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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Verdicts on the Draft? Keep ’Em at Arm’s Length

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The only bigger waste of time than the endless previews of the NFL draft is the endless analysis of the selections. The best answer to any "what'll happen" question in sports is, "We'll see." But that's especially true when the question involves someone who hasn't even stepped on a practice field for his new team.

The first three players the Packers drafted last week were offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga from Iowa, defensive end Mike Neal from Purdue and safety Morgan Burnett from Georgia Tech. Green Bay also chose another lineman on each side of the ball, a tight end and a running back.

With Frank visiting relatives in New York and Philadelphia, Artie went solo in the Observers’ "war room" for the draft. How did he react to the Pack's picks? We'll see…

Frank: You said the Packers’ top priority was the offensive line. How does the Bulaga choice strike you?

Artie: Seems fine. He was the Big Ten lineman of the year and some people were surprised he was still available at No. 23.

Frank: Apparently, some scouts decreed that this 6-foot-5, 316-pound man has "small" hands and a short "wingspan."

Artie: Wingspan? What the crock. You know if they got a measurement on the length of his beak?

Frank: I thought holding was a penalty. Small hands could be an asset, make it tougher for a referee to spot ’em with a handful of jersey.

Artie: In the techniques they allow these days, they can use their hands to shove a chest or the pads or something. And long arms can help push off those monster defensive ends. But when they compare arm lengths or whatever, they're talking about an inch or an inch and a quarter. How much difference can that make?

Frank: Remember that Broadway musical years ago, Your Arms Too Short to Box With God? I guess some alleged experts think Bulaga can't box with Jared Allen, or Julius Peppers.

Artie: If the guy had no arms I'd have some reservations. But a Big Ten lineman of the year should turn out fine. They need all the help they can get in keeping Aaron Rodgers in one piece. I'm just glad that at No. 23, Ted Thompson didn't decide the "best available player" was a long-snapper.

Frank: I noticed one thing that might worry you. Bulaga wore No. 79 at Iowa. Do you recall another first-round choice who came to the Packers as the best offensive tackle in the Big Ten? He wore No. 79 for Michigan State—and was a flop in Green Bay.

Artie: Tony Mandarich. Oh boy. But I'll combat that by saying that when I saw Bulaga I thought he could be a double for an All-Pro offensive lineman from the Glory Years in the ’60s, Fuzzy Thurston.

Frank: Also, Bulaga probably won't wear No. 79 in green and gold. That already belongs to Ryan Pickett. Now another issue: The Packers ignored the positions you said were their next priorities, cornerback and outside linebacker.

Artie: They could use some depth at those spots but that's the thing, there's no area that's a real dire need—except for punting. Even on the O-line, they're not desperate for someone who can start right away. What they need is depth.

Frank: But they still didn't draft a corner or outside LB.

Artie: Yes, with Aaron Kampman gone they need someone to complement Clay Matthews as a pass-rusher. But at the end of last year, Brad Jones showed a lot of promise. And two of the corners they lost last year to injury, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon, seem to be healthy again.

Frank: So you give the Packers a thumbs-up?

Artie: Yeah, but so what? It takes years to really judge a draft. But the media get hysterical, assigning grades to the teams.

Frank: The Philadelphia Daily News gave the Packers a B-minus, for what it's worth.

Artie: Which is exactly nothing. It's like you go to college, get your class list and it includes your grades. "I'm taking geography but I only get a C-plus because I've never been to the West Coast."

Frank: Nobody knows what will happen.

Artie: Look at the Pro Bowl rosters every year, how high those guys were drafted, and there are big surprises. Let's get Bryan Bulaga on the field and see if his grasp exceeds his reach, or whatever.

Déj Vu With a Twist

Frank: Being in Philly for a few days, I caught the aftermath of a fascinating tale. The Eagles did what the Packers refused to do in 2008—let their longtime quarterback go to a team in the same division.

Artie: That's just screwy. The Packers wouldn't release Brett Favre so he could join the Vikings and traded him WAY out of the division, to the Jets. Last year they couldn't stop him from getting to Minnesota, and he sliced them up twice.

Frank: Which Donovan McNabb could do to the Eagles now that he's been traded to the Redskins.

Artie: Just too risky, I say.

Frank: McNabb ’10 is just like Favre ’08 in the sense that the Eagles decided to "go in another direction" after 11 years with him.

Artie: That turns Kevin Kolb ’10 into Aaron Rodgers ’08. The Pack will test Kolb in the season opener.

Frank: But in many ways McNabb ’10 is different from Favre ’08. There was no Hamlet act over retiring and un-retiring; McNabb always said he wanted to play, and as an Eagle.

Artie: So why didn't he?

Frank: In the words of coach Andy Reid, "We wanted to do what was best for us and best for him." There's a big difference from Favre ’08: The coach did all he could to send McNabb to a place he'd like—even if it meant the same division.

Artie: Talk about loyalty! I guess it figures; Reid arrived in Philly in ’99 and McNabb was his first draft choice.

Frank: Which began a love-hate thing between McNabb and the, um, passionate Philly fans and media. Another difference from Favre ’08: McNabb was hardly revered the way Brett was in Wisconsin. The radio sports-talk shows in Philly can be brutal, and McNabb was the lightning rod for everyone's wrath.

Artie: It's true he never won the big one with Philly.

Frank: He helped the Eagles get to five NFC title games, but they went to only one Super Bowl. And when they lost to New England, 24-21, McNabb was accused of gagging.

Artie: And you mean that literally, ain'a?

Frank: Yup. On the Eagles' final drive, McNabb allegedly threw up on the field.

Artie: He's never admitted that, right?

Frank: True, and there's no video evidence to prove the claims made by a few teammates. Theories abound—he was dehydrated, he was gasping from a hard hit, he was dazed and needed help calling the plays. Bottom line: The Eagles didn't score and lost.

Artie: For which McNabb has never been forgiven.

Frank: The main sports-talk station in Philly, WIP, does little skits besides the call-in stuff. Last week one of the skits included the line that McNabb would be judging a "Punt, Pass and Puke competition."

Artie: Ouch! I'd say McNabb has some incentive when he faces the Eagles.

Frank: Reid can only hope he doesn't emulate Mike McCarthy ’09 against the Vikings.

Not So Fast, Hawks

Frank: A funny thing happened to the Atlanta Hawks on the way to brushing off the Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Artie: Two games at the Bradley Center and voila, a 2-2 series! Who’s to say the Bucks can't keep this nice ride going into the second round?

Frank: In Game 3, the ESPN announcers seemed amazed that the team down 2-0 got a big lift from its home crowd and came out blazing. That's surprising?

Artie: Happens all the time. Still, to come back like that without Andrew Bogut—it's a ton of fun to watch!