Certain respected sources of Green Bay Packers news have been selling the idea that the Packers lack the size and toughness to throw down with the heavyweights of the NFC — or more specifically, the San Francisco 49ers. Some even said that many within the organization had accepted this idea.
If that were the case, then when the Packers were on the clock with the 26th pick in the draft, the bigger and nastier Sylvester Williams seemed the obvious choice. Except it wasn’t…
The selection of Datone Jones tells me that the Packers saw the same thing on the game tape that I saw when watching Colin Kaepernick run around, by and past the Packers defense in the playoffs. The Packers need more speed on defense.
Considering the Packers play the 49ers again in Week 1 and then host the Washington Redskins in Week 2, it should have surprised no one that the Packers used their first pick on the fastest defensive lineman in the draft. If you can’t get Kaepernick or RG3 down in a game of touch football, then it hardly matters how big and tough you are.
What the Packers also saw in the game film is that if B.J. Raji has a future with this team, then it’s as Ryan Pickett‘s heir apparent at the nose tackle position. Ever since Raji’s 6.5 sacks in 2010, the Packers have toyed with Raji at defensive end, and he has been a regular in the pass rush packages. In the last two seasons, Raji has three sacks to show for it.
So, by this point, the Packers know what they have in Raji. He is a large man with quick feet who can deliver some pass rush as a bonus from time to time, but he is NOT a pass rusher who can be consistently relied upon. What Raji CAN do is use his quickness to get into the backfield and disrupt the run. That is his game.
Raji was drafted to play the nose position, and he still has all the tools to be great at it. The only thing Pickett does better than Raji is take on double teams. Pickett is good at stacking the line. Raji too often tries to use his lateral agility to beat double teams and ends up on skates. Raji has to learn to stalemate the double team and allow his linebackers to make the tackle. If he can do that, then Raji can end up a better nose tackle than Pickett.
As a regular in both the base and nickel package, Raji was the Packers’ most used defensive lineman last season. Jones should be able to immediately replace Raji in the nickel on obvious passing downs. That gives the Packers a pass rush package of Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Jones, and either Nick Perry or Dezman Moses. Regardless, that is an immediately more athletic and quicker pass rush than what the Packers brought to the party last season.
At the same time, the reduction in snaps should allow Raji to focus his energy on what the Packers primarily need him for — stopping the run.
Also, here are some quick points on other parts of the draft.
1. Yes, it appears the two-deep shell has finally beaten some balance into Mike McCarthy. Eddie Lacy is essentially a younger and more explosive Cedric Benson. The power back is a great fit for this offense because teams like to play the nickel and dime defense against it almost exclusively. That doesn’t leave a lot of big bodies on the field to play defense. Lacy is also a great combo back with either DuJuan Harris or Johnathan Franklin, both of whom may be too small to be 20-carry backs. Who knows, there may even come a day when throwing the ball on 3rd and 1 is actually a surprise.
2. The Packers’ fourth-round pick, J.C. Tretter, at 6-4, 307 doesn’t quite have the size yet to play guard in the NFL. However, the former tight end and tackle at Cornell could end up making a great center, where athleticism and intelligence are key. Many scouts have already suggested that center would be his best position. By the way, the other offensive lineman taken in the fourth round — David Bakhtiari — is a Ted Thompson special. In other words, he would likely have been a first or second round pick if he had returned to college for his senior season. Thompson loves selecting juniors who projected higher as seniors.
3. I think it is safe to say that Charles Johnson is not your average seventh-round pick. Johnson is 6-2, 215 pounds and runs a 4.39 40, which would immediately make him the second fastest player on the roster, behind Sam Shields who reportedly ran a 4.30 at his pro day. Johnson was a dominant performer at a powerhouse DII school — Grand Valley State. Personal issues that caused him to pass through three different colleges also helped fuel his fall in the draft. However, those issues also make Johnson the oldest Packers rookie at 24 years old. His age alone should give Johnson a leg up on the other rookies. With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver gone, the fifth wide receiver position is wide open with Jarrett Boykin likely being Johnson’s biggest obstacle to making the roster.