As the Packers finished third in the league on offense and 32nd on defense, I will make one of the most critical decisions of this article. I came to the conclusions that the Packers needs are primarily on defense.
At the risk of skirting the fact that the Packers traditionally have taken the 'best available player,' I will pretty much ignore the high probability that an unexpected 'value' supersedes the perceived need, and that a pick will be used on the loaded side of the ball. I will also beg indulgence to ignore the kicking game, but not completely discount special teams, in that several LB and Secondary personnel may get added value attached for special teams contributions.
A few more presumptions are required. The rushing D was middle of the league, the pass defense ranked 32nd out of 32 teams. QB pressure was dismal. The secondary did create a lot of turnovers—but the secondary was far more successful with more opposing QB pressure applied in 2010. Clay Matthews and BJ Raji made the Pro Bowl from this lot, so two of the front seven are not dismal. All other bets are off.
By dent of their record and playoff loss the Packers currently have pick No. 28 in the first, 59 overall in the second, 91 in the third, and a fourth-rounder in the low 120s to be determined by supplementary picks, one of which will very likely belong to the Packers as a compensatory pick from last year's free agent pillaging by the rest of the league.
At this point I will interject that the Packers will also have four or five picks scheduled for rounds five through seven—their own original three picks plus traded value and the extra compensation.
For the sake of this article I beg leeway to suggest management leverages some of this draft capital into one more pick inside the top 140 or presumed end of the 4th. The Packers now have six picks to the end of the fourth round to fix the greatest team needs.
Why did I limit it to the end of the 4th round? Historically, draft picks beyond the fourth round are LONGSHOTS to have any significant impact in the first three years of their NFL careers, and in this make believe exercise I am going on the basic presumption that a major team goal is to win another Super Bowl inside that three-year window.
The second arrogant home-influenced reason is that it seems unlikely more than six draft picks can crack the Packers roster, and thirdly, I am too lazy to stretch my value analysis to 280 players.
On to the meat of this article that contains really good news.
The Packers utilize a 3-4 system whereby the defensive lineman analyzed will be primarily collegiate defensive tackles, as the smaller speed rushing types at DE will be lumped into a category that will look at them as conversion OLB, pass rush specialists. The few with enough bulk to play a 3-4 will be moved to the DL category. Current college LBs will be lumped, and talent and flexibility will come into play.
First comes the painful part. I, by necessity must eliminate five true impact potential players on the grounds they are top 20 ranked and incredibly unlikely to be available without Green Bay moving up. This group includes: DL Michael Brockers from LSU; Devon Still from Penn State; Quinton Coples from NC; and LB Dont'a Hightower from Alabama; and Luke Kuechly from Boston College. Reality bites—any one of these guys is an instant impact player.
Great news comes in this next group. I will call them the 20-50 group—at least a couple of whom will slide, perhaps one or two climb above the grouping. The great news—in this grouping are at least 10 guys that fill the bill.
The DL grouping of five includes Washington's Alameda Ta'amu, whom one could see beside Raji for years to come. He is a massively powerful bull rusher and 335+ pound space eater like Pickett in years gone by. He's my personal dream to slide to 28.
Two others in this DL grouping that could be of interest here are: Dontari Poe from Memphis, whom is a huge run stuffer, but not much on pass rush; and Brandon Thompson from Clemson, whom again lacks the pass rush push of Ta'amu and Raji, but is developing.
The third in the DL grouping is a different sort of cat. Jared Crick of Nebraska is much taller, perhaps a bit more of a pass rush threat, certainly able to get his hands up and cause throwing lane disturbances. It'll take him a bit longer to make an impact one would think.
Fourth on the list is perhaps the most interesting option, Jerel Worthy from Michigan State. A very mature young man, coming out of college early to support a family, he perhaps has a bit more maturity than some options. Worthy is perhaps the best pressure provider in the form of a DL next to the two guys that are above the Packers draft range.
The value of Ta'amu in this draft class could be strong enough to see the Packers move up the first round to get what I see as the best value. Worthy is great value without a move.
The next level LB grouping in the 20-45 category is loaded, eight guys are discussed.
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, USC's Nick Perry, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Clemson's Andre Branch and Nebraska's Lavonte David all have one great thing in common—they can get after the QB.
In this writer's opinion, Ingram is the most polished and 'starter opposite Matthews' ready. Upshaw displays the highest degree of mean, nasty disposition and dogged determination. Perry probably has the best one-dimensional pass rush potential.
Any of these three is a perfect Packers fit at the No. 28 draft slot. Cox may not be a true system fit, perhaps more suited to a 4-3 DE, but certainly has the power to rush well off the edge and the height to create throwing issues. Nebraska's David slides into this grouping as the best cover LB on the board. He can run with any RB or TE, but like our own Jones, may not quite have the bulk to be a 3-4 LB in the Packers scheme. Mercilus is only a one year college starter, but showed tremendous presence in opponents' backfields and has big play capability. Branch, like Cox, may be more of a 4-3 DE.
To me, the next most intriguing guy behind Ta'amu in the 20-50 grouping is the epitome of what the Packers D seemed to miss last year—intensity. The biggest knock on Arizona's Vontaze Burfict is his inability to curb the aggression. Speed in pursuit, probably the most vicious hitter in the entire draft class, and a chip on his shoulder that gives his game a special edge.
Remember the way Bishop played on special teams before he became a starter, and before him Nick Barnett? Burfict has that kind of passion, a lot more speed and a big play capability second to none.
Capers, Greene and the rest of the Packers staff could transform this guy into the kind of third down weapon that could remove all the double teams from Matthews. There would not be a comfortable QB in the division if they had to account for his presence before throwing the ball. AJ Hawk's passivity on third down would be a thing of the past.
So, you can see by my thinking that there are five outstanding options for the No. 28 pick. This group has enough talent to make me hope some draft collateral is used to get two or even three of this group. Certainly with depth in the group some will slide, perhaps all the way to the end of the second.
If no moves are made, my personal preference from this grouping would be:
What I really hope is that Packers management slides value into the late first and second rounds to get at least three of these guys. There would be no lack of pressure on opposing QBs to put a damper on the defensive performance.
While the Packers picks at the end of the second and third round should both be covered in this grouping, remember the depth in the group above and be certain that some deals are going to be there. How many gems are there in the 51-95 grouping?
In the DL category, there are unfortunately likely only 4 targets: UConn's Kendal Reyes; Marcus Forsten of Miami (FL); USC's DaJohn Harris; and Billy Winn of Boise St.
Harris is a true space eater and will occupy blockers, but is pretty much purely a bull rusher when it comes to QB pressure—and even as a USC fan I sometimes questioned his work ethic. Reyes is not big enough for the nose, but has the same kind of big man quickness that made Cullen Jenkins so good at DE in a three-man set. Forston has injury red flags galore, so I will cringe if I hear his name from the Packers, even if he slides to the fourth round.
Of this group perhaps the most exciting from the Packers standpoint might be Winn. Winn does possess very good if not elite pass rush skills, adequate but not overwhelming strength and has moved up and down the line at Boise, showing tremendous flexibility and leadership.
This group improves the value of Ta'amu, but as a mid-third rounder Winn certainly has value and at the end of the third Reyes or Harris would not be a bad pick—any would be a major stretch at the end of the second.
Of the players in the LB grouping of 51-95 there are three converting college DEs: Vinny Curry from Marshall; Chandler Jones from Syracuse; and Cam Johnson from Virginia.
Curry has outstanding ability to hold his position against bigger men, and a determined if not blazing pass rushing skill set. He may not be flexible and quick enough to make the conversion to be usable as a LB in coverage situations, but could be capable of taking reps as a DE. Curry has great motor and leadership skills.
Jones is even slightly more lacking in speed and flexibility to make the conversion than Curry, but the heart, work and playing to the whistle-plus will make some other team a very good 4-3 DE. Johnson's critique reads very much like Jones, not a 3 - 4 body or body of work.
The rest of the LB grouping consists of 5 college OLBs, none coming from the inside. The five to watch for are: Bobby Wagner from Utah; Ronnell Lewis from Oklahoma; Sean Spence from Miami (FL); Jonathan Massaquoi from Troy; and Shea McClellin from Boise.
Spence, at sub-six foot and sub-230 lbs is simply not worthy of a spot this high and would disappoint me if taken above the fifth or sixth, although is consensus found at this level. The other 4 are all very intriguing.
Lewis has tremendous pursue and tackle skills, surprising quickness and a nose for making big plays. His speed, although raw, could simply just require coaching, but would not disappoint me with a third round selection.
Even more impressive pursuit and tackling numbers were turned in by Wagner, but like Massaquoi and McClellin, playing in second level conferences places a bit of a skew on the numbers. Wagner likely would remind Packer fans of Nick Barnett. Massaquoi played at Troy, and unfortunately I never saw any of his tape, so must reserve judgement other than pointing out he is consistently ranked in this group, and has the physical skill set to be here.
McClellin is the one I have seen a lot in games. Simply, he is a player. A bit like CM3 perhaps in that he was overshadowed by teammates, but three things I always saw, a nose for the ball, great motor and finishing off on all plays, and a sneaky ability to just turn up where the play was going, not just pursuit, anticipation—like watching CM3 and trying to figure what makes him so good.
From this analysis of the grouping which likely represents the Packers two third rounders—I sure hope they move up to get two second rounders, or see some slippage in where the current groupings fit. Likely though, the picks in this range are used in other areas for the team. Only four possibles and one unknown as I see it, the end of the third options are:
4. Wagner, and finally the unknown Massaquoi.
The final level I shall attempt to give some coverage to are the 96-150 range, where I may take some liberties in simply shortening the groupings or moving in wildcard guys that are not consensus placements this high.
The good news is that there are as many as seven legitimate big bodies here for the DL depth that is needed, and these guys may need a season or two to be ready.
Wonder why Boise was good in recent years? The third member of their D I looked at shows up here in Crawford. The other guys I did see that all are to be looked at are from schools and bowls: Cal's Guyton, Tennessee's Jackson, Michigan's Martin, Texas' Randall, BYU's Fangupo and a personal favorite—as he is in Canada—Akiem Hicks.
None of these guys were thought of as the stars of their teams (except Hicks), but not one of them looked like they could not play on Sundays. The combine will likely have determined if they do belong higher on boards, but I am confident all of these guys will be drafted. There is not enough of a complete game from any of them to make them sure things, and the combine and pro days will be critical to all.
Hicks may be a sleeper now, but his skill set makes him a development project that is going to cost a significant pick. Of these, Fangupo would most remind one of Ryan Pickett, while Hicks to me is a development version of Brokers, either would be a great pick anywhere beyond the mid-fourth round.
On the pass-rush, OLB deep radar are names like Lindsay from Pittsburgh, Acho from Texas and Fleming from Notre Dame that were true LB in college. None impress as being anything more than a project that could hardly push Lattimore or So'to for depth on the current roster. Slim pickings. The college DE conversion projects Arkansas' Bequette and perhaps Guyton and Jackson (mentioned above) as DL that may be conversion projects.
The conclusion I come to in looking at this year's draft class as it relates to Packers needs—TT needs to use three picks early to shore up the front seven, as there is plenty of talent there.
Other needs for the team, like potentially the secondary, the offensive line and development QB may well need to wait until the crapshoot time in the later rounds. We need some of the most assured talent available before the end of the third round, and it would be very good if other assets (trade James Jones?) were utilized to gain an additional second or third round pick.