If you're a regular reader of Railbird Central, you may have heard this before but it bears repeating. It is amazing how much emphasis the Green Bay Packers put on special teams during the 2007 draft.As early as the second day of the draft, Railbird Central noted how general manager Ted Thompson's drafting of special teams standouts was becoming a common thread.
Special teams always seems to be the oft-ignored yet crucial aspect of football that people just take for granted.The Green Bay Packers have finished dead last in the NFL in special teams the past two seasons according to the Dallas Morning News's special teams rankings, which factor in 22 categories including all aspects of kick returns, kick coveage, punt returns, punt coverage, field goals, and extra points.
Is it any wonder the Packers haven't made the playoffs the past two seasons?In the 2007 draft, the Packers first two draft choices were spent on defensive tackle Justin Harrell and running Brandon Jackson. Obviously these are two players who will likely make meaningful contributions to the defensive and offensive side of the ball respectively.
From the Packers' third draft choice onwards, all players look to make an impact on special teams play. Let's take a look...
- Third round pick, wide receiver James Jones of San Jose St. - New Era Scouting notes that Jones, "Is also able to return punts and averaged 11.5 yards per return." Scott Wright's Draft Countdown says James "can also long snap." The fact that this wide receiver can long snap is amazing in of itself.
- Third round pick, safety Aaron Rouse of Virginia Tech - Rouse comes from the special teams powerhouse Virginia Tech, which head coach Frank Beamer always makes a priority. Ted Thompson is quoted as saying, "Like most players at Virginia Tech he's a dynamic special teams player, a heavy hitter in our opinion." Being of amazing height for a safety, Rouse blocked a school record eight kicks in high school.
- Fourth round pick, tackle Allen Barbre of Missouri State Southern - Among the most athletic tackles in the entire draft, Barbre was a gunner on the punt coverage team in college. Let that sink in for moment. An offensive lineman who is a gunner on the punt squad! That's a position normally reserved for speedy receivers and defensive backs. Barbre made seven special teams tackles in his senior season alone. Barbre says of his unusual special teams skills, "I ended up doing pretty good at it. I played gunner the whole year and made a lot of plays. I just really enjoyed it."
- Fifth round pick David Clowney of Virginia Tech - Clowney also comes from special teams standout Virginia Tech. His best asset is his speed and he could factor into the return game. Clowney averaged 23.8 yards per kick return in college and has already been practicing as a kick returner in the Packers' organized team activities.
- Sixth round pick, fullback Korey Hall of Boise State - Hall was a two time WAC defensive player of the year, but he is moving to fullback with the Packers. And while he might be a backup fullback, make no doubt about it that Hall was drafted with the intention on playing on nearly every special teams unit. Head coach Mike McCarthy has said Hall "was an extraordinary special teams player in college, and we're counting on him to make an impact on our special teams here in Green Bay." Hall, himself, is quoted as saying, "I play hard between the whistles, and it's the same thing on special teams. A lot of playing special teams is being mentally tough, and I think I am as a special teams player."
- Sixth round pick, linebacker Desmond Bishop of California - New Era Scouting says, "Bishop should immediately be a force on special teams."
- Sixth round pick, kicker Mason Crosby of Colorado - Considered by many to be the best kicker in the 2007 draft class, Crosby obviously is a special teams weapon. He is known to have an outstanding leg even outside of the high altitude in Colorado. The thin air obviously helps, but even so "he continued his high touchback rate on kickoffs, finishing his career with 137 in 200 kickoffs," writes Mike Spofford on the Packers official website. He can punt in an emergency too.
- Seventh round pick, running back DeShawn Wynn of Florida - Wynn is one of the few players drafted with limited special teams experience. Although if he were to make the roster, one would have to assume he'd have to contribute on special teams somewhere if he isn't in the running back rotation. He did record one solo tackle for the Gators in 2005.
- Seventh round pick, tight end Clark Harris of Rutgers - Harris can long snap. With veteran Rob Davis nearing his retirement age, Harris may be able to do some double duty with the Packers while also playing tight end. Harris told the Packers official website, "I love to snap. It's something I take pride in, and I practice it as much as I would catching the ball or anything else. Hopefully I can come in and be able to do that here."
Even Brandon Jackson and undrafted rookie fullback Ryan Powdrell of USC have worked in kick return unit during the recent organized team activities.
Look for special teams to become more of a priority this season. And look for the Packers to climb out of the basement of the NFL special teams rankings in 2007.