This year's draft needs to provide Clay Mathews with some superhero sidekicks.
Amid the Packers great success, General Manager Ted Thompson certainly has caused some headscratchers in Packer nation over the years.
Trading down to get relatively unknown, unhyped receiver Jordy Nelson? That move wasn't too popular on draft day, but if you had told fans you'd have the Jordy Nelson of today back in 2008-09, they'd be delighted.
Over the last year or two fans were demanding a compatriot to aid Clay Mathews in the pass rush.
And of course Thompson picks the unglamorous first round choice of two offensive tackles (Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga).
This year, Thompson will surely make some surprise moves in the offseason with the draft as his main franchise building tool.
In my mock draft, I'm considering defenders to be not only needs but also the highest quality players from the late first to the mid rounds. This mock discovers it may be possible to get not only 1 impact player for the defense to improve its pass rush but possibly 3 or even 4 great talents to fit the Dom Capers system.
Note: each selection is listed as "selection" (except round one) rather than by round because the Packers will be receiving compensation picks and could trade their standard picks up or down. In other words, this is a mock draft based on the likely total of picks, where some could be found in the same round-- not based on a round-by-round mock. Capeche?
Now let's begin...
What I am referring to is then-general manager of the Packers Ron Wolf's desire to pick Ray Lewis only to fall short by one pick. This year's mock drafts have Burfict being the perfect fit with the Ravens as Ray Lewis nears the end of his career.
The similarities in the two linebackers (if you think about Ray Lewis as a college athlete) are uncanny.
At their respective primes both are hard-hitting, powerful sideline-to-sideline speed demons capable of making huge plays.
By the same right, both have had their share of off-field issues and on-field personal fouls that can hurt a team.
Few (if any, aside from Burfict) defensive picks likely to be available late in the first round are described by scouts to be "explosive" and "plays like a downhill missile," as CBSSports.com describes him.
There may be no greater risk-reward pick in the draft than Burfict but the Packers organization has an excellent supporting cast of high-character coaches and players to help nurture Burfict's growth as a ambassador of the game.
Furthermore, as linebackers coach Kevin Greene would say in his prophetic Super Bowl talk with Clay Mathews, "it, is, time" to add a new dimension to the defense and pick up an early-round, big-time playmaker to compliment Clay Mathews, B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson.
On the character side of things, Burfict seems to be gaining self-awareness of his mistakes, even if he has a long way to go.
Burfict sought out the help of Lewis to amend his over-zealous, warrior mentality with a healthy on-and-off-field character. That suggests he wants to take the steps necessary to be both an elite linebacker and quality locker room presence and community member (http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1664141/vontaze-burfict).
Many of these young men exhibiting signs of trouble are younger than 23, suggesting they simply may have lacked a quality mentor or role model in the "win-at-all-costs" recruitment of kids for their football talent.
The Way I See It
The Packers don't have to generate pass rush solely from a new outside linebacker or defensive end. Coupling Burfict with inside linebacker Desmond Bishop would bring an imposing attitude to a defense that was made meek last year.
Instead of playing on their heels, the potential quarterbacks of the defense in Bishop and Burfict would fit Dom Capers' table-turning desire to dictate to the offense how they need to play against the Packers defense.
Both Burfict and Bishop would be hammers in defending the run and are adept as pass rushers, too, for the Capers' cross-blitz and other exotic looks Burfict would enable. Pass coverage has been an issue for all the current linebacking corps, so I don't see Burfict as a net loss there, to say the least.
Assuming Burfict learns the defense quickly, defensive coordinator Dom Capers' tool box of exotic looks and ways to generate rush with only four defenders would grow with another elite playmaker.
Unloading incumbent A.J. Hawk for a mid-to-late round draft pick would give the Packers a chance to improve on defense in order to regain their elite 2010 form.
Burfict by no means fits the Ted Thompson prerequisites for character, but his scouts will define the difference between a potential cancer and a guy who just needs to learn how to channel his aggression. There are worse problems to have than a defender who is too intense and too aggressive—the question is how the intensity is utilized.
While Burfict gives the defense a renewed imposing, nastiness, Thompson would potentially transform the weakest pass rush into one of the strongest in the NFL as it was in 2010.
With opposing offenses enamored by Clay Mathews' golden locks as flocks of triple teams bore down on him, all Thompson (and Burfict) would have to do is consistently beat one-on-ones. With his athleticism and powerful frame, Thompson would add another dimension to the defensive line.
Imagining the Claymaker, Burfict, Thompson, B.J. "The Freezer" Raji and Charles Woodson influencing the pass rush on a team that had one of the longest winning streaks in NFL history is scary.
Mocks vary on where Thompson would end up being picked, but if the Packers can find him at their second round slot, it will be a great choice. If not, I think Thompson is worth trading up for in the second (if the price is the prototypical amount associated with the number of slots moving up).
The thought here is that BIlly Winn slips due to his poor Senior Bowl week showing. If that does happen, the Packers may strike gold by landing Winn in the third round. Big men with Winn's athleticism don't grow on trees.
Winn's versatility along the line at Boise State will enable him to adapt quickly to either side of Green Bay's 3-4 line primarily as a defensive end, but possibly even as a defensive tackle in passing situations.
Dom Capers would no longer be expected to make pass rush magic from solely Clay Mathews if the Packers managed to score Winn, Brandon Thompson and Vontaze Burfict in one draft. The scary thing is, it's not entirely unrealistic if this scenario took place if many expert projections are fairly accurate.
Depending on whether Thompson stands pat, trades up or down, I see someone like Shaun Prater being either the Packers fourth round selection or a compensation pick depending on what the Packers get for losing Cullen Jenkins.
Prater is a small cornerback (5'10", 185 pounds), but has played special teams gunner at Iowa and doesn't back down from any bigger tight ends or wide receivers. He'd add more speed and ball skills to the depths of the cornerback position early.
Also, he could blossom into a talented nickel corner if he has the will and dedication to learn from top-notch cornerbacks coach, Joe Whitt.
This isn't a glamorous or eye-popping pick, but it would be a quality insurance addition of talent to the cornerbacks position to turn the page on the Pat Lee experiment.
Ideally, the Packers (and probably all 32 NFL teams) would want a cornerback with the length and athleticism of Montana's Trumaine Johnson (6'2", 204 pounds), but there are few, if any, of those types of cornerbacks that come around from year to year. Johnson, untested at Montana, may end up a reach pick in the fourth round solely for his size.
Call it over-kill but Ted Thompson won't take lightly to overhauling the front seven in titletown.
Derek Wolfe and Brandon Thompson would likely become the top pass rushers on the defensive line immediately out of training camp. Since Thompson prefers the draft-and-develop path to building a franchise, I think the defensive line picks would be warranted.
That said, it would mean saying goodbye to a few current defensive players (most likely Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson) and adding a spot on the depth chart for defensive linemen that may reduce the stockpile at other positions.
All things considered, Wolfe projects as a steal in the mid-rounds, who could prove to be a top 3-4 defensive in his career.
Eddie Whitley is described by CBSSports.com as an intelligent player with playmaking abilities. He was a leader in the Hokies defense.
The Packers will know a lot more about Nick Collins' status in March. Considering it's always good to add new competition in the secondary, Whitley would have a reasonable shot to make the roster with or without Collins.
Ted Thompson has some trade pieces or the ability to trade down to get more picks, so I could see Whitley being the Packers sixth selection despite being picked in what I project to be the 5th round.
With a strength program and solid coaching, David Molk could be an NFL starter in a few years.
"[David] Molk doesn't look like much, but he is very aggressive and plays bigger than he appears -- lacks elite physical tools, but you can't measure heart and desire." CBSSports.com states in its draft profile of him.
If you substituted Scott Wells' name in this same description several years ago you'd probably find the same is true for Wells, who is now a top center in the NFL.
Molk may have Wells' ceiling and the Packers need to find a replacement for Wells (if he signs or not) for the long term now that the incumbent center enters his mid-30s.
I think Ted Thompson could accumulate more picks through compensation and trading, so I see Molk being picked in the sixth round.
Austin Davis finds ways to win in the clutch, an intangible that many of his higher-rated peers rarely faced or excelled at this past year.
Davis would be seen by Ted Thompson as a winner, similar to how he viewed Matt Flynn (also a seventh round selection). Both Davis and Flynn are undersized, too.
The likelihood of grooming a gem signal-caller in the seventh round again may be small, but the Packers will continue to bring in new quarterbacks for insurance and future trade-bait, compensation-pick development purposes.
Expect Davis to be a project both in terms of mechanics and developing NFL awareness over a two- to three-year timeframe if he gets the chance to learn behind Rodgers. Davis is an athlete at quarterback, capable of running for big gains as well.
This Southern Miss star would be the Packers seventh round draft pick. Though many fans might still be in a tizzy over another Southern Miss quarterback's burned bridges in titletown (Brett Favre), the comparison between these two Southern Miss products begins and ends at their alma mater.
Could former-Badger, Antonio Fenelus, stay in the badger state as a Packer?
The guys in this category would be competing for a roster spot on an already-deep roster.
Others listed below would be happy to work their way up on Green Bay's practice squad.
Knowing the Packers staff gives every player in camp the chance to compete, the talents of these young men at the bottom of the 2012 draft could prove to be upgrades to some of their competitors in training camp.
Matt Conrath, DE, Virginia, 6'7" 280: He's a special teams pick with knack for blocking field goals. Can really run for a defensive lineman which also helps his stock on special teams. Has the frame to develop as a 3-4 defensive end, too.
Antonio Fenelus, CB, Wisconsin, 5'8" 193: He will be undersized against NFL receivers, but Fenelus is an elite athlete with 4.49 speed and the accomplishment of being First Team All-Big Ten in 2010. You don't find that kind of resume in the seventh round very often.
Sean Richardson, SS, Vanderbilt, 6'2" 215: He has the size of a linebacker and was considered among the best safeties in the SEC. This would be another great find at the end of the draft. Think Aaron Rouse of a few years ago but without the risk associated of Rouse's third round status.
Ryan Houston, FB, North Carolina, 6'2" 245: Though he's not a polished fullback technique-wise, Houston was a top RB recruit out of high school and a former basketball star. This would be a goal line, short yardage back in need of development in pass-catching and blocking skills.
Darron Thomas, QB Oregon, 6'3" 215: Since Thomas left Oregon as a redshirt junior and is only 21 it raised a lot of eyebrows in Eugene. Though Thomas is raw, his ceiling and results in an elite BCS program can't be ignored. Thomas is projected as a seventh rounder or undrafted free agent with top athletic measurables for a quarterback.
The Packers would be in no rush in developing this potential diamond in the rough.
Joe Looney, OG, Wake Forest, 6'3" 320: He gained four years of starting experience, despite being only 21 years old. Would be a project in terms of NFL-technique and strength training that fits the Packers' luxury of time for development on a talented roster. CBSSports.com said he's considered to have excellent intangibles and incredible punch.
Scott Wedige, C, Northern Illinois, 6'4" 300: Wedige is a classic small-school talent Ted Thompson will surely investigate.
Darrell Scott, RB, South Florida, 6'1" 240: Giant backs with 4.48 speed are rare breeds in the NFL. Given Ryan Grant's age, James Starks' injury history and Alex Green's unproven status, a sturdy, big back could give Green Bay's offense another wrinkle down the road if Scott pans out as a zone blocking, one-cut runner.
Mike WIllie, WR, Arizona State, 6'2" 212: Willie has ideal NFL wide receiver size, good speed, and would be a practice squad project much like last year's Tori Gurley (now on the practice squad).
Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State, 5'9" 182: Teams looking for their Wes Welker-lite will pick up players like Wylie who may have more upside than his tiny frame suggests due to the wheels and ellusiveness Wylie displays. This may be a silly mantra but think: "If Willie is Gurley, Wylie is Shaky" (in the mold of Shaky Smithson of the practice squad).
Jeff Adams, OT, Columbia, 6'6" 305: An Ivy League standout with elite athleticism? What's not to like for a zone-blocking team?
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor, 6'2" 335: Finding a 3-4 nose tackle body with production on a top college team this late in the draft is a steal. The big man would need time to develop NFL skills. It's possible other teams would reach for Jean-Baptiste long before his projected seventh round grade.
The on-field product is probably one defensive playmaker away from hoisting another Lombardi trophy.
Making a mock draft isn't as easy as it looks.
In the end mock draft creators are reducing some 200-plus talented college players down to a few selections. The great part is none of us will be right on these educated guesses, yet we love to see the predictions.
This mock clearly focuses on the pass rush and defensive help. I feel the Packers are one defensive playmaker away from hoisting another Lombardi trophy. This mock provides a few picks likely to make the immediate impact needed in the ever-finite Super Bowl window.
Furthermore, there just aren't many openings on offense to make it worthwhile to invest in a top pick there and have to cut an established talent (last season, a second-round wide receiver in Randall Cobb was the Packers fifth receiver).
If my draft became reality, I bet one man would be particularly happy: defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
For my first ever mock draft for the Packers, I did leave some questions unanswered:
1. If star-in-the-making tight end Jermicheal Finley isn't given the franchise tag, will the Packers look to draft another tight end even after fielding five tight ends in their 53-man roster last year?
2. How can defenders be picked in the first six (out of a likely eight) selections?
3. Do the Packers need another hulking defensive tackle now that Howard Green is likely to depart in free agency? Or are Pickett and B.J. Raji enough?
4. Could the offensive line be improved with early picks? If Scott Wells isn't re-signed, suddenly the interior of the line looks very flimsy. It's always a healthy policy to keep finding more guys to protect your franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Look for my second mock draft to try an alternate approach that may answer some of these questions.