EVAL­U­AT­ING THE ROOKIE CLASS

Packer Plus - - NEWS - ROB REISCHEL JEFF HANISCH / USA TODAY SPORTS

In many cases, ma­jor im­pact still ex­pected

SPE­CIAL TO PACKER PLUS

Green Bay — Back in 2009, Ted Thomp­son hit a pair of home runs in the NFL draft with first rounders Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. Matthews made the Pro Bowl that sea­son, Raji was an emerg­ing player by year’s end, and that duo helped the Pack­ers make a five-game im­prove­ment from 2008.

In 2006, wide­out Greg Jen­nings, line­backer A.J. Hawk and left guard Daryn Colledge were all im­me­di­ate starters, while of­fen­sive line­men Ja­son Spitz and Tony Moll split time in the start­ing lineup.

And in 2014, cen­ter Corey Lins­ley, safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix, tight end Richard Rodgers and wide­out Da­vante Adams all were pre­ferred starters by the end of the year.

It’s safe to say, the Class of 2016 hasn’t pro­vided that type of lift.

Green Bay’s seven player draft class all re­main on the 53-man roster. But in­side line­backer Blake Martinez has been the only pre­ferred starter, while the oth­ers have had lit­tle im­pact for now.

“I would think if you stopped today, you’d feel good about where our rookie class is today,” Pack­ers head coach Mike McCarthy said last week. “I mean, par­tic­i­pa­tion, the fact that they’ve been in po­si­tions to have op­por­tu­ni­ties, and con­tinue to grow. So I think it’s def­i­nitely been a pos­i­tive for the con­tri­bu­tions from our rookie class.

“With that said, I think the fact that at this point in the year, they’re not rook­ies any­more. So it’s time to close the gap be­tween the in­ex­pe­ri­enced and ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers on our team, and we need to take a step for­ward just in our qual­ity of play.”

As the sea­son hits the stretch run, here’s a re­cap of how Green Bay’s draft class has per­formed, and what their fu­ture looks like. KENNY CLARK, DT (Round 1, pick No. 27)

When B.J. Raji abruptly re­tired last off­sea­son, the Pack­ers were left with an im­me­di­ate need at nose tackle. While Clark’s play hasn't wowed any­one, his fu­ture looks bright.

Clark en­tered Week 11 with 22 tack­les, one fum­ble re­cov­ery and one pass de­fensed. Clark has started two games and has helped Green Bay rank near the top of the NFL in rush­ing de­fense all sea­son.

“I think it’s been go­ing pretty good,” Clark said. “The way I’ve im­proved phys­i­cally and men­tally as a player, I’m ex­cited about the di­rec­tion that I’m go­ing.

“If you un­der­stand foot­ball, you un­der­stand what the stats are and why they are the way they are. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Clark has made sig­nif­i­cant strides play­ing with his hands. He hasn’t given Green Bay any pass rush what­so­ever, though, and hopes to im­prove in that area mov­ing for­ward.

Raji took a ma­jor step in his se­cond sea­son when he posted 6½ sacks and had a enor­mous in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. Clark is hop­ing to make gains like that.

“I saw B.J. do a lot of things, sacks, in­ter­cep­tions and all that,” Clark said. “We can make plays in this de­fense. It’s all about im­prove­ment and maybe some of that stuff can hap­pen.” JA­SON SPRIGGS, OT (Round 2, pick No. 48)

The Pack­ers traded se­cond-, fourth and sev­enth-round draft picks to In­dian

apo­lis for the right to draft Spriggs. Thomp­son doesn’t give up three picks to have a player sit for long.

To date, Spriggs has played in all 10 games in ei­ther a re­serve role or on spe­cial teams and flashed the abil­ity to be a fu­ture starter.

Spriggs is ex­tremely ath­letic and has seen time at both tackle and guard. And if Spriggs adds strength, he could crack the lineup for good by 2017.

“The way he’s han­dled him­self in prac­tice and block­ing against our own peo­ple and do­ing the ser­vice team work and those types of things, ul­ti­mately you feel very con­fi­dent about him,” Pack­ers of­fen­sive line coach James Cam­pen said of Spriggs. “I have no prob­lems play­ing with Ja­son Spriggs at all.”

KYLER FACK­RELL, OLB

(Round 3, pick No. 88)

Fack­rell en­tered Week 11 with two sacks, six quar­ter­back pres­sures, a quar­ter­back hit and one pass de­fensed. He’s been a solid spe­cial teams player and has given the pass rush a boost when pre­sented the op­por­tu­nity.

Fack­rell ap­pears fully re­cov­ered from a torn ACL that took away his 2014 sea­son at Utah State. And with Julius Pep­pers not ex­pected back and un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing Nick Perry and Da­tone Jones, Fack­rell should have a far more prom­i­nent role in 2017.

“I hope so,” Fack­rell said. “That’s the goal and ob­vi­ously I’ve been given some good op­por­tu­ni­ties so far to play on de­fense. So hope­fully they have that con­fi­dence in me mov­ing for­ward.

“The de­fense is only go­ing to get more fa­mil­iar. I’m go­ing to get stronger and be­come more fa­mil­iar with the de­fense. Just be­come more fa­mil­iar with the speed of the game. So I’m def­i­nitely con­fi­dent about my fu­ture.”

BLAKE MARTINEZ, ILB

(Round 4, pick 131)

Martinez is in a tight race with sec­ondyear in­side line­backer Jake Ryan to lead Green Bay in tack­les. Martinez, an ex­tremely quick study, has been a ter­rific mid-round find who has been stout against the run and solid in cov­er­age.

Martinez, who scored a 27 on the Won­der­lic in­tel­li­gence test, could be­come a long-term an­swer at a po­si­tion that’s been hard for Thomp­son to solve.

“He’s go­ing to be a re­ally good player in this league for a long time,” Pack­ers out­side line­backer Da­tone Jones said of Martinez. “He’s al­ready a great leader and that will only get bet­ter as he gets more and more ex­pe­ri­ence. The sky’s the limit.”

DEAN LOWRY, DL

(Round 4, pick 137)

Lowry has reg­is­tered five tack­les, a tackle for a loss, three quar­ter­back pres­sures and a quar­ter­back hit. Lowry played far more from scrim­mage in the first four games when Mike Pen­nel was sus­pended. But his snaps have dried up in re­cent week.

Lowry im­proved a good deal at fivetech­nique early in the sea­son. Lowry wants to bulk up from 295 to 305 this off­sea­son, and once he does, he’ll also be more stout at the point of at­tack.

“I would say I’m happy with the progress I’ve made,” Lowry said. “I know I saw more snaps the first four games of the year. Now that we’ve got some guys back, that’s dwin­dled down a lit­tle bit. So now I take Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day prac­tices and ap­proach those like they’re game day for me. And I think I’ve made re­ally great progress through­out these weeks just get­ting bet­ter at my craft.

“It was tough be­cause as a com­peti­tor you just want to be out there and be a part of the team. So it was tough. But I think I ap­proach each game the same. You’ve just al­ways got to pre­pare to play 30 snaps out there in case some­body goes down.”

TREVOR DAVIS, WR

(Round 5, pick 163)

Davis has three catches for 24 yards and is av­er­ag­ing 12.8 yards per punt re­turn and 21.3 yards per kick­off re­turn. Davis fum­bled away a punt Nov. 13 in Ten­nessee and ap­pears to have lost that job for the time be­ing.

Davis is just 188 pounds, and needs to tack on 10-12 pounds of mus­cle in the next year. If Davis can’t — or loses speed in the process — it will be hard for him to ever be more than a bit player.

“The goal is al­ways to get big­ger, faster, stronger and get bet­ter ev­ery year,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of things I can im­prove at. I’m a very big critic of my­self. I’m still work­ing on ev­ery­thing. I’m not happy with my­self.”

KYLE MUR­PHY, OT

(Round 6, pick 200)

Mur­phy has been in­ac­tive eight times and hasn’t played from scrim­mage when he’s been ac­tive.

Mur­phy has bounced around the line dur­ing prac­tices. But his best po­si­tion re­mains right tackle.

“Ob­vi­ously as a com­peti­tor, you want to be out there on game day,” Mur­phy said. “But our start­ing five has played ex­cep­tion­ally well across the board, and up un­til a few weeks ago, was pretty much flaw­less with in­juries.

“But we’re all com­peti­tors and you get paid to be ready to play, so my prepa­ra­tion hasn't changed one bit. I al­ways pre­pare like I’m go­ing to play and hope­fully it pays off down the road.”

ADAM WESLEY / USA TODAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers wide re­ceiver Trevor Davis, a fifth-round pick, is av­er­ag­ing 12.8 yards per punt re­turn and 21.3 yards per kick­off re­turn.

Pack­ers de­fen­sive tackle Kenny Clark, the team’s top draft pick, en­tered Week 11 with 22 tack­les and one fum­ble re­cov­ery.

GETTY IM­AGES

Pack­ers line­backer Kyler Fack­rell, a third-round pick, has two sacks, in­clud­ing this one against the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.

GETTY IM­AGES

Pack­ers tackle Kyle Mur­phy, a sixth-round pick, has been in­ac­tive eight times and hasn’t played from scrim­mage when he’s been ac­tive.

Pack­ers line­backer Blake e Martinez, a fourth-round pick, has the most prom­i­nent role of any rookie. He could lead the team in tack­les this sea­son.

MIKE DE SISTI / MILWAUKEE JOUR­NAL SENTINEL

Pack­ers de­fen­sive line­man Dean Lowry, a fourth-round pick, had more play­ing time ear­lier in the sea­son. He has five tack­les and three quar­ter­back pres­sures.

MARK HOFFMAN / MILWAUKEE JOUR­NAL SENTINEL

Pack­ers of­fen­sive line­man Ja­son Spriggs, a se­cond-round pick, has played in all 10 games in ei­ther a re­serve role or on spe­cial teams.

JEFF HANISCH / USA TODAY SPORTS

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