This draft may prove to be the sword that strikes off the heads of the Ted Thompson bashers.
With the No. 9 pick, he drafted BJ Raji, who is an instant impact player on the D line. If Raji does not outright start, he gets significant playing time and pushes the projected starter Pickett into competition with Jolly and Harrell for time at DE.
This DL group now has five legitimate big bodies with playing time and a first round draft pick. There are also three other roster players from last season competing for playing time and roster spots. One pick and re-signing the FA spot player have converted this weakness to a strength.
Clay Matthews could go down as one of the greatest deals Thompson has made. With the family pedigree, and the scary hair similarity to his new coach Kevin Green, expect him to start immediately. With incumbents Hawk and Barnett in the middle, backed by Bishop, who has shown flashes of brilliance, the inside is between solid and spectacular.
While I do expect Matthews to ultimately win the starting OLB spot, the competition will be beyond intense. Kampman is an all pro who gets to rush from wherever he lines up, and will be pushed hard by Hunter and Thompson, who both had plenty of playing time at DE last season.
Matthews must beat out incumbents Poppinga, Chillar, and others for the other spot. With seven players with plenty of playing time already on the roster, adding a talent like Matthews will allow tremendous flexibility in the packages the defensive coordinators can employ.
Rotation of playing time and flexability at both the DL and LB positions will make the 2009 edition of the Packers a vastly improved bunch from the group that suffered collapses in the second halves of games last season.
These two guys, Raji and Matthews, will instantly transform the team weakness to a team strength...a front seven that will not be run on, and that should put fear in QB and offensive coordinators who do not know where the heat is coming from.
The free agent signings and drafting of another DB indicates to me one thing—Al Harris' days are numbered in Green Bay. With a roster featuring Woodson and Williams, who are likely both already ahead of him in zone coverage schemes, plus six other NFL quality DB on the roster that will and do play special teams, this draft does spell the end for one of the aged stars. Bye Al Harris, it was a good career.
On offense the team was set at QB and WR, both being the envy of most teams in terms of first line star power and backup depth.
The RB spots are very capably filled, and with the addition of a new draft choice, could see some variation in alignment to many more H back sets, to offset the lack of production from the TE spots.
Adding two OT draft picks to an OL with youth and depth but lacking in cohesion means there will be significant battles for the starting spots. Likely only College and Spitz have spots secured as starters.
Tausher is very unlikely to be resigned, unless a massive rash of injuries hit at that spot. This draft class did not push Tausher out, he was likely already passed on the depth chart anyway. The guy this draft puts in the line of fire to retain his job is Chad Clifton.
As sad as it is to see aging stars lose the fight with youth, it is this writer's opinion that Tauscher, Clifton, Chillar, and Harris are all casualties between now and the start of the season. Trades are likely for all, as they are still NFL caliber players, they just cannot play on a Packer team loaded with talent.
Wells and Popping enter training camp playing for their starting jobs.
When a team like the Packers has to displace talent of the quality of the guys, it says great things about the record the 2009 team should put on the board. After this draft a 10 win season is only a minimum expectation, and the return to the 13-3 record is certainly not out of the question.
Kampman, Driver, Woodson, Barnett, and Rodgers, the emotional leaders of the team must know they have the team to win now and must be the leaders to get them there.
While not yet cohesive and dominant in some of the position groups at this time, by the end of training camp I project the Packers to be in the discussion with the Giants and the Panthers as the best in the NFC.