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Packers could make run at back

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by MassPackersFan, Apr 21, 2008.

  1. MassPackersFan

    MassPackersFan Cheesehead

    Apr 18, 2007

    Draft preview: Thompson could make run at back

    By Pete Dougherty

    As the NFL draft draws near, teams spend more time trying to figure out what their competitors are going to do on draft day.

    Good luck predicting what Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has planned for his first-round pick, No. 30 overall.

    Thompson has no glaring need for a first-round starter, and even if he did, he has proven he emphasizes taking talent over need in the first round. So, with just about every position in play, scouts have been all over the board predicting what he might do, though one this week made an interesting guess based on what might be available at No. 30.

    "I wouldn't be surprised to see him take a running back in the first round," a college scouting director for an NFC team said.

    Though running back isn't an obvious hole for the Packers after surprising Ryan Grant proved to be a quality starter, it is an area the Packers could upgrade for a couple of reasons. First, Grant is a physical runner who could take a beating and be susceptible to injuries. Second, as the New York Giants showed on their way to winning the Super Bowl in February, NFL teams generally need at least two quality backs because of the attrition at that position.

    Throw in coach Mike McCarthy's desire to call a more run-oriented game, and running back is a position of need. They have second-year pro Brandon Jackson as a backup, but despite all the glowing comments McCarthy has made about him this offseason, Jackson could end up being more of a key performer on special teams than in the backfield, unless he shows more explosiveness than he did as a rookie.

    Then there's DeShawn Wynn, a second-year pro who showed some promise as a runner early last season. However, his career, dating to his days at the University of Florida, suggests he can't be counted on to stay healthy and play through injuries.

    So, for Thompson, it comes down to whether a running back will be worthy of taking at No. 30. While the top prospects — Darren McFadden of Arkansas, Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois, Jonathan Stewart of Oregon and possibly Felix Jones of Arkansas — may be off the board, East Carolina's Chris Johnson may merit consideration.

    Johnson (5-foot-111/8, 199 pounds) doesn't have the bulk teams desire for an every-down back, which might keep some clubs from giving him a first-round grade, but he has breakaway speed, runs surprisingly well between the tackles and is a good receiver out of the backfield. He blew away scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

    Mike Archer, a former linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is defensive coordinator for North Carolina State and coached against Johnson three-quarters of the way through last season. His defense held Johnson to only 63 rushing yards, but Archer saw tape of Johnson's seven previous games and saw a good NFL prospect.

    "I was scared to death of the kid because he killed North Carolina (with 154 yards rushing and receiving)," Archer said. "The week before we played him, they played at UTEP and he had 300 yards total in kick returns, punts and rushing and catching. The kid is talented, and we knew he could run. Some kids run fast in track. This kid was fast with pads on, too. There's a difference. They tried to get the ball in his hands, and it was probably our best tackling game all year."

    Johnson wasn't a big producer until his final season, when his 1,423 rushing yards more than doubled his career high. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry, rushed for 17 touchdowns and scored six more on pass receptions.

    "I don't see him as a complete back like Mendenhall, being a blocker, a pass catcher, a consistent runner to grab ground," a scout for an NFC team said. "Chris Johnson, if it's there, he's got the speed to explode it; if it isn't, he doesn't have that magic. I'm not overly excited about him. But I know he's going to make it because of the 4.2 speed, and they'll work with and develop him more. But as an impact guy, I don't see it."

    There's also a chance Jones will be available at No. 30 — he's a slightly bigger (5-10 1/8, 207 pounds) and more elusive version of Johnson. He averaged an amazing 8.7 yards a carry last season while splitting time behind McFadden. But, there's a strong belief he won't get past Dallas' second first-round pick, No. 22 overall.

    Texas' Jamaal Charles and Central Florida's Kevin Smith also excite some scouts, though they don't appear to rate as late first-round picks on many, if any, draft boards.

    5. Chris Johnson, East Carolina

    5-11 1/8, 199; Round 1 or 2

    Overview: Probably lacks the size to be an every-down back, but had a big senior season. Ran the 40 in 4.24, which was the fastest time of anyone at the combine. Played regularly his first three seasons but didn't bust out until last year, when he rushed for 1,423 yards, averaged 6.0 yards a carry and scored 17 touchdowns. He's an all-purpose threat: caught 37 passes for a 14.3-yard average and six touchdowns as a senior, and averaged 28.0 yards on 36 kickoff returns. Had three games of 408 all-purpose yards, including against Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. Runs OK between the tackles, but whether he could hold up doing that regularly at 199 pounds in the NFL is another question.

    The talk: "He's legit fast," one scout said. "But it's funny, he's not like (Atlanta's 204-pound) Jerious Norwood, where he can't run inside. When you watch him, he runs like a bigger guy, and he has the speed as the cherry on top. He has a chance to develop into a real guy. You'd love to have him in a situation where he was a 1A to another guy. That would be ideal. Whether he could be a No. 1 guy, there's a little question, because there's not a lot of guys under 200 pounds that are full-time guys, so that would be the issue. But I like him as a runner, I really do." … "Smaller guy but just runs more on pure speed," another scout said. "He's got great speed with the ball. I don't know (if he can run between the tackles in the NFL). A lot of these backs are running so much out of spread offenses (in college) now, it's hard to tell how they're going to do behind a lead back when they've got to read holes and have some patience and vision. It's not just school-yard football."

    I want Chris Johnson. I think if he puts on 10-15 lbs of muscle in Green Bay's weight training program (which he would, everyone bulks up) he would be NFL ready and could be something special.

    My 1st 2 rounds = Chris Johnson, Tracy Porter, and Chris Ellis.
  2. Zombieslayer

    Zombieslayer Cheesehead

    Aug 12, 2006
    Johnson sounds intriguing. While I don't think RB is necessarily a "need," TT will draft BPA and that 40 time is nothing to scoff at. That is, if he's still there at #30.

    I highly am against every down backs. I think unless you have an exceptional talent (like a Walter Payton, AP, Barry Sanders, LT, etc), you split carries and prolong the RBs' careers. Even with guys like AP and LT, you still don't run them into the ground. I guarantee you we'll see a lot more of that Sprowles guy in '08.

    If we draft a guy like Johnson AND Wynn stays healthy and fit, Morency's job in '09 may be in jeopardy. Grant, Jackson, Wynn, Johnson - I like the sound of that. Plus, Johnson can add to our Return game. Having that kind of blazing speed would be a nightmare for opposing STs.

    And with Rock G, 10-15 pounds of muscle is almost a done deal. As long as he stays the same speed, that is. I'd rather have him small if he loses speed because he won't be an every down back anyways.
  3. MassPackersFan

    MassPackersFan Cheesehead

    Apr 18, 2007
    His weight program is all about explosiveness so I don't see him losing speed, but it's a very good point to bring up. I gotta think people like Jennings only got faster when they put on the muscle.

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