In Retrospect: A Look Back at the Packers 2009 Draft

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In Retrospect: A Look Back at the Packers 2009 Draft
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Ted Thompson’s 2009 draft may go down as one of the best in recent Packers memory.  Almost all of the rookies from that class went on to play prominent roles in the Packers’ 11-5 record and playoff berth. 

To refresh your memory, here are the Packers’ 2009 draft picks:

 

Round 1, Pick 9: B.J. Raji - NT

Round 1, Pick 26: Clay Matthews - OLB

Round 4, Pick 109: T.J. Lang - OT

Round 5, Pick 145: Quinn Johnson - FB

Round 5, Pick 162: Jamon Meredith - OT

Round 6, Pick 182: Jarius Wynn - DE

Round 6, Pick 187: Brandon Underwood - CB

Round 7, Pick 218: Brad Jones – OLB

 

Prior to the draft there was a lot of debate as to what direction the Packers would go with the ninth overall selection.  I heard they were going to take Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown, Tyson Jackson, Andre Smith, or B.J. Raji.  No one really knew.

When draft day came, the confusion still existed.  When the ninth pick arrived, Ted Thompson was left with an even more difficult decision than imagined: Michael Crabtree was still on the board.  Rated by many as the top overall prospect, Crabtree should have been a lock to go in the top five.

So what was Ted Thompson to do?

Should he draft B.J. Raji, the powerful and deceptively quick nose tackle from Boston College?

Or should he go with the flashy, über-talented wide receiver from Texas Tech, Michael Crabtree?

For most GM’s this would be a no brainer.  With a new defensive coordinator coming to down with a new scheme, they would draft the big nose tackle to anchor their defense for the foreseeable future.

But Ted Thompson doesn’t make his picks based on his team’s most glaring needs.  He has proven year after year that he will draft the best talent available, no matter how many holes his team has.

After a 2008 in which Thompson traded away Brett Favre, the most decorated and beloved Packer of the post-Lombardi days, and engineered a 6-10 finish, fans were nothing short of furious.  Maybe that’s why Thompson seemingly went against his philosophy and drafted Raji.

And what a great choice it was. 

Starting in the preseason against the Buffalo Bills, Raji displayed his awesome power, wreaking havoc on the Bills offensive line.  He constantly ended up in the backfield, overpowering lesser lineman and commanding double teams.  Watch it here.

As the regular season dawned, a bad ankle slowed Raji’s progression.  He also seemed to have difficulty firing off the line at the snap of the ball.

Still, Raji’s incredible size (337 pounds!) and power allowed him to be at least efficient in Capers’ scheme.  As Raji got healthier and more versed in his role as a 3-4 nose tackle, he began to show why the Packers chose him with the ninth overall pick.  Seemingly every week Raji displayed at least one play that made you sit up in your recliner and say “wow!”   

Raji’s development may play a large part in whether or not the Packers re-sign their aging nose tackle Ryan Pickett this offseason.  Knowing Ted Thompson, I would say that unless Pickett is willing to take less money, he will be gone.

But you never know, Thompson has surprised us a few (very few) times before.  2008 was a great example of what can happen to a defense if you do not have depth at the defensive line position.

Hopefully Thompson can resign Pickett. But if not, Raji has shown he has what it takes to be a force in the NFL.

The biggest shock of the Packers’ draft came when Ted Thompson traded a second round pick and two third-rounders for the 26th overall selection. 

With that pick, the Packers would draft inexperienced USC walk-on Clay Matthews III.

In his one year as a starter in 2008, Clay Matthews recorded only four sacks for the Trojans.  Many experts weren’t sure whether Matthews’ inexperience and rather pedestrian sack totals would translate well to him being a rush-specialist in the 3-4 scheme. 

But if there is one thing you should never do to Clay Matthews, it’s doubt him. 

He worked his way up from a high school linebacker, deemed too small to start by his own father, to a walk-on at one of the best programs in the country.

Then people said he only got into USC because of his father, Clay Matthews Jr., and Hall of Fame uncle, Bruce Matthews.

Matthews III continued to prove his doubters wrong as a dominant special teams performer for three years for the Trojans.  When he finally got the chance to start, he was overshadowed by his better-known counterparts, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga.

Still, Matthews refused to let that stop him.  He made himself into a prospect the NFL couldn’t ignore.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In his first season, Matthews took the NFL by storm, recording a Packers’ rookie-record 10 sacks. Against the Vikings, Matthews made the veteran play of stripping tailback Adrian Peterson and taking it back for a touchdown.  Against Dallas he recovered a fumble and returned it to the three-yard line.

Simply put, he just makes plays. 

Matthews’ star shines the brightest of all Packer rookies.  His tremendous work ethic will make him one of the best rushers in the NFL and probably in Packers history.

Thompson’s next pick was an offensive tackle from Eastern Michigan, T.J. Lang.  Lang came to Green Bay known for his nasty streak and his ability to play anywhere on the line.

The latter ability proved very valuable in 2009.  Throughout the season, Lang was asked to play nearly every position on the line except for center.

Against Minnesota on Monday Night Football, Lang was given the daunting task to block one of the best pure pass rushers in the NFL in Jared Allen.  Although he gave up a few sacks, I liked what I saw.

Sure, I liked that he was able to hold his own against Allen, but what I liked even more was Lang’s attitude.  I witnessed many occasions in which T.J. smack-talked the All-Pro, proving he wasn’t afraid of anyone.

The Packers' offensive line needs more people like T.J. Lang, who are big, tough, nasty, and aren’t afraid to smack you in the mouth. 

Next season, it’s doubtful we will see the return of both Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.  Whichever of those two jobs is available will probably belong to Lang next September.  If needed, the other will probably be filled with the upcoming draft—I don’t believe the Packers have anyone else on the roster who can play offensive tackle.

In the fifth round, the Packers chose fullback Quinn Johnson.  Coming out of LSU, Johnson was a raw fullback known for pulverizing defenders with his massive physique.  He couldn’t really be asked to run the ball or to catch it; he was strictly a blocking back.

Upon arriving in Green Bay, the Packers realized just how raw Quinn Johnson was.  Simple drills that required Johnson to keep his pad-level low were too difficult for the rookie.  When he blocked he often fell off balance, flailing about helplessly, and allowing linebackers to fill running lanes.

However, with the help of coach Edgar Bennett, Johnson was able to turn it around.  When he gets on someone, it’s game over.  He’s built like a defensive lineman and smaller linebackers stand no chance against his raw power.  He’s still got a long ways to go to become a good fullback, but he does show flashes of potential from time to time.

Later in the fifth, the Packers selected tackle Jamon Meredith from South Carolina.  Another offensive lineman with a nasty streak, many thought Meredith to be a second-round talent.  However, his supposed lack of passion for the game turned some people off.

Although he made strides in training camp, Meredith did not make the Packers’ 53-man roster and was later signed by the Buffalo Bills.  His future in the NFL is still very much unknown.

Jarius Wynn was the Packers next selection.  The defensive end from Georgia came in capable of playing in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme.  Overall, his production throughout the season was rather minimal.  He did play in a few games this season, but his drop off in talent from Cullen Jenkins showed very quickly.

He’s only a rookie so there is time for him to grow, but as of now Wynn looks like he won’t ever see the field full-time in Green Bay.

Brandon Underwood was drafted with the hope that he could be what Pat Lee the year before wasn’t: A viable cornerback.  This season, Underwood played minimally and didn’t get enough action to judge his future.  However, his natural talent and strong work ethic lend reason for optimism. 

The Packers’ final pick of the draft was OLB Brad Jones from Colorado.  Drafted in the seventh round, Jones didn’t know if he would even make the team.  He came into camp behind Clay Matthews, Aaron Kampman, and Jeremy Thompson among others.

However, when Kampman went down against the 49ers, Jones was asked to step in, whether he was ready or not.

Turns out, he was ready.

Over the last part of the season, Jones proved himself a very capable OLB, recording 33 tackles and four sacks.  He also did very well in pass coverage compared to Kampman, who always looked uncomfortable in coverage.

However, there were times where Jones was washed up by big NFL tackles and he lacks Clay Matthews’ ability to get into the backfield in the blink of an eye. 

Jones’ future in Green Bay could go either way.  The Packers could choose to draft a more talented outside linebacker to replace him, or they could keep him based on his impressive résumé over the last half of the season.

Whatever happens, Brad Jones should have a decent career as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, which is more than anything a seventh round pick can ask for.

So that’s it for the Packers’ 2009 draft.  Overall I’d give it a solid A.  Just the additions of B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews alone are enough to make the draft a success.  If T.J. Lang, Quinn Johnson, and Brad Jones end up starters, then this draft becomes an A+.

Here’s my prediction for the future of the Ted Thompson’s 2009 rookies:

 

NT B.J. Raji

Raji will continue to get better.  He truly is a ridiculous talent.  There are few men out there, even in pro football, who are 340 pounds and as quick as Raji.  Nose tackle is probably the most important part of any 3-4 defense and Raji will be one of the best.  Look for him to make the Pro Bowl in the next few years.

 

OLB Clay Matthews

Matthews will build on his rookie success.  Next year and every year after, I suspect Matthews will have 10–15 sacks.  He will be a perennial Pro Bowler and Packer great. His motor and work ethic, not to mention his bloodline, will fuel him for a long and storied career in Green Bay.

 

OL T.J. Lang

Lang will start at right or left tackle in 2010.  He may never be a Pro Bowl talent, but will be a solid starter at left tackle for the Packers for many years.

 

FB Quinn Johnson

Will continue to split time with Korey Hall at fullback next season.  If he can become a more consistent blocker, he will be a starter in Green Bay; if not, he’ll be gone when his contract expires.

 

OL Jamon Meredith

Only player from 2009 not still on the team.  May end up having a decent career, but it won't be in Green Bay.

 

DE Jarius Wynn

Career backup.  He will make a few plays here and there, but will be gone after his first contract.  He’s very replaceable in any draft.

 

CB Brandon Underwood

He will get a shot at the nickel spot when Al Harris retires.  As of now, he doesn’t have much to compete against.  Tramon Williams will probably be the No. 2 guy behind Charles Woodson.  If the Packers do as I expect and draft a cornerback high in the 2010 draft, Underwood will have a more difficult time seeing the field next year.

 

OLB Brad Jones

If Aaron Kampman is re-signed, then Brad Jones goes back to the bench by default.  If not, Jones will probably start once again for the Pack in 2010.  I don’t predict Ted Thompson drafting an OLB with a high pick with Jones on the roster.  He could have a decent career in Green Bay.  If he continues to develop, he will be really good, especially for a seventh round pick.

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