The NFL Combine starts tomorrow kicking off draft-mania that has already been brewing since Packer Nation realized that they won’t have to stay up until midnight to hear their first round pick (or trade) named on April 26. This gathering is part Laff Olympics, part psychological evaluation kicked off with a lot of testing, poking and prodding by numerous doctors. While the results guarantee that the NFL has something to keep fans interested in and talking about, the actual translation to the sport of football may be minimal (at least the direct translation to football) and GM’s across the league will still have tough decisions to make. Be that as it may, the Combine is fun…it is. We get to see young potential stars talking together and competing against each other and the clock. GM’s get to watch with their coaching staff’s and discuss the players as they perform in front of them. And…there’s news. Yes, there’s NFL news for the first time since the Super Bowl. Press conferences and stories like when Reuben Foster got sent home from the Combine fuel the first expectations of players either rising or falling from their pre-Combine potential spots. Here are three defensive players for Packer Nation to keep an eye on.
1. Josh Jackson
The 6’1″ 192 pound Iowa Jr. cornerback ticks off a lot of the Packers’ known boxes including being a receiver turned cornerback. He is long, instinctive and a true ball hawk. Coming from Iowa, the Packers have no doubt about his football upbringing as they have had plenty of hits come out of the program. Jackson has to learn not to lean too hard into breaks and his top end speed is still a bit of a question mark but he definitely warrants close scrutiny at the Combine. We know he is rangy, and if he is also fast and fluid he could be a winner on a team that still has question marks in the defensive backfield.
The Packers drafted Kevin King last year and saw Damarious Randall take a step after a rough start to the 2017 season but King is coming off surgery, Randall can be volatile, and we don’t know what the plans for Davon House are. An addition like Jackson in the draft would mitigate the need for the Packers to seek and allow them to evaluate House, Quinten Rollins…and even guys like Herb Waters, who coach Joe Whitt Jr. is high on and determine whether they need to spend on a free agent or perhaps go after a pass rusher or offensive weapon in free agency.
I often say an offense is only as good as its third wide receiver. And new Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has said that a defense’s nickel corner is now a starter in the league. The latter reflects how good the former is becoming in this league and with league rules weighted toward the offense in general and scoring in the passing game in particular, Jackson could be a big boost to a defense that looks to be rejuvenated under a new coordinator and injected with new talent. Let’s take a look at Jackson in a highlight video by Drunken Prophet Productions and as you do please keep a couple things in mind:
1. I don’t have control of the music on these vids…mute as needed
2. These are highlight videos and are meant to show the best of a player (read “promo vid”)
I love this kid’s instincts and he is still young. As much as it hurts me to see him run back INT’s for TD’s against my Badgers, you have to respect, in the second pick in particular, the way that he drops his man for the curl-flat (LB’s responsibility) in support and with the tip, has the presence of mind to recover and the focus to make the interception. The rest is a walk. All indicators are that this kid is a leader and a blue collar worker. Wouldn’t expect anything else out of Iowa, enjoy:
2. Vita Vea
Vea can play nose down to 5 tech and is more versatile than many would think. But his physicals have been described as “all over the place”. He is definitely a prototypical 3-4 nose at 6’4″ and 344 pounds but keep an eye on his quicks. If his 20 yard shuttle, 3 cone drill…and even 40 look good, he could be a guy that Mike Pettine could use. Pettine likes to get inside pressure and has had success with it even against quarterbacks like Tom Brady. Having Vea at nose and Daniels and Kenny Clark also up front should make life easier for pass rushing linebackers like Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Ahmad Brooks. But is D-lineman need over pass-rusher or cornerback? Most would say “no” but as Chad Reuter has said, “At some point you have to pick the best player”. And I completely agree with Reuter and have said many times that the cornerback position is a strong point (perhaps the only strong point other than WR) in the free agent market this year. So the Packers could pick up Vea and perhaps still get a pass-rusher for the future (which will be my final player to watch) and get a solid, still-young corner out of the free agent pool. We don’t know how it will play out but in the meantime…let’s take a look at Vea:
Vea lets his shoulders get outside his frame and often over-runs his center of balance but…that said…he is a freak. Keep an eye on his drills and keep in mind that the last time the Packers won a Super Bowl, they had just picked up a nose tackle at pick number nine. BJ Raji was an impact player because the nose tackle is the lynch-pin player of the 3-4. I know we don’t play base much but the principle remains regardless of the backfield shell. When the nose is a two-gap mauler who can even get to the quarterback, everything on the 3-4 works better. Vea would be a nice pickup.
3. Marcus Davenport
Here’s a guy that could end up just about anywhere. Marcus Davenport is a physical specimen at 6’6(7)” and 255 pounds. As a defensive end, Davenport would definitely need to add bulk and even as an OLB but at OLB he is good to go out of the box. With time in the NFL, Davenport should be able to get his body right and learn technique but his youth and physicals are intriguing. Brian Gutekunst was at the Senior Bowl and saw Marcus Davenport flash. That said, Davenport has been described as a flash player rather than a consistent threat. Is he a first rounder, second? Is he an end or an OLB? Are the Cowboys interested in Davenport and if so, in which round? There are a lot of questions but answers start coming with weigh-ins and height measurement of Davenport. Davenport can really stake a claim in the first round if he can raise eyebrows on the 10 yard split, 3 cone, and 20 yard shuttle. Here is a look:
Obviously, you can ignore the moniker “Best Player in College Football” as one of Davenport’s question marks is the competition that he played against. But his performance at the Senior Bowl can’t be overlooked and the fact that he was frequently double-teamed means something too. The Packers seem to like long linebackers and Davenport fits that bill as well. While he would be a developmental player, he could have a high ceiling and be a great draft pick in the long run.
Well, there are some prospective draft picks to watch. With the Combine starting tomorrow the excitement for the draft will really start to ramp up. In Packer Nation we know that we will be picking sooner than we have in a long time and that is our consolation for last year’s failings. But last year’s failings also led to meaningful change from top to bottom in the organization. There are no guarantees that the change is for the better, we can only wait and see.