The verdict is still out on the 2012 draft class of the Green Bay Packers.
Generally, it takes at least three years to accurately judge the early contributions of an individual draft class. That timeline will actually fit perfectly for the Packers, who desperately need a big jump in 2014 from the collection of oft-injured and somewhat underwhelming players hand-picked by general manager Ted Thompson in April of 2012.
Of the eight players selected by Thompson, only four remain: First-round outside linebacker Nick Perry, second-round defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, second-round cornerback Casey Hayward and fourth-round defensive lineman Mike Daniels. All four should enter 2014 with heightened expectations.
The other four won't see a third season in Green Bay.
Fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian played in 28 games for the Packers but was cut in December.
Fifth-round linebacker Terrell Manning, whom Thompson traded up to get, saw action in five games in 2012 but then failed to crack the 53-man roster to start 2013.
Seventh-round offensive tackle Andrew Datko spent time on the team's practice squad but never played in a regular-season game for the Packers and no longer is in Green Bay.
Seventh-round quarterback B.J. Coleman was expected to develop into a capable backup quarterback, but he failed miserably this past August and was let go.
|Green Bay Packers 2012 Draft Class|
|1||28||Nick Perry||17||GB Active|
|2||51||Jerel Worthy||16||GB Active|
|2||62||Casey Hayward||19||GB Active|
|4||132||Mike Daniels||30||GB Active|
|4||133||Jerron McMillian||28||KC Futures|
|5||163||Terrell Manning||6||SD Futures|
|*Only includes regular-season games|
The 50 percent retention rate of a Thompson draft class would appear low. Consider that a full four years after Green Bay's 2010 class was selected, all seven of the players remained on the Packers roster. Thompson is widely considered a shrewd evaluator of college talent.
That said, only four of the 10 players picked in 2011 remain in Green Bay.
The four players who have stuck from 2012 have so far provided mixed results.
Overall, Perry, Worthy, Hayward and Daniels have missed a total of 46 games over their first two seasons. That missed time has made it difficult to properly evaluate just how good the four players really are.
A defensive end from USC picked 28th overall by the Packers, Perry has fought wrist, knee and foot injuries since entering the NFL. He's missed 15 games over two years and has just 11 overall starts.
His wrist injury suffered in Week 1 of 2012 required a brace and eventually season-ending surgery. In Week 6, Perry suffered a scary-looking knee injury that turned out to be less serious than originally believed.
A broken foot cost Perry five games this past season and limited his playing time in several others.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Perry played 433 snaps over 12 games (36.1 per game) in 2013 after seeing 211 in six games in 2012 (35.2).
There is no question that Perry played more slowly and with less confidence during his rookie season, when he was still knee-deep in a transition from defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. That transition is far from complete, but Perry has shown signs of being a potential difference-maker.
In the two games before his foot injury, Perry recorded three sacks, 11 quarterback disruptions and two forced fumbles. His combined grade during those games was a rock-solid plus-6.5 at PFF.
At the time of his injury, Perry had three sacks and 15 disruptions over the first five games. After returning in Week 10, he posted just one more sack and 13 disruptions over the final seven contests, including the postseason.
Perry is still mostly a power player who needs a more complete pass-rushing arsenal. He's also a liability in space, and rarely does his measured athleticism pop off the tape. But a healthy Perry has been a productive Perry during his first two seasons.
Now, the Packers just need to get a full 16-game season out of the first-round pick.
There's really no reason why Perry and Clay Matthews—given a mostly clean bill of health over a full season—can't give the Packers 20 or more sacks combined.
Green Bay essentially lost two full seasons with its next two picks from the 2012 draft.
Both Worthy, a first-team All-American from Michigan State, and Hayward, a Vanderbilt product who led the Packers in interceptions in 2012, missed the majority of this past season.
While mostly used as an inside pass-rusher as a rookie, Worthy played almost 500 snaps and became a major part of Green Bay's rotation up front in 2012. But a torn ACL suffered in the season finale cost Worthy his entire offseason, and he eventually ended up on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list to start 2013.
While he was activated from that list in November, Worthy played just 14 snaps and was a non-factor this season.
He'll likely be asked to play a significant role next season, potentially as a starter. The Packers have all three starters along the defensive line facing free agency, and major turnover at the position is a possibility.
Hayward simply couldn't shake off a hamstring injury in 2013.
He was one of the draft's major surprises as a rookie, intercepting six passes and quickly becoming one of the NFL's best defenders in the slot. Hayward finished as a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year, eventually losing out to Carolina's Luke Kuechly.
He entered 2013 expected to see his role expand in the defense.
Yet a hamstring pull suffered in training camp lingered on, and when he re-injured the muscle during the regular season, the Packers shut him down for the season. He played just 88 snaps after seeing almost 800 as a rookie.
When healthy, both Worthy and Hayward can be big-time contributors to a Packers defense that declined in 2013. But both are also returning from major injuries, and nothing is guaranteed. Green Bay needs each to slide back into major roles in 2014.
One player who has had little trouble with injuries or impact is Daniels, a relatively unknown fourth-round pick who exploded onto the scene during his second season.
In 2013, Daniels led the Packers' defensive line in total disruptions (41) and tied Matthews for the team lead in sacks (7.5), including playoffs. He was also Green Bay's highest-graded defender against the run.
He's missed just two games over the last two seasons.
|Games Missed to Injury, Packers 2012 Draft Picks|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
Daniels represents one of Thompson's best draft picks in recent years. With a mastery of leverage and an engine that never quits, he has talent similarities to All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The Packers will hope his ascendancy continues next season, when Daniels could be asked to play more in the base defense.
Maybe more importantly, the Packers will want more out of the first three picks from 2012.
Perry, Worthy and Hayward have dealt with injury problems issues that have hampered their individual contributions. When healthy, all three have the ability to help a defense that ranked 24th in points and 25th in yards in 2013.
Under Thompson, the Packers will not be a team that leans heavily on free agency to fill holes or mask deficiencies. Improvements come solely from the draft and the development of those picks.
In 2013, the Packers received major contributions from only one of the eight players picked the previous April. That needs to change in 2014, when Green Bay will rely heavily on the four remaining holdovers from 2012 to produce for a struggling defense.