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Packers Youth Has Been Essential to 4-1 Start

There are a lot of reasons why the Green Bay Packers are 4-1. One has been the extraordinary play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but another, is the increasing contributions from the 2016 and 2017 draft classes.

The youth movement has been happening on defense for some time. In seemingly every draft recently, Green Bay has been focused on defense, but it seems that finally, it’s starting to pay off. Particularly, when it comes to 2016.

With each passing week, the 2016 draft class seems to make a bigger and bigger impact. First-round pick Kenny Clark is a stud. He is turning into an elite run stuffer and also is tied for the team lead with four quarterback pressures.

Certainly, Green Bay has missed Mike Daniels while he has been out, but his absence wasn’t as bad as it could have been, because of Clark. The stat sheet shows eight unassisted tackles for Clark, five assists and one pass batted down. But his impact has been much greater.

And ultimately, he and Daniels look to be essential pieces on the defensive line for years to come. Yet, as impressive as Clark’s growth has been this season, maybe no player on the Packers has improved more than Blake Martinez.

At some point this offseason, it looked like the Packers might replace Martinez with a safety such as Morgan Burnett or Josh Jones. But now, that doesn’t seem at all likely.

Martinez, a fourth-round pick from Stanford in 2016, has locked down the starting job at inside linebacker, after turning into a tackling machine. Right now, he leads the Packers with 37 total tackles, but he also has a sack, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery.

For years, Green Bay was looking for a solution at inside linebacker, even moving Clay Matthews there for a couple seasons. But in Martinez, they have found it.

However, those aren’t the only two solid contributors from the 2016 class. Before getting injured, Kyle Murphy put in some nice performances at right tackle, good enough to be the swing tackle the next two years or maybe even a starting guard at some point. That’s good value for the sixth round.

Jason Spriggs and Kyler Fackrell have not necessarily lived up to their draft positions, but have been serviceable. Of course, no Packers class would be complete without an undrafted free agent and the best from 2016 is corner Josh Hawkins, who has developed into a potential starter outside.

With two starters and some key rotational players, 2016 already looks like a solid class for general manager Ted Thompson. But the class of 2017, is starting to impress too. 

Green Bay’s top pick, Kevin King was inserted into the lineup in Week 2 against Atlanta and now is essentially the Packers top cover guy. He’s 6-3, runs a 4.4 and is not afraid to mix it up in the run game. He’s a keeper, and will only continue to to get better.

Much like King, Green Bay’s other second-round pick, Josh Jones is also making an early impact. He saw his first extended playing game against the Falcons and really hasn’t left the field since (except for injury).

Jones (6-1, 220) is the ideal hybrid safety, big enough to play in the box, but fast enough to cover on the backend too. He has played in the deep middle, but also as an inside linebacker in sub packages. In the win over the Bengals, he made a key tackle in overtime that prevented Cincinnati from getting a first down.

Green Bay went on to win 24-21. Jones also notched two sacks in that win over the Bengals. He also has 21 stops in 2017 (4th on the team). King and Jones have both made their impact felt defensively, but there is another rookie that is making an equally big impact on offense: Aaron Jones.

Last week, few would have predicted that Jones would run for more yards than Zeke Elliot, but that’s exactly what the rookie from UTEP did, racking up 125 yards on 19 carries. He also added a critical rushing touchdown in the second quarter, as well as one catch for nine yards.

Jones, who finished the game against Chicago, has 32 rushing attempts this season for 174 yards (5.4 YPC) and two scores. He has run so well, that some are suggesting he might take Ty Montgomery’s job soon.

That may be premature, but it's clear Jones has carved out a role for himself on offense and suddenly, the Packers lack of running back depth, isn’t such a big issue.

Who knows if Jones can continue what he has done so far, but even if he doesn't, the doesn't change the fact that the 2016 and 2017 draft classes, have been an integral part of the Packers early-season success.



Chris is a sports journalist from Montana and has been blogging about the Packers since 2011. Chris has been a staff writer for CheeseheadTV since 2017 and looks forward to the day when Aaron Rodgers wins his second Super Bowl. Follow him @thepackersguru

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (26) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

EdsLaces's picture

Clark is ballin.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Dial and Brooks have been essential as well. Great veteran pickups who have helped cover injuries to Daniels and Perry.

Finwiz's picture

Before I start spinning cart wheels about how one guy is playing on the defensive line, I look at the stats and see GB ranked 22nd in Rush yards allowed per game and 11th in total yards. They are 10th in pass yards allowed, so all those DB's drafted in the last several years are starting to pay off. In points per game they are 20th, at 22.4.

Total yards allowed per game they are 321.2, vs. 309.2 (7th) for MN. 12 yards per game doesn't really seem like a big diff, does it?

Finwiz's picture

Figuratively speaking of course. I tried cartwheels once, but just got dizzy and couldn't complete a full rotation.

RCPackerFan's picture

The youth definitely has provided us plenty of talent.

The rookies are playing well. King maybe our best CB already. Jones is a true weapon on defense. Aaron Jones maybe our best RB and looks already like he was a steal in the 5th round.
We have yet to see Adams and Biegel play but they could provide help later in the season.

The second year players though are where our biggest strides has been made. Clark has become a beast on the DL. Getting Daniels back to play alongside him will definitely improve Clark's game. Lowry has been very good as well. Martinez perhaps is the most improved player from a year ago. Over the last 3 games he has averaged 10 tackles per game.
Brice has really stepped up his game overall... Davis has become our dangerous punt returner. Hawkins has really improved as well.

Overall, our young players have really given the team a boost.

TXCHEESE's picture

Dean Lowrey is also a 2nd year guy that is getting it done. I love his size and his game. The depth at DL is really going to pay off when the weather turns and the running game takes on additional importance. Those guys are key to making opposing offenses one dimensional. If we can get a 2 score lead early, the pass rush should have a hey day.

Bearmeat's picture

The defense is better than it has been. Not that this is saying much....

If they can get healthy and IF a few more young guys can step up, the D can be good enough to complement the offense of a super bowl winning team. Randall has to pick it up. King needs to get more consistent. And we need Daniels to get healthy.

But things are looking up slightly. We need to get to the point where we can get a timely stop against a good QB.

MITM's picture

I could be wrong but it seems like with Daniels in that Dial gets more snaps than Lowry?

dobber's picture

Remember that Dial didn't play week 1. It brings their snaps closer to even.

tylerbigred's picture

Fantastic article !!!!!!!

Mojo's picture

From the article and comments Clarks a stud, King and J.Jones are impactful, Lowry's playing well, Martinez and Hawkins are emerging talents, Brice has stepped up ...

Yet with all this infusion of talent combined with the spirited play of vets like CM3 , Perry, Daniels, Burnett and Brooks we should stonewalling our opponents in every game.

But somehow when high octane offenses like Atlanta and Dallas come around we take a beating.

Either our players aren't as good as we think, or the scheme they're in just isn't working.

dobber's picture

I wonder how the numbers would look if Dallas and Atlanta had been playing on grass at Lambeau. Might not matter as much for Dallas with their style of play.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Or you could simply acknowledge some good-natured hyperbole. Clark: stud should be very good. He isn't a monster at DT yet. King and Jones have been impactful, more for good than ill, but there is a mixture of each. Hawkins is perhaps an emerging talent, but he hasn't played enough (75 snaps in 5 games) to make a real difference. Brice in my mind has not improved. He looks below average. I have been high on Lowry but am still waiting for him to look the way he did in preseason games.

Martinez OTOH is more than an emerging talent: he looks very solid and is a real positive this year.

Couch Cleats's picture

I think this team finally has the talent and depth on defense to make GB and elite team. I still don't trust this D on third and long though and if we don't start getting off the field in that situation with this group by the end of the year, I think Caper's excuses have run out.

At some point, you have to look at the scheme if things don't improve. There are plenty of good athletes on that side of the ball now. If end our season again because that unit can't stop third and long in the playoffs - I for one have seen enough.

I think the talented youth of this team will improve to something pretty great by the end of the season but I won't believe it till I see it.

Johnblood27's picture

now now gentlemen, lets not start patting each other on the back quite yet...

There is that little issue of HHCD and his resemblance to former Packer "hope" Jerron McMillion. That definitely needs to get "cleaned up".

Perry is still a china doll.
Fackerell is a great Claude Rains imitation.
Rollins has been a seive.
4 injuries each week is not good for performance sustainability.
Crapers scheme is middle-weak and veteran (savvy) heavy on a youthful rostered team.

There is still a LOT of work to do for this defense to get us to the NFC title game and then on to the SB.

BTW, could someone please explain to me why numewrical rankings based on total yards given up means a GD thing?

I hate that statistical ranking more than anything. Yards get so skewed in the 4th Q during "garbage time".

I would rather see 3rd down efficiency as a ranking tool or lets just stick with points allowed, that is how we keep score and records and playoff seeding, etc. NOT yards. Yards means exactly Jack S*it.

I wrote a lengthy dissertation on this at the end of 2011 when the Packer O was setting records and the D was skating through the 2nd half of games with 24+ point leads. Most of the yards and poor rankings just didnt matter.

The playoff loss was quite simply a mental issue with Coach Philbins son's death and a completely flat performance by the entire team in the game. I will never believe any other reason for that performance.

Finwiz's picture

So you're saying garbage time in the 4th quarter, which incidentally NEVER happens with the Packers, is the only reason for HIGH total defensive yards given up?

Of course it means something. It's generally an illustration of time of possession, and goes in conjunction with points allowed. It doesn't tell you anything all by itself, I'll agree, which is why i listed all the defensive stats. It would be pretty rare that a team gave up all it's yards between the 20's and kept teams out of the EZ. It has happened, but just look at the points allowed per game, and that tells you all you need to know about the Packers. Look at the total defensive package, not just one stat. Total package says they aren't a top 15 defense, let alone a top 10 defense at this point, and that's all I'm looking for. Perhaps they are sneaking up on top 15, only time will tell.

The TKstinator's picture

You made me google Claude Rains; well done!

Lphill's picture

The Packers are at 4 and 1 because of that guy Aaron Rodgers .

The TKstinator's picture

Name sounds familiar...

Fordham Ram's picture

Since I took this player's name, donny anderson, I had to post this article. He was a first round draft pick in 1966 and was prominent in the the Ice Bowl victory. He even scored the last touchdown in that game, not Starr. This article explains that and the mind of Vince Lombardi. Enjoy the read.

LAS VEGAS-TOM's picture

donnyanderson44, Here's a Trivia Question for you, or anyone else old enough to remember Donny Anderson. Does anyone Remember the TV Commercials that he did? They were Pretty Good!!

Fordham Ram's picture

Was he in one of the aftershave commercials as the aqua velva man?

4zone's picture

We haven't clicked on all cylinders yet and there are critical players on the sideline but youth is gaining valuable experience and will pay off in the end. This team has the potential to be really scary when bodies get back and things click.

LAS VEGAS-TOM's picture

On a Lighter Note. Here is the answer to the Trivia Question about Donnie Anderson. I was 20 in 1967 & just married. His Commercials sort of stuck with me.

He did Commercials for some Nylon Stocking company. I don't Remember the brand.
Donnie Anderson, just like Paul Hornung was considered a Golden Boy, a Good Looking guy.

He sat on a stool with a Good Looking Babe in a Short Skirt & High Heels on his Lap. At the end of the commercial, he would say, "Ladies, Take It From A Runner, These Are The Best"

For some reason I never forgot those Commercials, or Donnie Anderson.

Fordham Ram's picture

Would you tube have it? I'm gonna check.

LAS VEGAS-TOM's picture

Donnyanderson44, I can't find it on YouTube. I wonder if somewhere in the GB Archives they have copies of all the Packer Player commercials & if the public has access to them. Be interesting to find out. I wouldn't mind seeing Donny's & also Paul's Miller Lite Commercials again.

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