EVALUATING THE ROOKIE CLASS
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.”
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.
Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell, a third-round pick, has two sacks, including this one against the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.
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.
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.
Packers offensive lineman Jason Spriggs, a second-round pick, has played in all 10 games in either a reserve role or on special teams.