Mining the gems
By Griffin Gotta
The Green Bay Packers have selected 30 players between the fourth and seventh rounds of the NFL Draft between 2010 and 2014. Though many of Ted Thompson’s more important picks (and, appropriately, biggest disasters) have come in the first and second rounds – Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Eddie Lacy, and two-time league Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers to name a few of the ones that worked out very well – he is often broadly lauded for spotting diamonds in the rough. Late round selections.
It can sound something like a sweeping generalization about a guy who is simply invested in finding people who are good at football, wherever they might be.
But getting players late in the draft that turn into contributors means more than just that to Thompson. It’s a game within a game. Trying to best other front offices by cleaning up on them in the late rounds. Then coming back and showing everyone where they missed a spot.
In an article by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last summer, after Thompson agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Packers, the general manager is quoted.
“That’s what I am; I’m a scout. I work alongside some good scouts upstairs. That’s what I do, that’s what I enjoy. As a scout, you’re always looking for that diamond, the so-called diamond in the rough that no one else can find. You still are looking to one-up somebody else who’s in your business.”
With the annual circus that is the NFL Draft (and all its accompanying sideshows) upon us once again, we’re taking a look at all of Green Bay’s potential “diamond in the rough” picks of the last five years. Some have worked out, some we don’t know yet for sure. Some just didn’t. In all cases we’ve got the eternally unbeaten value of hindsight on our side.
So, with the acknowledgment that we could certainly not do much of anything better than Thompson does in the scouting department, let’s take a look.
Diamonds: David Bakhtiari (2013), Mike Daniels (2012).
Rough: Jerron McMillian (2012), Johnathan Franklin (2013).
Also: Davon House (2011), J.C. Tretter (2013), Carl Bradford (2014).
Daniels is the voice – and loud force behind that voice – of the Packers defense. One of the more impactful 3-4 linemen in the league, Daniels is Green Bay’s best balance against both the run and pass. The frothing mad leadership he’s developed is more than a bonus. Bakhtiari survived the gauntlet that is starting at left tackle as a rookie and came out better for it. Last year he was better still, and figures to be an anchor on the critical left side of Green Bay’s offensive line for years to come.
Franklin is a sad story. A running back with unique skills and speed out of the backfield, not to mention potential abilities in this offense – especially as a complement to Green Bay’s other backs – announced his retirement last June because of a neck injury. His football career was never given a chance to take off. Although the bulk of the load would probably still be going to Lacy, what could have been a dangerous duo with him and Franklin will never be realized. McMillian, largely labeled a reach even at the time, was released in late 2013 after it became pretty clear over two seasons that the ideal replacement for Nick Collins, he was not.
When healthy, House has done nothing but improve during his career here. But entering free agency could mean the end of his time in Green Bay if another team offers the right price and promise of a starting spot. (Due to the Packers’ options in the secondary, House didn’t play a single defensive snap in the NFC title game.) Tretter went from the strange position of starting center in the training camp spotlight to instant afterthought and offensive line utility man after an injury sidelined him. Opening the door for rookie center Corey Linsley, who more than took advantage of the opportunity. Bradford made the final roster last year but was inactive for every game in 2014.
Diamonds: Micah Hyde (2013), Corey Linsley (2014), Andrew Quarless (2010).
Rough: Marshall Newhouse (2010), D.J. Williams (2011), Terrell Manning (2012).
Also: Josh Boyd (2013), Jared Abbrederis (2014).
Hyde is a dynamic punt returner and physical, versatile defender in Green Bay’s secondary. His role only figures to increase on the team, especially with the potential losses the Packers defense could suffer this offseason. Linsley was a relative unknown heading into that Thursday Night Football season opener in Seattle. Since then he improved steadily all year, solidifying the middle of the line between all-everything guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Pro Football Focus ranked Linsley tied for third in the league in pass blocking efficiency – he allowed only 15 total pressures (one sack, two hits, 12 hurries) in 595 passing snaps last season.
Quarless is a diamond. It might feel surprising at first glance, but he is. Battling through injuries for much of the early part of his career, he never stopped working to get back. And when he came back healthy these last two seasons, he’s become one of the team’s more reliable targets. Quarless doesn’t have the explosiveness or pure athletic gifts of Jermichael Finley – which caused many to write him off as a tight end altogether – but he has made big plays, been in the right spots more often than not, over the last two years. Quarless’s career hasn’t been easy and didn’t take off right away, but he’s now Green Bay’s most experienced tight end.
Newhouse was at best serviceable at left tackle, at worst a frustrating turnstile, during his time in Green Bay. Williams, the intriguing tight end from Arkansas, caught nine passes in 35 games for the Packers. Manning, a linebacker, could never ascend past the special teams unit in Green Bay. These were, simply put, misses.
Boyd appeared in 15 games and started in four for the Packers in 2014, becoming a solid member of the team’s defensive line rotation. With the outlooks of Letroy Guion, B.J. Raji, and Julius Peppers up in the air, Boyd could see more responsibility come his way next year. Abbrederis was showing promise in training camp before losing the 2014 season to a torn ACL. He should be in the mix next season for roles in the Packers offense and special teams.
Diamonds: James Starks (2010).
Rough: Ricky Elmore (2011), Caleb Schlauderaff (2011).
Also: D.J. Smith (2011), Nate Palmer (2013), Demetri Goodson (2014).
Starks stands alone here. Despite off-and-on injury woes, when Starks is right, he is a violent shredder of a runner who seems to enjoy welcoming oncoming defenders with a shot of his own. He makes a cut and shoots forward. Almost always gaining positive, hard-earned yardage. Starks’ current role spelling Lacy for possessions seems like an ideal use of the Buffalo back. When the defense thinks it’s getting a break, it is getting anything but. His impact on the team’s 2010-2011 Super Bowl championship run was immense, becoming the consistent back and blunt-force runner the team needed to grind out wins, especially the Wild Card victory in Philadelphia that got the whole thing started.
Schlauderaff, an offensive lineman, was traded to the Jets before the 2011 season for a draft pick. Elmore, a defensive end at Arizona drafted to be an outside linebacker, was released after training camp as a rookie.
Smith, from Appalachian State, appeared in 16 games for the Packers as a rookie. Filling in for Desmond Bishop the next year, Smith looked poised to possibly solidify a spot in the defense, starting the first six games of 2012 at inside linebacker. But after tearing his ACL and MCL in that sixth game, the Packers released him in the spring of 2013.
Palmer, a linebacker, spent the 2014 campaign on the team’s injured reserve list. Goodson, the former point guard at Gonzaga turned Baylor cornerback, made the team but only appeared on special teams last season.
Diamonds: Sam Barrington (2013).
Rough: Lawrence Guy (2011), B.J. Coleman (2012), Andrew Datko (2012).
Also: C.J. Wilson (2010), Ryan Taylor (2011), Kevin Dorsey (2013), Charles Johnson (2013), Jeff Janis (2014).
Barrington is a diamond here mostly because we’re hopeful. That said, he became a solid contributor to a defense last season that needed an infusion of youth and athleticism in its inside linebacking corps. He registered 52 tackles and a sack in 14 games, and figures to be a full-time starter next year.
Guy, a rangy defensive end, spent his rookie year on injured reserve in Green Bay. He was signed off the Packers’ practice squad by the Colts in 2012. Coleman was a potential backup quarterback who ended up leading to the signing of Seneca Wallace. This move eventually led to the return of Matt Flynn. So there’s that. Datko, an offensive tackle, was on the Packers’ practice squad as a rookie.
After being signed by Cleveland off Green Bay’s practice squad in October 2013, Johnson eventually landed with Minnesota in September 2014. He became a breakout receiver there, finishing last season with 31 catches, 475 yards, and two touchdowns. Dorsey spent his rookie year on injured reserve and ended last season there as well. Despite flashes of strong special teams play, he was released in February.
Taylor was released last October after three-plus seasons at tight end and as a special teams instigator in Green Bay. Wilson, a rotational defensive lineman that was always just sort of there, left for Oakland as a free agent following the 2013 season.
Janis showed flashes of speed, scoring on two long touchdown receptions in preseason play, and looked like a potential sleeper in Green Bay’s receiving corps in training camp. He could never gain footing on the depth chart, however, appearing in only three games last season, making two catches for 16 yards.
This year, along with those like Janis who still have a shot at making their mark in Green Bay, the Packers will add another handful of late round selections.
Whether or not they’re added to Thompson’s list of diamonds in the rough remains to be seen. You never know where the next unsung hero will come from. But we can always hope that enough of Thompson’s best educated guesses turn into sure things.