Sunday, August 23, 2015

Who Will Replace Jordy Nelson's Production for Potent Packer Offense?

Nobody wants to see their number one receiving target go down, let alone on a non-contact play, on a crappy field, in a meaningless exhibition. Nonetheless, here we are Packer fans. All indications are Jordy Nelson suffered a season ending knee injury during the second preseason game on Sunday. This is bad news no matter how deeply shaded your green and gold colored glasses are.

However, the Packers are better positioned than most to replace a vital cog in the offensive machine. Remember Aaron Rodgers is still taking snaps, and he's dangerous enough to make any journeyman receiver into a Pro Bowler, right Greg Jennings? Whoops - too soon??.

Here are the top five players that will be counted on to absorb some of the firepower Nelson leaves on the field should he really be done for the season as feared:

1. Ty Montgomery - It is a fool's errand to count too heavily on rookies to make major contributions in the NFL. Typically this would hold true for Montgomery as well. Unfortunately he will be thrust into a more vital role than expected. The rookie was well groomed playing at Stanford in a pro-friendly offense. Formerly under Jim Harbaugh and now under David Shaw, Stanford has placed receivers less heralded in college(Doug Baldwin) than Montgomery into major contributing roles on NFL teams.
It also helps that Montgomery started training camp as one of the most talked about players. Nearly every practice he was making plays  in a variety of ways. Even before Nelson's injury, Montgomery had shown enough to earn playing time. However, there is a big difference between making one or two plays a game and being counted on every down like Nelson. But Montgomery has the skill and pedigree that a seamless transition is not out of the question.

2. Richard Rodgers - The Packers offense has missed a big red zone target since Jermichael Finley. Many scoffed at the Rodgers pick after he was somewhat unexpectedly taken in the third round, well ahead of many projections. Even last year as a rookie, Rodgers never really stood out or made any jaw dropping plays. This season however, he is starting to make some strides. McCarthy noted his improvement earlier in camp and seems prime for more snaps in lieu of Andrew Quarless's looming legal trouble.
In the very same Pittsburgh game that derailed Jordy's season, Rodgers had two impressive catches extending his hands away from his body to secure the ball. The second effort resulted in a 21 yard touchdown reception. Rodgers will never be the deep threat that Nelson posed, but his 6'4" frame will be a challenge to deal with in the red zone.

3. Eddie Lacy - A bit of a cheat, but whatever. Unlike the Packer's offense in 2011 when top receiving target Greg Jennings missed five games due to injury, the 2015 offense has a pretty effective running game. Lacy's ability to grind out yards and punish defenders will force opposing defenses to honor the threat of the run game and open up the passing game for everyone.
Not only that, but Lacy has been improving as a pass catch out of the backfield. Entering last season Lacy joked he wanted to be called "Moss" due to his amazing hands. He then went on to back it up with 42 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns in the 2014 season. Like Rodgers, Lacy will not be blowing by safeties with the long ball. The screen game combined with old fashioned smash mouth running game will keep Lacy as an effective and more versatile piece of the Packers offense. After all, what defender wants to take on Lacy gaining a full head of steam on a check down?

4. Jeff Janis - Janis has been a fan favorite and media darling since a few big plays last preseason. Janis has the size and speed coveted at the receiver position. However, aside from those training camp spurts, Janis has yet to show he can be a reliable target for Rodgers. 
Unlike the previous two entries on this list though, Janis most certainly can provide the deep threat the Packers lack without Nelson. Don't expect him to turn into a Pro Bowler overnight. But with the new emphasis on defensive pass interference, it wouldn't be a shock to see Janis get one or two opportunities a game to get behind the defense and let the majesty that is Aaron Rodgers deep ball do the rest. 

5. Jared Abbrederis - Already a fan favorite due to his time at the University of Wisconsin, Abbrederis showed promise before battling an ACL injury of his own last season, and a concussion at the beginning of camp this year. This is the  most far fetched solution, but would ultimately be the most entertaining. Imagine Abbrederis being cleared the day after Nelson's injury and coming to the rescue. Not only would the media lap up the Wisconsin born and raised rescues Packers season stories, but the JSComments Twitter feed might actually collapse on itself.
Come on everyone, let's make this happen!

5(for real this time) - Randall Cobb and Davante Adams

Hey everyone, remember these guys?

I'll admit, I'm not quite ready to miss out on these play action bootlegs of beauty between Rodgers and Nelson this season:

Or these masterful back shoulder fade stops:

Part of me hopes the exercise of writing this article will be a reverse jinx of sorts to the MRI Nelson will receive in Green Bay on Monday. As foolish as those superstitions are, part of sports fandom is talking yourself into anything to support your team.
After all, if we can get behind Jeff Janis or Jared Abbrederis as bona fide Jordy Nelson substitutes, perhaps we can talk ourselves into Jordy Nelson never being injured to begin with?
Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Neal Olson (@olewr7)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota@jheldred@JoeP_Norton@olewr7@Stevie2Westside, and@10iskristin

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Will The NL Central Shake Out

We are just over two weeks into the baseball season and it’s safe to say that most Brewers fans are happy campers these days. The team is off to their best start since 1987 and most importantly, winning games on the road. After back to back road sweeps of Boston and Philadelphia, the team returned to Miller Park and kept the ball rolling with a sweep of the then second place Pirates. Heading into a key three game set against the hated Cardinals, the Brewers stood atop Major League Baseball with a 10-2 record.  The hot streak came to a halt as the Cards topped the crew 4-0 in game one of the series and followed with a 6-1 win in game two.

With the first loss in ten games bringing us back down to earth, I’d like to take a look at the rest of the season and predict how I think the Division will look at season’s end. Taking into account that the season is 162 games long, I think it’s hard to assume the Brewers will win the division simply because they sit at 11-4 on April 16th. However, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Here’s how I see the division standing after the Brewers’ final game against the Cubs on September 28th.

1. Milwaukee Brewers  - 94-68
Can Matt Garza invigorate the pitching rotation?

I think Milwaukee has everything needed to win the division – good pitching, solid defense, explosive offense, and a competent manager. With the addition of Matt Garza to the rotation, the pitching staff got a bonafide veteran pitcher who can eat innings and has experienced success within the division. This allowed the Brewers to place Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta in the four and five slots, respectively, which much better suits their capabilities. I think one of the biggest pieces to the pitching puzzle for the Brewers will be Will Smith. This was an excellent addition from Doug Melvin in the offseason and gives Ron Roenicke someone that he knows can go out and get good hitters out in the late innings. I think that Ryan Braun, despite a nagging thumb injury, is primed for his best season yet and obviously has a lot to prove. The club has a great nucleus of young but experienced players and each one of them knows how to hit the ball and play good defense. It’s unreasonable to expect the club to play as well as they have thus far over the course of an entire season, but I think 94 wins is attainable and I feel that will be good enough to win the division.

2. St Louis Cardinals – 92-70

Peter Bourjos ready to help the Cards stay on top of the division.
The Cardinals are once again a great baseball club, but I see them falling short of the impressive 97 wins they achieved last season under Mike Matheny. Matheny is a great manager, and he’s got some great players on his team, but I feel the best has already come for many of them. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina have passed the prime of their careers and while Peter Bourjos and Matt Carpenter are great young players, they’re not what Holliday and Molina once were. The starting staff should be good once again but the bullpen strikes me as iffy and I could see it as a weakness for the club.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates – 88-74
Andrew McCutchen looks to keep the Pirates in the playoffs

The Pirates have been an “up and coming” team for quite a while now and many could say they officially arrived last season, winning 94 games and making their first postseason appearance in 21 years. I think they’re a strong club that will contend again in 2014, but I don’t see them having the firepower to overcome the Cardinals or Brewers. The main issue I see in Pittsburgh is the starting rotation. I think Francisco Liriano is a good pitcher, however I don’t think a staff led by him is a postseason staff. They needed to acquire at least one top of the rotation starter to pair with Liriano if they were going to make me believe they could contend for the division, and they failed to do that. Andrew McCutchen is one of the best all-around players in baseball, but I don’t see enough offense around him to contend with the bats in the lineups in Milwaukee and St. Louis.

4. Cincinnati Reds – 85-77

The Reds hope Aroldis Chapman can return from a scary head injury
The Reds have a lot of firepower in their offense. Joey Votto is always going to be an MVP candidate and Billy Hamilton might just steal a hundred bases. Brandon Phillips will be lightning with the glove as always and Todd Frazier is a young star in his prime at 28. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team contend for the division, but again I question starting pitching. Johnny Cueto is a very reliable guy atop the rotation but Tony Congrani still has a lot to prove and Homer Bailey tends to be inconsistent. A lot of this team’s success will hinge on the health of Aroldis Chapman. The guy is lights out, there is no denying that, but when you’re throwing the ball 101 MPH there will always be reason for concern. I think that he can bounce back from getting hit in the head and be a great pitcher once again, but the team must hope for health in that young arm or they may face serious problems in the 9th inning.

5. Chicago Cubs – 71-91

Even Cubs marketing team like trolls the fan base with a new mascot

I was sad to see Dale Sveum canned in Chicago because I think he can be a good manager. However, this team is still a couple years away from contending for a playoff spot. Anthony Rizzo may finally show everyone why he’s received so much hype and Darwin Barney will continue to impress at second base, but I don’t see the potential for enough runs in this lineup to win more than 71 games. The team appears committed to a long term rebuilding process and could be a force to be reckoned with sometime in the future. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that day won’t come any time soon.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Joseph Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota@jheldred@JoeP_Norton@olewr7@Stevie2Westside, and@10iskristin

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Packers Post-Free Agency 7 Round Mock Draft

Round 1, Pick 21 - Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Unless C.J. Mosely is dangling above Ted Thompson's head here at 21 overall, the Packers will draft their biggest need over best talent available. Calvin Pryor is probably the most NFL ready safety in this draft next to HaHa Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward. With the way Ted Thompson handled the defensive line in free agency, the Packers can focus on drafting defensive backs and linebackers to rebuild the defense, and it all starts here in Round 1. 

Round 2, Pick 53 - Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

Packers are really high on Trent Murphy and that's why he's staying here in this mock draft. His name has come up the most when Ted Thompson has talked about draft prospects. The Packers have longed for a outside linebacker to lineup opposite of Clay Matthews. Nick Perry has yet to stay healthy enough to tell if he is the guy or not. Newly signed Packer Julius Peppers is likely to play split time at OLB and DE this year. Adding depth to linebacker is a must this draft as it became the most injured position on the team last year.

Round 3, Pick 85 - Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

In case you missed the news, James Jones was signed to a three year contract with the Oakland Raiders. As it stands, the Packers have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, and Myles White with others on the practice squad. Just two years ago the Packers had Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Donald Driver. They need to add a wide receiver early in the draft and this is a great spot for it with the likelihood of having two picks in the second round. Jard Abbrederis is such a Ted Thompson kind of guy. Not only could Jared be a deep threat option for Aaron Rodgers, but he could also serve as a solid option as a kick returner.

Round 3, Compensatory Pick (Greg Jennings) - C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Look, I know there are a lot of people out there that really like Andrew Quarless. I am not one of them. I just don't feel comfortable going into the season with Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner as our only tight end options. We don't need to reach for a tight end in the first round for a guy like Ebron or Amaro, but we need an upgrade from what we have. Fiedorowicz is a perfect tight end for the Packers offense. He can block and has great hands with decent burst to get yards after contact. 

Round 4, Pick ??? - Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State

As I said above, the Packers need serious help at linebacker, but especially at inside linebacker. The aging AJ Hawk and the incredibly inconsistent Brad Jones are at the top of the depth chart. Beneath them is Jamari Lattimore who actually is a promising young talent and Sam Barrington who just needs to keep developing. In a perfect world the Packers would cut ties with Hawk to free up cap space and just hit the reset button on the entire interior linebacker squad. max Bullough is the guy that was suspended from football activities at Michigan State for an off the field issue. Bullough had an incredible combine and probably out-shined the rest of the inside linebackers. But, because of the off the field issue, he will likely drop in the draft. It's a good thing Green Bay is an organization that can help off the field issues players have. Max is highly regarded by his coaches. He's a defensive leader.

Round 5, Pick ??? - Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami

With the loss of EDS to the Buccaneers and the apparent departure of Marshall Newhouse, the Packers will need to address the offensive line in the draft. Injuries were an issue last year as the team lost Bryan Bulaga in training camp with a torn ACL. Without a set in stone center, the Packers may have to shuffle the line around again. If they want a quick fix, the Packers will try either JC Tretter or Don Barclay at center. To cover the blow of the losses and a possible changing of the guard (pun intended) on the line, drafting an offensive lineman here is not a bad idea. Seantrel Henderson is a massive human being. He'd be a instant improvement over Newhouse and would provide as an excellent backup tackle to Bulaga and Bakhtiari.

Round 6, Pick ??? - Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

The Packers need to develop a dependable back up QB. Last year that became painfully evident. Matt Flynn was able to cushion the blow of losing Aaron Rodgers once he was eventually signed. Logan Thomas is a great pick here. Receiving comparisons like "Cam 2.0" is very intriguing to me. I've seen a few mocks that have Green Bay taking Tajh Boyd as early as the fourth round. No. That can't happen and won't happen. Boyd is not good at quarterback. That was evident at the NFL Combine when scouts and league executives said they wouldn't even waste a draft pick on him. The Packers have more needs to fill in the earlier rounds than to take a quarterback that *likely* won't see a lot of playing time. 

Round 6, Compensatory Pick (Erik Walden) - Avery Williamson, ILB, Kentucky 

Williamson is one of those Ted Thompson guys. Under the radar guy who fits exactly into the defensive scheme. As I stated above, middle linebacker is a very shallow area for the Packers and they need depth. Williamson is very quick. He's a great tackler. He'll defend in short coverage, he'll rack up pass defends, he'll rap up a ball carrier. He's a perfect weight and height for the position, standing in at 6-1, 249 pounds. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.66 40 yard dash and was a top performer in the 20 yard shuttle. 

Round 7, Pick ??? - C.J. Barnett, SS, Ohio State

The Packers take a second safety here. The secondary was absolutely destroyed last season due to injury and just lack of performance. The Packers have had a void in the secondary since the team lost Nick Collins. There are some bright spots. The emergence of Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde has been refreshing. Also, Sam Shields coming back provides some stability. Tramon Williams had a very productive year last season. C.J. Barnett would come from an Ohio State team that has produced defensive backs such as Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield, Chris Gamble, Donte Whitner and Kurt Coleman. Barnett was a bright spot on the OSU defense that was near the bottom of the Big Ten ranks.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wisconsin Badger 2014 Tournament Preview

Is this the year Bo Ryan silences the doubters with a Final Four run?

Let’s start out with some comparisons. The 2006-2007 team was by most accounts Bo Ryan’s most successful regular season team. They climbed all the way to a number one ranking in the AP poll, a first in program history. The Badgers also took advantage of the NCAA’s summer exhibition in a foreign country rule and began the year with a trip to Italy. Flash forward to 2014. Wisconsin started the season with a trip to Canada going 4-1 against top college programs north of the border and climbed to a top 5 ranking. But the similarities don’t stop there.

Highest Rank
Points Scored
Points Allowed
KenPom Off. Effenciency
KenPom Def. Efficiency
KenPom Tempo
NCAA seed

Don't forget about Brian Butch and Alando Tucker, part of the only Badger team to be ranked #1 in the country

The 2007 and 2014 teams were strikingly similar. This year’s team is better offensively and the Alando Tucker and Brian Butch led team stouter defensively. Even more amazing was both teams averaged 64.4 possessions a game. However, 2014 has one distinct advantage of 2007, this year the Badgers enter the tournament healthy (losing Brian Butch with a dislocated elbow against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament was a killer for that NCAA tournament run).

In order to avoid the early tournament exit here are few keys for Wisconsin to advance out of the West Region.

How Wisconsin Wins the West

Get Sam Dekker back on track.

Dekker has been in a self-admitted mini slump the past few weeks. After scoring 16 points against Indiana February 25  in a 69-58 win, Dekker was averaging 13.6 points a game. The next five games, including the Big Ten Tournament, Dekker averaged 7.8 points and saw his season average dip down to 12.7 points a game.

More attacking from Dekker will mean a more dangerous offense.
One of the best aspects of Sam’s game is his unselfishness. While his willingness to involve teammates is admirable, especially when the Badgers have plenty of scorers, the NCAA tournament is a different matter. Someone has to be willing to take over games. Frank Kaminsky has shown he can be the go to scorer at times this season (25 and 21 points in road wins against Michigan and Iowa). But Kaminksy also has a penchant for picking up fouls (2 points, 20 minutes, 4 fouls at Illinois and 9 points, 15 minutes and 2 quick first half fouls).

Lack of aggression has plagued Dekker on occasion throughout the season. Against Ohio State Bo Ryan incredulously mocked Sam’s weak-hearted effort cutting the hoop. But when Sam is on the attack, driving to the hoop or grabbing rebounds, the Badgers are better. In Badgers 26 wins, Dekker averages 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists. In six losses his averages dropped to 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and less than one assist. Sam is one of the few Badger players that can generate shots off the dribble and when he is aggressive it creates more open shots for everyone.

In order for Wisconsin to advance out the West Region one player will need establish themselves as the go to man. My money is on Slam Dekker.

Freshman Contributions

Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have emerged as key cogs to a Badger tournament run

Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were wildcards at the beginning of the season. With one senior playing regular minutes, how quickly the two freshman could adjust to big time college basketball would go a long way toward determining the team's success. Consider Hayes and Koenig as having passed that test.

Hayes really came on during Big Ten conference play, upping his per game average by over three per game.  He gives Wisconsin another mismatch with his offensive versatility.  He can take bigger guys off the dribble with his quickness and patented post move Chocolate Tornado. Conversely he can hit the mid-range jump shot with enough consistency to keep defenders honest.

Koenig on the other hand has had more of an up and down season playing behind three upper classmen in the back court. But after his 14 point outburst against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, he demonstrated his ability to provide more than just consistent ball handling and decision making off the bench. If Koenig can continue to hit the outside shot, the Badgers will have seven of eight rotation players as legitimate three point threats.

If both Hayes and Koenig can continue their aggressive play they will a great chance to showcase their skills on a national stage in the tournament.

What Sends Wisconsin Home

No Defensive Stops

Without question Wisconsin has struggled on the defensive end this season, sometimes for long stretches. During the January stretch when the Badgers lost five out of six games in two weeks, they allowed opponents to shoot 51.2% on field goal attempts including a blistering 48% from behind the arc. No matter how potent the offense is compared to previous Badger teams, you cannot win allowing teams to shoot nearly 50% from three point land.

Collectively the Badgers have a tendency to lapse into lackadaisical defense. Their miscommunication was on full display in the January 22 loss at Minnesota. Sam Dekker chases non-shooting threat Oto Osenieks out toward the three point line as he attempts to screen Ben Brust guarding Austin Hollins. Brust anticipates Dekker to switch and take Hollins as he drives to the hoop. But Dekker keeps trailing Osenieks(again – a career 23% three point shooter) and Brust turns Hollins loose. The result is painful.

It doesn't get much better either. The following is a list of teams the Badgers could potentially face and their offensive efficiency from KenPom.  If Wisconsin advances to Dallas in the Final Four they will have to beat some of the top offenses in the country. Yikes.

KenPom Off. Eff.
Round Facing
First Round
Round of 32
Round of 32
Sweet Sixteen
Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Oklahoma State
Elite Eight

While they cannot be expected to suddenly turn into a defensive juggernaut, Wisconsin will need to shore up the communication and find a way to get a few big stops in order to keep dancing into March.

Front Court Foul Trouble

Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes must stay on the floor.

The front court depth has been a concern all season. Certainly the emergence of Nigel Hayes has provided some relief, but he still has a tendency to pick up silly fouls. Frank Kaminsky has turned into a reliable defensive anchor and protects the rim well. However, his penchant for challenging shots almost always results in a stretch each game with him on bench infoul trouble.

Behind Hayes and Kaminsky the Badgers are dangerously thin in post players. Sam Dekker and Duje Dukan are more comfortable playing on the wing, freshman Vitto Brown and senior Evan Anderson are not quite ready for long stretches playing big time basketball.

Additionally Hayes and Kaminsky are the most consistent only post threats the Badgers have. Without those two on the floor, the Badgers become way too reliable on outside jump shots. As noted above Wisconsin will have to face some potent offenses to advance out of the region and in all likelihood will have win one game in a shootout (not something Bo Ryan teams are accustomed to).

Certainly the Badgers have enough capable shooters to get hot and bomb three pointers a la Jon Bryant in 2000. But this year the Badgers have been most potent when they work inside out. Without Kaminksy and Hayes getting the ball in the post, the Badgers have become too reliant on outside jumpers. Getting the defense to collapse with those two attacking inside allows the open outside shots to develop.

Unless Dekker is reinvigorated slashing and attacking the rim, Hayes and Kaminsky are the best bets to keep the offensive from being one dimensional. It is imperative to keep them out of foul trouble and out on the floor.

The Verdict

Ben Brust and Sam Dekker have Wisconsin poised for its first Final Four since 2000

I still think this Badger team has shades of Michigan from last year. Both teams were undefeated in non-conference play and struggled somewhat in the rugged and physical Big Ten. Once Michigan entered the tournament, their offensive prowess was on full display and they were 20 minutes of a national title.

Wisconsin is built a lot like that team. Not nearly as defensive oriented as Bo Ryan teams of yesteryear, the Badgers are versatile on offense. They have a nice balance of scoring. 45% of the Badger's points come on two point shots, while 31% are on three point makes. The division one average is 51% and 27% respectively. 

They have also won games in a variety of styles and pace. The Badgers have beaten teams scoring in the 100s, 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s and 40s, an incredible range that speaks to their flexibility. Tournament games are often about match-ups, and Wisconsin has shown the ability to match anything they face. A good sign for the randomness and unpredictability of March Madness.

Something tells me this will be the year Bo Ryan finally gets to the Final Four. The team is talented, the bracket isn’t overwhelming and eventually, a coach as good a Bo gets to the Final Four, right?

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin

Friday, February 28, 2014

Packers Post-NFL Combine 7 Round Mock Draft

The NFL Combine took place last week which showcased many NFL hopefuls that were judged on various drills, tests, and questions. Since we're just ten days away from free agency starting and sixty nine days away from the NFL Draft, here is my second-to-last Packers Mock Draft I'll be doing until draft day rolls in.

Photo: ESPN
Round 1, Pick 21 - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

No defensive lineman's stock has risen more than Aaron Donald's. Some will question whether he'll even make it to the Packers at Pick 21. Quick on his feet and he fits the role of what Green Bay is looking for in a faster defense over guys like Louis Nix and Ra'Shede Hageman, even though Nix and Hageman are ideal 3-4 linemen. At one point last season at Pittsburgh he led the nation in sacks and loss per tackle. He had an outstanding of all linemen, some said.

I'm banking that the Steelers taking a safety, Chicago drafting Hageman, and Dallas taking Nix or Jernigan, leaving Donald on the board for Green Bay. It's more likely Donald is on the board at #21 overall than it is C.J. Mosely, who is even being considered a Top 10 pick now. Because Aaron Donald lacks the typical height you would want in a lineman, he could drop down to Green Bay. But don't let his size fool you. Rob Rang of CBS Sports wrote that he "comes off the snap like he was shot out of a cannon". The Packers need someone explosive on this defensive line if Raji, Wilson, Jolly, and Pickett are all gone next year.

Round 2, Pick 53 - Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

This is an obvious choice. Clay Matthews has longed for an outside linebacker to mirror him on the opposite side of the field to provide a dual pass rush. Nick Perry was supposed to be that man, but has not stayed healthy enough to prove himself after being drafted just two years ago. And, now with there are talks among the Packers organization that Nick Perry is in line to play more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position, the Packers will be looking for depth at outside linebacker.

There are multiple reports that indicate Ted Thompson is very high on Trent. Ted and a few members of the scout team spoke with Trent at the Senior Bowl. Murphy is 6'5", 252 pounds which likely means he's better suited to be a linebacker instead of a defensive end. Take the conversation he had with the scouting team with a grain of salt, though. The scouting department will likely talk to hundreds of draft eligible players that will go unreported. However, Trent fits the system and will likely be available in the second round.

Round 3, Pick 85 -  CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

As noted by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers have a good history of drafting Iowa Hawkeyes. CJ could be the next one to come wear green and gold. Over the last four drafts, Ted Thompson has drafted Iowa players in three of them (Mike Daniels, Bryan Bulaga, and Micah Hyde). CJ has the potential to come into Green Bay and receive the starting role as TE1 with the unlikely returns of Jermichael Finley (injury) and Andrew Quarless (God's awful gift). He'd be a weapon for Aaron Rodgers to utilize across the middle as well as a shield to block for Eddie Lacy and Rodgers.

Round 3, Compensatory Pick (Greg Jennings) - Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State

The Packers will likely have an extra pick in the third round when they receive compensation for losing Greg Jennings to the Vikings in free agency. At worst, it would be a fourth round pick, but we'll assume its a third rounder for the time being.

Not even Jesus could save the Packer's defense last year, so maybe adding Christian will help? Christian Jones is a tackling machine. He stuffs the running game and creates turnovers. In his senior year he had 7.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. With A.J. Hawk rapidly aging and Brad Jones consistently being inconsistent, its time to add some depth to inside linebacker.

NOTE: If Christian Jones is off the board, I'd be very comfortable with Green Bay selecting Michigan State inside linebacker Max Bullough here. Regardless of how his season ended, he's a leader on defense. He has a great understanding of the game. Max had an outstanding combine (4.78 40-yard dash and 30 reps of 225 pounds which was most by any other inside linebacker). If he can prove to coaches that his off the field incident won't repeat itself again, his stock will rise back up to where it was.

Round 4, Pick ?? - Kenneth Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt

Another guy Ted Thompson reportedly has his eyes on, Kenny Ladler is one of the most under the radar guys in this draft class. Much like Iowa, Ted Thompson has started to take notice of the talent being produced by Vanderbilt (Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson have come in the last two NFL Drafts). He was selected to the All-SEC team last year and was the only player in college football with five+ interceptions and five+ forced fumbles. He's 6'0", 200 pounds and shows quick speed and potential to be an elite defender. Some draft analysts say he could be just as good if not better than Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Calvin Pryor. The Packers need all the help they can get at safety, and drafting a play maker is a good start. Don't count free agency out, either.

Round 5, Pick ?? - David Fales, QB, San Jose State

Mike McCarthy recently stated to the media that the Packers will look to take a quarterback relatively early in the draft after everything that happened last year. I don't buy the "early" part, but I do think the Packers may want to look at drafting one to develop. David Fales fits the Green Bay offense the best out of all the quarterbacks that will likely be left at this point, unless of course somehow Alabama's AJ McCarron drops this far down.

There's not much to dislike about David Fales. He's very accurate. He can pick up yards on his feet if he has to. But, he's classified as a pocket passer. He's got a very decent arm to throw the deep ball. He does a great job at leading his receivers. At San Jose he played under different formations such as shotgun, under center, pistol, etc. He's a little short, but is receiving comparisons to Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. I'd say David would be a perfect project for Green Bay to take on to mold into a solid back up QB for the time being.

Round 6, Pick ?? - Cody Hoffman, WR, Brigham Young

The sixth round will be where the Packers buy more ammunition for Aaron Rodgers. First Cody Hoffman from BYU. He's BYU's all-time leading receiver with 3,612 yards (prevously held by Austin Collie) over four seasons with the team to go along with 33 touchdown catches. Hoffman had his best game of the year come against the Wisconsin Badgers as he hauled in two touchdowns on 113 yards receiving. With a report stating that James Jones is likely not returning to the Packers next year, the Packers will need to add depth behind Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and Jarrett Boykin. Standing in at 6'4" and weighing 210 pounds, Hoffman is not a very bad WR4 option by any means.

Round 6, Compensatory Pick (Eric Walden) - L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri

With the team's second compensatory pick, the Packers should take another wide out that has kick returning potential as that was something Green Bay couldn't figure out in 2013. Washington ran a 4.46 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, which is very impressive. He is one of the taller wide outs in this draft as well coming in at 6'4" and weighing 205 pounds. Washington could also fill in for the departing James Jones as stated above. With the team needing a realistic kick returning option and not a flavor of the week like Johnathan Franklin, Jeremy Ross, etc. etc. etc., L'Damian is a great pick especially this late in the draft. Washington caught 15 touchdowns for 1,735 yards during his tenure at Missouri.

Round 7, Pick ?? - Cornelius Lucas, OT, Kansas State

The dude is 6'8", 316 pounds. With all of the returning linemen that were injured last season, we may want to draft some depth for the offensive line just in case. Plus, Marshall Newhouse does not belong on the team next year in any format whatsoever. If no one gets hurt, he can be placed on the practice squad. With a guy that size potentially available in the 7th round, you take him in a heartbeat strictly for value purposes. Simple as that.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Free Agents the Packers Should Sign

NFL Free Agency starts in three weeks, but this date has not really mattered to fans since Ted Thompson has become the General Manager.  The Green Bay Packers are a draft and develop team, plain and simple.  However, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network broke the story that the Packers were going to spend in free agency and spend big.  The latest news has the Packers signing up to five free agents to revamp their limp noodle defense.  The defensive line, linebacking core and secondary all need upgrades. 

Photo: Jersey Al's Packer Blog
Let me clear a few things up for Packers fans.  The Packers are not going to sign Jimmy Graham.  They will not be signing Jarius Byrd.  The franchise tag will be used on several of the top free agents available.  So, let’s take a look at five options the Packers can realistically add to their team through free agency.

Re-sign Sam Shields

Priority number one is resigning Sammy.  He has continued to grow each of the last four seasons and had his best season in 2013.  Tramon Williams had a bounce back second half of the season in 2013, so locking up Shields on the other side makes sense.  He will not come cheaply, especially since Drew Rosenhaus is his agent.  I do not expect the Packers to use the franchise tag on Shields, however I am expecting a deal to come before free agency begins.

Sign a safety: TJ Ward or Donte Whitner

TJ Ward may be franchised, so I will not spend a lot of time on him.  If he is not tagged, the Packers should take a look at pairing up the 27 year old to form a stronger back end of the secondary.  Whitner is a 28 year old safety that has played for the 49ers and has his best statistical year in 2013.  Whitner has always been known for his run stopping ability, but his coverage was always a liability.  Everything changed this year when he partnered with Eric Reid.  Whitner turned a corner with his coverage and would be a welcome addition to the Packers secondary. *Note- There has been internal Packers discussion about moving Micah Hyde to safety.

Sign OLB Jason Worilds

The Packers have been looking for a complimentary OLB to pair with Clay Matthews for a while.  Nick Perry has shown some flashes, however he has not been able to stay healthy.  Enter Jason Worilds.  The fifth year player out  of Pitt would fit perfectly across from Matthews.  Worilds broke out this year, with 8.0 sacks and ended up starting for Pittsburgh the second half of the season.  The Packers are not giving up on Perry, just being realistic by bringing in some talent far superior to anything previously on the roster.

Sign DT Jason Hatcher

You may have noticed B.J. Raji has not appeared on this list.  The Packers need someone who can make a difference in the middle.  Raji seems to have lost that and paying him eight million dollars a year is insane.  Here comes Hatcher from the Cowboys.  The Cowboys are in salary cap hell, so they are letting Hatcher go.  The 32 year old will be a great veteran addition to the young defensive line.  Hatcher had a career year with 11.0 sacks.  Do not expect 11 sacks next year, but maybe 6 or 7 from the DT. Anything  would be a huge improvement over Raji’s goose egg this year. The signing of Hatcher would be a good start, but the Packers should still draft a DT in the 1st or 2nd round of the upcoming draft.   Several mock drafts have the Packers linked to Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III and Minnesota’s Rashede Hageman as 1st round picks.

Sign a DE: Lamarr Houston/Corey Wooten/Julius Peppers

Things get a little murky here.  It is difficult to imagine the Packers signing a very high profile free agent like Houston.  If he is not franchised, the Raiders have over $60 million in cap space to resign the defensive end.  The 6’3”, 300 pound defensive end is exactly the player the Packers need to solidify the defensive line.  At 26 years old, he would be a great long tern fit if the Packers are willing to spend big.

It is much more likely the Packers will spend less and try to get some bang for their buck.  I give you Corey Wooten and Julius Peppers.  The Packers are raiding the Chicago Bears closet.  At 6’6’’, Wooten is the tall, athletic end Dom Capers is looking for.  2010 and 2011 were injury riddled seasons for Wooten, but he broke out with 7.0 sacks in 2012.  In 2013, the Bears were depleted at DT, so they moved him inside.  His sack total dipped to 3.5, but he was being a team player.  Wooten could be a bargain this year in free agency.

Peppers is most likely a cap casualty.  He has an $18.18 million cap hit this year.  He is 34 years old, but still has a little something left in the tank.  A 6’7’’ defensive end that only has to play on passing downs would be quite the fit.  There have a been a few rumors of Peppers heading back to Carolina on the cheap, but why not the Packers?

The Packers have plenty of holes and hopefully free agency will help fill a few and the draft will take care of the rest.  I still am a little skeptical of Thompson really hitting free agency hard, but the draft alone will not fix the Packers defense.  I did not address a few of the other free agents the Packers have, so let me hit those quickly.  I think Evan Dietrich-Smith is gone, with JC Tretter the most likely to fill in.  I am not sure anyone is going to pay James Jones the money he wants, but I do believe he will sign with the New York Giants to reunite with new offensive coordinator McAdoo.  I also believe Finley will be with another team next season and I fully expect the Packers to address the TE position in the draft.  I still have a gut feeling that Brandon Bostick will be a really good TE in a year or two.

Packers fans can finally look forward to free agency, but do not expect this trend to continue every year.  This has the feeling of a one night stand between Ted Thompson and the free agent market.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Steve Perhach

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Three Things To Watch This Spring For The Brewers

As pitchers and catchers report to camp for the Milwaukee Brewers, many questions remain unanswered. Although the progression of Spring Training will provide clarity to these questions that arose during the offseason, here are a few things to watch during this Spring Training for The Crew.

1. Who's on first? Who's on second?

There will be major competition to two positions throughout spring as there is a three way (maybe even a four way) battle at for a two-man platoon of first base and a two-man battle for playing time at second base.

Juan Francisco will be joined by either Mark Reynolds or Lyle Overbay on the Opening Day 25 man roster once the dust settles from Spring Training. Both Reynolds and Overbay were signed on minor league deals with invites to major league spring training to duke it out for a starting first base position. Unless there is an injury, I don't see how Lyle Overbay makes the 25 man roster. I really think this one may be locked up before spring training even begins. Could a name like Sean Halton or Hunter Morris emerge as a candidate as well? I'd say yes, but there's a reason why the Brewers went out and signed Reynolds and Overbay in the first place.

As for second base, either Rickie Weeks or Scooter Gennett will be starting at second base on Opening Day while the other will ride the bench and enjoy some sunflower seeds and Gatorade. No matter who starts and who doesn't on Opening Day, though, this will be a platoon just like first base. Who ever plays and who doesn't will ultimately reflect on the pitching match-up and obviously who's swinging the hot bat and who's not. Earlier in the offseason, Ron Roenicke implied that Scooter Gennett was the favorite to be the starting second baseman heading into the 2014 season, but all of that can change with a hot spring by the recently married Rickie Weeks.

2. Who will take over the lead off duties?

The Brewers have an extremely large void at the lead off spot in the batting order now that Norichika Aoki is gone as he was traded to the Royals earlier this offseason for south-paw pitcher Will Smith. The plus about Aoki is that he always found a way to get on base. Infield singles, bunting, hit by pitches, walking...he found a way to get on. Aoki also lead the entire league in at bats per strikeout at 14.9. In order to replicate the same offensive statistics as the Brewers did last year, they will need to be careful on who they put in that role.

Because of his speed, the obvious candidate that comes to mind for some would be Carlos Gomez. He had a break out year last season and is set up to have an even bigger one this year. That being said, Carlos is not known for being patient at the plate and tends to strike out more often than not. Granted he set personal records in hits (152), batting average (.284), on base % (.338), stolen bases (40), and walks (37) last season, he also set a personal record in strikeouts (146). I personally think he's better suited batting in the two-hole behind the lead-off hitter or in the 6th spot in the order if his power stroke returns. His placement depends on who else is in the lineup that day.

The most realistic candidate for the leadoff spot is Jean Segura. He's got about the same amount of speed as Carlos Gomez. He offers the same attributes and Nori Aoki did as a lead off hitter. Segura's on base percentage of .329 is right on cue with the league average (.329). Segura and Aoki have the same exact RC/9 (runs created per 9 innings/27 outs). Basically, if you took nine Jean Seguras or nine Nori Aokis and put them in a lineup, they would produce 4.8 runs per game. They both have near identical offensive win % (Jean is .543, Nori is .545) Just like RC/9, if you have nine of either player, you would win 54% of your games. One of my favorite advanced stats to look at for a lead off hitter is total average. You find that by adding up total bases, hit by pitches, walks, and stolen bases (subtract caught stealing) and divide that by subtracting hits from at bats and then adding caught stealing and ground in to double players (Total Bases + HBP + BB + SB - CS) / (AB - H + CS + GIDP). By doing that, you'll find that Jean Segura beats out Nori Aoki's .660 total average with a .699 total average of his own.

(Note: Scooter Gennett has a lot to work on before he can even be considered as a lead off hitter.)

My quick projected lineup for opening day:

(Assuming LHP Mike Minor is Atlanta's Opening Day Starter)

1. Jean Segura
2. Carlos Gomez
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Mark Reynolds
6. Jonathon Lucroy
7. Rickie Weeks
8. Khris Davis
9. Yovani Gallardo

(Assuming RHP Kris Medlen is Atlanta's Opening Day Starter)

1. Jean Segura
2. Scooter Gennett
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Jonathon Lucroy
6. Carlos Gomez
7. Juan Francisco
8. Khris Davis
9. Yovani Gallardo

3. Who will round out the final spots of the bullpen?

The bullpen has between four to five spots already filled. You'd have to assume that Jim Henderson, Francisco Rodriguez, Brandon Kintzler, Tom Gorzelanny, and Will Smith all have bullpen spots secured. That being said, there are about five more guys available for the Brewers to pick from to fill the final two spots.

Tyler Thornburg - With the signing of Matt Garza, Tyler Thornburg was unfortunately bumped from the starting rotation. He could still make the team, but he'll have to settle for a bullpen role. If he has a strong spring and the Brewers think he's more valuable in the Brewers bullpen rather in the Sounds starting rotation, he could take one of the final spots.

Rob Wooten - We got to see Rob for the first time last season. He produced a respectable 3-1 record, 3.90 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 27.2 innings pitched. He has good control and movement on his low-90s fastball. He makes a case to make the bullpen.

Alfredo Figaro - The flamethrower could find his way back into the bullpen if the Brewers feel they need his arm back in there. I, however, feel Figaro will be DFA'd when a spot for Mark Reynolds needs to be cleared.

Michael Blazek - Acquired from the Cardinals last season in which we sent them John Axford, some say Michael Blazek is John Axford 2.0. Big arm with closer potential. He'll definitely get a serious look.

Wei-Chung Wang - A Rule 5 Draft pick, Wang (right) would have to stay on the Brewers' 25 man roster for the entire season. Otherwise, he'd be sent back to the Pirates unless the Brewers and Pirates work out some sort of deal. Wang will be given a look this spring, but it's going to be difficult for him to stay on the team when he's never pitched passed rookie ball. He may end up becoming a trade chip if he pitches well.

Outside looking in: Donovan Hand, Jimmy Nelson, Zach Duke, Michael Olmsted.

Hopefully this gets everyone even more excited for Brewers baseball! 43 days until Opening Day. 43 days.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin