Green Bay Packers Early 2012 Draft Prospects: Linemen Win Championships

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Green Bay Packers Early 2012 Draft Prospects: Linemen Win Championships
Matt Ludtke/Getty Images
A Former Offensive Guard Lombardi Knew The Importance of Linemen

Looking back on the 2011 NFL season, many would argue the Green Bay Packers fell short because of a lack of defense.

At the same time, the old adage that defense wins championships was being put to rest as both Super Bowl participants boasted defenses that were ranked very near the bottom of the league.

So the question every NFL head coach should be asking heading towards the 2012 NFL draft is what actually wins championships?

What allowed The Packers to be so dominant just a year earlier?

And what allowed a typically unspectacular Eli Manning to outshine Tom Terrific for a second time in the Super Bowl?

The answer is simple, but great. Great for football for the same reasons that a 21-17 victory by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI over the New England Patriots was great.

Not because Bill Belichick and the evil empire were once again handed defeat on the world’s biggest stage and not because of all the story lines that followed.

The answer is great because in a year where three quarterbacks passed for over 5,000 yards (two of which surpassed Dan Marino’s all-time record) and two playoff defenses set regular season records for most yards allowed, the most crucial element of the championship team was still its linemen.

That’s right, offensive and defensive linemen win championships.

Sure, you need other things, like a franchise quarterback and other assorted playmakers on both sides of the ball. But when it comes right down to it, success in the NFL will be no different in the future than it has been in the past—championships will be won in the trenches.

Last Sunday, Eli Manning and Tom Brady played opposite roles as to what many NFL experts had predicted because the Giants had an exceptional offensive line and one of the most fearsome defensive lines the NFL has ever seen.

It’s as simple as that, Manning had time to survey the field and let his receivers get open and Brady was faced with intense pressure on almost every play.

That being said, the majority of the Packers’ defensive woes (apart from the loss of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins) can be explained by a lack of talent on the defensive line.

Cullen Jenkins was lost to Philadelphia in free agency, Ryan Pickett struggled to stay healthy, BJ Raji looked out of shape compared to last year and Mike Neal again missed most of the year due to injuries.

In 2011 the bright spots on the Packers' defensive line were CJ Wilson and Jarius Wynn...

Jenkins obviously won’t be back in 2012 and Mike Neal isn’t exactly dependable, so Green Bay will need to draft a disruptive end to fill that gap.

I expect Raji to be in better shape next year after another offseason in the Packers' weight training program. He missed it last year because of the lockout and just wasn’t his regular self.

If Pickett comes back it won’t be for very long as the 340-pound, 32-year-old has already spent a long 10 years in the NFL—so the Packers could probably use a long-term replacement for him as well.

Neal should earn a roster spot and could be a nice surprise if he stays healthy, otherwise 2012 will be his last season in Titletown.

With GM Ted Thompson spending his top 3 picks in 2011 on offense and seemingly paying for it throughout the entire season, I expect him to balance out his team by working on his defense for at least the first two rounds of this year’s draft, and I think both should be spent strengthening our defensive line and pass-rush.

I won’t do a mock draft this early, but I have made a list of players who I think fit Thompson’s mold and could help jettison the Packers’ defense back into the top half of the league.

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