The Green Bay Packers typically go after the big class of ready-for-the-NFL football players in the offseason…and no, we're not talking about free agency: we're talking about the NFL Draft. Packers general manager Ted Thompson has made one big free agent signing in his Green Bay tenure (Charles Woodson, 2006), as he primarily focuses on the NFL Draft, year in and year out, to improve and bolster his Green Bay squad. Thompson put together one of the better team 2013 drafts, highlighted by two former UCLA Bruin stars: defensive end Datone Jones, and running back Johnathan Franklin.
Jones, the Packer’s 1st round selection, was a breakout player in Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora’s first season in Westwood. Although Jones may be a bit undersized for the Packers 3-4 defensive scheme (Green Bay lists him at 6’5, 280), Thompson is obviously hoping he can become an NFL star similar to the mold of another undersized 3-4 NFL defensive end: Houston Texan and NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. In only his second NFL season, Watt recorded an NFL-high 20.5 sacks, and helped the Texans reach the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Watt, an undersized 3-4 defensive end coming out of Wisconsin (6’5, 290), recorded seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss in his final season with the Badgers. In Jones’ final season in Los Angeles, he recorded five sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to blitz and get after the quarterback often (47 team sacks in 2012), and adding Jones to a defensive front seven which already includes former first round picks Nick Perry and Clay Matthews should be an instant benefit to the Packer D.
On the other side of the football, rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, one of Thompson’s three fourth round selections, recorded 2,057 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns in his senior season with the Bruins. Franklin’s dazzling senior season helped him finish his college career as UCLA’s all-time leading rusher in school history. With Franklin’s brilliant abilities, the Packers should see an instant improvement in the offensive running game.
Franklin, one of two running backs selected by Thompson in the draft (former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy was selected in the 2nd round), adds an element of speed and a smooth running approach to the Packers’ backfield. Franklin’s style is similar to current Packer running back James Starks, whose roster spot is in dire jeopardy. Starks, an unsung hero on the Packers Super Bowl XLV team, is already 27 years old, and has missed 26 of 48 games in his three year career. In four seasons with the Bruins, Franklin never missed a game due to injury.
For a team which ran for just over 1,702 yards (20th in NFL), averaged 3.9 yards per carry (22nd), and rushed for nine touchdowns (t-25th), the Packers may have struck gold with selecting a potential every down durable running back in round four. The Packers haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2009 (Ryan Grant), and Franklin’s durability could help the Packers add yet another lethal element to a talented offensive group.
The Packers had two goals in mind in the 2013 NFL Draft: improving the pass rush opposite of Clay Matthews, and adding a weapon in the offensive backfield. Thompson may have solved it with a couple of Bruins who flew under the draft night radar.Tags: Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Datone Jones, Dom Capers, Football, Green Bay, Green Bay Packers, J.J. Watt, James Starks, Jim Mora, Johnathan Franklin, NFL, Nick Perry, Ted Thompson