Wednesday, April 24, 2002

 

Packer draft picks always look good on paper

by David H. DeLano

The 2002 NFL football draft is history and it looks to me like the Packers did well with their selections. Of course, I say that same thing every year at this time.

Mike Sherman pulled a surprise last weekend by moving up eight picks in the first round to draft a player the Packers have determined to be a gem. Javon Walker, a 6' 3" two hundred ten pound wide receiver from Florida State, is that player. Walker is a big, fast (runs the 40 in 4.38 seconds) athlete and will give Brett Favre another weapon this coming year as the Packers move towards overhauling their wide receiver corps.

Mike Sherman's decision to move up to get Walker was based upon his belief that a couple of teams selecting between pick # 20 (Seattle's first round pick) and # 28 (the Packer's pick), would likely choose Walker before the Pack's turn came. If Walker were to have been selected prior to the Packer's # 28 pick, the thinking was that there were no other impact wide receivers left to be selected this year. So, Sherman boldly traded up with Seattle at the cost of a second round pick to ensure getting the player he wanted. I like Sherman's decisive management style and I like the player selected.

Javon Walker has enormous physical ability. The knock on Walker, however, is that he isn't smart enough to learn the Packer's complicated West Coast offense. Walker took something called the Wuderlic intelligence test and scored a 9 out of 50 possible which isn't very good. The Packers, however, did their own intelligence work on Walker and discovered that he has a slight learning disability. Aware of that, the Packers feel there are effective alternative methods of teaching to overcome Walker's learning disability and thus they made the decision to draft him.

I listened to the post draft interview with Walker and I was impressed. Articulate with a sense of humor, he handled himself well with the press. Walker signed a professional baseball contract coming out of high school and allegedly pocketed a signing bonus of some $300,000. Two years of professional baseball was enough for him though. He then decided to enroll in college and resume his football career. The interesting thing is that Walker was smart enough to invest his signing bonus from the baseball contract, rather than spending it, as many young men would have done. If he is smart enough to do that, methinks he is smart enough to learn the Packers' offense. Look for some big performances from this young man in the future.

With their remaining 5 picks, the Packers selected Marques Anderson, a versatile defensive back from UCLA, Najeh Davenport, the top rated fullback in the draft, Aaron Kampman, a defensive lineman from Iowa, Northwestern (LA) QB Craig Nall and San Diego State guard Mike Houghton. The only position where the Pack failed to draft some help for a "need" area was linebacker. This year's linebacker group was very weak though, so maybe it was just as well they did not "stretch" to take a player from that group. Look for the Pack to sign a veteran free agent linebacker or two before training camp begins.

Reflecting back upon Packer drafts of the past, it is interesting that some of the poorest drafts took place in the '60s during the reign of none other than the greatest coach the game has ever seen, Vincent T. Lombardi. Strange as it may seem, the legendary Packer coach didn't draft that well. During his nine years as a Packer coach, only a single player (Lionel Aldridge) drafted during that period was able to earn a starting role in his rookie year. Lombardi achieved his phenomenal success mainly due to the efforts of players drafted prior to his arrival or through trades. Lombardi, of course, more than made up for his weak college drafts by squeezing every ounce of performance out of his players through player development and motivational genius.

But back to the present the next step is to get the 2002 draftees signed to contracts before the mini camps get into full swing. With the possible exception of Walker, I wouldn't expect any of the draft class of 2002 to become starters this fall. This group does appear to afford the Pack some quality roster depth to contribute to special teams and situation plays. Hopefully these players will develop quickly and compete for starting jobs in the near future. How good or how poor the Packer's draft class of 2002 turns out to be can't be judged for years to come but it sure looks like the Packer staff has done their homework well.

Another pearl of optimism for cheeseheads look for some meaningful contributions from last year's draftees this fall. Specifically, Jamal Reynolds, Robert Ferguson and Torrance Marshall. These three players were noticeably quiet during their rookie campaigns but they all have lots of talent, which is about to blossom into performance this coming season. Butas is true with all draft classesonly time will tell for sure.


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