted off Nicks.
There was the win over the Chicago Bears’ JV unit when Josh McCown hit Earl Bennett for a 20-yard reception that turned into a 49-yarder on Tramon Williams’ miss.
There was Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hitting tight end Lance Kendricks on a 5-yard rollout that blew up for 45 yards on Morgan Burnett’s slippery wrap-up.
And, yes, you’ve seen the Buccaneers’ LeGarrette Blount’s 2 yards and a cloud of dust rev into a 54-yard blooper.
The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 2,000 less passing yards than the Packers. Their penchant for forcing turnovers – more than any other team in the league the last three years – would seem to trigger sloppy tackling to some degree.
Capers doesn’t make that connection. “There’s no trade-off,” he said. Still, he is concerned with the isolated, long pass plays.
Capers, who has spent many off-seasons doing research studies, conducted one this year on the impact of big plays.
“If you don’t have a plus-15 yard gain in a drive, then people don’t score many points,” Capers said. “But any time you have a plus-15 yard or greater play in a drive, it quadruples your chance of scoring.”
So there’s that. Capers should be optimistic. A quick turnaround is plausible.
In 2011, Tramon Williams was mired in a prolonged state of passive coverage. To protect his shoulder, he shied away from piles, admitting he wouldn’t attempt a tackle if teammates were around.
Nerve damage remains in his shoulder, but he should be closer to himself in 2012.
Morgan Burnett played a chunk of the season with a bulging cast over his broken hand. If Shields’ tackling gaffes continue, he won’t play. Maybe M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian surprise at safety.
Most of all, the coaching staff must improve the Packers’ tackling in today’s cautious practice climate. Sorry, but wrapping up a jogging teammate and tumbling into a high-jump pit does not replicate a hell-bent-for-election Adrian Peterson.
Capers, Whitt and Perry hope their constant emphasis on tackling builds a mind-set. Starting July 26, they’ll stress all elements of form tackling – head placement, lift, drive, etc. in individual drills.
The true testament will come on game day when Green Bay will be more willing to yank players off the field for uninspired efforts.
Thirty-one interceptions bailed them out of jams almost weekly last season. Green Bay can’t put as much pressure on the offense to be flawless next season.
The solution may be simple. Former players, from Dave Robinson in the ’60s to LeRoy Butler in the ’90s, agree that tackling boils down to pride.
“How many times do you see …… Full story here
Green Bay – Mike McCarthy was beat.
The Green Bay Packers head coach had just wrapped up a mandatory minicamp in mid-June. That also marked the conclusion of a long and grueling off-season.
McCarthy looked like a man ready for a vacation, some R&R and some extended family time.
Before McCarthy escaped for much of July, he plopped into a chair and answered questions from Packer Plus’ Rob Reischel. Among the topics were the upcoming season, last year’s playoff loss and McCarthy’s long-term goals.
Q. You recently called this your most experienced and talented team. For a guy that’s won a Super Bowl, that’s a pretty big statement.
A. I just feel with all returning players, our fourth year in the system defensively, fifth year in the system with Shawn (Slocum) . . . we have a lot of experience with the players in this system. I just feel as a whole, it was a very athletic off-season program and I’ve been impressed with the quality of depth and the competition we’re going to have.
Q. So when you make a statement like that, where does that mean the bar gets set for 2012?
A. I think we’re probably putting too much into the statement because we’ve been fortunate enough to have quality depth and competitive training camps. But this one, on paper, looks like it’s going to live up to those standards.
Q. Having won a Super Bowl, though, and going 15-1 last year, where do you set the bar?
A. I think I said it the first day I was here. It’s always about winning the world championship in Green Bay. I don’t think you ever settle for less than that. Just take a look at last year, 15-1 doesn’t cut it.
Q. So to you, 15-2 last year doesn’t cut it?
A. That’s not what I’m looking for, and it’s not what our players want and that’s really all that matters. If we can stay focused on what the group’s trying to accomplish and continue to do the things that are necessary. We have a blueprint of success for the way we train, but it’s a challenge every year. The team takes on a new face every year. There’s a path out there for us to get to New Orleans and win the championship. It’s our responsibility, and with a little touch of grace from the good Lord, we’ll be able to stay on that path.
Q. Does some of your greatest optimism come from the influx of talent brought in to help rescue your 32nd-ranked defense?
A. I’ve always had this optimism. I’ve never lined up in a football game or coached in a football game or a sporting event that I didn’t think I was going to win. I think that’s part of how my parents raised me. I would like to think our team plays that way. This influx of talent? We have an influx of talent every year. It’s what you’re able to do with it. My job is to create opportunities for these players to come together and form a team, and it’s maybe not always the most talented team, but it’s the best football team. The most-talented player doesn’t always stay; it’s the best football player that stays. It’s just important to stay in tune with that, and this is a very good group to pick from.
Q. Many of your veterans were raving through organized team activities and minicamps about the young defensive players that were drafted. That came when you practiced in shorts, not pads. What have you seen out of the young draft picks on defense?
A. They’re definitely talented, brought juice and there’s competition throughout the team. And it’s really heightened in some areas, especially on defense.
Q. Was there anything you saw last summer or leading into the 2011 season that could have helped you forecast how much the defense was about to slide?
A. Well, not really in the summer. I don’t recall there were any indications in the summer because, you know, training camp was so different last year. The whole training, no off-season program and we didn’t have the scrimmage on Family Night because we didn’t think we were ready for that. We were kind of working up to get ready for the season, where in prior years you try to get there as fast you can. I just remember being in training camp last year saying, ‘just be patient.’ I just remember last year going through the first couple weeks of camp just thinking, ‘ . . . this wasn’t right.’ But I would think everybody probably felt that because you didn’t have the off-season. And I can remember the first day we got back together, (then-quarterbacks coach) Tom (Clements) and the quarterbacks and I sat in there and Tom said, ‘OK, we have 47 points of changes in our offense.’ And we’re doing that in July. That conversation usually happens in March and April. So it was really different. I don’t think I really had any indication to think we were going to struggle on defense.
Q. Was there a point in the season where you felt like, ‘We’re in trouble and we’re probably going to stay in trouble?’
A. No, because I thought all our mistakes were still correctable. The thing that bothers me . . . is we didn’t tackle very well. We weren’t a good tackling defense. We were exceptional taking the ball away, which is hard to do. There were definitely positives about it, but we didn’t correct repeated mistakes. And when that happens players lose a little confidence, maybe coaches lose confidence in the player. So if that thing snowballs, you can lose a little confidence and I think at points in the season we lost some confidence. I don’t think the (second) Detroit game helped any of our guys.
Q. At the 2011 NFL combine, you said one of your goals was to become the No. 1 offense in the NFL and then you went and scored 560 points, the second most in NFL history. What’s your level of pride in achieving that, and can this offense get better?
A. We felt we clearly left a lot of offense on the table (in 2010). There was actually a lot of offense we didn’t even use because of the injuries. That year was clearly the highest of all the years here where things we did in training camp we never even used during the season. So with that being said, I was very confident and I thought the offense was ready for Aaron (Rodgers). Aaron’s been ready for more responsibility, but it’s more is everybody else around him ready, too? And we felt Aaron was ready for more responsibility at the line, and I think it’s been very beneficial to our team. To me, last year was the standard. We set the standard on offense, and that’s what we’d like to hold ourselves to.
Q. So 35 points per game is now the standard?
A. Yep. I like that.
Q. Do you worry at all about complacency on that side of the ball?
A. No, we made it too hard on them. We’ve changed a lot of things and they were definitely challenged in the spring. They’ll be challenged again during training camp. I feel like coaches did a good job being creative, and I think it’s going to help offensive guys.
Q. Aaron is arguably one of the best players in the NFL today. How can he still get better? How can you get better than 45 touchdowns and six interceptions?
A. You have to. You have to. You have to go about it that way. If you just watch him in practice, he still does the fundamental drills. He’s always working to get better. But to me, when players reach that pinnacle they have to really work and prepare against themselves more than they do their opponent. Because his biggest challenge is maintaining his discipline and trying not to do too much. He does such a great job of running the offense, distributing the football, playing fast. He just needs to continue to do that.
Q. Have you been around anyone, anytime, anywhere that’s improved as much as Rodgers?
A. He’s always been talented. I had a chance to evaluate the guy every game in college when he came out. I’ve never questioned that man’s talent. He’s put it all together. He’s the most accomplished player I’ve ever coached.
Q. Rodgers often mentions the 2005 draft and how you and the San Francisco 49ers bypassed him. Do you ever think, ‘Give it a rest?’ Or if that’s something that drives him, are you OK being a source of motivation?
A. I think there’s a lot more in life that drives him than that. That’s part of his history. It’s always going to be there. It’s not going to go away. So I’m very happy the way it worked out. Things happen for a reason. Life’s about opportunities and it’s about what you do with them. I never really worried too much about the opportunities I wasn’t given. I always focused on the ones I have been given, and he’s a great example of that. I think he has fun with it more than anything. It’s definitely an experience he can use, but also it’s an experience to be a great role model with. It’s a great story. If you want to look at an illustration of a successful person that’s had hurdles in his life to overcome, what a great example.
Q. Rodgers is at almost the identical point in his career as Brett Favre was when you were his position coach here in 1999. Can you compare how it is to coach the two at this particular juncture of their careers?
A. I’m in a different job today, and frankly, I miss coaching quarterbacks. I just have too many responsibilities. The most important thing that I’ve done as far as the quarterback room is make sure the structure and the emphasis was put into place, and I did that my first year here. Tom (Clements) did a fantastic job of carrying that through and now he’s doing that with (new quarterbacks coach) Ben (McAdoo). The only thing is when I look at the quarterback room, I just want to walk over and be sure it’s continuing to be done the right way, because everybody has a certain way they’d like to see a quarterback trained. As far as coaching Brett, he was a lot more accomplished in the offense, so it was a transition. I’d say it’s a lot different. I look at Ben walking in the room now. Ben’s been here. Aaron knew Ben. I was the new guy coming in. I didn’t coach Brett until the first minicamp. To me, it’s a whole different off-season layout. Brett was a great player. He went through a bunch of injuries that year and did a remarkable job playing all 16 games that year.
Q. Have you ever had anybody quite like Jermichael Finley – on and off the field?
A. Oh yeah. He’s not that hard. I’ve had a lot more challenging situations. I think with Jermichael, people are on Jermichael a little bit too hard because he’s the only one that carries himself that way. The guy has a big heart and he means well. He’s extremely competitive and very talented. Everybody expresses themselves differently and obviously his style is very resourceful to the media, and that kind of takes on a different life. But I like him. I enjoy working with Jermichael. And if people didn’t enjoy working with Jermichael Finley, then he wouldn’t be here, and that’s not the case. We think he’s a young man that still has so much in front of him. The only thing I concern myself with Jermichael is I just want to see him stay healthy. But I’ve been around a lot more challenging people than Jermichael.
Q. Jermichael told me last year he spent a lot of time in your office, and that you even invited him to come up every day during training camp. What are those times together like?
A. I enjoy him as a person. I have young children, he has young children, so there are different things to talk about. He’s from Texas and I spend time in Austin, Texas, so we have a lot of common conversation. And I spend more time with the offensive players than the defensive players. That’s just the way we do things here. But yeah, there’s not a day or two that goes by that he and I don’t have a short conversation. He’s fun to work with. I enjoy him.
Q. Are there three or four guys you’re expecting ‘breakout’ type seasons from?
A. I want to see guys with pads on before answering that. But I think for the most part our second- and third-year players that didn’t have the off-season program (in 2011) have done a very good job spending time here. Being here the whole time and just really learning the system. We’re just so much more functional now in doing the things that we’re doing and the volume of it through the course of practice.
Q. James Starks is 218 pounds, 7% body fat and says he’s faster than he’s ever been. He obviously looks the part. But is your running game in good hands with him as your lead back?
A. He looks great. Looks great. He had a breakout playoff run (in 2010). Some guys just hit that injury phase in their careers and just have to work themselves out of it. Starks has some of that. He’s had some tough challenges just getting hurt.
Q. What’s your relationship like with Ted Thompson now vs. 2006?
A. It’s the same. I mean, I’d say we’ve gotten closer. That’s only natural because we know each other. I grow to respect him more and more every day. I just think he’s very gifted at what he does.
Q. Do you ever want his job, here or somewhere else?
A. No. If I did that job I wouldn’t coach. I don’t think you can do two. I think it’s too much. I think you’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul. You can’t be in two places at one time. I’m a football coach, and I don’t see anything in the near future that’s going to change that. But I’ll also say this: I feel like I have something bigger in my life than being the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. I think there’s something out there for me to do after my time is up. I hope it’s not up for a long time because I enjoy it. But those questions are always answered by someone a lot bigger than you and I. But when that time comes, I do feel like there’s one more big challenge out there for myself professionally.
Q. Most people in this state don’t think there’s very much that’s bigger than where you’re sitting.
A. Well, it’s the best job I’ll ever have. I’ll never have a better one.
Q. You hint about that next challenge. Any idea what that is?
A. No I don’t. I’ll let the good Lord tell me what that is.
Q. Do you feel you have to grind as hard as you did when you first started in 2006?
A. That’s a great question. It’s a lot smarter than it used to be. I think technology has really made it more manageable. I say manageable, but to the normal person, (the hours) are still not realistic. People say, ‘How do you work so much?’ but our family wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for my wife. A coach has to have a great wife, a great partner. She just does so much for us as a family, and that enables me to still work the hours that I do.
Q. Once July 26 arrives, will you have any type of home / work balance over the ensuing seven or eight months?
A. How do you define balance?
Q. Let’s say seeing your family an hour, maybe two a day.
A. I like to think we have balance here as far as the coaching profession goes. We’re not going to have coaches sleeping here in the office. I can promise you that. I won’t allow that. I’ve done that. I know why it’s happened, but I’m very conscientious of the time management of our staff. I’ve done the sleep in the office thing, or two or three hours of sleep, but you’re not the same guy on the field. The thing I’ve noticed from the old way and the way we do it is I want the coaches fresh. I want them getting home, getting a good night sleep. The most important time you spend is with your players, in your meeting room, on the field and you need proper sleep to get that done.
Q. Which Giants loss bothers you more, 2007 or 2011?
A. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think you ever get over those. They’ll always be there.
Q. Did January’s loss to the Giants bug you throughout the off-season?
A. Yeah, it bothers me. When I’m planning for this season, I’m planning lessons that I felt we didn’t learn from that experience.
Q. You obviously learned something from the loss in 2007. What did you learn from last year’s loss?
A. Really, it takes you right back to the emphasis of the fundamentals. That’s something I feel we do every day, but maybe we had to take a look. Maybe I wasn’t doing it enough. We adjusted some practice things because of it.
Q. That was also one of the most unique weeks leading up to a football game that I’m sure you ever had. In retrospect, how much did that hurt you?
A. Unique is a kind word. I don’t know how you explain that week. It was like getting run over by a truck. That’s a better description.
Q. When’s the last time you and Brett Favre talked?
A. Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.
Q. Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh, Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. Those are the 12 coaches who have won two Super Bowls or more. What would it mean to you to join that group?
A. Oh shoot, I’d love it. I’d be all for it. I appreciate you bringing these stats, but that’s not something I give a whole lot of time and thought to. When my wife and I are sitting on the porch, hopefully I’ll say, ‘That was a great career.’
Q. What do you want your legacy to be here?
A. That he was a better person than a coach.
Q. In 2010, you went with the ‘Super Bowl or Bust’ theme. Will you do that again?
A. I just don’t believe in the crash and burn theory. I believe in winning and learning. I don’t believe in that other word. I don’t even like to say it. I believe you keep building and keep working at it, keep winning. And as long as they keep giving you opportunities, make the best of it. I’m not satisfied with coming close. I’m going to do everything I can to win the championship and that will never change. And when that does change, I probably need to step out and let someone else take a swing at it.
Full Q &A here
By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Robbed of the opportunity to work out with the team in the offseason a year ago because of the NFL lockout, a couple of young Packers were determined to spend their winters in Green Bay this year.
Green Bay. Cold, gray skies in February. Quiet nightlife scene. Not exactly the place most 23- and 22-year-olds from Hawaii and California would choose.
But second-year cornerback Davon House and second-year running back Alex Green did.
“It’s realizing this is a business,” said House. “You’ve got to start treating it like work. Last year I treated it like, ‘I’m in the NFL and this is fun.’ This year, different mind-set.
“I mean, my father works every day, so I should work every day.”
A father working in waste management in Los Angeles wasn’t the only motivation for House. It was the need to get bigger. So he became a weight-room warrior and worked on the squats and power cleans, strengthening his hamstrings. It’s not often that head coach Mike McCarthy singles out one of his players publicly, but he did last week:
“Davon House has done an excellent job in the weight room,” said McCarthy. “He’s a different young man today than he was last year.”
And if House was impressive in the weight room, Green might be more so.
“He’s on a different level than me,” said House.
Green said he’s stronger than ever. Rehabilitating after a knee injury ended his rookie season in Week 7 after only three carries for 11 yards, about all he could do was work out. It wasn’t just that he could power clean more weight, he could do it more rapidly.
That’s remarkable because for the first three or four months after his surgery, Green just started walking, then jogging, in the Packers pool.
He went home for two weeks after the season-ending loss to the New York Giants and then returned to Green Bay for work. That was difficult, because he has two children back home and he wanted to stay with them.
“But I had to get healthy.”
The one thing he will test in training camp – his goal for a full return – is a full run.
“I haven’t really sprinted full speed yet,” said Green.
But with all the off-season work, he has jumped up from his playing weight of 218 pounds last year to around 225 to 228.
McCarthy said last week it was too early to assess the running back position. He’ll get another look at everyone except Green on Tuesday through Thursday in the mandatory minicamp. It is hard for Green not to try to make out a depth chart.
“It’s something that’s on my mind, but at the same time, it’s not really important right now,” said Green. “It’s the beginning of June, I’m still trying to get over this ACL thing. My focus is on that, being 100%. It’s a nine- to 12-month process, and I have to be patient.”
Same goes for House. While he said he was the only defensive back to stay in Green Bay all offseason – really only Green, House, tackle Bryan Bulaga and punter Tim Masthay remained – the Packers drafted Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward in April.
Injuries, including one to his ankle, dogged House all last season, and he played in only two games.
“With Casey coming in, people are like, ‘Oh, are you nervous Casey is here?’ ” said House. “He’s a second-round draft pick. No. I feel like it’s going to bring out the best in me.”
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By Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange/CBS Sports
~Over the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL draft through a series called “Finding the Fits.” The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.
Green Bay Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson is well known throughout the NFL for his committment to the scouting process. Few front office executives spend more time on the road like a first-year scout than Thompson. He’s also known to be a proponent of the the Best-Player-Available strategy, as was evidenced by his selection of a certain quarterback named Aaron Rodgers back in 2005 when the Cal star surprisingly fell to No. 24 overall despite the fact that Thompson and the Packers happened to have another fairly successful quarterback already on the roster in Brett Favre. We all know how that decision has turned out for Green Bay.
And thus, the fact that the Packers focused so much of their 2012 draft on fixing their greatest area of concern — a wildly inconsistent pass rush — was, frankly, a bit of a surprise. It was even more of a surprise considering that the normally frugal Thompson traded up three times in 2012 (all for defenders, by the way), equaling the number of times he’d traded up in the past seven years combined as the Packers’ head talent evaluator.
Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that the Packers chose to focus on the defensive side of the ball. With Rodgers and arguably the most gifted receiving corps in the NFL in place, the Packers’ offense was largely in good hands, after all. Having spent consecutive first round picks on offensive linemen Bryan Bulaga (2009) and Derek Sherrod (2010), as well as adding veteran center Jeff Saturday via free agency and the Packers would seem to have the bulk and athleticism up front to keep their offense moving smoothly in 2012. To put the Packers’ impressive offense in a statistical perspective, consider that the club finished 6th in the NFL in the 2010 regular season by averaging 5.7 yards per play. Their ability to strike quickly helped Green Bay win the fourth Super Bowl in team history. Last season the Packers were even more lethal on the offensive side of the ball, averaging a gaudy 6.6 yards per play — second in the NFL only to the New Orleans Saints.
Defensively, however, the 2010 and 2011 seasons were a night and day difference for the Packers. In 2010, the Packers finished just one sack behind the team they beat in Super Bowl XLV, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to finish second in the NFL in quarterback takedowns, finishing with 47 overall. With opponents focusing on stopping Clay Matthews, Jr. a year later, however, the Packers sunk all the way down to a tie for 30th in the league with just 29 sacks. Considering that this mark tied the Packers with three teams that weren’t even close to playoff contention (the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts), the fact that Green Bay finished the regular season at 15-1 is a testament to just how good Rodgers and Co. were on the offensive side of the ball. It also clearly demonstrated where the Packers needed to improve to return to glory in the playoffs.
Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are hopeful that the team’s first round pick, USC pass rusher Nick Perry, can take over as the complementary piece to Matthews, who, of course, also starred with the Trojans. The 6-3, 271 pound Perry doesn’t boast Matthews’ speed or determination but is surprisingly powerful and could offer help not only as a stand-up rush linebacker in the team’s typical 3-4 alignment but also offer some assistance setting the edge against the run. Perry led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks a year ago and may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
Rather than assume that Perry can return the Packers’ back to their 2010 form, however, the club continued to add talent to their front seven with two of their next three picks. And with these two picks, rather than add more help at the outside linebacker position normally associated with pass rushers in Capers’ preferred 3-4 alignment, the Packers focused on the big guys up front.
Allowing versatile defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins to leave as an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season hurt the Packers more than many anticipated. He’d finished second to Matthews in 2010 with seven sacks. No Packer, including Matthews, reached the seven sack plateau in 2011. Jenkins didn’t reach this mark in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles either (5.5 sacks in 2011) but his ability to split gaps inside at defensive tackle helped Jason Babin explode for a career-high 18 sacks — third most in the NFL — and he was clearly missed in Green Bay.
In the Packers’ 3-4 alignment, Jenkins played as a five-technique defensive end. It is in this capacity that the Packers hope their second pick, Michigan State junior Jerel Worthy can make an impact.
Widely regarded as a first round prospect by the media, one could argue that Worthy offered more value at No. 51 overall than any of the other players selected this year by Green Bay. Worthy has an explosive burst off the snap which he used often with the Spartans to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. This, however, was inside at defensive tackle where his relatively short, stout frame (6-2, 308 pounds) is a benefit. Worthy’s lack of ideal height and arm length, however, could make him a relative square peg asked to fit into a round hole as a defensive end. Worthy was drafted in part because a similarly built former Big Ten standout defensive tackle — Mike Neal — has failed thus far to effectively make the transition outside for the Packers since Thompson selected him out of Purdue in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Perry and Worthy are extremely talented and deserved to be drafted where they were. Each could make a significant impact with the Packers. They’ll be given plenty of opportunities to do so and with an established pass rusher already in place in Matthews, they’ll be able to so in a much easier complementary role.
Neither, however, plays with the intensity of another former Big Ten standout defensive tackle, Iowa‘s Mike Daniels, who I believe could offer some immediate impact as an interior pass rusher.
While Capers is known for his allegiance to the 3-4 scheme, the Packers (like most teams) were hardly static with their alignments. In fact, the club often reverted to a unique 2-4-5 alignment with two defensive tackles, four linebackers and five defensive backs during passing situations a year ago.
Green Bay offers plenty of girth with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Worthy. None, however, are as quick on their feet or relentless as Daniels, who registered 67 tackles and led all Big Ten defensive tackles a year ago with nine sacks. While significantly smaller than scouts would prefer at 6-1, 291 pounds, Daniels’ athleticism could make him a tough assignment for interior linemen forced to attempt to block him while keeping one eye peeled on the linebackers who may be following the former Hawkeye’s lead up the middle.
For an obvious Super Bowl contender like the Packers, expecting too much from a rookie class is often going to just lead to disappointment. Perry and Worthy are talented but each left school early with questions about their snap to snap effort. Expecting a significant contribution from either is even riskier considering that both are being asked to switch positions from where they starred in college.
As the 132nd player drafted, few are expecting Daniels to make much of an impact for the Packers. Unlike Perry and Worthy, Daniels’ greatest asset is his relentless play. Furthermore, he’s going to be allowed to play at the same position, roughly, as he did in college. Assuming Daniels heals completely from the surgery to repair a torn labrum that kept him out of the team’s initial OTAs this spring, don’t be surprised when he winds up making a significant (and “unexpected”) impact as a rookie this fall.
The rest of the Packers’ picks:
1st Round – No. 28 overall – Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Southern Cal
2nd Round – No. 51 overall – Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
2nd Round – No. 62 overall – Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
4th Round – No. 132 overall – Mike Daniels, DT, Iowa
4th Round – No. 133 overall – Jerron McMillian, S, Maine
5th Round – No. 163 overall - Terrell Manning, OLB, North Carolina State
7th Round – No. 241 overall – Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
7th Round – No. 243 overall – B.J. Coleman, QB, Tennessee-Chattanooga
Read more about all of the Packers’ draft picks here.