It's rather amazing how much is expected from an NFL player simply based upon where he taken in the NFL Draft. It's basically the sole determining factor for the public at large with everything else, including previous college production, being relegated to almost insignificant.
Those who were selected in the early rounds are expected to play bigger roles and make a bigger impact than those selected in the later rounds of the draft or those that went undrafted.
That's just the reality of the NFL and little can be done to change it.
It's important to note, however, that nearly every rookie gets a "pass" his first year in professional football, even those taken in top 10 overall. Rookies that perform at Pro Bowl level right away are the exception and not the rule.
One year in the NFL is too early to declare a player a bust and for most of them, it takes a couple years to blossom. While they don't get forever to develop, they all deserve ample time to prove themselves.
With that, let's take a look at the Packers rookie class, taking a general look at what is expected of each of their draft choices in 2013.
First Round Draft Choice Datone Jones, Defensive Lineman
As the Packers' first round pick, there's obviously more expected from Jones than any other rookie. For a team that has struggled to find a consistent pass rush threat outside of Clay Matthews and labored to prevent the ground games of the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers from running wild over them last year, Jones is candidate No. 1A to find improvement on the defensive side of the football. Standing 6-4, he has the length no other Packers defensive lineman currently possesses and will be asked to play the dual role of end in the team's 3-4 base defense and pass-rushing tackle in their nickel and dime subpackages. Jones will eventually be expected to be a three-down playmaker, but whether he's able to be that type of person in just his first year in the NFL remains to be seen.
Second Round Draft Choice Eddie Lacy, Running Back
Expectations for Lacy are somewhat tempered by the notion that it doesn't really matter which running back makes the Packers run game improve. It only matters that it, indeed, improves. Whether it's Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Alex Green or James Starks is immaterial. In any case, Lacy is the front-runner when it comes to the most likely player to become the featured back the Packers are seeking. No one will be disappointed if Lacy fills only the role of powerful, one-cut back who plays primarily on first and second downs and in goal-line and short-yardage situations. There are other players on the team who can play the traditional third-down back role who act as personal protectors for Aaron Rodgers and outlet receivers. It will be expected, however, that Lacy's toe fusion surgery will not be chronic issue.
Fourth Round Draft Choice David Bakhtiari, Offensive Lineman
The only expectations for Bakhtiari in his rookie season are that he makes the 53-man roster and displays promise as a potential future starter. Barring injury, the only spot on the offensive line that's open is at right tackle, and it would appear Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay have the inside track on winning that job. Nobody's counting Bakhtiari out of the running before training camp begins, but he's definitely an underdog as things currently stand. Because the Packers typically keep only seven offensive linemen active on game days, it will likely be a challenge for Bakhtiari to become one of those seven who suit up on Sundays.
Fourth Round Draft Choice J.C. Tretter, Offensive Lineman
Any expectations for Tretter in his rookie season were shattered on the first day of OTAs in Green Bay when he reportedly broke his ankle in a fumble recovery drill. It hasn't been ruled out that he'll be able to return by mid-season or late in the season, but such a scenario would be unlikely. If Tretter is able to come back from his injury to play in 2013, it will be considered a bonus, and he certainly won't be expected to fill anything more than a backup role. The only realistic expectation is that Tretter gets healthy enough for a return in 2014.
Fourth Round Draft Choice Johnathan Franklin, Running Back
In much the same case as Lacy, Franklin won't be expected to carry the burden of improving the Packers run game alone. But for someone who came into the NFL Draft as a name-brand and known quantity, Franklin can be expected to play at least some kind of role in the Packers offense in 2013. He may not be fully ready by Week 1 of the regular season, but at some point during the year, he should be ready to see meaningful playing time. Whether he sees time as a rotational running back playing a series at a time or filling some kind of third-down back role has yet to be determined.
Fifth Round Draft Choice Micah Hyde, Cornerback
With cornerback arguably the deepest position on the Packers roster, there's no rush for Hyde to be a part of the Packers defense, at least in 2013. Assuming everyone is healthy, the best case-scenario might be that Hyde is the fourth on the depth chart behind Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House. And Hyde will have to prove he can leapfrog Jarrett Bush to even climb that high. Perhaps taking over Bush's role as a reserve cornerback and special teams regular is exactly the role Hyde will fill.
Fifth Round Draft Choice Josh Boyd, Defensive Lineman
For a team that plays with only two defensive linemen on the field at any particular time, there's absolutely no expectations for Boyd to make an impact or even make the team for that matter. Before training camp starts, he sits behind Jones, B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Mike Daniels in the pecking order with Johnny Jolly providing additional competition. If Boyd were to simply crack the 53-man roster, that would show promise on the Packers' part to keep him around and continue his development. Spending a year on the practice squad would not be a disappointment if it came down to that.
Sixth Round Draft Choice Nate Palmer, Outside Linebacker
From simply a numbers standpoint, Palmer steps into a good situation. Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Dezman Moses will more than likely occupy the top three spots on the Packers depth chart at outside linebacker, but there's most certainly room for four on the Packers roster. Mike Neal may make himself heard at the position before things are over and done with, as will undrafted rookies Andy Mulumba and Donte Savage. But Palmer would appear to have the inside track on that fourth-string job, at least to open training camp. It will be up to him to earn that gig and keep it. As far as making an impact in 2013, however, special teams might be the extent of it.
Seventh Round Draft Choice Charles Johnson, Wide Receiver
While Johnson sat out of the majority of OTAs due to an unspecified injury, other wide receivers on the team received valuable practice reps, including undrafted rookies Myles White and Tyrone Walker, both of whom Aaron Rodgers recently praised. Beyond Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, there's room for a fourth and fifth wide receiver to make a modest impact on the Packers offense in 2013, but Johnson is going to have to earn his playing time. There's currently a dozen wide receivers on the 90-man roster, so there's no shortage of competition. Because the Packers invested a draft choice into Johnson, he might have the inside track or get first dibs on a job, but by no means is he guaranteed of one.
Seventh Round Draft Choice Kevin Dorsey, Wide Receiver
Dorsey sits in almost the same boat as Johnson as a player who missed nearly all of the team's offseason program due to another unspecified injury. If he's able to return during training camp without missing any more time, he likely will not have fallen too far behind his competition. But at the same time, it certainly wouldn't be beneficial to miss any more. Making the practice squad might be a more likely scenario for Dorsey in his first year in the NFL, but there's a job for him on the 53-man roster is he's able to earn it.
Seventh Round Draft Choice Sam Barrington, Inside Linebacker
There's a lot less competition at inside linebacker than there was just days before the NFL Draft when D.J. Smith was released and Desmond Bishop was still on the Packers' roster. With those two out of the way, the road to a roster spot has become easier for Barrington, although it's still far from a given. Behind incumbent starters Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk are backups Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning and Rob Francois. If the Packers find room for Barrington among that company, he's going to need to make his mark on special teams, at least in his first year.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book"It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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