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Four Draft Prospects the Packers Should Target in the First Round

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 17, 2012

Four Draft Prospects the Packers Should Target in the First Round

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    The Green Bay Packers finished the 2011 season with a 15-1 record and had high hopes heading into the postseason.  After all, the Packers had secured home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs and the team was the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophy.

    However, all of that went down with a resounding thud on Sunday, as the Packers were beaten by the New York Giants 37-20 at Lambeau Field in shocking fashion.

    There were several reasons for why the Packers lost the game vs. the G-Men.  Among them were a lack of focus, four key turnovers, eight dropped passes, giving up big plays at critical times and also the fact that Aaron Rodgers did not play like Superman as he had done almost all of the 2011 regular season.  A regular season that will most likely garner Rodgers the NFL MVP award the night before the Super Bowl.

    But the biggest reason for the defeat was the main reason the defense of the Packers ended up being ranked 32nd in the NFL in total defense at season's end.  That's dead last folks.  The Packers could just not generate a pass rush all season long, including the playoff game against the Giants when Eli Manning was able to convert several 3rd and long situations because no one was in his area code putting pass pressure on him.

    The Packers finished tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks with only 29 sacks.  Clay Matthews who was double teamed constantly had only six sacks, after having 13.5 sacks in 2010.  Why?  There was no other threat on the team to consistently apply pass pressure.

    Ted Thompson took a calculated risk and allowed DE Cullen Jenkins to leave the team via free agency.  The Packers never recovered from that loss.  Mike Neal, the heir apparent to Jenkins, tore cartilage in his knee in training camp and was a non-factor when he came back to play.

    It is clear that the Packers have to utilize the 2012 NFL draft or free agency to get someone who can help to rush the passer.  Since free agency is a dirty word in Thompson's vocabulary, expect help to come in the draft.

    After the disappointing loss to the Giants in the one and done postseason for the Pack, the team now has the 28th selection in the 1st round.  The Packers may have to trade up to get a prospect who Thompson envisions as a play-maker, much like he did in the 2009 NFL draft, when he traded up to get Clay Matthews.

    I'm going to list four prospects that I believe will definitely help the pass rush of the Packers in 2012.  Whether they become the type of play-maker Matthews became is another story.  At least two of the prospects I'm going to list probably won't be there at pick No. 28.

    If the Packers wanted to move up to pick No. 22 for instance, Thompson would have to trade his 1st and 3rd round picks to move up there.  If the Packers wanted to move up to the 16th pick of the 1st round, Thompson would have to trade his 1st and 2nd round picks.

    There is also QB Matt Flynn's free agency situation.  The Packers will not franchise Flynn according to recent reports.  The franchise tag would be used on TE Jermichael Finley. 

    That being said, the Packers still might be able to find some compensation (a sign and trade deal) for Flynn instead of the compensatory selection the team (probably a 3rd or 4th round pick) would get in the 2013 NFL draft if Flynn left as a free agent to a team of his own choosing.

    There are a number of teams that would love to have a young veteran quarterback like Flynn as their starting QB in 2012.  Two of those teams have direct connections to the Packers in terms of who runs their front offices.

    One is the Seattle Seahawks (John Schneider) and the other is the Cleveland Browns (Mike Holmgren).  The Packers have traded a young QB with Holmgren before.  In fact, Thompson was working for Holmgren then in Seattle.  The Packers moved up a number of slots in the 1st round when they traded QB Matt Hasselbeck to the Seahawks in 2001. 

    Ironically, the Browns have two 1st round selections in the 2012 NFL draft, with the second of the two being the 22nd selection of the 1st round.

    So who knows what might occur in this scenario.  All I know is that the Packers have to make getting a pass rusher a priority in the 2012 NFL draft.  The earlier, the better. 

    Also, a number of events have to take place before the draft, so we can get a better read on the players and where they may be selected.  Events like the East-West Shrine game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Plus the players will still have their individual Pro Days to improve their standing with each team.

OLB Nick Perry (USC)

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    Height: 6'3" 

    Weight: 250 

    40 Time: 4.57

    The Green Bay Packers struck gold in the first round in the 2009 NFL draft when they selected Clay Matthews out of USC (along with B.J. Raji), so Ted Thompson tries to repeat history by drafting another Trojan, this time OLB Nick Perry.

    Thompson would most likely have to trade up to get Perry based on most Big Boards that I have seen regarding the 2012 draft.

    Perry declared for the draft in December after a nice junior season at USC. Perry had 9.5 sacks for the season, plus was a 2011 All-Pac-12 Conference first team member. Perry's size, speed and pass rushing ability make him a natural fit for the 3-4 scheme utilized by the Packers.

    Besides the sacks, Perry had 54 total tackles, which included 13 tackles for losses, plus forced three fumbles. 

DE Devon Still (Penn State)

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    Height: 6'5". Weight: 311.  40 time: 5.06.

    Still was an Outland Trophy finalist.  He was also the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. 

    Like Perry, Thompson would most likely have to trade up to get Still based on most Big Boards I have seen regarding the 2012 NFL draft.

    Still was second in the Big Ten in solo tackles for loss (15.0) and was tied for third in overall TFL (17.0-minus 77). 

    He also had 4.5 sacks (minus-36) and recorded 55 tackles, with one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a pass break-up.

    Still has excellent size, surprising speed and real power.  He was the leader for a Penn State defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring, total and passing defense.

    The Packers need to add someone with pass rushing ability to their defensive line, especially at the end position. 

    The jury is still out on DE Mike Neal, who has had injury issues his first two years in the NFL. 

OLB Vin Curry (Marshall)

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    Height: 6'5". Weight: 252.  40 time: 4.74.

    Curry was named 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and also received second team All-America Honors from CBSSports.com. 

    Curry is slated to be a late 1st round selection or a early 2nd round selection on most Big Boards right now. 

    He was also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given annually to college football's best defensive end.

    Curry played DE in college, but he projects to being an OLB in the 3-4 defensive scheme, which the Packers utilize. 

    Curry was second nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss and he was also tied for second nationally with six forced fumbles and tied for fifth with 11 sacks.

    He had 72 tackles in 2011, one fumble recovery, three blocked extra points and one tackle for safety.  Curry has also been selected to play in the 2012 Senior Bowl.

OLB Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma)

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    Height: 6'2". Weight: 244.  40 time: 4.63.

    Lewis had 59 tackles with 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, five passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception this year. 

    He is slated to be a late 1st round or early 2nd pick on most Big Boards.

    Lewis also played DE in college, but projects as an OLB in the 3-4 defensive scheme used by the Packers.

    Lewis was named to the 2011 All-Big 12 first team. 

    He had an outstanding game vs. Texas A&M, when he had a team-high nine tackles, two tackles for loss (-8 yards), one pass break-up and one interception, which he returned for 11 yards.

    Lewis has excellent speed to play OLB, but he is also physical and versatile enough to move inside if the need arises.  The speed of Lewis would definitely help the Packers create a pass-rush off the edge from the ROLB position.

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