Strategies For NFC Teams In The 2018 NFL Draft

Draft day is finally here! The excitement is building as fans gather to see who will be joining their team in 2018. Before the festivities begin, Jake has plenty of draft reading for you to do! So dive in!

Hey guys! Instead of the usual mock drafts or big boards, this piece will analyze teams’ strategies for the upcoming draft. Here, we will take a look at every NFC team and what their strategy could look like for the weekend! Enjoy!

Chicago Bears – Help Out Every Level Of The Defense

Number of picks – Seven

The Bears have plenty to address in this draft, but the list was shortened thanks to free agency. With receivers and a tight end coming in to help Mitchell Trubisky, the focus shifts to the defensive side of the ball. The Bears could use help at all levels of the defense, and they could have their pick of the litter at eight overall. If Quenton Nelson is there, then scrap the defense first plans. Nelson would be excellent in forming a great interior trio with Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long.

If they don’t get Nelson, back to defense we go. If he’s there, Roquan Smith would be my pick for the Bears. He is excellent as a three down linebacker with sideline-to-sideline abilities. After that, Denzel Ward and Tremaine Edmunds are the next two the Bears should consider. Ward would help out the cornerback group immediately while Edmunds could be moved all over the front seven.

Let’s say the Bears go with Roquan at number eight overall. Next on the list would be some help at either corner or wide receiver. Corner would be the smarter move, with players like Mike Hughes and Isaiah Oliver available in that range. If they look for a receiver, D.J. Moore would be a name to throw out there.

If Chicago adds another weapon and fills the holes at every level, their fans should be pleased.

Green Bay Packers – Defense, Defense, Defense! And A Wide Receiver

Number of picks – 12

The Packers could have a decision to make at pick number 14. Rumor has it they might move up, but let’s assume they stand pat here. At 14, the obvious pick is either adding an edge rusher or a cornerback. With Denzel Ward likely gone by this point, the Packers should opt for either Harold Landry or a corner, my preference being Jaire Alexander. If either Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James is available, that further complicates things. I’m a huge fan of Derwin James, and I’d probably lean his way if he’s available.

In the second round, the Packers will also have a tough decision. Let’s stick with Harold Landry to the Packers to keep it simple. Green Bay should still be looking corner here, and shouldn’t hesitate if Jaire Alexander or Mike Hughes are still there. If they aren’t, then wide receiver is in play. Anthony Miller, D.J. Chark, and James Washington would all fit well in Green Bay. Chark can take the top off, Miller is very polished, and Washington just feels like a producer in that offense.

If they do indeed go wide receiver, the late rounds still provide cornerback help. Duke Dawson would be an excellent nickel player, along with Rashan Gaulden. Quenton Meeks is another to consider, but he’d be a better fit outside. They should also consider offensive linemen, since their right side is up in the air at this point. Braden Smith, Sean Welsh, and Alex Cappa should be on the Packers minds as well.

Minnesota Vikings – Fill The Offensive Line And Let Draft Come To You

Number of picks – Eight

The Vikings, like the Jaguars in my AFC article, don’t have a ton of holes on the team. However, the offensive line could use some help. Someone like Will Hernandez or Billy Price would be a great add for the Vikings in round one. They would help protect Cousins while also paving holes for Dalvin Cook.

After that, the needs get interesting. The defensive line could use some more depth. Luckily for Minnesota, the interior defensive line class is deep. Someone like Derrick Nnadi would be a great add at the end of round two. Further back, teammates Justin Jones and B.J. Hill are bargain players that can help push the pocket.

If they really want to, finding another pass rusher never hurts. I recently mocked Arden Key to them in round two, and he could definitely be there for the taking. However the Vikings play it, they will be able to pick and choose where they want to add depth in the draft.

Detroit Lions – Find Your Running Back and Help The Defensive Line

Number of picks – Six

The Lions are moving in a new direction with new head coach Matt Patricia. The team needs help in two major spots, running back and defensive line. The Lions could take Derrius Guice at 20, but the class is deep this year and I wouldn’t spend the pick on Guice (even though I’m a huge fan of his).

That means we are headed to the defensive line. Harold Landry could be available if the Packers pass, and if he’s there, he’s the pick. However, the Packers could take him, so it comes down to either Marcus Davenport or someone like Da’Ron Payne in the middle. If I’m the GM, Payne is the pick to start off the draft for the Lions.

After that, it’s about finding edge help and help at running back. One of the Georgia backs is my target for the Lions in round two. Either way, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are both excellent backs that can change a game. Later, edge help from someone like Obo Okoronkwo or Tyquan Lewis can make a lot of sense for Detroit.

Dallas Cowboys – Let Board Come To You, Draft Balanced

Number of picks – 10

The Cowboys are a flashy team, and they want to get back to that 14-2 season they had in 2016. However, the draft needs to go well to get back to that point. Dallas has gotten better with the draft in the past few seasons, and they need to do it again.

Let’s start with the 19th overall pick. Wide receiver is a need with Dez Bryant gone, but most receivers are a reach for me at 19. Offensive line should be the move here, and someone like Isaiah Wynn makes a ton of sense. He played tackle for Georgia in a tough conference, but he can slide into the guard spot if needed.

Round two is the sweet spot to take care of the receiver issue. Guys like Anthony Miller, Courtland Sutton, and James Washington. Any of those guys make sense for Dallas in round two. After that, it’s about helping the defense. Someone to complement DeMarcus Lawrence would be smart, and guys like Kemoko Turay could help out there. Interior guys could also be in play. Derrick Nnadi could certainly help, along with Maurice Hurst, should his freefall occur.

New York Giants – Bolster The Offensive Line And Defense

Number of picks – Six

The Giants certainly should think about the future, but management clearly believes in Eli Manning. Let’s say I believe in him as well, so trading back is a must. To do this, I’m taking 12 and 22 for the second overall pick, allowing the Bills to get their guy. With only six picks beforehand, it’s an easy decision. I also pick up a round two selection.

To start, help along the offensive line is important. I lose out on Quenton Nelson, but plenty of guys are still there. So let’s take a swing to help the pass rush with Harold Landry. Landry has great bend around the edge and will instantly boost what was a lackluster pass rush last season. After that, it’s time for an offensive lineman to help protect Eli Manning. James Daniels and Frank Ragnow are players to watch here, and I’ll scoop up Daniels to be the starting center after the departure of Weston Richburg.

The later rounds have the Giants looking running back and corner. Players like John Kelly, Royce Freeman, and Rashad Penny are players to watch for Big Blue. For corner, it’s players like Quenton Meeks and Tarvarus McFadden. The Giants can get back to where they were in 2016, and a good draft is the way there.

Philadelphia Eagles – With Few Needs, Look For Best Available

Number of picks – Six

The Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champs, and they got richer along the line after acquiring Michael Bennett. This group can sit back and let the draft come to them. If Derrius Guice is available at 32, pull the trigger. He’s well worth it at the end of round one to be a bell cow with LeGarrette Blount gone. If not, the offensive line could use some help. If someone like Connor Williams falls to them, he would be the heir apparent to Jason Peters. If neither of those are options, someone like Mike Hughes or Isaiah Oliver would be good picks for a secondary that could use reinforcing.

Let’s say Guice is there and they take him. Their next pick is a couple rounds down the road, so a linebacker like Fred Warner could be available for them. Someone like Tyrell Crosby could be available as a right tackle with Lane Johnson moving to the left. In any sense, someone like Royce Freeman or Kerryon Johnson could become an early down back for the Eagles should they pass on Guice or avoid a running back early. The Eagles have options, and the board will dictate their moves.

Washington Redskins – Help Alex Smith And Boost The Defense

Number of picks – Eight

The Redskins pulled a stunner trading for Alex Smith in the offseason. The Redskins sent Kendall Fuller, one of the best slot corners in the league, to Kansas City in that trade. Washington has a whole bunch of needs entering the draft.

Their first priority should be to help out the secondary. With pick 13 in round one, they should be able to get either a top secondary player or someone to help the defensive line. Minkah Fitzpatrick should be their top choice. He can play in the slot or play with the defense in front of him at the safety spot. Derwin James is also a possibility for them there, along with defensive linemen Vita Vea. If both safeties are gone, pairing Vea with Jonathan Allen would be a great duo.

If they go with Vea, adding someone like Justin Reid or Jessie Bates in round two would certainly help. Jaire Alexander would be a great option in round two as well, but he’s unlikely to fall. Helping Alex Smith out would be another good possibility for them. D.J. Moore is an intriguing day two option, along with a big target like Courtland Sutton or Auden Tate. A good balance of picks to address multiple needs would help the Redskins back in the right direction.

New Orleans Saints – Pass Rush and Secondary Are Priorities

Number of picks – Eight

The Saints are a team that is contending for a Super Bowl title, but they could also be looking for a long term solution at quarterback. Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph could be in play at 27, but let’s say the Saints go with the short term idea of winning now. Getting more of a pass rush should be the priority for the Saints at 27, but there might not be a top tier talent waiting for them. Josh Sweat is an option, but teams may stray away due to medical issues. A final option for them is to get another weapon. Hayden Hurst would be an excellent option as a pass catching tight end to work the middle of the field. If Calvin Ridley were to fall, he would be an option. Let’s go with Hurst at 27.

As for the rest of the draft, the Saints could use some help to rush the passer to take the pressure off of Cam Jordan. Someone like Andrew Brown or Nathan Shepherd (even Hurst) could be available in the third round. Obo Okoronkwo is another name to watch as an edge rusher. Chad Thomas is a pass rusher not often mentioned, but he’d be fun to watch in New Orleans.

Helping the defense is a priority, but the Saints may be forced to go offense early without many options.

Atlanta Falcons – Reinforce The Trenches First

Number of picks – Seven

The Falcons are one of the rosters in the league that don’t have many holes. The only spots that could use some depth and improvement are the trenches. Atlanta will have options at the 26th pick. One of their main interests is in Taven Bryan, who would bring some pass rush from the interior. Da’Ron Payne is another interior linemen who would be a good fit in Atlanta. It sounds likely that Payne won’t be available, so Bryan is their best pick along the line. If they go to the other side, guys like Will Hernandez and Billy Price would be available. Getting an impact player there will be important for them.

If they go Bryan in the first round, the second round still offers help at the guard spot. Braden Smith and Austin Corbett are both very good guards who will still provide a day one impact. If they go interior line on the first night, then a falling Maurice Hurst could be the pick on day two.

Atlanta could also throw a curve in the trenches plan and go with a corner in round one. Jaire Alexander could be available and would fit perfectly in the slot. If they don’t address that position early, late round options do exist. Duke Dawson would be an excellent later round selection.

Carolina Panthers – Get Cam Newton Some Help

Number of picks – Eight

The Panthers need to find help for Cam Newton in this draft after trading Kelvin Benjamin last season. If the draft goes their way, they could have their pick of wide receiver at 24 overall. Calvin Ridley would be their likely selection, and it makes sense. He is a great route runner with the explosiveness to stretch the field. He would provide a day one impact. If Ridley isn’t the pick, it would likely be a cornerback. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are two corners who could find a home in Carolina.

If the pick is Ridley early, the Panthers would then shift their focus to defense. Corner and pass rusher are big needs for the Panthers, and adding someone like Donte Jackson or Sam Hubbard in round two would make a ton of sense. If they opt for a corner in round one, someone like Dante Pettis could make sense in round two. Either way, adding some combination of those positions should be Carolina’s move. If it were me, I would opt for a corner in round one and move on from there.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Help Out Winston Along With The Defense

Number of picks – Seven

The Bucs only have seven picks, so they need to hit on their picks in the draft. The secondary needs some work, along with the offensive line. If Quenton Nelson falls to the Bucs at seven, he should be the pick. If not, drafting a safety should be next. Derwin James would fit nicely with Justin Evans as a safety tandem. Let’s say that James is the pick in round one.

After that, cornerback and offensive line would still be needs. Isaiah Oliver is mocked to them in my two round one from last week, but they could also opt for Austin Corbett at guard to help protect Jameis Winston.

If they go with Corbett, finding help in the secondary would be the next priority. M.J. Stewart and Nick Nelson would be interesting options for the Bucs in the later rounds. If they refill the secondary and get some offensive line help, the Bucs are moving in the right direction.

Los Angeles Rams – Edge And Linebacker Are Big Needs

Number of picks – Eight

The Rams don’t have a pick in the first two rounds, so the draft will be a lot of late round talent to add depth to the roster.

Edge and corner are the biggest needs for the Rams after free agency. A couple options along the edge are Kylie Fitts and Tyquan Lewis could be good fits along the edge. Fitts is more of a pure pass rusher with the skill to come on in later downs, while Lewis has three down potential. He could move inside to rush the passer on third down.

The linebacker spot is the other position where the Rams need help. Many players exist in the middle rounds for the Rams to select there. Fred Warner is a prospect that many like as a linebacker who works through blocks and is a great tackler. Guys like Josey Jewell, Jack Cichy, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and Tegray Scales will all be in play for the Rams in the later rounds.

San Francisco 49ers – Linebacker, Weapons In Play For Niners

Number of picks – Nine

The Niners have options with their first round pick. The best option is to fill the need at linebacker with either Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith. They could move up to make sure they get one, but they should be able to get one of the two with their first pick.

In the second round, the Niners did trade away the 43rd pick to the Pats, but they do own the Saints second rounder. Offensive line or wide receiver would be the move in the second. Someone like Chukwuma Okorafor or Braden Smith would be a nice pick to protect Jimmy Garoppolo. Otherwise, someone like Dante Pettis would be a good pick for San Francisco, or a bigger target like Auden Tate or Deon Cain.

If they can add weapons and find their long term answer at linebacker, the Niners will contend sooner rather than later.

Seattle Seahawks – Secondary and Offensive Line Are Big Needs

Number of picks – Eight

The Seahawks are in a big transition. They still have their quarterback in Russell Wilson, but they need pieces back around him. Their defense is also going through a transition and could use more impact players.

I fully expect the Seahawks to look for a corner in round one, even though offensive line should be the focus. If it were me, I’d opt for someone like Connor Williams, but the Seahawks usually don’t take linemen that early. It’s more likely Seattle takes Josh Jackson or Marcus Davenport with their first selection.

After selecting Josh Jackson, they may shift to look for edge help later. Players like Jalyn Holmes and Jeff Holland could provide the pass rush with help in the mid rounds. They don’t have a second round pick, which hurts them a little.

In the later rounds, tight end could be a focus. Durham Smythe and Tyler Conklin are intriguing names late on day two or early on day three. If they opt there, they could fill a hole left by Jimmy Graham but get an all-around player to take his place and fit better in Seattle’s system.

Arizona Cardinals – Quarterback Is An Option, But The Roster Needs Help

Number of picks – Eight

The Cardinals may get the opportunity to trade up in this draft. If they can land Josh Rosen via a trade, they should absolutely do so. Rosen is the best quarterback in the draft and would be a player to build around in future drafts. If they stand pat, Lamar Jackson should be available for the taking.

If Rosen is the play early, they would likely lose their second round pick. Looking for offensive line help and corner help would be their strategy in the later rounds. Alex Cappa is a name being thrown around as a mid round tackle who could end up being a very good starter. Putting someone like Rashan Gaulden or Quenton Meeks opposite Patrick Peterson would also be a smart move for Arizona.

If the Cardinals stay put, they could get some receiver help early on day two. Anthony Miller or James Washington would work well under the mentorship of Larry Fitzgerald, then take over as the top guy in the near future.

However Arizona attacks the draft, they need to continue to add talent to a mostly lackluster roster.

Think your team has a good strategy? What would you do for your team? Follow me on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 to talk NFL Draft!

Also, join us for our second annual NFL Draft live stream @SportsGuysBlog on Twitter! We will stream the first two nights of the draft, so come with questions and discussion! It’s going to be a great time! See you there!

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Packers Digest, Week 4: Packers Will Face Stiff Test From Bears

Packers digest is finally back! The Packers currently sit at 2-1, and last week’s game was a classic. The Packers fell behind early to the Bengals, but some Aaron Rodgers magic and a couple key stops helped the Packers finish them off in overtime.

That win showed us a few things. First off, Geronimo Allison can be a big part of this offense, especially when the Packers need him to step up. The second year wide receiver posted a 6/122 line on Sunday, his best game so far in Green Bay. Second, Josh Jones and Kevin King have really bright futures. King lined up against A.J. Green a bunch on Sunday and held his own for the most part. Jones, however, flew around like a cruise missile and tackled everyone in sight. His best tackle of the game was stopping Tyler Kroft in his tracks on third down to force a Bengals punt in overtime. Third, the Packers will have offensive issues if their tackles continue to miss games. Kyle Murphy and Justin McCray didn’t look good on Sunday. Murphy was consistently beat by rookie defensive end Carl Lawson on Sunday.

However, a win is a win. On to Chicago.

A Struggle For The Pack?

The Bears come in with some momentum after downing the Steelers in overtime thanks to their running backs. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have quickly become a great complementary duo in the backfield. The Bears front also made things difficult for Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game.

The Packers have had issues with the Bears in recent seasons. Last year, the Packers did take both games, but it took 56 passes from Rodgers at home and a bomb to Jordy Nelson on the road to down them.

This first meeting between the two will certainly be different.

Controlling The Trenches

This is where the game will definitely be decided. On one side of the matchup, the Bears bring a nasty front seven that can wreak havoc and get to the quarterback. The Packers enter with their first four tackles on the depth chart sidelined. On paper, this does not bode well for the Packers. It’s likely that Adam Pankey and Justin McCray get the start at the tackle spots. However, the Packers could move Lane Taylor to tackle and use some depth at the guard spot. Either way, it doesn’t look good.

However, the Packers aren’t doomed. They still have the league’s best quarterback. Aaron Rodgers can still make things happen, even with this looming disadvantage along the line. Green Bay will surely have a gameplan for this, and it could look a lot like last October’s Thursday night matchup. The Packers will likely utilize the quick passing game to get things rolling early.

Having Randall Cobb back is a big deal, as he was the best receiver through two weeks. He will be able to open things up over the middle of the field with his quickness. Obviously we will see Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson get work in too. Nelson will also see the slot to create a mismatch from time to time. One under the radar guy to watch will be Lance Kendricks. He played very well last week and has the speed to stretch the field and create openings underneath.

The Packers will look to run the ball as well, but it might be tough for Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams to find openings. Montgomery will certainly get looks in the passing game, and he will be another slot option the Packers can utilize.

Let’s shift to the other matchup in the trenches. The Bears will look to provide a heavy dose of Jordan Howard early. With Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, and Josh Sitton, the Bears certainly have a dominant group assembled.

The biggest issue is that Mike Daniels is out again. This will put pressure on young guns Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry to get a push and eat space in the run game. They both had good games last week, but this week’s test is on another level. The Bears are going to make things easy for Mike Glennon if they can. It’s up to the defensive line to make things difficult. The good news for the Packers is that Nick Perry is active and will play. While Clay Matthews and Ahmad Brooks are pass rushers, Perry also does damage against the run.

The Bears do have a weakness at tackle. With Perry, Matthews, and Brooks, the Packers should live in the backfield on passing downs. The key word here is should. We’ve seen this group have spurts of good play, but we’re waiting for the good game as a unit. Tonight needs to be the night against a weak tackle duo.

How Do The Pack Stop The Bears Best Receiving Option?

He’s a rookie, but Tarik Cohen is a nightmare in the passing game. With limited options at receiver, the Bears could use Cohen in multiple ways to get him the ball. Cohen reminds many of Dion Lewis with his elusiveness, but he’s also as electric as Darren Sproles. This presents an issue.

However, the Packers could have the medicine for this headache. Rookie safety Josh Jones played a fantastic game last week. He had a real feel for where to be, and he flew to the ball all game long. He’s not afraid to take on anyone. Him, along with the rest of the secondary, need to wrap up on Cohen, or big plays are in their future.

X-Factors

Offense: Lance Kendricks – With all the receivers back and healthy, Kendricks could be an afterthought for the Bears defense. That’s why he’s someone to watch out for. Kendricks has that speed to stretch the field, and he’s been a more reliable target than Martellus Bennett. He could see some looks and make some big plays when he is needed.

Defense: Dean Lowry – It’s about controlling and limiting the Bears ground game. Lowry has the strength and leverage to win up front. Plus, he can run guys down from the opposite side. If he plays well, the Packers can dial up the pressure on Glennon and make things difficult.

How Will The Game Play Out?

This game could go a couple of ways. If the Bears have their way running the football, the Packers could end up playing from behind. If that happens, the Bears could give the Packers a lot of man-to-man looks, which has been the Packers kryptonite the last couple seasons. Aaron Rodgers might have to pull a rabbit out of his hat while running for his life.

On the other hand, if the Pack can limit the Bears running game and get on the board early, the Bears struggle to play catch up. The Packers haven’t started fast in any game this season, so we will see what they have in store tonight.

Either way, this game has the feel of a game that will go down to the wire.

The Prediction

Packers 20, Bears 16.

Jake’s 5 For 5: Offseason Talk

As NFL fans, we continually try to make things interesting in the offseason. From the top 100 players to underrated players, we start to count the days till the season starts. This week, one of the slower news weeks of the season, is a tough week to find ideas for a 5 for 5. But, we did it. So let’s get into my NFL thoughts of the week.

Jeremy Maclin Sweepstakes

The Chiefs shocked the NFL world when they released wide receiver Jeremy Maclin last Friday. When more details came out, the decision was clear. The Chiefs didn’t have enough room for him on the roster due to cap space. With Kansas City needing to sign their rookies, someone had to go. Unfortunately for Maclin, he counted $10 million against the cap. Here are my thoughts on the ripple effect for Maclin and where he could end up.

1. The Chiefs lost something when they released Maclin. They lost the leadership that he brought, which is necessary when you have such a young group. However, the release doesn’t hurt them too much as an offense. Yes, Maclin was productive in 2015, but he was hurt much of last season. The Chiefs do have a young group, but Andy Reid’s offense isn’t build around a strong number one receiver. He wants effective running backs and an effective tight end to make his offense go. He has those in place.

2. The Maclin release also may hint at how the Chiefs are building as a unit. Notice how young a lot of their position groups are. This move proves that the Chiefs are rebuilding before they age and drop off. A Super Bowl doesn’t seem to be in reach in 2017, so they are preparing for 2018 and 2019 especially. They have the heir apparent in Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The running back core is young. They have found playmakers on defense. This team will contend for a while, so there’s no need to rush with this group. Maclin was not going to be in future plans.

3. As for where Maclin signs, the Bills have been the rumored front runners. LeSean McCoy has recruited him heavily to Buffalo, and they met with Maclin for a couple days. Nothing is nailed down yet, but adding Maclin to the receiving core would be nice. Imagine having Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, and Jeremy Maclin. Not bad at all.

4. The Ravens are another team in the mix. They also have met with Maclin already, and he again left without a deal. It’s clear that he is taking his time here. Baltimore would be a good spot though. The Ravens invested heavily on defense in the draft, and their receiving core is very depleted (now with Pitta gone too). Adding Maclin would be good for Joe Flacco and the offense.

5. Here are two wild cards: Arizona and Cleveland. Arizona makes a lot of sense. They are in win now mode with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald still in town. The defense is improving, and having another reliable receiver would suit them. Cleveland is extremely young on offense, so bringing in Maclin as a veteran presence could help them in the long run. Plus, they have the cap room. The only issue with Cleveland is knowing he’s not in their long term plans, and he won’t win a ring there.

The Kaepernick Saga Continues

Colin Kaepernick has been passed up again, this time by the Seahawks. They decided to go with Austin Davis to be a backup, leaving Kaepernick (most likely) without a job. This is a sensitive subject, but I will give some thoughts.

NOTE: If you are sensitive to this, don’t read it. Just read the other parts. No worries.

1. As far as being blackballed, it’s not completely that. It may be in part to it, but it’s not the whole story. Sure, fans and owners are not thrilled with him kneeling during the anthem. That happens, especially with people who know people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. However, it is free speech, and he is allowed to do it.

2. There is another part to this. Many people have used the words “bum” and “he sucks” to describe Kaepernick. Someone even went as far to say there are 15 better backups than him. While he isn’t a top tier player, some people ride the extremes because of his actions.

3. As far as the play of Kaepernick goes, there are some teams he could start on. He isn’t the 32nd best quarterback in football, but he certainly isn’t in the top half. The issue with Kaep comes down to one thing: scheme. Most teams run a scheme that revolves around a pocket passer in a west coast system. In reality, Kaepernick is not a strong player from the pocket. He is much more effective on the move. Plenty of quarterbacks thrive on the move, but many of them have top-level accuracy. Kaepernick throws one type of ball, a fastball. His touch on the run just doesn’t show up.

4. Another point with the scheme. Teams are not going to adjust their scheme to fit the backup quarterback. The Bucs signed Ryan Fitzpatrick because Jameis Winston is in a pro style offense. One thing you can’t do is change an offense for a backup. The only teams that would sign him would be Seattle and Carolina. But, even Seattle thought he was a starter and maybe would challenge Wilson, they still brought him in.

5. My suggestion at this point is to quit losing your minds. We have people like Mike Freeman going nuts on one extreme and Andy Benoit on another. Kaepernick would be a good running back, but he doesn’t work in a pro style system.

Taylor Decker (Torn Labrum) Out 4-6 Months

It was confirmed today by Ian Rapoport that Lions left tackle Taylor Decker has torn his labrum. This is a huge blow to the Lions, who reinforced their line with TJ Lang and Ricky Wagner in free agency. Here’s the impact.

1. Even if he returns, his best case scenario could be sometime in October. For reference, let’s bring him back in week five against Carolina. The Lions face Arizona, Atlanta, the Giants, and Minnesota in the first four weeks. There are elite pass rushers all over that schedule. It will be tough to contain Olivier Vernon and JPP. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are underrated in Arizona. Vic Beasley could feast on that side (or maybe rookie Takk McKinley). The Vikings have Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Translation? That isn’t good for this offense.

2. Let’s check the worst case. Let’s say he comes back in December. Detroit plays five division games before December comes around. Decker could be a major hole for them agains the NFC North, which also features premier rushers and front sevens. The offense was one dimensional last season, and things could be rough by then. Pass rushers can wreck games and game plans.

3. The issue goes deeper when you realize they didn’t add depth in the draft along the offensive line.

4. I know this is one player, but losing a left tackle is a big deal. Stafford is a good quarterback, but he (like most) struggles with the blitz. Knowing their weapons are few, teams with good secondaries could unleash the blitz with devastating effects.

5. The Lions are coming off of a playoff berth, but this could put a wrench in their 2017 playoff hopes, especially with margin in the NFC North getting smaller.

Players Wait For Extensions

1. Matt Stafford is one of the under-the-radar extensions to watch. He will be finishing up his 5 year, $76.5 million contract this season, and the Lions won’t let him go. His number could surpass $25 million per season.

2. Odell Beckham is not showing up for OTAs due to his current contract. The odds it gets done? Not high. The Giants, with the fifth year option, could take this all the way to 2019, which could cause some friction.

3. Derek Carr extension talks are underway, but there is no significant progress to report. Carr is rising as a franchise quarterback. His deal will most likely rival the top current deals in the NFL, so he is one to watch. Plus, he has no fifth year option.

4. Speaking of the Raiders, Khalil Mack is another extension to watch. He is already one of the best pass rushers in the game. I think this is a deal that should get done sooner than later, with the average salary number continually rising for elite pass rushers (imagine what Joey Bosa could get in a few years).

5. Aaron Rodgers was asked about his contract during interviews this week. He will be a free agent in 2020, but now may be too soon to talk about it. He will be 36 then, and who knows if he is still the best in the league by then. Yet, he is seeing what other quarterbacks are making, and he knows he is worth more. The Packers will make sure he stays.

The RB Battle For 2018

This is something I will be keeping an eye on. While the 2017 class looks good, 2018 could rival this class. There are many great runners who will show up in the fall in college, so here’s an early look at them.

1. Derrius Guice, LSU – Guice is my RB1 right now. Why? He does so much well. He finishes his runs, and always has a chance to break one loose. He has rare speed and power, and can shake off tackles. He is also a smart runner. When he needs the first down, he doesn’t get fancy. He finds it and gets it done.

2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State – He is tops for many analysts, and it’s for a good reason. He is extremely shifty, and consistently made guys miss in the backfield last season. Barkley also has great burst in the open field. Once he gets going, it is tough to catch him. He’s also very good in the passing game. I expect him to refine his game in 2017.

3. Kalen Ballage, ASU – The Arizona State runner wasn’t talked about as much, but he brings a ton to the table. Right away, you see the power and the ability to dominate between the tackles. He has the strong frame to absorb hits. But, he is quick in the open field. He seems ideal for a run first scheme, but there is more to see with Ballage.

4. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama – When you talk about running backs, there’s always one at Alabama. Scarbrough is a massive back who can take anyone on one-on-one. He ran well in the playoff last season for Alabama. At his size, you would thing game-breaker wouldn’t describe him. But, you’d be incorrect. He can run away from defenders and make them miss.

5. There are plenty of others to look at. Royce Freeman is special in the Oregon offense. Myles Gaskin thrives in Washington. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will share a backfield in Georgia. Ronald Jones is out there at USC. Kamryn Pettway (Auburn) and Justin Jackson (Northwestern) are others to watch.

Questions? Comments? Want to discuss? Go to @SportsGuysBlog or @JSchyvinck13 to discuss!

Jake Schyvinck is the lead NFL and NFL Draft writer for The Sports Guys. Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 for constant discussion. Also, check him out on cover32.com/chiefs.

10 Players The Packers Can Target On Day 2

Packer fans were ultimately disappointed Thursday night when Green Bay traded the 29th overall pick to the Browns in exchange for picks 33 and 108.  Yeah, it was unfortunate to see no pick in round one, but Ted Thompson is doing the smart thing in this draft.  He is acquiring more picks in a deep draft in order to add more impact players.  The Packers (at this point) have three picks on day two.  Let’s take a look at some options for Green Bay in the second and third rounds.

1. Kevin King, CB, Washington

Kevin King is a do it all corner.  His size and speed make him a hot commodity on day two.  When you turn on his tape, you can see excellent ball skills and coverage ability.  He is a guy who you can feel comfortable putting on the perimeter from day one and watch him compete.

2. Budda Baker, S, Washington

The best attribute of Baker is that you can play him at multiple spots.  He has the skills to be a ball hawking safety, but he can also drop down and play nickel, which is presumably how the Packers would use him.  Don’t discount Baker’s skills because of his size.  He has the potential to be a big time chess piece on a defense.

3. Tyus Bowser, LB, Houston

Bowser is one of those guys you don’t hear much about.  He played off ball linebacker a lot more in his final season at Houston, but he projects much better as a rusher.  Ted Thompson loves guys who can play multiple spots to work into Dom Capers’s scheme.  Bowser would be a fearsome presence on the edge for the Packers.

4. Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas State

Jordan Willis has enjoyed a rise throughout the draft process.  He tested very well at the combine.  The Packers would love to have a guy like Willis purely from a pass rushing standpoint.  He will have to work on his setup against the run, but he can be productive on later downs early in his career.

5. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

Wilson is the best player available in my opinion right now.  He has the size, quickness, and ball skills to excel as a corner in any system.  The Packers could plug Wilson in right away and see results.

6. Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

The Packers will be eyeing the receivers that are available.  Why?  Jordy Nelson is in his 30’s now and Davante Adams is set to be a free agent after this season.  Godwin would be a perfect add for Green Bay.  He has the ability to create big plays and get down the field. One thing the Packers would love about Godwin is his willingness to block.  He’d be an intriguing option should he get to the 61st pick.

7. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

Cunningham is a three down linebacker that could help solve the Packers’ linebacking core.  Cunningham is a tackling machine, but he also has the quickness to play on later downs.

8. Dan Feeney, G, Indiana

The best way to describe Dan Feeney?  Solid.  Feeney will be a safe day two pick for whoever grabs him.  Guard is still a need for Green Bay, even with the Jahri Evans signing.  Feeney could come in and replace TJ Lang.

9. Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State

Derek Rivers has everything you want in an edge defender.  He stacks people up against the run, is very active with his hands, and can win with speed or power.  I have seen him rag doll tackles on tape.  Rivers would be a great fit in Green Bay.

10. DeMarcus Walker, EDGE, Florida State

Last, but not least, DeMarcus Walker.  Walker is a very productive pass rusher who is constantly in opposing teams’ backfield.  He can line up all over the line and get to the quarterback, something the Packers often do with their front.  He would fit in well with what Green Bay wants to do.

Who do you think the Packers will take on day two?  Comment here.

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  Follow him @JSchyvinck13 for all things draft and Packers this weekend.

Packers 7 Round Mock Draft

We are closing in here on the eve of the NFL Draft.  When it comes to the Packers, one word stands alone in this draft: defense.  The Packers had issues on defense last season, especially in the secondary.  Injuries were a major problem last season, and that made it tough on young corners like Ladarius Gunter.  The pass rush was another big concern.  Clay Matthews wasn’t as dominant as he’s been in the past, and many pass rushers have moved on.  With a deep draft like this one, the Packers should be able to reload the defense and add some playmakers for Aaron Rodgers.

Round 1, 29th Overall: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

The Packers need help in the secondary, no matter if both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins pan out.  The depth at corner is lacking with the release of Sam Shields.  Davon House was a solid add in free agency, but it’s time to get younger and stronger.  Quincy Wilson is long, physical corner that could in excel in Dom Capers’ system.  He could come in right away and help patch up a secondary that gave up so many big plays.

Round 2, 61st Overall: Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas State

In round two, the Packers address another position of need.  This time, they look to find an edge rusher.  Currently, the only edge rushers on the roster with game experience are Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, and Kyler Fackrell.  The Packers need some help getting to the quarterback, which could help mask some issues in the secondary.  Jordan Willis has enjoyed a rise throughout the draft process.  His athletic ability was shown during the combine, and if you watch the tape, there’s a lot to like.  He has the ability to win with speed on the edge, and you see the hustle if he misreads the play.  Yes, he needs to work on run defense, but the Packers need pure pass rushers added to the roster.

Round 3, 93rd Overall: Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State

Doubling up at pass rusher?  Why not?  You can never have enough pass rushers in this league.  Plus, Derek Rivers at 93 is excellent value.  Rivers has the motor to make a real difference for the Packers.  He has very good power and strength to win one-on-ones, and he can stack and shed blockers with ease.  You can see him overrun plays at times, but discipline is something that can be taught.  The ability Rivers has cannot.  Plus, if Willis and Rivers pan out, you can move Matthews inside more.

Round 4, 134th Overall: Nico Siragusa, G, San Diego State

Aaron Rodgers, offensive line reinforcements are on the way.  Even with the signing of former Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans today, guard is still a need.  Lane Taylor and Evans wouldn’t be bad, but Evans is a short term option and Ted Thompson always seems to find gems along the offensive line late in drafts.  Nico Siragusa has a chance to be that late round gem.  When you watch the tape, you see an extremely effective run blocker.  He gets to the second level with ease on running plays, and he has enough quickness to succeed at the next level.

Round 5, 172nd Overall: Joe Williams, RB, Utah

The Packers need more from the running back position.  Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael will be fine, but you can always have depth.  Montgomery is more of a 15-18 touch guy instead of a 20+ guy.  Plus, it would be nice to have someone else for short yardage situations.  Joe Williams is a solid pick in the fifth round.  On tape, Williams shows a lot.  He can be a one cut back with his quickness and his ability to find the hole and hit it hard.  Williams is not afraid of contact, and he is reading and willing to run people over.  He can be a nice complement to Montgomery, and he can be a threat in short yardage situations.  It’s always good to have depth.

Round 5, 182nd Overall: Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma

In today’s NFL, you need more athletic linebackers.  Players like Deion Jones are going to be coveted earlier because of this passing league.  Third down linebackers are important, because you need quicker guys in coverage over the middle of the field.  Joe Thomas has carved out a role, but his recognition isn’t as good as it should be for a dime linebacker.  Jordan Evans can come in and fill a role as a dime backer, and will shore up a unit that already has their early down guys in Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez.  Ryan is getting better in coverage, but Evans has the speed to succeed in coverage.

Round 6, 212th Overall: Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

There is no doubt a double up at corner will be considered this time around.  Quincy Wilson will help out, but that doesn’t mean that Thompson will stop there.  If Howard Wilson is available in round six, I think there’s too much value to pass on him.  Wilson is another corner with very good ball skills and good recognition.  You can see him drive back toward the ball and make plays.  Wilson is also a competitor, and guys who want to compete and get their hands dirty should be who the Packers look for.

Round 7, 247th Overall: Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

Late round flier on one of the most productive wide receivers in college football last season?  Check.  Westbrook does have some concerns with his size and some off the field stuff, but you can’t pass up his explosiveness with the ball in his hands.  If anyone can turn this guy into a solid pro, it’s Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers.

Agree with the picks? Disagree? Comment here or find me on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  For all things draft this year, find him on Twitter above and follow the new cover32 account he manages! @cover32_KC

Complete Packers Offseason Guide

The Green Bay Packers have continued to be a contender in the NFC.  But, in recent seasons, they haven’t been able to finish the deal.  They have gotten to two NFC title games in the past three seasons, but everyone knows that isn’t the goal.  This offseason will be an important one for the Packers.  They have a lot of free agents that could hit the open market, but many Packer fans are hoping that Ted Thompson reaches out elsewhere to find free agents who will help the Packers, especially on defense.  As far as the draft goes, it is one of the deepest drafts many have seen, especially at the areas of need for the Packers.  The Packers must reload in order to reach the Super Bowl.  Let’s take a look at what to expect from Green Bay this offseason.

Will Ted Look For Free Agents Outside Of His Own?

When will this not be a narrative heading into a Green Bay offseason?  Fans continue to get angry at Thompson for his work during free agency, or lack there of.  Yet, if you look at what Thompson does compared with the teams that have lots of money to spend, he does find good bargains and never overspends.  When he does spend, though, it’s a good thing.  Charles Woodson was a great addition to Green Bay, and became a centerpiece on defense. Adding Julius Peppers three seasons ago brought experience and depth to the pass rush.  And we can’t forget about Jared Cook, who was very good down the stretch and another good bargain in free agency.  But, even with these on Thompson’s record, fans and analysts alike know that it’s going to take more than drafting and developing to reach the top again in the NFL.

What Positions Should He Address?

Clearly, the front seven needs work.  If you subtract everyone who is a free agent this season, this is what the Packers are left with: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion, Dean Lowry, Clay Matthews, Jayrone Elliot, Kyler Fackrell, Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas.  That’s pretty concerning as far as a front seven goes.  This is all the evidence you need that Ted needs to find some help outside of Green Bay.  Nick Perry is the in house guy fans would love to see come back, but the market may be too rich for the Packers to retain him.  Julius Peppers wasn’t as productive as he has been in Green Bay this past season, so you can bet Green Bay won’t bring him back.

Guard is another big hole that could open up in Green Bay.  Both TJ Lang and JC Tretter are free agents, and once again, their market could heat up too much for the Packers to afford them.  It would be nice if Thompson were to bring one back, but with reports of JC Tretter possibly getting $8 million plus in free agency, and with TJ Lang guaranteed to get north of $10 million per year, the Packers might not want to use that much cap space on an offensive lineman.

There’s an obvious need in the secondary for the Packers.  It isn’t likely that they’ll make a splash in this year, because 1) the secondary market is massively driven up based on need and the cap rising and 2) the depth in the draft, especially at cornerback.  I don’t expect the Packers to do anything in free agency to upgrade the secondary, and with Micah Hyde likely moving on, the Packers will have to seriously look at drafting multiple corners in April.

As far as the offensive skill spots go, running back and tight end are not big needs, but they need depth.  Ty Montgomery isn’t going to be a three down back, but he is a nice player in a two man rotation who can take over on third downs with ease.  Jared Cook came up big down the stretch for Green Bay, and signing him to a longer deal is a big priority on the offensive side of the ball.  Let’s address both markets.  The Packers would like to have Lacy back, but the running back is heating up, and other teams with more room to spend may sway Lacy to come play for them.  As far as tight ends go, there isn’t much on the open market.  Jack Doyle appears to be returning to Indy, which leaves Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook at the top of the market.  Cook was integral to their offense down the stretch, and even if the market is strong, I expect Green Bay to make a run for him.

Who Do The Packers Sign?

Let’s start with the pass rushers.  Nick Perry is unlikely to return, but don’t count him out just yet.  The Packers know about their depth at pass rusher, so he could return.  Julius Peppers is also unlikely to return along with Datone Jones, but the Packers may extend team friendly offers.  I expect a dry free agency for the Packers at pass rusher should they not re-sign Nick Perry.

Defensive line is something we haven’t talked about much, but the Packers could use some help there.   With Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels as the only current guys with starting experience (I expect Guion to be gone), they may reach for someone with a lower asking price.  Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams is way out of Ted’s spending tendency, so he’s out.  Dontari Poe is a good option at nose tackle, and he may opt to sign with a contender, and he would be a good veteran presence at the spot like Peppers has been.  Johnathan Hankins is too young and will command too much.  There are two guys I like that Green Bay could sign.  Bennie Logan and Chris Baker can both play on the interior in a 3-4 and are great run defenders.  Chris Baker also had 4.5 sacks last season, proving he can get to the quarterback as well.  Watch those two names.

Micah Hyde is on the way out, and I don’t expect the Packers to pursue top guys like Malcolm Butler, AJ Bouye, and Stephon Gilmore.  The market will drive their price to a point that is too much that anyone should pay, let alone a smart shopper like Ted Thompson.  Rumors have shown that the Packers may bring back former corner Davon House, who was cut by the Jags this week.  I expect this to be their only effort in the corner market.

I think Eddie Lacy might be too pricey to sign.  He is likely to find a home somewhere else. That leaves injury prone vets like Peterson and Charles, but I think even they might get overpaid.  One intriguing option is Raiders running back Latavius Murray.  Overall, I think it’s Lacy or nothing for the Packers when it comes to running backs.

Finally, Jared Cook.  You know what I think about this.  Rodgers isn’t going to let the front office let him go.  He is coming back to Green Bay.

What Should The Packers Do In The Draft?

There are four or five spots that I hope the Packers address in the draft, and two spots that are absolutely necessary.  The two biggest holes that could use depth are cornerback and edge rusher.  Green Bay parted ways with Sam Shields, who was an important piece to their secondary coming into the season.  He only played in one game and it is a mystery whether he will play again.  Losing Sam Shields, combined with lingering injuries that bothered Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, forced Ladarius Gunter into a starting role and forced the Packers to use Micah Hyde and even Morgan Burnett in the slot.  Yes, Randall and Rollins still need time to develop, but the Packers need young depth.  Edge rusher is another important position to address.  The Packers are set to lose Julius Peppers, and even if they re-sign Nick Perry and Datone Jones, they need some young talent out there.  Clay Matthews seems to have begun his decline, and no one is sure if Jayrone Elliott or Kyler Fackrell will make a big impact in the coming seasons.  Obviously running back is important, but with a deep group this year, I don’t think the Packers will draft one early.  I don’t think Jake and Blake are the answer at middle linebacker, although I do credit Jake Ryan for his improvement in coverage this past season.  Adding an athletic linebacker would be nice for Green Bay for depth.  Guard will probably be another need for Green Bay with the likely departure of Lang and Tretter, and there should be options there as well.

Luckily for Green Bay, both the corner class and the edge class are extremely deep.  The corner class is the best I have seen in my time covering the draft, which isn’t lengthy I admit.  But ask some experts about it, and they will say the same.  There are a large number of corners who are first round talents, and some will fall to the third round.  The edge class is strong too, and there are nice finds when you get to rounds three and four.

Who Should The Packers Target?

There are plenty of names that come to mind at each position, but let’s start where the Packers need help the most: corner.  Green Bay needs speed and physicality at the position, and there are multiple corners who fit that description.  Gareon Conley and Sidney Jones are top corners who would fit the Packers well, but it is unlikely that either get to the Packers at 29.  Jones and (especially) Conley tested real well at the combine, and both are top 20 players in this draft.  Should either get to Green Bay, that could be the pick.  Tre’Davious White is very physical at the line of scrimmage, and he can play zone as well.  Fabian Moreau has been a big riser in this draft, and his speed and physicality are exactly what Green Bay needs.  Kevin King and Chidobe Awuzie are day two players that would be great adds, especially King with his size and speed.  Some later round options include Cam Sutton, Corn Elder, and Ahkello Witherspoon.

Edge rusher is very deep too.  There is a possibility that Charles Harris or Takk McKinley make it to the Packers, but it is unlikely.  McKinley is excellent against the run and a fastball off the edge.  Harris is a technician with a nasty spin move.  Many have TJ Watt mocked to Green Bay, but that feels like a name-based pick.  Day two edge guys include guys like Derek Rivers, Tim Williams, and Carroll Phillips.  Williams and Phillips bring serious speed off the edge as rushers, and Rivers is very underrated.  Don’t forget about guys like DeMarcus Walker, Jordan Willis, and Trey Hendrickson, who all have interesting potential.  The depth at that position will allow the Packers to find good contributors on day two should they not grab a big name in round one.

As far as the other positions go, the Packers can mix and match.  Guys like Raekwon McMillan and Duke Riley are good options at linebacker later in the draft.  Forrest Lamp is mocked to Green Bay in my current round one mock draft, but he might not be there.  Guys like Dorian Johnson, Nico Siragusa, and Isaac Asiata are late round options.  Last, but not least, the running back class is deep.  I’m warming up to the idea of McCaffrey in Green Bay with Rodgers, but odds are that does not happen.  Middle round running backs that look good include TJ Logan, Jamaal Williams, Kareem Hunt, and Elijah McGuire.

What’s The Outlook?

I expect the Packers to reload through the draft and retain a big piece or two in free agency.  This might even be the year that the Packers reach outside their walls to grab a couple free agents.  Packer fans, I know the struggle.  March is hard to watch.  But, have faith in the front office and this team.  They will contend.

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  He dabbles with the Packers, his favorite team.  Follow him @JSchyvinck13 to stay caught up on all things free agency during this crazy month in sports.

Packers Digest, Season Recap: A Reality Check

It all came crashing down with a thud.

The Packers, winners of eight straight games, had their Super Bowl hopes ripped out of their hands in a stunning 44-21 loss in the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons.  They ran into “a buzz saw” of an Atlanta offense on Sunday, and with a Mason Crosby miss and a Aaron Ripkowski fumble on their first two drives, the slow start finally unmasked what we already knew.

Aaron Rodgers was like duct tape holding together cracks in a dam.  If there was enough pressure, and the duct tape didn’t hold up to standards, the cracks would worsen and eventually come right out into the spotlight.

And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers had been on a ridiculous tear down the stretch, almost singlehandedly willing the Packers to victories.  It all culminated last week with his heave rolling right to Jared Cook to set up the game winner against Dallas.  Naturally, people figured Rodgers would continue to do what he had been doing during the win streak.  This is precisely why no quarterback has been like Rodgers.  We continually expect obscene greatness day in and day out.  This time, he didn’t start out hot and the Packers fell into a hole.

But, you can’t leave it all on Rodgers.  He had the Packers moving in the right direction the first two drives.  But, when a field goal sails right and a halfback fumbles inside the ten yard line, it really deflates momentum.  The receivers dropped passes too.  Yes, Aaron had a couple bad throws down the field, but he didn’t stop competing and finished with over 300 yards and 3 TDs.  Still, in that game, you saw the cracks widen, and the dam burst.

What cracks burst open?  Well, there wasn’t any secret about the Packers defense.  Everyone knew coming in that the Packers would have to match Atlanta score for score because the defense wouldn’t get too many stops.  That much was true about the NFC Championship Game.  We knew Green Bay would give up points early, but the fact that Atlanta was able to churn out clock and limit Rodgers’ possessions was too much for the Pack to handle.  The worst part about the defense is that no matter what Dom Capers tried, Atlanta’s offense had the answer.  In their previous matchup in the regular season, the Packers didn’t blitz Matt Ryan much and gave him multiple coverage looks.  Matt Ryan tore them up.  This time around, Capers brought extra guys on blitzes and also played two deep safeties.  No matter what, Ryan torched them with his multitude of weapons.

What else?  Well, the injury bug was not kind to Green Bay again this season, which has turned into quite an alarming pattern in northern Wisconsin.  The Packers consistently have guys go down throughout the season, and 2016 was no different.  The Packers lost a key leader in an important group at the start of the year, and the effect rung deep.  Losing Jordy Nelson in 2015 contributed to an underachieving receiving core that seemed lost without him.  Losing cornerback Sam Shields in week one against the Jaguars proved too much.  In what was supposed to be a deep secondary this season, the loss of Shields proved that a veteran presence was needed to make that unit run.  It didn’t help that second year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins were banged up all season long.  They had to lean on Ladarius Gunter to cover number one wide receivers a lot of the season.  There were other injuries on the defensive side of the ball as well.  Nick Perry started out very well, but injured his hand later in the season.  He came back with a club, but you wonder if that hampered his performance.  Other guys who were expected to take on roles this year (Jayrone Elliott, Blake Martinez) got hurt during the year, which hampered the Packers ability to rotate and have more depth.  Offensively, the Packers lost Eddie Lacy for the year early in the season, and James Starks never got back on the field after he got hurt.

The game Sunday was no different.  Safety Kentrell Brice got hurt on the first play.  Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison all gave it a go battling injuries, Jordy most notably with broken ribs.  Allison and Adams didn’t have a big impact.  Late in the game, TJ Lang hurt his leg being pushed back on a passing play.  Defensively, Jake Ryan got banged up on a couple plays.  With the injuries continuing to pile up, who knows who would have been healthy if the Packers had made it to the Super Bowl.

Green Bay had one final crack.  During their eight game winning streak, Green Bay dominated the turnover battle.  On Sunday, the Packers killed themselves with turnovers and didn’t come up big with turnovers when they had opportunities.  Aaron Ripkowski’s fumble was a killer for Green Bay as they hoped to cut Atlanta’s early lead to 10-7.  Near the end of the first half, the Packers had a couple opportunities to come up with a turnover.  A mistake with timing caused Taylor Gabriel to be right it front of the snap.  Jake Ryan had a chance to come up with the ball and did not come up with it.  Later, Evans, a corner that came up from the practice, had a chance to pick off a deep shot and flat out missed.  Aldrick Robinson, the Falcons receiver, got more hands on the ball than Evans.  Then, in the red zone, Ladarius Gunter dropped an interception that eventually turned into a Julio Jones back shoulder fade for six points.  The Packers didn’t take advantage of their chances, and it hurt them.

So, where do the Packers go from here?

It’s interesting to watch Packers Twitter.  Many fans want to jump the gun and want to fire Dom Capers, Ted Thompson, and even Mike McCarthy (although that has calmed down since the win streak began).  Let’s address this now.

McCarthy is not getting fired.  One, because he’s a highly successful coach, and he’s been to the NFC title game two of the last three years and has made the playoffs eight straight years.  Second, when you have this continuity paired with success, it’s not optimal to change things up.  The Bengals have stuck with Marvin Lewis over the years, and it’s real possible they’d be in absolute turmoil had they gotten rid of him a couple years back.

As for Dom Capers, I don’t know what else he could have done this season with the limited resources he was given.  The pass rush was solid, and he got everyone involved, but his resources at linebacker and corner strapped him big time.  The secondary just wasn’t healthy and it created issues.  Capers had safeties in coverage towards the end of the season because of injuries.  Given what he had, the Packers created turnovers down the stretch.  Given resources, Capers will be fine.

Finally, Ted Thompson.  I know it frustrates Packer fans when he doesn’t reach for guys in free agency.  When he does, it always works out.  Charles Woodson was huge for the turnaround of Green Bay’s defense.  He found a gem with plenty in the tank in Julius Peppers.  Jared Cook was very productive when he was healthy and provided the offense with a field stretcher.  The Packers still succeed with the draft and develop strategy, and that won’t change.  Thompson just needs to continue to draft and evaluate well and fill Green Bay’s holes.  Speed on both sides are important in today’s game, and I know he will adapt.

How do the Packers reach another Super Bowl?  That’s an answer for another post.  But, for now, Aaron Rodgers said it best.  It’s time for Green Bay to keep reloading for a championship run.  There are plenty of free agents to be that the Packers can re-sign.  The Packers have to continue to build and reinforce the offensive and defensive lines, and must continue to build depth off the edge.  They need to find a fast, playmaking linebacker and difference makers in the secondary.  It sounds like a lot, but the Packers have free agency and the draft to make a difference and get back to the Super Bowl.

We will be back, Cheeseheads.  Keep believing.  And yes, this loss hurts, especially the fact that we were 60 minutes from the Super Bowl.  But, we can again appreciate Rodgers’ “run the table” comments, and then the Packers actually running the table to win the division.  Aaron again showed us his hail mary prowess, and we will cherish that eight game run.  You know we will be hungry to get the Lombardi in 2017.