Monday, March 5, 2012

Could the Packers Find Their Edge Rusher in Round Two of the NFL Draft?

For the majority of the 2011 season, the Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFL. Fresh off winning its fourth Lombardi trophy in Dallas, the Pack saw the rest of the league from a bird's eye view. Green Bay's offense was nearly flawless throughout the season; MVP Aaron Rodgers tossed a franchise-record 45 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions.

Despite being historically efficient on offense, Green Bay's defense prevented the Packers from repeating as Super Bowl champions.

Although vulnerable against the run at times, the fatal flaw for the Packers was their lack of a consistent pass rush. Not only was it an obvious problem in their postseason loss to the Giants, the pass rush issue was a constant throughout the entire season.

When Cullen Jenkins signed with Philadelphia, it left a gaping hole in the middle of Green Bay's defense. The Packers tabbed second-year DE Mike Neal as the replacement for Jenkins, but Neal's injuries and mediocre play left the Packers wondering if they made the right choice in letting Jenkins walk via free agency.

Perhaps the more pressing issue is the revolving door at Outside Linebacker on the opposite side ofClay Matthews. Brad Jones started as a rookie along with Matthews, Erik Walden has had several big games in his two years with the Pack, and Frank Zombo has been serviceable when he's been active. However, not one of these guys has separated himself from the pack - no pun intended. Combine the departure of Cullen Jenkins with not having a full-time, reliable starter on the other side of the defense, offenses viewed Clay Matthews as the only legitimate threat to rush the passer, and thus, teams were able to double and triple team him on a regular basis.

In the 2012 Draft, I expect the Pack's search for Clay Matthews's running mate to be towards the top of Ted Thompson's to-do list. While considered a genius in his field, I do not believe Ted is skilled enough in the science department to clone Mr. Matthews. Although if he could, you can bet your bottom dollar that he would.

Now that the NFL Scouting Combine is complete, the measurables for this Outside Linebacker class can be compared to those of Matthews in 2009. It's my belief that the pass-rushing OLB prospects in round one are very top-heavy; Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw are clearly a notch above the other guys at the position.

Barring a blockbuster trade, Green Bay won't have a chance at either of the Draft's top two pass rushing Linebackers, so the team may be forced to address the OLB position in the later rounds.

Ted Thompson has hit home-runs on some recent second round picks such as Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Nick Collins and Randall Cobb, so let's take a look at a few some potential running-mates for Clay Matthews in Round Two.

  • Ideally, the Packers would find an exact clone of Clay Matthews to play on the other side of their defense. Here's what Clay did at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine:
    • Ht / Wt: 6-3 240
    • 40 Yard Dash: 4.62
    • 10 Yard Split: 1.49
    • 225 Lb. Reps: 23
    • Vertical: 35.5
    • Broad Jump: 10' 1"
    • 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.18
    • 3-Cone Drill: 6.90

1) BRUCE IRVIN - West Virginia
  • Ht / Wt: 6-3 245 (6-3 240)
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.50 (4.62)
  • 225 Lb. Reps: 23 (23)
  • Vertical: 33.5 (35.5)
  • Broad Jump: 10' 3" (10' 1")
  • 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.03 (4.18)
  • 3-Cone Drill: 6.07 (6.90)
  • **Projected Round: 2nd
    • We all know about Irvin's success story - and if you don't, feel free to check out my Pre-Combine article here - but what I like most about Irvin is his incredible athleticism. This guy played WR in high school and DB in Junior Collegeand didn't lose any of his athletic ability when he bulked up to rush the passer. While measurables from the Combine can only tell you so much, Irvin compares favorably to the ultra-athletic Clay Matthews on paper.
    • The knock on Irvin was that he was used almost exclusively as a pass rusher for most of his career at West Virginia. However, he played DE on a 3-man line, a position where most players are at least 270 pounds. Irvin played the position at a slight 245 pounds, a sign that he's more than capable of standing his ground in the run game.
    • To put Irvin's elite athleticism in perspective, he tied the Draft's top CB prospect, Morris Claiborne, in the 40 yard dash at 4.50. Irvin also easily bested Claiborne's time of 7.01 in the 3-cone drill and a 4.12 in the 20 yard shuttle. Bruce Irvin is an absolute beast.

2) RONNELL LEWIS - Oklahoma
  • Ht / Wt: 6-2 253 (6-3 240)
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.68 (4.62)
  • 225 Lb. Reps: 36 (23)
  • Vertical: 31 (35.5)
  • Broad Jump: 9' 4" (10' 1")
  • 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.40 (4.18)
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.09 (6.90)
  • **Projected Round: 2nd

    • He's nicknamed "The Hammer" for a reason, watch some of his highlights if you want to see why. The dude can hit. Hard.
    • Some have Lewis going Late-1st, while others have him as a mid-round pick. He entered the Draft after his Junior year, and he likely would have been drafted much earlier had he stayed at Oklahoma for one more year.
    • What stands out from his performance at the Combine is what he did on the bench press; Lewis pumped out 36 reps of 225 pounds. That's incredible strength for a 3-4 OLB, although he primarily played Defensive End at Oklahoma. I have Lewis going somewhere in the mid-2nd, so I'd be more than happy if the Packers were able to take him with the 60th pick.

3) SHEA McCLELLIN - Boise State
  • Ht / Wt: 6-3 260 (6-3 240)
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.63 (4.62)
  • 225 Lb. Reps: 19 (23)
  • Vertical: 31.5 (35.5)
  • Broad Jump: 9' 10" (10' 1")
  • 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.33 (4.18)
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.07 (6.90)
  • **Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

    • While not in the same breath athletically as Bruce Irvin or Ronnell Lewis, Shea McClellin is the typical overachieving blue-collar worker you'd expect from a kid who grew up on his grandparents' farm. On top of football, McClellin lettered in baseball and basketball in high school.
    • McClellin is a personal favorite of mine. I feel like this guy could develop into a solid starter in the league because he's so versatile. He played primarily Defensive End for the Broncos, but it was somewhat of a hybrid position because he played standing up as well. At the Senior Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings' coaching staff played McClellin at Outside Linebacker. If he can make the transition to OLB in a 3-4 scheme, McClellin could stick around in the league for a long time.
    • Pairing McClellin with Matthews would give the Packers a "Shea & Clay Connection." Just sayin.

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