Coming off of a season in which they narrowly won a weak NFC North before being bounced from the playoffs by the San Francisco49ers, the Green Bay Packers are clearly a 2nd tier contender in the NFC. They have the talent to make it to the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks and 49ers currently share the throne.
There are quite a few things Green Bay will have to do to get to that level. Let’s break down their biggest needs on both sides of the ball and see how they might address them in the 2014 NFL Draft:
Offensive Needs: TE, C
The Packers elite offense is as great as ever, with the addition of Eddie Lacy to the running attack giving them a very nice balance on that side of the ball. However, the loss of Jermichael Finley leaves a gaping hole in one of the most intimidating aspects of the Packers offense (tight end), and it’s not certain how the team plans to replace center, Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Green Bay could go after a center in the middle rounds of the draft, while tight end could be an earlier move. Jace Amaro could be a target in round one, while Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Troy Niklas are two enticing options in round two. Overall, Green Bay doesn’t have an insane amount of needs on offense, which should likely mean little focus on that side of the ball early in the draft.
Defensive Needs: S, OLB, DL
Defense is another story, featuring holes at every level in 2013. The signing of Julius Peppers should help the pass rush to some degree and even if he’s not the player he once was, he still commands respect. While it’s not yet completely clear how he’ll be used, the potential of him lining up as a defensive end could move B.J. Raji to nose tackle, his more natural position. The Packers have had trouble finding a linebacker to pair in the middle with the already lackluster A.J. Hawk, as well, opening the door to drafting a linebacker early in the draft.
The other big hole the Packers have is at safety. Despite possessing talented cornerbacks, the Packers have had issues defending the pass ever since the Nick Collins injury. The M.D. Jennings era was short-lived, and a replacement has yet to be found. Will the Packers use their first round pick on a safety? With two top shelf safeties available in round one, it’s certainly a move the Pack will have to consider.
Who Will Be Available?
The Packers will likely use their first round pick on one of the aforementioned defensive positions. However, it would hardly be a surprise if Ted Thompson took the best available player at another position, say, wide receiver or offensive tackle. Here are some draft prospects that could find themselves donning green and gold in the first round:
At safety, Ha’Sean Clinton Dix out of Alabama and Calvin Pryor from Louisville are likely Green Bay’s top two targets. With that said, Green Bay has been known for taking shots on smaller school products. Someone like Jimmie Ward could also be a possibility.
Clinton-Dix is solid in coverage, and has good instincts. His tackling isn’t the greatest, which is something that has been a problem for the Packers in the past. Pryor, at 5’11”, is two inches shorter than Clinton-Dix, but he packs on more muscle. He may not have as much range as Clinton-Dix, but he’s very good against the run. Clinton-Dix might be more of a playmaker, but Pryor might be more consistent. That said, there’s a good chance that neither player will stay on the board until the 21st pick.
There are two tight ends projected to go potentially go in the first round, but Eric Ebron should be long gone by the time the Packers pick. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a big, athletic former basketball player, and he’s a decent blocker who is only going to get better. Seferian-Jenkins might not be a first round pick, though. Unless Ebron somehow falls to the Pack, I don’t see them going with a TE here. Though Ted understands how much Finley opened up the offense, he likely still has faith that Brandon Bostick can be the TE of the future.
Personally, I expect the Packers to take an inside linebacker. If they go that route, there are two fantastic athletes that could potentially be available at 21. Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the top dog here. Leader of the always stout Alabama defense, Mosley is a great athlete with astounding instincts to back it up. Mosley is the guy I take if he’s on the board, and I’m Ted Thompson.
If Mosley’s gone, the Packers could pick Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier. Shazier has incredible athleticism. He’s so fast it’s not even fair. However, he’s rather undersized. He’s bulked up to near 240 this off-season for scouts, but will he be able to maintain a playing weight that high? If Green Bay thinks so, they could bank on his athleticism and upside and hope he slides perfectly into their 3-4 system.
Thompson could pick any of these players, or he could go full Ted Thompson and take the best available wideout or trade down. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see him trade down to stockpile as many second and third round picks as possible. The draft is Thompson’s Christmas, and he must be absolutely jolly with this many presents to choose from.
*Photo Credit – Mike Morbeck via Wiki Commons.