Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014 Green Bay Packers First Round Draft Preview



Who do Ted Thompson and the Packers scouting staff have their eyes on?
It's Super Bowl week and the NFL draft is still four months away. But college football's post season scouting showcase games are complete so now seems like a good time to become familiar with potential Packer draft targets. To begin with we'll look at players that could be on the board in the first round. Organized within a descending order from positions of need, these players are most likely to be wearing Green and Gold on draft day(or at least should be). Quick aside - I just can't bring myself to look at tight ends in the first round. There are too many other defensive positions that need impact players.


The following list comes with the qualifier always noted with Ted Thompson drafts; the best player available is almost always selected over reaching for a player at a position of need. 

Position of Need: Safety


Packers need improved safety play to avoid plays like this
The lack of production from the safety position in 2013 has been rehashed endlessly since the end of the season. Zero turnovers and only five passes defensed are pretty strong supporting evidence that change of some kind is needed. However, the Packers extended Morgan Burnett last summer to the tune of 4 years and $25 million dollars, $8.25 million guaranteed. $8 million is a lot of money to give up on a player quickly, especially for the traditionally reluctant to give up on homegrown talent Thompson. Someone to play along side of Burnett is a must going into 2014, whether through the draft or free agency. The unfortunate truth for the Packers is this draft lacking high end talent at safety.

HaHa Clinton-Dix 6-1 210 lbs Alabama

Clinton-Dix is really the only sure fire first round pick at safety in this year's class. He continues the recent trend from Alabama of defensive backs taken day one of the draft following the footsteps of Mark Barron(#7-2012) and Dee Millner(#9-2013). Clinton-Dix is big and rangy, he breaks on the ball well and shows natural ability to make big plays. The only real knock was his two game suspension this past season taking a loan from an assistant coach. However, barring a complete no show at the combine, Clinton-Dix is unlikely to available when the Packers pick at 21.

Calvin Pryor 6-2 208 lbs Louisville

Like Clinton-Dix, Pryor is an early entrant to the NFL draft leaving Louisville after his junior season. Pryor is a big physical player and his more than comfortable coming up to make plays near the line of scrimmage. In coverage Pryor played a lot of deep zone where he used his speed and big hitting to control the back end of the defense. He was not asked to play much man to man coverage in college. Lack of man coverage combined with lesser competition in the American Athletic Conference are the biggest factors holding Pryor back from a definite first round grade. Pryor figures to be around when the Packers make their first round selection, but whether he grades out high enough will largely depend on his Combine performance.


Tre Boston 6-1 205 lbs North Carolina


The reports on Boston are mixed, some view him as a second or third round pick, while others have him lower. His career production at North Carolina cannot be dismissed though. He had 13 interceptions, three forced fumbles and 20 passes broken up. All the areas the Packers are desperate to improve. Boston also spent time at corner and has the top end speed and coverage skills necessary to play safety in today's pass happy NFL. That being said, Boston will most likely not be called with the Packer's pick at 21. He will remain on the radar though after spending some time with Ted Thompson at the East-West Shrine Bowl earlier in January.

Position of Need: Defensive Line


BJ Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are all free agents. Raji seems interested playing in a different scheme capable of showcasing his pass rushing prowess. He turned down an $8 million a year offer from Green Bay prior to last season and after this year's disappointing performance isn't likely to be given that kind of offer from Ted Thompson again. Pickett and Jolly are both on the wrong side of 30 and Jolly is in progress of rehabbing a significant neck injury. It seems fair to assume bolstering the D-line has to be the second on the list of priorities during the off season.

Ra'Shede Hageman 6-6 311 lbs Minnesota
Hageman might be the pick to rejuvenate an older defensive line



Hageman has all the measurable NFL scouts look for in defensive linemen. He has the size and strength to play on the interior of the line as well as the foot speed and explosiveness to attack quarterbacks from the edge. The biggest knock on Hageman is similar for a lot of college defensive lineman; he lacked consistent high level effort from on every play. But his size and versatility will be coveted on draft day, and he seems likely to be around when the Packers are on the clock in the first round. Unless someone drops unexpectedly from the top of the draft, don’t be surprised if Thompson pulls the trigger on Hageman.

Aaron Donald DT 6-0 285 lbs Pittsburgh

Dodson was one of the dominant players at the Senior Bowl and has positioned himself to move into the first round despite lacking ideal size. He had a terrific regular season as well. He won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player of the Year), Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year), Outland Trophy (Outstanding Interior Lineman) and Lombardi Award (Outstanding Lineman). Bottom line, Donald is a good football player. The Packers have shown their willingness to gamble on undersized lineman. Mike Daniels was also considered smaller for his position and ended up being one of the most consistent defensive players for Green Bay in 2013. The question for Thompson will be whether a line with two undersized players can hold up in a division with Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Reggie Bush.

Louis Nix NT 6-3 340 lbs Notre Dame
Nix fits the mold of the pro typical 3-4 nose tackle. With a mammoth frame, he uses his body well, plays with the strength and leverage needed to occupy double teams and hold the point of attack along the line. At times he even displayed explosiveness to rush the passer for the interior of the line. Nix recently had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Considering the recent struggles the Packers have had with injuries, they may want to avoid taking someone already in the middle of rehabbing.

Position of Need: Linebacker


Clay Matthews is locked in at one outside linebacker spot. The other three positions could all improve. Nick Perry has been inconsistent throughout his two years but has battled injuries so it’s probably too early to give up on him. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones are average at best. Dom Caper’s 3-4 scheme relies heavily on a dynamic linebacker core to make plays in the run and pass game. Really the only consistent playmaker the Packers have is Matthews, which was underscored after Matthews missed time and the defense struggled to stop anyone one.

Mosely would be an impact player from day one.
CJ Mosely ILB 6-2 235 lbs Alabama

Mosely is the cream of the crop for linebackers in this draft class. He is a two time first team All American and All-SEC player. Mosely has great instincts reading gaps and diagnosing plays in the run game. But also excels with speed and fluidity in the pass game. Mosely would be an immediate starter at ILB and would team nicely with AJ Hawk. If he falls to the Packers at 21, he will be the pick, hands down.


Dee Ford OLB 6-2 238 lbs Auburn

Ford has vaulted into the conversation as potential first round pick after he dominated at the Senior Bowl. He was largely un-blockable all week during practice and registered two sacks and a pass deflection during the game. Ford is rumored to run in the 4.4 second range in the 40 yard dash. If he can show that speed at the Combine in Febraury, he will absolutely be able to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. Thompson has been on the record saying he wants the Packers defense to improve in speed and athleticism and Ford clearly fits the bill.
  
Trent Murphy OLB 6-6 261 lbs Stanford

Murphy is another who played defensive end in college and looks to move to OLB at the next level. Last season he led the country in sacks with 15 and finished second (to Aaron Donald) in tackles for loss with 24.5. He has great instincts and quickness as a pass rusher off the edge. At the Senior Bowl, Murphy showed enough athletic ability that pass coverage should not be a major issue. He is on the fringe of being drafted in the first round and could use a big performance at the Combine to solidify that status. If not, Murphy might be someone the Packers look to steal with their second round pick. 


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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

2014 Milwaukee Bucks Mock Draft 1.0



Joel Embiid presents himself as the best freshman option for the Milwaukee Bucks, even over Andrew Wiggins.

When the 2014 NBA Draft rolls around, history might already be made as this may be the last year the lottery is a part of the league. Due to accusations of teams purposely "tanking" to qualify for the draft lottery, the league has been debating ending the concept of the lottery and coming up with a new system such as a "spin the wheel" approach.

According to ESPN's 2014 NBA Lottery Mock Draft generator, the Bucks have a 25% chance to win the lottery and the first overall pick. And, with the way the season is going, it looks like the Bucks will end up with the worst record in the league which gives them the best opportunity to win the first pick. Before I jump into who I think the Bucks will take, here is a look at what some of the top NBA Draft sites are predicting.

Bleacher Report: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke (#1 overall)
NBADraft.net: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas (#1 overall)
DraftExpress.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#1 overall)
CBSSports.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#2 overall)
MyNBADraft.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#1 overall)
SportingNews.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#1 overall)
WalterFootball.com: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke (#1 overall)
NBADraftRoom.com: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas (#1 overall)
BasketballInsiders.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#1 overall)
Draftsite.com: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas (#1 overall)

With four total picks (one in the first round, three in the second round) in the semi-decent draft class, the Bucks have an opportunity to make a large step to start rebuilding. Besides their regular picks, they have a pick from the T-Wolves that was acquired in the Luke Ridnour trade and a pick from the Raptors that was acquired in the J.J. Redick trade. The pick from the Raptors is a bit complicated because They have a large gap in a dominant center and an efficient shooting guard. They could also use a backup point guard to play behind Brandon Knight (Yes, I know we have Nate Wolters). So, with that here's what I came up with (assuming the Bucks win the lottery).

Round 1 Pick 1: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas University

Unless the Bucks think Andrew Wiggins can improve his play in college and live up to his own hype, I think they pass on the "best talent available" and take Wiggins' teammate Joel Embiid who is showing he is way more NBA ready than Andrew. According to many GMs in the league, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker would be picked over Andrew Wiggins if the draft was today.

Also, unless the Bucks plan to have Wiggins be a shooting guard, I don't see them taking a small forward again like last year with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Don't get me wrong, the Bucks are in a stage of rebuilding that taking the best player available isn't out of the question. But, many believe that what Joel brings to the table actually makes him the best player available. The biggest obstacle to get Joel isn't even if the Bucks get the number one pick, but it's if he'll even enter this year's draft. Embiid was quoted saying “I don’t know if I feel like I’m ready for all of this. All of the great big men went to college at least two or three years. I think it’s a big factor. I don’t know if it will always work, but I think it’s the best choice.”

Round 2 Pick 31: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington University

Even if the Bucks don't win the lottery, if they finish the season with the worst record they will have the 31st overall pick which will allow them a shot at a really good player. As I mentioned above, the Bucks need a shooting guard who is a game changer yet efficient. O.J. Mayo and Monta Ellis are/were not that at all. Low shooting % and shaky performances are getting tiring to watch from the guard two spot for the Bucks. The senior is averaging 20.3 PPG, 46.1% shooting percentage and a 88.9% free throw percentage. Each year he's improved his numbers and has formulated into a very sound shooting guard for Washington.

Round 2 Pick 36 (from T-Wolves, previously Suns and Lakers): Shabazz Napier, PG, University of Connecticut

Another standout senior like Wilcox, Shabazz is one of the NCAA's top senior talents heading to the NBA Draft. Getting compared to Derek Fisher will help him a lot come draft day. He has improved on all of his numbers from his junior year, including going from 4.6 to 5.9 assists per game, field goal percentage has risen from 44% to 50%, and his three-point percentage has risen from 40% to 57%.

Because of his size (6'1" with a 6'3" wingspan), it's assumed his stock will fall on draft day and which ever team he ends up with he will be a back up to start out his NBA career as the team will want to test the waters with him.

Round 2 Pick 48 (from Suns, previously Raptors): Alec Brown, PF/C, University of Green Bay-Wisconsin

Alec Brown is a very unique player and could be an option for the Bucks if he's on the board for their third pick in the second round. He's a seven-foot-one (in shoes) center that has 3.3 blocks per game, but is also shooting almost 50% from three point range this season. He's a very versatile player to say the least. His rebound numbers have been down over the last two seasons, but his offensive numbers have been on the rise. He's currently averaging a career-high 17.0 PPG and his field goal percentage has gone up from 44% last year to 52% this year.

(Note: If Thanasis Antetokounmpo is on the board for this pick, it wouldn't shock me if the Bucks drafted the 20 year old brother of Giannis. He's a shooting guard/small forward currently playing in the NBA D-League but can be drafted in the 2014 Draft out of Athens, Greece.)


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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Milwaukee Brewers Officially Sign Matt Garza



UPDATE (1/28/14) 1:15pm) - The New York Post's Joel Sherman tweeted out this afternoon the details on the vesting option that took a few days to work out.

In his tweets, he mentions that the Brewers hold a $5MM option on Garza for the fifth year that will drop to just $1MM if Garza spends more than 130 days on the disabled list in any 183-day period throughout the life of the deal (FYI, 183 days is the length of one regular season). However, the option will vest for Garza at $13MM if he pitches 110 games over the first four years of the deal, is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2017 season and throws at least 115 innings in 2017. Garza will also receive an additional $500K for reaching 190 innings and 30 games in each year of the deal. Each year of the contract contains $2MM in deferred money without interest.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that the complex nature of the fifth-year option illustrates the Brewers' concerns over Garza's long-term health, and he adds that other teams shared those concerns. (via MLBTradeRumors.com)


UPDATE (1/26/14 1:10pm) - Mark Attanasio opened the Q&A at the Brewers On Deck fanfest by announcing the Matt Garza deal was official and it just has to pass through MLB and the MLB Players Association. The deal is still a 4 year contract and I assume the dollars will be the same/very similar to the original 52 million dollars. Mark stated that this was not orchestrated to announce it at Brewers On Deck, that it was "just a coincidence". Doug Melvin backed the owner, saying "Deals take longer now then they did 25 years ago. It used to be a handshake and a beer." Doug Melvin also said it was contract details and reviewing of the physical that held up the deal with Matt Garza.

UPDATE (1/25/14 10:55am) - News has surfaced that the reason for the hold up is because both sides are trying to agree on how the 52 million dollars will be dispersed over the 4 years. Instead of it being 13-13-13-13, I'm sure the Brewers are trying to pay less this year and having it increase year after year. something like the Kyle Lohse deal is what I assume is being discussed. It is believed this will be worked out and the deal is in no fear of being dropped. This makes sense because as I said on Twitter, this deal is very affordable with Aramis and Rickie coming off the books next year, giving the Brewers more money to work with after the 2014 season.

UPDATE (1/23/14 7:15pm) - The Brewers released a statement regarding Matt Garza stating a deal has not been reached yet. Right away it was assumed something happened with his physical. Both Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt reported that they both heard it has nothing to do with his physical, and that it is simply negotiations are still on going. Gord Ash declined to comment on the situation. Hold tight, all.

Matt Garza makes the Brewers rotation very interesting. And, hopefully good.

(Thursday 12:58pm) - First reported this morning by Adam Rygg of the Brewer Nation blog on MLBlogs.com, the Milwaukee Brewers have signed free agent right handed pitcher Matt Garza. The former Twins, Rays, Cubs, and Rangers pitcher has signed a 4 year, $52MM deal (physical pending), according to Ken Rosenthal.


This signing makes the most sense over arms like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez because the Brewers do not have to surrender a draft pick like they did last year when the team inked Kyle Lohse. And honestly, they can't afford to do that two years in a row.


So, with this move that likely completes the construction of the rotation and possibly the bullpen. With Garza, you now have a rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Marco Estrada, and Wily Peralta, with Tyler Thornburg sliding to the bullpen to join Jim Henderson, Tom Gorzelanny, Brandon Kintzler, Donovan Hand, Rob Wooten, and Will Smith.

The Brewers get get Garza for four years, which will be his age 30, 31, 32, and 33 years. Last year for the Rangers and Cubs, Garza put up a 10-6 record with a 3.82 ERA. Historically speaking, his numbers are much better in the National League versus the American League.

PHOTO: baseball-reference.com

I really like this signing. Doug Melvin is always good for one of these every offseason. We got Garza for very cheap, considering guys like Ricky Nolasco signed for much similar deals yet Garza is way younger. Also, with Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks (assuming) coming off the books this year, this deal is very affordable for an early-30s pitcher. Not going to say this move puts us in the front of the NL Central by any means, but this signing gives us a very respectable starting rotation and will make the Brewers a contender, at least.

With that, I leave you with this.


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

Grading the 2013 Wisconsin Badgers



The Wisconsin Badgers began the 2013 football season ranked 23rd in the AP Preseason polls. At the time I was disappointed in the ranking but could understand reason for doubting the team given the significant changes in coaching staff. Gary Andersen brought a lot of energy and a whole new posse of coaches with him and the team looked sharp, but not many knew what to expect. The result was a very solid season, capped off by a poor showing against Penn State on senior day and a disappointing ending to the Capitol One Bowl against South Carolina. The team finished with a 9-4 record and a 6-2 showing in the Big Ten. Kickers are kickers and punters are punters, but the best way to understand what went well and what didn’t for the team in 2013 is to take a look at each position on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Quarterback – C. After breaking his collar bone several games into the 2012 season, Joel Stave won the starting quarterback job in camp, beating out sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and transfer Tanner McEvoy. What the coaches most like about Stave is his throwing accuracy and ability to get the ball down field. With Jared Abbrederis returning as arguably the top wide receiver in the Big Ten, many thought it was wise to go with the best throwing QB of the bunch and give the offense its best opportunity to stretch the field. The result was a mediocre season for Stave. He made many great throws, but also missed A LOT. He finished with 22 passing TDs to 13 interceptions and threw for 2,494 yards. He was arguably a better player on the road, throwing just 4 interceptions in 6 road games, versus 9 in 7 games at home. The most glaring issue with Stave seems to be his inability to find the open man. As a young quarterback, this is somewhat understandable, but Stave became a bit predictable in games as he would often seem to lock on a single receiver (usually Abbrederis) before the start of a play and abandon any sense of progression as the play developed. He will most likely have a firm grasp on the starting job heading into 2014, but there is certainly room for improvement.

Melvin Gordon will return for his junior year.
Running Backs – A. The running game was yet again the bright spot for Wisconsin in 2013. The Badgers finished 8th in the country in rushing, combining for 3,689 yards. Melvin Gordon emerged as one of the best backs in the country, leading the team with 1,609 yards while reaching the end zone 12 times and ranking fourth in the country with an impressive 7.8 yards per carry. James White wasn’t far behind, totaling 1,444 yards and 13 scores. Gordon raised eyebrows as many thought he might enter the draft as a potential second or third round draft pick, but the sophomore announced after the regular season that he will return to Madison in 2014 for his junior season. The third shining star in the backfield in 2013 was youngster Corey Clement. The freshman ran for 547 yards on just 67 carries and reached the end zone 7 times. With Clement and Gordon returning in 2014, there’s no reason to expect anything less than another 3,000 rushing yards from the Badger backfield.

Receivers – B. Heading into 2013 the Badgers knew they had something special in senior Jared Abbrederis, the former walk on who had earned first team All-Big Ten honors as a junior. Senior tight end Jacob Pederson was also returning after winning the Big Ten’s Kwalick-Clark award as the league’s top tight end. Beyond these two however, questions remained unanswered heading into the season opener as to who would answer the bill as the team’s number two wide receiver. The questions never really got answered, as no wide receiver outside of Abbrederis caught more than 12 passes. Abby hauled in an impressive 78 catches for 1,081 and 7 touchdowns while Pedersen snagged 39 balls for 551 yards and 3 scores. James White was also incredibly reliable out of the backfield, catching 39 passes for 300 yards and 2 scores. “Old Reliable,” Jeff Duckworth was next on the team with 12 catches for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns. The team will look heavily to youngsters Jordan Fredrick and Alex Erickson in 2014 to step up and carry the load as a receiving corps. Melvin Gordon will also need to play a bigger role out of the backfield than he did in 2013, catching just one pass for 10 yards.

Offensive Line – B. After losing starting center Travis Frederick to the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Badgers offensive line needed some returners to step up. They did fairly well, once again blocking for one of the best rushing attacks in the country and keeping quarterback Joel Stave on his feet. The team ranked 17th nationally with 16 sacks allowed, an average of just 1.2 per game but loses left guard Ryan Groy to graduation. This is a hole that has to be filled, but the unit remains young and full of potential heading into 2014.

Defensive Line – B. With new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda came a new 3-4 scheme that worked surprisingly well for the Badger Defense in 2013. As a unit, Wisconsin ranked 15th in total defense, 6th in scoring defense, and 5th in rushing defense throughout the campaign. The one glaring statistic that keeps this unit from an “A” rating is the disappointingly low sack total. The team totaled just 26 sacks on the season, with 4 of those coming from backup nose tackle Warren Herring. Beau Allen has garnered attention leading into the NFL draft and Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel did well managing the ends. Look for the defense to remain consistent in 2014 but look to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

This will always be my favorite Chris Borland picture.

Linebackers – A. Moving to a 3-4 scheme as a defense meant shifting Brenden Kelly from his defensive end position to and outside linebacker spot. This freed up middle linebacker Chris Borland to be more aggressive in attacking the ball carrier. Borland had his best season yet, recording 112 tackles and earning consensus first team All-Big Ten honors. Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill were third and fourth on the team with 51 and 41 tackles, respectively and were a big reason for the team’s success against the run. The unit needs to find a way to replace Borland in 2014, but I believe the 3-4 scheme will continue to promote future success.

Secondary – B. After losing both starting corners and a safety to graduation heading into 2013, the Badger defense faced a lot of question marks in the secondary. The unit was good, however, ranking 17th nationally against the pass, allowing 202 yards per game. Senior Dez Southward returned and provided consistency for the group, totaling 40 tackles and nabbing one interception. The bright spot here was true freshman Sojourn Shelton. Shelton made his share of mistakes, as should be assumed from an 18 year old, but also pulled down 4 interceptions and primarily manned opposing team’s top wideout. Shelton receive praise from former Badger standouts Jamar Fletcher and Scott Starks for his confidence and competitive nature, but needs to sure up his coverage, as he was burned a few times too many throughout the course of the season. Michael Caputo was another bright spot, moving from linebacker to safety and looks to have a hold on the spot heading into 2014. Look for this young unit to grow and improve under Aranda.


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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Into the Maw of Hell", or "the Brewers' First Base Options"



The Brewers entered the offseason with something of a gaping hole at first base, and after a long off-season, it appears they will enter the 2014 season with something of a gaping hole at first base. There are certainly guys on the roster who can stand at first base (including one whose body is capable of filling a gaping hole), but whether or not they can do so at a replacement level is a whole 'nother ball of bats. Let's size up their options.

Juan Francisco
Juan slowly comes to a frightening conclusion; there is no glove.

Francisco was acquired from the Atlanta Braves midway through last season after it became apparent that Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt just weren't ready to compete at a Major League level. Fat Juan had never played first base before and watching him learn a new position on the fly was kind of like watching a three-legged dog try to use a skateboard (so, simultaneously hilarious and sad). Despite his many shortcomings, Francisco remains an intriguing player due to his ludicrous power. He clocked 13 dingers in just 270 plate appearances as a Brewer while also drastically improving his walk rate. While he isn't currently a good player, the Brewers certainly see something in him and hope they can develop him into something. 

Pros
 - homers
 - dingers
 - tacos
 - taters 
 - moar walks
 - youth
 - not Yuni
 - unintentional comedy

Cons
 - strikes out a lot 
 - can't hit lefties
 - can't field 
 - strikes out a lot
 - Tom Haudricourt hates him
 - fat
 - strikes out a lot


Mark Reynolds
The ball has already reached the catchers' glove and subsequently been thrown back to the pitcher

Reynolds was signed to a minor-league deal last week with a near-guarantee to make the opening-day roster. A seven-year MLB veteran, Reynolds is kind of the right-handed version of Francisco, at least offensively. Hilarious power, draws some walks, can't make much contact. Unlike Francisco, Reynolds can somewhat competently play first base (sort of). Chances are, Reynolds will platoon with Fat Juan at first base, which really makes you question the meaning of life.

Pros
 - power
 - walks
 - not Yuni
 - um
 - that's it

Cons
 - strikeouts
 - former Diamondback
 - can't hit righties anyone
 - bad 

Lyle Ooooooooverbay
Overbay was signed to a minor-league deal on Monday. Overbay also represents one of my favorite Brewers memories. It was May 10th, 2005, and it was the first Brewers game I ever attended. They were playing the Phillies. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Overbay came to the plate with two on and two out. The entire stadium made an "O" shape with their arms while yelling "OOOOOOOOOOOOO". Then Lyle sent the first pitch he saw from Vincente Padilla to the moon. The Brewers went on to win 8-5. It was the best. It was also nine years ago, and Overbay is not an immortal being incapable of aging. 

Pros
 - some power
 - some walks
 - hits righties
 - not Yuni

Cons
 - old 
 - boring
 - can't hit lefties
 - bad defense
 - former Diamondback

Sean Halton
uh

Halton is a former 13th-round pick who came up late last year to serve as a platoon mate for Francisco. Halton had some moments but wasn't very good, which basically encapsulates the Brewers' first base situation overall. Like everyone else listed here, Halton isn't a good fielder and strikes out a lot. There isn't anything in his minor league numbers to suggest anything more than a part-time or bench player, and he hit lefties worse than righties last year (admittedly in a small sample) so it's unclear if he's even an acceptable platoon option.

Pros
 - seems like a cool dude
 - better at baseball than me or you
 - not Yuni
 - welp

Cons
 - looks like a member of Nickelback
 - probably likes Nickelback
 - bad defense
 - bad offense

Hunter Morris

Morris warrants mention as the token prospect of the group. He had a shot at making the 2013 opening day roster after injuries to Corey Hart and Mat Gamel, but floundered in Spring Training and had a poor year in AAA. Morris has tons of power, isn't a good defender (at least not yet), and has trouble consistently making contact. I'm sensing a theme here. 

Pros
 - young
 - power
 - improving walk rate
 - not Yuni

Cons
 - hit .247 with a 97 wRC+ in a hitter's paradise
 - strikeouts
 - just look at the dudes the Brewers play at first over him

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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, January 21, 2014

Interview with Huntsville Stars GM Buck Rogers



- You're from Neenah, WI. How much does that mean to you that you're a part of the organization that I assume you followed and watched?

When you work in Minor League Baseball the last thing you’re concerned with is the MLB affiliation.  Deep down you have your wish list and hope for a team that you love, but in reality you work for the Minor League club first and support the MLB team no matter what the affiliate.  Sometimes that’s tough as I grew up in Wisconsin and took a job with a Chicago Cubs affiliate.  My parents almost disowned me for that one.  In fairness, the Cubs do a great job and I enjoyed the three years in that organization.  There are a lot of friendships between organizations, believe it or not, the Cubs and Brewers organizations have some friendships off the field.  But being a part of the Brewers organization is really special.  I’m not saying that because I’m from Wisconsin; I’d be saying it if we were a Royals or Angels team.  The front office of the Brewers are people oriented first.  It really is a unique organization to be a part of; to watch things evolve. I hope the people of Wisconsin never take for granted the Brewers organization and how hard they work to be competitive in a smaller market.  It really is a special situation.  But I have to admit that watching Don Money play as a kid and then working with him now is fun.  The Bambi’s Bombers, Harvey Wallbangers, and teams along the way make the relationship more enjoyable because you know how long Wisconsinites have waited for playoff teams and now you get to see ‘em before they get to the show.

- Who on the Stars roster excites you the most to watch in 2014?

I have to hold out here because I don’t know who will be on our roster.  It’s easy to assume that certain guys will be here, but spring training injuries change lineups real quick, e.g., Mat Gamel.

- To elaborate more, who do you see/have you seen recently that could make a quick climb in the minors to the Milwaukee Brewers?

There have been quite a few guys in the past couple years, if I name anybody I’ll catch hell from those I don’t name.  When you get to AA the players know that they have crossed the hump and if they play their cards right they can make it.  There will be hills and valleys and as long as the guys realize that and not get discouraged they’ll make it.  The downside is that we can root for the guys but know that deep down they could be the player-to-be-named later.  For example, the CC Sabathia trade in 2008 had us losing Michael Brantley and Mat LaPorta, two guys on the rise.  You originally picture them at Miller Park, but in the end there they are in other uniforms.  But you have to salute Doug Melvin, Gord Ash, and the guys for pulling the trigger on those decisions to get a playoff team.  Last season we had a number of younger guys, and while we didn’t have a lot of wins, there was personal improvement.  To me, watching guys move up, getting the call from Scott Martens with the roster changes is heartbreaking at first, but once they hit Milwaukee it’s all worth it.

- What is the hardest part about dealing with a roster that can change in an instant because of trade/injury/promotion? (from Jason Jenson)

To me, trades are the hardest because you have a player that everybody loves and now you have to tell him to clean out his locker and get out of our clubhouse.  In Brevard County we had a pitcher named Steve Garrison who was best friends and roommates with Lorenzo Cain his whole baseball career.  Steve was part of the trade with Will Inman and Joe Thatcher sent to San Diego for Scott Linebrink.  When our manager (John Tamargo) told Steve he was traded Steve went into the clubhouse and broke down.  Lo Cain did also.  The clubhouse was stunned because Steve was family.  He cleared out his locker and said his goodbyes to the team.  He sat in the crowd for the game because he was no longer part of the organization and wasn’t flying out until the next day.  I think we got shelled that night as everybody was down.  He personally worked the seating bowl all night giving hugs, shaking hands, thanking fans for their support.  I thought it was one of the classiest moves by a player.  Steve was with the Mobile BayBears this past season and I had the chance to get caught up with him after a game.

Watching a player who is driven day-in, day-out, get hurt is tough.  You get to see these guys pour their heart and soul into the game and an injury can end it all.  I never want to see a career end on our watch; we want all players to move up the food chain, but every now and then a player retires and it’s really emotional as you try to console a guy on the ride to the airport or as you help him pack up his things.  There is life after the game, but you don’t want to explain that to a player whose career just ended.  It’s tough.

- How is the job of running a AA/minor league ballclub different from that of a major league team? (from Joey Grundl)

Great question.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many people think I have control over our roster.  I had a player’s girlfriend rag on me one night because I hadn’t promoted her boyfriend.  She didn’t understand that all player moves are done by the Brewers.  The Minor League Baseball GM is not involved with transaction decisions, training, etc.  Our job is the business of running the organization, the stadium operations, logistics, etc.  The MLB GM’s role is completely different.  Doug Melvin is not going to be concerned if an outfield wall sign gets hung in the right location or is PA announcements are broadcast in the right inning.  The MLB GM has way more on his plate; it’s all baseball related where the MiLB GM is business related.

- How do you decide to groom prospects. Is it your call or are there instructions from above that a guy needs to improve in a certain area. Are there mandates on certain things, for example "no cutters" (from Derek Harvey)

Like above, all training and grooming is the responsibility of Doug Melvin and his plan.  It’s worked through Gord Ash, Reid Nichols, the rovers, and our coaching staff.  They have years of experience and know that a game in Huntsville won’t be in anybody’s memory bank for long unless they push a player too hard and he has a career-ending injury.  In 2002 in Daytona Beach we had a pitcher named Carmen Pignatiello.  Piggy was way past his pitch count one night and had a no hitter going.  Our farm director (Oneri Fleita) was called and gave the OK for Piggy to go no more than 20 more pitches.  Piggy got thru the 8th inning intact and our manager (Dave Trembley) finally had to pull him.  The crowd went berserk.  But it was in Piggy’s best interest. The closer came in (Jared Blasdell), walked the bases full before retiring the side to thankfully complete the no-hitter.  Big sigh of relief as it averted a mutiny in the stands.  But Piggy’s future trumped the no-hitter.  Farm directors, managers, all rovers all have the big picture in mind and that always supersedes whatever is happening in the game.  Nobody will remember that no-hitter, but everybody will remember the career-ender.

- Most unique player you've ever coached. (from Alec Dopp)

I’ve never coached baseball, but there have been a few I’ll never forget watching and enjoying having them on our roster.  I want to apologize in advance to some of the guys that I’ll think of later and forget to mention here.  With an Expos team in North Carolina in 1998 we started the season 15-0, the best start to this day in affiliated MiLB or MLB history and surpassing the ’87 Brewers 13-0 start.  It was magic for two weeks and a day as every call, every swing, every hop, every throw, every bounce, every fly ball went our way.  We had a lineup with Jorge Julio on the mound, Brian Schneider behind the plate, (a very polite of the field) Milton Bradley in center, and a couple more guys…15-0 and we didn’t even clinch the first half pennant, but what a run.  In 2000 I had Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee, polar opposites that really pushed themselves.  I had Brewers Pitching Coach Rick Kranitz as our manager in Daytona Beach (yep, Kranny was with the Cubs) in 2003 in one of the most tumultuous situations I’ve ever had to deal with and he was the total professional.  We had a Korean player who threw a baseball at an osprey overlooking batting practice.  I won’t get into the details but Kranny helped us thru a very difficult week that included death threats from fanatics, lawyers, fish and game personnel, and more.  The event train-wrecked the season and all the goodwill that the players did, but Kranny kept the ship afloat in a very difficult situation. In Brevard County Tim Dillard busted out a guitar and sang some very interesting tunes that kept the guys loose.  Alcides Escobar…to this day I can’t confirm that he even had a skeleton the way he bent and twisted at SS.  Darren Ford ran down a deep fly ball in CF while at Palm Beach one night.  The Cardinals’ runner at first took off for 2nd, then 3rd and was rounding for home when Darren surprised everybody and caught the ball running towards deep centerfield.  Then the weird happened, Darren realized that he could have an unassisted double play if he ran the ball to first.  The runner started back around the base path and Darren was sprinting towards first.  You have to understand that Darren was probably the fastest guy in the Brewers entire organization at that time.  Him and Lo Cain used to run sprints and it was neck and neck, but Darren always was a couple inches ahead at the end.  But it was clear Darren would reach first before the runner and the runner just gave up.  Darren played it classy and flipped the ball to the 1B for the out even though he could’ve pulled it off and stuck it in the guy’s face.  I’ll never forget Hunter Morris and his feats of the 2012 season (Gold Glove, League MVP, etc.).  Darnell Coles as manager and his total appreciate for all parts of the game.  There are more.  Unique?  I couldn’t pick one.  That’s the beauty of Minor League Baseball, it happens every night right in front of you.

- Talk about your involvement in the move from Huntsville Alabama to Biloxi Mississippi. Seems like there is a lot upside in the Biloxi community.

The team was just sold a week ago and will transition to Biloxi at season’s end.  At this point we are really focused on the upcoming season as they still haven’t broken ground on the new stadium in Biloxi.  I know the new owner (Ken Young), as his company ran our concessions at Space Coast Stadium in Brevard County.  Once we get together we’ll get the game plan for the move, but our focus now is the 2014 season here.  As most teams do, we have a lot on our plate.

- Favorite memory you'll take away from Joe W. Davis Stadium?

The 2010 All-Star Game was memorable.  The city really came out and showed their support.  We had 7,700 here for a wonderful game that saw the South Division give up a pitcher (Arizona’s Josh Collmenter) because the North Division was down two bodies.  Josh started the game in a gray road jersey for the north (home white jerseys) pitching against his teammates and got the win.  The crowd was wondering what the heck was going on as they had never saw anything like this before.  Bizarre situation, but it was an exhibition game when you get right down to it. Then League President Don Mincher was still alive then and he got to see one last All-Star game in the stadium where he was the GM and owner before becoming league president. Don was a fantastic guy and the baseball world misses him and I’ll never forget that night.

- Any current talks to extend the player development contract passed the 2014 season?

The discussion for renewing the PDC is between the Brewers and Ken Young, the team’s owner.  I said it before and I’ll say it again: the Brewers are easiest going, happy-go-lucky organization I’ve ever been affiliated with.  They treat all their Minor League affiliates with respect, courtesy, and friendship.  If I have a problem a phone call fixes it.  If there’s a situation coming up like a trade that will affect our club, the Brewers always keep us in the loop.  I would hope that we continue on with Milwaukee for years to come; there’s no better organization in baseball.  I wish everybody that has sat down to watch a Brewers game at Miller Park could have an inside view – just for a day – of what the Brewers do to build that roster…all the work from the draft thru the Minor Leagues, the travel, training, caring, patience, everything that happens to compete.  You’d really appreciate the Brewers more than ever.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the guys in Helena, Appleton, Brevard County, and Nashville.  But from the top to the bottom the organization really is phenomenal and I’d hate to think of being in another organization.

- Your thoughts on the whole Alex Rodriguez situation...

Honesty is the best policy.  Nobody’s perfect.  But there are posters in all the clubhouses explaining the gambling, tobacco, and drug guidelines.  Players sign statements saying they have read and understand the policies set forth.  Read ‘em, learn ‘em, live ‘em.  Nobody is above the game of baseball.  Nobody.

- If you can speak on it, what are your feelings on Major League baseball posterizing it's talent for using PEDs and ultimately turning the fans on the players who are caught and test positive.

My feelings are simple: rules are for everybody.  Nobody’s above the law. It’s black and white, cut and dried.  Respect the game, do the right thing, and don’t mess with stuff you shouldn’t touch.  That’s what we preach to our kids, right?


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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Milwaukee Brewers 2014 Opening Day Preview



Spring training is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about what kind of team the Brewers are going to put on the field this season. The Brewers are still looking for a first baseman and bullpen arm or two. Their starting lineup should look similar to the ones they put out last year, with Braun and Aramis (barring injuries) returning to the everyday lineup. Here’s how I think the Brewers roster will end up looking like.

1st base: Your guess is probably as good as mine. If I had to choose from current players on the 40 man roster, I would go with Juan Francisco. Hunter Morris is another option, but he didn’t even earn a September call-up last season, so I doubt that he will get the nod to start. 

2nd base: Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett will start the year out in a platoon. Weeks for left handed starters, and Gennett for right handed starters. 

Shortstop: Jean Segura (right). He had an outstanding first half last season, but tailed off a bit in the second half. He did not play winter ball this off-season like he did last year, so hopefully that will help him be more consistent throughout the 2014 season. He was one of the few guys in 2013 that stayed healthy for the entire year, and hopefully that will be the case again this year.

3rd base: Aramis Ramirez. We’ll have to hope that he can stay healthy this year, because there aren’t many other guys in the system capable of playing third base. If worst comes to worst, I guess we can stick Ryan Braun back over there. Just kidding.

Catcher: Lucroy will be the primary catcher, with Maldonado once again backing him up; a very solid pair to have behind the plate. Lucroy is a very good offensive catcher, is one of the best framers in the major leagues. Maldonado is a very good defender, and can gun down base stealers like it’s his job. (Oh wait, it is.) 

LF: Khris Davis. This is the player that I’m most excited to watch in 2014. The Brewers traded away Nori Aoki this off-season to make room for him, and Braun was moved to right field. He has the capability to hit 20+ homers in a season, and showed last season that he can hit some monster home runs. It’ll be fun to see what he can do when he gets a chance to play every day.

CF: Carlos Gomez. The recent gold glove winner was one of the few bright spots from the 2013 season. There’s no doubt that will produce on defense once again this season. Hopefully, he will be able to continue his success on offense as well.

RF: Ryan Braun. When discussing a position change, I imagine the conversation between the Brewers and Ryan Braun went something along the lines of “you’re moving from left to right field, deal with it.” I'm not too worried about Braun as he returns from his suspension - I suspect we’ll see the same productive Ryan Braun that we’ve seen in the past.

Starting rotation: Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada, Tyler Thornburg.

Bullpen: Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Rob Wooten, Michael Blazek, Tom Gorzelanny and Will Smith will all probably be in the bullpen. Doug Melvin recently said that he would like to add at least one, preferably two, free agent bullpen arms. If they do end up signing two, Wooten would probably be the odd man out. 

Bench: Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl, Jeff Bianchi, Sean Halton, Martín Maldonado. 

Predicted record: 84-78

If, and this is a big if, they can stay healthy all season, I think this is a realistic record. Their pitching staff has some question marks, but I feel better going into this season with that staff than I felt going into the 2013 season with the same guys. The offense should be fun to watch, even if we end up having another dud at first base this season. Only time will tell.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Kristin Zenz (@10iskristin)

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, January 10, 2014

Packers Season-End 7 Round Mock Draft



Before I jump into this, I first want to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year and welcome to 2014 on the Wisconsin Sports Blog. We had record breaking traffic on this site last year, and I owe it all to my dedicated writers as well as to the equally dedicated readers. Looking forward to writing for all of you again this year.

So another season and another playoff game where the Packers fall short. That has pretty much been the trend since we won the Super Bowl. It's very disappointing but how many teams can say they haven't missed the playoffs since 2009?

The biggest issue our team has is health on both sides of the ball. You can't blame the health of the team on a single entity. There are many factors. Blaming the coaching staff is not one of them. The rule changes over where you can and can't tackle someone are. Believe it or not, injuries happen when you play a high contact sport like football.

So going into the draft the Packers have a few spots they need to focus on. Mainly they need to upgrade the secondary, at inside linebacker, and on the defensive line. In addition to the defensive upgrades, the Packers might also look to add a tight end prospect as well as a kick returner. With those five focuses in mind, here is my first Packers mock draft of 2014.


Round 1, Pick 21 - C.J. Mosley, ILB, University of Alabama

I guess before I get into the specifics on C.J. Mosley, I'm going to have to show you how this Top 15 talent will fall to Green Bay at 21st overall. I think the first four picks of the draft are all pretty much set. Houston will take Bridgewater, whoever the Rams trade their pick to will take Clowney, and the Jaguars and Browns will take Manziel and Bortles in either order. The Raiders would have taken Hundley at 5th overall, but he's returning to school for his senior year. So, Raiders probably take Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans. The Falcons take Jake Matthews while the Bucs take Khalil Mack. The Vikings take either Derek Carr here or reach for another quarterback. The Bills likely take whoever the Raiders don't pick for wide receiver. Rounding out the Top 10, the Lions likely take a wide receiver to compliment Megatron or they take Clinton-Dix off the board.

Now, picks 11-20 are a lot more difficult to predict, but here's what I think each teams biggest needs are...

Titans: Tied for 21st in league for sacks. They need a pass rusher DE/OLB
Giants: Eli Manning was terrible this season. Part if it had to do with Eli being sacked 40 times. Need OL help.
Rams: They need help in the secondary and at wide receiver.
Bears: Everywhere on defense. Mosley could be taken here but I think the Bears address defensive line first.
Steelers: Defensive line or secondary.
Cowboys: Cowboys finished in the bottom 10 in sacks. They need a pass rusher.
Ravens: Wide receiver for Joe Flacco to attempt to throw to.
Jets: Need a weapon for Geno Smith to throw to.
Dolphins: I heard they need offensive line help.
Cardinals: Quarterback and offensive line. Maybe a wideout or a running back?

Which brings us to the Packers at pick #21. With Desmond Bishop gone, Brad Jones hopefully gone, and A.J. Hawk slowly making his way to the door as well, the Packers need to address the inside linebacker position. Mosley is everything A.J Hawk isn't. Yes, Hawk tackles like a madman. However, he just doesn't go the extra mile to create turnovers at the level he should be at. Mosley is listed as an outside linebacker but would definitely fit in well as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

The Butkus Award winner finished his Alabama career with 319 tackles, 23 TFL (tackles for loss), 6.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Mosley creates a serious presence int he middle of the field that will help improve the tackling of our defense, which has slipped over the years.

Round 2, Pick 53 - Craig Loston, S, Louisiana State University

For those hoping the Packers could get their hands on Hesean Clinton Dix in the first round, I'm here to burst your bubble. If the Packers got the opportunity to draft Dix, they would. But, he'll be gone by pick 21 so they'll have to settle for the next best available at the position, which is LSU's senior Craig Loston. Loston is a tall strong safety prospect who has 7 career interceptions for the lock-down Tigers defense. Just recently in the Outback Bowl, Loston accounted for a forced fumble, and interception and a pass defended. LSU's defense only surrendered and average of 197.5 passing yards per game in 2013 and only allowed 15 passing touchdowns in those games, which Craig deserves a lot of credit for.

We all know the Packers need upgrades in the secondary. We've seen our defense get shredded year after year by the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Co. M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett could honestly not make it back next year and I don't think many people would mind. I wouldn't. They were really bad. Awful, actually. Burnett certainly isn't worth the 4.9MM cap space. M.D. Jennings is a restricted year agent, so he's free to go. I expect major changes to come other than drafting, too. Ted rarely pulls the trigger on free agency, but I think Jarius Byrd would be someone to look at to help fix our secondary blunders. But that's an article for another day.

Finally, in 2013 Loston has a total of 3 passes defensed. The Packers used 5 safeties this season. They combined for 8 passes defensed. So, there's that.

Round 3, Pick 85 - Yawin Smallwood, ILB, University of Connecticut

But why not Chris Borland? I love Chris. I wouldn't hate the pick if Ted took him here. However, just to keep me away from the Homer Train, I'll go with a guy just as physical and a little taller. Meet Yawin Smallwood.

Smallwood was named UConn's 2013 defensive player of the year after putting up monster numbers in his junior year. The linebacker started all 12 games for the Huskies and led the team with 118 tackles, which placed him at 22nd in the nation and third in the conference with 9.8 stops per contest. Smallwood also picked up 9.5 TFL and 4 sacks, an interception, 9 pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles to an all-around dominant season. Smallwood notched double-digit tackles in six games.

As stated above with C.J. Mosley, the Packers have some serious issues to address at inside linebacker. Adding another inside linebacker here would set us up with one of the best linebacker quartets in all of football.

Round 4, Pick 117 - Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson University

With James Jones entering his unrestricted free agency year, the Packers may want to address a wide receiver here. Also, the Packers have longed for a kick returner since converting Randall Cobb into strictly a wide receiver to prevent injury. There have been many trials yet no solid returner has surfaced. They need to take one eventually in the draft and here would be a good selection. Martavis Bryant could fix all that. Bryant runs a 4.38 forty-yard dash and has experience returning kickoffs at Clemson.

Playing opposite to Sammy Watkins this season, Bryant was still able to pull in some great numbers with Tajh Boyd this year. Martavis finished his junior year with 828 yards on 42 receptions to go along with 7 touchdowns. If we lose James Jones, Bryant becomes a solid WR4 behind Jordy, Cobb, and Boykin.

Round 5, Pick 149 - Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State University

So the Packers struggle on defense, huh? Well let's draft a player from the number one ranked defense in the country in 2013. Michigan State's 2013 defense allowed 210.2 yards per game, 43.4 rushing yards per game, 11.6 points per game, and a 90.29 average passer efficiency rating. Isaiah Lewis is one of four dominant defensive backs on the Spartans that produced at a high level this season to help this defense be so great.

Lewis finished up his senior year with 58 tackles, 2 interceptions, a TFL, and 8 passes defensed . The Packers used 5 safeties this season. They combined for 8 passes defensed. So, yeah. Lewis would be an instant improvement at the safety position. Only being 5-foot-10, some may question his size but I think he does a pretty good job with what he's been given to work with.

Round 6, Pick 181 - Colt Lyerla, TE, University of Oregon

Yep, it's the cocaine guy. But, everyone deserves a second chance, right? RIGHT?

I originally was totally against this idea as someone on Twitter suggested it to me it would be smart for the Packers to make this pick. But after thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense to take this risk. Before Colt left the Oregon football program, he was a Top 64 NFL draft prospect. But, because of the off-field issues with cocaine etc., his stock dropped quicker than frozen concentrated orange-juice. He compares to guys like Jace Amaro, Eric Ebron, and C.J. Fiederowicz talent wise and size wise. The only difference is Ted wouldn't have to waste a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round pick on Colt.

With the status of Jermichael Finley completely in his hands and the fact that "God's Gift" Andrew Quarless is still evidently trying to find his own hands, taking a talented tight end like Colt Lyerla is the right pick here.

Round 7, Pick 213 - Bruce Gaston, DT, Purdue University

Farewell, B.J. Raji. He hasn't had a sack in over two years. He's a free agent. That will be the end of that. I hope Johnny Jolly is back, however. He had a solid year. I liked what I saw from rookies Datone Jones and Josh Boyd. Not sure what the team does with C.J. Wilson. Ryan Pickett is also a free agent. That being said, the Packers should not be satisfied with the pass rush, or lack there of. Our secondary gets burned a lot because we aren't getting any pressure on the quarterbacks and they then get to pass all over us all game.

Bruce Gaston would add some nice depth to the defensive line in which I could see him making an impact. He amounted to 7 sacks and 23.5 TFL over four years at Purdue. He only missed three games over those four years. He has fast feet and great lateral agility. If he can stay healthy, he's someone that can give the Packers a legit pass rush again.


Undrafted Free Agents

Connor Shaw, QB, University of South Carolina - He looked really impressive against the Badgers in the Capital One Bowl. There is a chance he even gets drafted late in the 6th or 7th round. But if he doesn't, it might be something the Packers look at to at least bring him to camp. Seneca Wallace and Matt Flynn will most likely not return, so there needs to be someone besides Scott Tolzien. If Connor Shaw is drafted, then I'd look at Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) or James Franklin (Missouri).

David Sims, FB, Georgia Tech University - Sims is one of those hybrid running back/full backs. He's got weight of what a full back would be to be a blocker, but has the speed of a running back. With James Starks and John Kuhn set to test free agency, we may need to add some depth to Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris, and Johnathan Franklin.

Kaleb Ramsey, DT/DE, Boston College - I like this guy's upside. As noted, he can play either tackle or end. Injuries have plagued his tenure at Boston College. But, in the time he has played, he's been a truck. Due to those injuries, he has medically red shirted twice giving him 6 years of service at Boston College.

Dri Archer, RB/WR/KR, Kentucky State University - Dri Archer is the second fastest athlete in this year's draft. Only DeAnthony Thomas has a faster forty-yard dash by a tenth of a second. This may be the route Green Bay goes in if they decide not to draft a kick returner.



Noel Grigsby, WR, San Jose State University - Noel may be the best wide receiver that goes undrafted this year. San Jose State lost Noel to a knee injury in the second game of 2013, which was his senior year. Over his 4 years at San Jose State, he collected 237 passes for 3121 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Jonathan Brown, OLB, University of Illinois - Brown had a huge senior season, leading the team and ranking second in the conference in tackles with 119, and ranking third in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss. He also added 5 sacks, 4 pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble on the season. For his career, Brown made 317 tackles including 45.5 TFLs, the third-most in school history, and 14.0 sacks. As much as the Packers need help at inside linebacker, you can't forgot how banged up they've been at outside linebacker, too.

Michael Philipp, OT, Oregon State University - He's a big boy. 6 foot 4 inches tall and 330 pounds. Injured much of his sophomore and junior years, Philipp played extremely well as a true freshman and as a senior this year. With Evan Dietrich-Smith and Marshall Newhouse both free agents, adding depth at guard/tackle is a good idea.

John Fullington, OG, Washington State University - Mostly used as a left tackle, John also can play both right tackle and right guard. He's 6 foot 5, so he'll usually have the height advantage. He moves quick on his feet and has great lateral agility. As I said for Michael Philipp, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Marshall Newhouse may not return next season,so replenishment may be needed at guard and tackle.

Matt Lengel, TE, Eastern Kentucky University - Couldn't find his stats from this past year, but he is projected as a 7th rounder/FA. The reason why is that he's 6 foot 7 and weighs 260 pounds. He's an inch taller than Rob Gronkowski but weighs 5 pounds less. If Ted doesn't draft a tight end in the seven rounds, he will definitely look for an undrafted free agent like Matt Lengel.

Jacques Washington, FS, Iowa State University - A running back in high school and recruited as a cornerback, Jacques moved to safety in his sophomore season. He ended his career at Iowa State with 311 tackles. Yet another safety to add to the dwindled bunch Green Bay has now.


My next mock draft probably won't be until a month or so before the draft. I want to see where the compensatory picks fall for the Packers so I can deliver a more accurate mock draft. Until then, enjoy the rest of the NFL Playoffs!

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