Interview with Dave Razzano by Dewey Hammond.
Dave Razzano is a former NFL scout and Playmaker Mobile correspondent with more than 22 years of professional scouting experience with the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals under NFL coaches including Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Chuck Knox and Dick Vermeil. He's been a part of five Super Bowls with three Super Bowl wins (49ers, 1989, 1990; Rams, 2000).
Q: I know you expect a big season from Aaron Rodgers.
A: I have to admit, I missed on Rodgers a little bit. I had him more in the second round but he's definitely a first-round talent. I love the way he handled taking over from Favre. He's quiet, a quiet leader who never complained. There was a lot of pressure for him to perform, taking over for Favre, and he performed with flying colors. I just see continued improvement. He's got a great arm and he obviously works at it. He's a student of the game. He's got a quick release, he's accurate, he moves around well — he's got all the ingredients you're looking for. He was a little raw coming out of Cal. He did put up good numbers his senior year but he's an ascending quarterback with everything he needs to continue to improve. He's got all the intangibles and physical talent. Plus they've put a lot of talent around him: Jermichael Finley, and the two outside guys, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and a nice running back with a good offensive line. The line has a couple guys who are getting older but overall they've got a nice line that should be together for the next three or four years. Rodgers, I think his stats will continue to improve and I think they'll continue to be a playoff team up in Green Bay.
Q: Donald Driver, it feels like the guy has been in the league forever. Even at 35 last season he cracked 1,000 yards. When is this guy going to run out of gas?
A: These are elite athletes and when they stay in shape like these guys do in the offseason, and Driver has a great offseason regiment, like Jerry Rice did and a lot of guys do, you can play this position into your late 30s. It's not a difficult position to play. And all the rules favor the receivers now. I think that's why you're seeing these guys play at a high level late in their career. That's why you're seeing so many great receivers. I mean, look at the fantasy lists. As a receiver you have all the advantages, and if you're a receiver who can run and catch, you're going to be productive. I think you can play that position into your late 30s if you take care of your body.
Q: What about the running game? What do you see this year?
A: The pass will set up the run. Ryan Grant, he's solid, a bit underrated. He's not a great player but in that system with that passing attack, it opens things up. He's a north/south guy who is productive. He doesn't dance. He hits the hole hard, has good hands, and they've also got a rookie, James Starks, and it wouldn't shock me to see him get a lot of touches as a rookie. He came out of the University of Buffalo and he's another speed guy who has size. They'll be good. They'll compliment the passing game perfectly.
Q: For a guy who is overrated, Ryan Grant put up a respectable 4.4 yards per carry last season. Is that more of a testament to his offensive line than to his skill?
A: I think it's a little bit of both. He's a skilled guy but as you know he wasn't a high draft choice by any stretch. He's got size, he's got speed, and he's got the system. The passing attack and receivers definitely help the running game. He's not elite but he's definitely a tier-one starting RB in the league when you look at numbers he puts up. He doesn't get the hype nor is he publicized, but when you watch him, he's pretty darn consistent.
Q: On the other side of the ball, last season Green Bay had the #1 rushing defense with regard to yards per game. What do you expect this season?
A: It's only going to get better working with Dom Capers. He's one of the top two or three defensive minds, maybe in the history of the NFL. You talk to players and they always bring his name up. It'll be his second year there and they do have some players — some good young defensive lineman, linebackers, good corners, and I like the fact that they didn't make a lot of changes this offseason. I think there is great chemistry up there. I see that defense taking up right where they left off last season.
Q: Who on that defense will have the biggest impact on their improvement this season, whether it's a "most improved" guy or a rookie?
A: I think BJ Raji, he was a rookie last year and it takes those guys a little while to get in with the system. He was dominant at Boston College and in his second year I expect him to really help this defense. Nick Barnett will continue to be his Pro Bowl self, under the radar and a heck of a linebacker. Very versatile. Clay Matthews will get better and Charles Woodson is an ageless guy. AJ Hawk needs to step it up, though. He needs to play every down, every game. They have good players on the D but if you have to pick one to step up this year, it's Raji.
Q: Which of their round-three-or-later draft picks this year has the biggest chance to make an immediate impact?
A: I think their safety Morgan Burnett, out of Georgia Tech, who came out early. He went in the third round and can start. He can be a solid starter with range and striking ability. With he and Nick Collins together, that's a pretty good tandem, and rookie safeties can make an immediate impact. I don't think it takes too much for a good rookie safety to make plays. I like him and that's a good third-round pick for them.
Q: Let's play out two scenarios, the question being where will the Packers finish in the division this season. First scenario, Brett Favre on the Vikings. Second scenario, Favre retired.
A: Regardless those two teams will battle for the division. I think the Vikings have enough to compensate if they lose Favre. Having Favre will mean a few more victories, but they are a talented team. Even so, with or without Favre, I give the edge to Green Bay in a dogfight. That offense will be very difficult to stop. Chicago and Detroit will be way down the line. Whoever stays the healthiest may win it.