Of course, the lack of a CBA and consequent free-agency limbo makes this draft a particularly unusual one. I suspect that this will play to the Packers’ advantage. Teams that have known holes will be forced to “reach” for draft prospects (particularly at QB), since they will have no way of knowing if they can fill those gaps via free agency. The Packers also have the luxury of drafting largely for depth this year, rather than needing to get rookies into the starting line-up right away. This gives their picks time to develop and acclimate to the NFL.
With that perspective, here’s my take on the Packers’ needs by position:
QB – Obviously, with the reigning Super Bowl MVP leading the charge and the up-and-coming Matt Flynn on the bench, the Packers are pretty set at this position. Not so for many other teams. By my count, there are 10 teams (Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota, Miami and Seattle) who are desperate for a viable starting quarterback. Not surprisingly, 9 out of these 10 are in the top half of the first round, because if you have a crappy QB, you generally have a crappy team. I expect that such huge demand will result in a number of teams reaching for QBs. If the CBA was sorted out, I could easily see other teams offering high draft choices for Flynn. But I also suspect the Packers could easily trade down out of the first round if they wanted to. Of the 10 teams above, those who don’t take a QB in the first round will be jockeying to get ahead of each other in the second round. The Packers could trade down, still get the guy they want with their first pick, and amass additional selections in the later rounds where Thompson excels at picking out diamonds in the rough.
RB – With Ryan Grant, hopefully, returning to form after last year’s season-ending ankle injury, and James Starks bursting onto the scene late in the season, the Packers should be in decent shape at running back. Brandon Jackson, who did not sign a tender offer by the Packers and will most likely become an unrestricted free agent once a new CBA is done, is expected to be gone. So if a comparable third-down back dropped in the draft, I could see the Packers picking up a value pick perhaps in one of the mid-rounds to add depth. There could be some interesting candidates, like a DeMarco Murray from Oklahoma or a Jordan Todman from Connecticut, who could be available in the third round. But I suspect it’s unlikely Green Bay will pick a RB, since Starks, who was just selected in last year’s draft, can potentially play a more impactful role.
FB –At fullback, there’s a little uncertainty. Hybrid back and so-called “folk hero” (I think just because he has one of those names the crowd can cheer and it sounds like booing) John Kuhn will be a free agent, but signs on both sides seem to suggest he’ll re-sign with the Packers. The Packers also did not tender a contract offer to Korey Hall prior to the lock-out, who will likely be a restricted free agent. So Quinn Johnson is the only fullback under contract with the Packers. There’s some speculation that the Packers might draft a fullback, but I hope they don’t. Even if they lose Kuhn or Hall, I’d rather see them go to 2 fullbacks and free up a roster spot.
WR – Despite one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, I could see Green Bay drafting a receiver this year. Driver is getting up there in age, and James Jones will be a restricted free agent and has expressed his desire to get into a starting line-up, so they may lose him. If the CBA were done, they’d probably have a better sense of whether they can re-sign Jones, which I hope they do -- although his compensation expectations may be too high. In light of that uncertainty, the Packers may want to pick someone up perhaps in a later round who they think is under-rated – just as a hedge.
TE – Getting Jermichael Finley back next year will be huge. The silver lining to his season-ending injury was that Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree both got a lot of playing time. I don’t expect the Packers to select a TE unless they just can’t pass on someone who has slipped down the board.
OL – Offensive line is certainly an area of need for the Packers, and I could see them selecting one with their first- or second-round pick. Despite their steady play as a unit last year, the Packers need depth, and could be one injury (most likely the aging Chad Clifton) away from returning to their porous ways of 2009. Further, with the likely departures of Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz via free agency, the Packers may need to restock particularly at guard. Tackles seem to be deeper than guards in this year’s draft, however, and there may be some good ones, like Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Nate Solder from Colorado, or Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State, available at the #32 pick. Mike Pouncy would be interesting at guard, but he may be off the board by the time the Packers pick. Green Bay was fortunate to have Bulaga fall into their laps in the first round last year, and if a similar situation happens with one of these guys I hope they’ll pull the trigger. For guard, I’d rather see them target someone in the second or third rounds, like a Ben Ijalana from Villanova or Clint Boling from Georgia.
DL – The Packers probably face more questions at defensive line than any other position. Raji is an emerging stud at nose, of course. At DE, Ryan Pickett should be fine, but Cullen Jenkins will almost certainly leave via free agency (the Packers don’t seem to have much urgency to try to keep him) and Johnny Jolly’s career is officially over for dealing codeine. Thompson has tried hard to draft a strong DE for years, including Justin Harrell (1st round in 2007), Jarius Wynn (6th, 2009), Mike Neal (2nd, 2010) and C.J. Wilson (7th, 2010), but injuries or lack of talent have prevented any of these guys from really emerging. It’s possible the Packers will be optimistic that one of these guys can fill the void, assuming Jenkins leaves, but I suspect Ted will want to use a first- or second-round pick to beef up the d-line. Fortunately for the Packers, this is an incredibly deep draft class at defensive line. USA Today had 5 defensive tackles and 8 defensive ends in their top 32 picks. Several mock drafts have the Packers selecting Cameron Heyward from Ohio State with their #32 pick. If a guy like Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn or Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan are still available the Packers would likely jump on them. But any number of other talented defensive linemen should still be on the board at the end of the first round, including Stephen Paea from Oregon State or Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple. Given the depth of this class, though, they might be better off waiting till the second or third rounds.
|Brooks Reed's hair makes him a top Packer prospect.|
CB – Cornerback is the equivalent on the defensive side as wide receivers are on the offensive side – a position that, at first, seems to have quality starters and a lot of depth, but could soon become an area of need. Woodson and Williams are arguably the best starting CB tandem in the league, but Woodson is aging up and some speculate he might be better off moving to safety. Sam Shields was a fantastic find, but besides him there is uncertainty about their nickel and dime guys Jarrett Bush, Josh Bell, Pat Lee, and Brandon Underwood. It's unlikely all these guys will make the roster. There are some talented CBs, like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, Miami’s Brandon Harris, or Texas A&M’s Aaron Williams, that could be available as first- or second-round picks. But I’d prefer to see the Packers scout someone in a later round. If they could get Shields as an undrafted rookie free agent, then maybe they can find another gem in a 6th or 7th round to add some depth at this position.
S – Atari Bigby may end up leaving via free agency, but the Packers still seem pretty set at safety. Nick Collins is a perennial ProBowler, though he blew some coverages last year. Morgan Burnett will be back and will, hopefully, pick up on the solid season he was having prior to his injury. And Charlie Peprah was one of the most pleasant surprises last year, and is a great back-up if he doesn’t keep the starting role. If the Packers do anything here it won’t be till very late in the draft, particularly since it’s not a very impressive incoming class of safeties – there could be none selected in the first two rounds.
Out of all this, my philosophy if I were Thompson would be to focus on offensive line, defensive line and outside linebacker in the first three rounds. I rate those three positions about equal in terms of need, so I think he can just focus on taking the best available. Then, I’d look for an opportunistic selection in the mid to late rounds for a wide receiver and cornerback, and try to add depth at OL/DL along the way as value picks come available. I'd also seriously consider trading down out of the first round and getting multiple picks in the second, third and fourth rounds -- should be some excellent options in that range and Thompson is great at finding them. Can’t wait to see what happens.