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Vanderbilt Secondary Pipeline Runs Thick to Green Bay

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Vanderbilt Secondary Pipeline Runs Thick to Green Bay

The Green Bay Packers already have two members of their secondary from Vanderbilt University in cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Sean Richardson and will have the opportunity to add a few more in the NFL Draft.

Among the NFL-caliber defensive backs from Vandy eligible for this year’s Draft are cornerback Andre Hal and safety Kenny Ladler, who has looked to his former teammates in Green Bay for guidance.

“I talked to Casey recently about the process and how I need to prepare for this moment at the Combine, the Pro Day, and just getting myself prepared,” said Ladler. “I talked to Sean during the season about the NFL and the things I need to transition to the NFL—it is the same game, just a little bit faster.”

Ladler is among the top-ranked safeties in this year’s draft class because of an ability to force turnovers like few others. His senior season alone, Ladler forced 10 of them, five interceptions and forced fumbles each.

Those turnovers are how Ladler got the nickname “Swiper” from his teammates, but he feels he has a well-rounded game as well.

Asked what makes him one of this year’s better safeties, Ladler said, “I feel like my play-making ability throughout the defense. I am able to make good tackles; I am a great open-field tackler. I am consistent in the pass and run, and I am a turnover machine.”

While he has ideal size at safety, standing 6’ 0” and 207 lbs., Ladler will have to overcome an alarmingly slow time in the 40-yard dash, clocking in at 4.70 seconds, the second-slowest among players at his position at the Combine.

To his credit, Ladler improved his 40 time to 4.62 seconds at Vanderbilt’s on-campus pro day workout, but that’s still behind times in the 4.4 range that the fastest safeties put up.

Like any NFL prospect, Ladler’s 40 time doesn’t paint the full picture, and he should be very proud of his other workout numbers. His 24 bench press repetitions, 36.5-inch vertical and 127-inch broad jump were among the leaders at safety.

Ladler is joined by Hal among those that must overcome pedestrian Combine numbers. Neither Hal’s size (5’ 10” and 188 lbs.) nor his various measurements in drills stand out.

But what Hal can boast is a career that saw him become increasingly productive by the year at Vanderbilt. Among his most impressive statistics are his 16 passes broken up as a junior and 15 as a senior that respectively ranked second and first in the SEC, the nation’s top football conference.

For years, Vanderbilt was considered the doormat of the SEC, but that perception is starting to change with the school producing so many talented players.

Part of the credit, and perhaps part of the reason for the pipeline to Green Bay is former Packers assistant coach James Franklin, who helped to direct the turnaround at Vanderbilt before recently taking the head coaching job at Penn State.

And it goes beyond just the defensive backs. Franklin has helped to develop several players on the cusp of careers in the NFL.

"It was Franklin, but at the same time, it was my senior class, too,” said Hal of the culture change at Vanderbilt. “When Franklin came in, we bought in and we did everything he said and believed in him. My class had a lot of talent, like you see now: me, Kenny Ladler, Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd, Wesley Johnson all came to the Combine this year and that proves something like we’re becoming good at what we’re doing now.”

Prior to Franklin taking the program over in 2011, Vanderbilt had only been to four bowl games in history and only one since 1982. In three seasons under Franklin, players like Ladler and Hal had the experience of qualifying for three consecutive bowl games and won the last two back-to-back.

According to Ladler, the foundation dates back to before Franklin, seeing as the preceding coaching staff recruited the players currently in the NFL and those coming out for the Draft this year. But above all, Ladler ascribes commendation to the players themselves.

“I would say the players that come out (deserve credit),” said Ladler. “You can credit the recruiting (former Vanderbilt coach) Bobby Johnson did, all his guys he recruited pretty much went on to play in the NFL. He did a good job finding those guys and we all worked hard to put ourselves in a position to play the next level.”

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].

Photo: Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler by Brian Carriveau.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RCPackerFan's picture

I would love to see the Packers draft Ladler. I am high on him. Probably higher on him then a lot of other people.
With his slower 40 times I think he will be pushed to the middle rounds 4-5th round area. If they can get him there I would be happy.

DrealynWilliams's picture

5 picks and 5 forced fumbles with 90+ tackles? That's production. Speed isn't everything. I like the size as well. No more safeties with CB bodies,please.

JimTaylor31's picture

A safety with size and instincts and average speed would be a definite improvement. I see a couple of mock drafts have us taking Ward in the first. Not sure why though. He seems to have good ball skills but again a safety in a CB body.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Yea,he definitely would help in the coverage area and I see he's a willing tackler,but that frame.....ahh. I might be fine with that pick if Burnett's last season was a fluke and he plays like he's paid. But I just think we need a punisher SOMEWHERE between the LBs and DBs. Bishop's been gone. He was our only thumper.

JimTaylor31's picture

We do miss Bishop's physical nature. No doubt. I can see maybe Pryor in Round 1 as he brings all aspects. Physical, size and some speed. We could use a guy in the secondary or an ILB (or both) who will hit people.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Exactly. We lack "pop" and intimidation. I'd welcome Pryor with no hesitation. I just hope the coaches can teach him more proper tackling techniques. I worry he'll hurt himself going for the big hit [most of the time] a lot like B. Meriweather (Redskins).

ben's picture

Pryor may have pop but he isn't a great tackler. He doesn't wrap up & often times takes bad angles. He certainly does not excel in coverage.

Adler will be out of the NFL within 4 years.

I want nothing to do with Pryor or Adler in any round.

I like, at safety, Justin Gilbert, Bucannon, Ward, McGill, Joyner, Brooks, & Reynolds in the early to mid rounds.

Or Dezmen Southward, Marqueston Huff, Daniel Sorensen & Alden Darby in the later rounds.

I love Marqueston Huff in and around the "box" and on special teams. I'd take him over a lot of early rounders and is an absolute steal in the 6th.
I'm most hoping for Dezmen in the 5th or 6th. I believe he has a chance to be the best safety of the entire class. And I'm fine with Burnett, Hyde, Richardson, & Ryan Okie Shazier till he gets there.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Hey,MD Jennings was a Packers starter for an entire season...

ben's picture

A season and a half from what I remember. A huge mistake by MM & TT. MD should have been released instead of McMillian. At least Jerron would occasionally make a play or 2. He also had some upside while MD has zero.

JimTaylor31's picture

Jerron displayed a very keen knack of running one way while the receiver ran the other way.

4thand1's picture

He intercepted that pass in Seattle.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I got that from PFT.

Maybe us fans were so used to him being invisible that we paid no mind who played opposite Burnett.

JimTaylor31's picture

Merriweather is a complete bonehead. I would hope Pryor has more sense than that numbskull.

4thand1's picture

I'm little surprised by that assessment Stroh. He must have really good football instincts and is in position to make plays. 10 turnovers is impressive, seeing our safeties had none this year. Hell ,1 would a 100% increase.

Thedon's picture

There's no need to chase Stroh around. This is not 2nd grade. If you have a crush on him just ask him out.

Clay Zombo's picture

Stroh only implied that you are a Drama Queen but I would characterize you as more of a petulant child.

Thumbs up if you agree with either assessment.

4thand1's picture

Just watched a high light reel of Ladler. Its impressive. He's always around the ball. You don't need blazing speed if you know what you're doing on the field. Take him.

DrealynWilliams's picture

To play both sides,all highlight reels should be impressive.

But I like what I've seen/read about Ladler as well. I'm not sure how high or low he should be drafted,but he seems to be instinctive which is an important attribute of a good safety. I really wish TT would have drafted 1 somewhere last draft. We need competition at both safety positions badly. Banjo and Richardson??? Still unknowns. I guess you can throw Bush in there.

JimTaylor31's picture

I agree. Safety is very much a question regardless of whether it is Hyde or a rookie draftee. Not sure about Banjo (doubtful) or Richardson (maybe). Too bad both McMillan and Jennings were total flops. Some competition between high level guys (i.e. not McMillan & Jennings) would be very desirable.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I'd love to know why MD Jennings was kept for the rest of the season and not McMillan. At least he (McMillan) offered something in run support and speed.

4thand1's picture

Because he couldn't run backwards without tripping over his own feet.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Lol,and that was the only thing MD Jennings had over him?

JimTaylor31's picture

Good one. Trying to pick between Jennings and McMillan must have been a tough decision. Can you imagine MM and Capers sitting around watching these guys fall all over themselves and run the wrong way in practice every day then watch the same thing in film and try to determine which one to cut? Brutal job being a head coach.

4thand1's picture

All I know is what I see a player do on the field. There are certain skills players have to make plays. The good ones have IT. Last year we got a steady dose of players out of position. Instincts can't be taught with some guys, that's why they don't last long.

RCPackerFan's picture

Stroh, you and I agree a quite a bit. This one though I don't agree about Ladler. Which there is nothing wrong with that. I know I'm higher on Ladler then others.

When I watched him he was a very good tackler, a physical type of player and a player that always seemed to be around the ball... That's not watching highlights, that's watching him throughout the season.

That is why I'm high on him.

To me I would take a players instincts and awareness over someone's 40 time. Its also why I'm very high on Chris Borland. The instincts and awareness is what puts players in the right positions.
The last couple of years the Packers took a couple of players that didn't run the fastest 40 times but have great football instincts. Heyward and Hyde.
I'm not saying Ladler won't be limited because of his 40 time and maybe some other physical limitations compared to others. But I wouldn't rule him out because he is an instinctive player that puts himself in position to make plays.
I would definitely take him in the 4th-5th round area where he is likely to be picked.

RCPackerFan's picture

disagree to agree... :)

I think he will be a good special teams player/backup/role player as a rookie and develops into a starter.

I don't necessarily mean he will be a starter right away, I just think in a year or 2 he would be.

RCPackerFan's picture

Good insticts and smarts can put a player in the right spot and that can make up for speed. Now if he is trying to cover a guy like Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson one on one probably isn't going to happen.

I know Hyde and Hayward ran in the 4.5's but they play different positions. I just was simply saying that they ran slower then 'ideal' time.

I will admit that Ladler's 4.7 40 is a red flag. But he improved it to 4.62 at his pro day and that is only .4 of a second less then Pryor. If you take their best times.

Again, I'm talking about a 4-5th round guy, not a 1st or 2nd round. Those are the rounds to take shots on actual players not guys based on measurable.
Example: Mike Daniels. They drafted him in the 4th round even though he had size limitations. But he is a football player. Same with Ladler.

That is just my opinion on it.

I respect your opinion too..

4thand1's picture

Eddie Lacy didn't do the combine and every one shyed a way from him. Thank God. The combine is waaaaay over rated. Can you say Jeff George?

Jordan's picture

The problem is things have changed in NFC/NFL. These QBs like Kaepernic,Wilson, and Newton aren't slow. We're talking 4.53, 4.53, 4.56 respectively.

If Packers could have a 55 man roster or 47 man game day roster....then sure, he'd be a good player to pickup. But I just don't know how you make a roster spot for a guy that slow......even if he does have other nice skills.

RCPackerFan's picture

When I watched him playing games, he didn't look that slow. He plays faster then his times. Is he a speed burner, no. But I do believe he plays faster then his times. Apart of that is his ability to read and react.

I agree with you, that we want faster players. But I like his ability to tackle, and to create turnovers.

Like I said, I know I'm higher on him then a lot of others. That's fine with me. I think he will be a good player.

Jordan's picture

Yeah, one of the problems the Packers have had since 2011 is many of the big gains by QBs, RBs, and WRs have turned in to touchdowns. Prior to that (especially in 2010), many of the long gains were stopped short of the end zone by either tramon or Collins. They turned in to FGs.

The Packers need as many fast pursuit guys as they can get on the field. To try and prevent TDs. Shields has helped some recently, but he was unaware in his younger days. Tramon has lost a half step. Burnett isn't fast. Don't get me wrong, I think the packers generally take good angles.....but it almost seems like clay Matthews is one of the best pursuit guys on the team (since Collins was injured).

When I watch Kaepernic and Wilson run, my jaw drops. They play fast too. They look like they run a 4.53 on the field not just at the track.

RCPackerFan's picture

I agree that we need more team speed especially on defense. Its one reason why I really am liking Brooks more and more. I think his speed next to Burnett would really help the secondary.

I'm just saying a guy like Ladler would add value to the team. And I'm not talking about a 1st or 2nd round pick for him. 4th-5th round area.

IMO, the packers would be better to draft Brooks or Bucannon in the 2nd round and draft Ladler in the 4th-5th like they did last year with Lacy and Franklin. Just add some security and depth to the position.

Jordan's picture

I understand what you're saying. If it weren't for Kaepernic and Wilson and Newton......I'd agree with you. It doesn't appear Kaepernic, Wilson and Newton are going away any time soon. I just don't like the idea of making a roster spot for a slow safety when you've got these mind blowing speedy QBs.

These running QBs are killing the packers. And in the next 3 years, there is probably going to be 3 more speedy QBs in NFC/NFL.

If the packers draft any slow defense players or defensive players that can't lay some wood on a running QB, I'm going to be seriously pissed.

Clay Zombo's picture

Good discussion people. I only have the benefit of watching highlight films to get my info on these prospects, well besides other scouting reports, so my opinion should reflect that. Unless we are talking about Badger prospects, that is.

What I see in Ladler is a guy who has instincts but maybe goes for the big play too often resulting in missed tackles and big plays for the opposition.

I do see a good amount of instincts though, and a lack of speed can be made up for with film study and route recognition. If the guy is smart he can slow the game down for himself and that alone can make up for his lack of speed. Overall I wouldn't be opposed to GB drafting him but hes not by any means a must have prospect IMO.

DrealynWilliams's picture

"I see a good amount of instincts...and a lack of speed can be made up for with film study and route recognition."

Hmm,sounds like Richard Sherman coming out of Stanford.

Clay Zombo's picture

Good point Drealyn, Sherman is a good example of a 5th round guy who everyone thought was too slow to draft early or at all and look how that's worked out for the Seahawks. Sure he holds a lot but whatever, hes good.

If great speed always made great players than Al Davis would have won a lot of SBs in his time with the Raiders.

When I think of the good Safeties in the NFL, I can't think of many that were all that fast. That's kinda how it works though, if you're fast you are probably playing CB not safety.

It goes against reason but I do think the further away from the ball you get, speed becomes less important because of the increased reaction time the player has and the multitude of angles he can use to pursuit his opponent.

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