The 2013 NFL draft is still plenty visible in the rear-view mirror, but Packers rookie mini-camp already starts up May 10. Before we begin to preview the next event on the NFL’s never-ending schedule, let’s take a quick second to look back on the draft and how it alters things moving forward.
Here’s some things I think about the post-draft Packers:
1. The Packers have reinforced their commitment to run the football. Remember, this was an offense that averaged 30 rushing attempts and nearly 125 yards a game from Week 9 on last season. Only four other teams averaged more attempts over the final eight weeks. Playcaller Mike McCarthy had little other choice, as teams were basically daring the Packers to take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands with heavy doses of two-high safety looks. Defenses can continue that trend in 2013, but they’ll do so knowing that in Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris, the Packers have more rushing talent in the backfield than ever before in the Rodgers era. McCarthy’s job, at least from a scheming standpoint, got a lot easier last weekend.
2. Much is expected from second-year safety Jerron McMillian. The need at his position was obviously more media-driven than reality in the Packers war room, as 11 picks in a deep draft for safety were spent on other positions. The board didn’t fall great for Ted Thompson in that regard, but he still had ample opportunity to get a safety if he wanted. Instead, the Packers are banking on improvement from within at the back end. And with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, why wouldn’t they? McMillian, a 2012 fourth-round, fits the new mold of fast and tough. If he can clean up the coverage lapses—and there’s no reason to think he won’t be better in his second year of transitioning from a FCS school to the NFL—McMillian can be a three-down starter.
3. The offensive line will be the most fascinating area during camp. Taking two former offensive tackles in the fourth round puts Marshall Newhouse on notice, even if neither are likely ready to push for playing time. The transition to watch is from Bryan Bulaga, who the coaching staff won’t rule out at left tackle. McCarthy all but guaranteed at the NFL owners meetings that the Packers would be better along the offensive line in 2013. If that means shifting Bulaga to left tackle and starting Don Barclay on the right, so be it. McCarthy also seemed genuinely encouraged about the health of Derek Sherrod. The bookends of the offensive line are toss ups right now, as they should be.
4. B.J. Coleman is going to give Graham Harrell a run for his money to backup Rodgers. This wasn’t a good draft for quarterbacks at the top, but there was value in the final three rounds. The Packers started the third day with 10 picks but avoided the quarterback position altogether. While Matt Brown was brought in as UDFA, Thompson’s reluctance to take a quarterback late suggests the team is plenty comfortable with Coleman’s progression. Harrell’s physical ceiling has always been low, but he’s been ready to play from a mental standpoint. Coleman has the big arm and everything you want physically, and might now be closer to putting it together mentally in his second season.
5. The Packers pass rush could be really, really good. Adding Datone Jones makes all the difference. When the Packers were at their best defensively, Cullen Jenkins was a centerpiece. He wasn’t always a disruptor, but he made everyone else around him better. Clay Matthews saw more one-on-one’s. B.J. Raji was a dominant inside rusher. And when teams shifted their focus, Jenkins made them pay. Jones, even as a rookie, could have a similar impact, especially when the Packers go to subpackages. Don’t discount the returns of Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry, either; when healthy, few 3-4 ILBs were better on the blitz than Bishop, and Perry is still a talented power and speed rusher who just needs to get comfortable in the three-man front.
6. Charles Johnson is tantalizing as a seventh-round pick. Sure, he comes from a Division II program and rarely played against anything close to NFL talent. But there simply aren’t many 6-2, 215-pound guys who run sub 4.4 and jump 40 inches, and the way he high points the football reminds me slightly of Marques Colston. Johnson just oozes upside. Securing a roster spot through special teams will be a start, but he could eventually be a major contributor in the red zone area. “I mean, passes from the best quarterback in the game?” Johnson told MLive. “How great is that?” He’ll soon find out.
7. Johnny Jolly will need a miracle to make this team. Jolly was a long shot before last week’s draft. Now, with Jones and third-day pick Josh Boyd on board, Jolly needs nothing short of a miracle to be one of the 53 in September. Keep in mind, the Packers kept six defensive linemen to start 2012. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Jones are locks, while Boyd, Mike Daniels and Mike Neal are very likely to stick. Jerel Worthy, once healthy, is another lock. There’s seven names already. After three years out of football, can we really expect Jolly to be better than even a C.J. Wilson? It’s certainly possible Wilson and Jolly are both cut ahead of next season.
8. John Kuhn might have a roster fight on his hands. Kuhn will turn 31 in September, and he’s scheduled to be a free agent following 2013. Maybe his time is up a year early, especially with a $2.25 million price tag next season. You can only assume he’s no longer needed in short-yardage situations, and his run-blocking has always lacked a certain punch. The Packers also signed former Texas fullback Ryan Roberson, who arrived in Austin as a linebacker but eventually switched to fullback. He brings vast special teams experience. If the Packers like Roberson more as a lead blocker, he could certainly make the final decision at fullback a difficult one.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at email@example.com.