The draft has always been a place where Ted Thompson has looked to improve his football team, as opposed to free agency, so the biggest moves of the offseason will likely be in April for the Green Bay Packers.
Despite having a great year, the Packers still need to improve at several positions, particularly on defense. Their inability to rush the passer was linked to the lack of an outsider linebacker on the opposite side of the field of Clay Matthews, and with Nick Collins' future uncertain, the Packers could be looking to draft a safety to replace him, as well.
Here is my prediction for the positions the Packers will target in the draft in 2012, round by round.
Most mock drafts have the Packers selecting an outside linebacker in the first round, which is arguably what they should have done last year, when they decided to draft Derek Sherrod over Brooks Reed.
The Packers' right outside linebacker position was a carousel in 2011, with Erik Walden, Frank Zombo and Brad Jones rotating at the position. While all three have had good games, they are likely backup material for the most part.
The Packers will likely be able to get a solid outside linebacker late in the first round, which is coincidentally where they got Clay Matthews, a player who would be particularly happy if the Packers went in that direction in 2012.
Although we will hear Nick Collins' future before the draft, there is a good chance that he may not return to the NFL in 2012. If that is the case, the Packers need to fill that hole, and quickly. Their options include dipping into free agency or drafting a player in the early rounds. Since they rarely go the free agency route, my guess would be the second round of the draft.
The Packers could still get a solid safety in the second round, so they will still be able to tend to their outside linebacker need in the first round. Let's not forget that the Packers drafted both Collins and Morgan Burnett in the second round of the draft.
If Collins is healthy and ready to play in 2012, look for the Packers to draft a defensive lineman in this round of the draft.
The loss of Cullen Jenkins was undervalued by general manager Ted Thompson, who thought that the Packers could plug in Mike Neal in 2011 and be set for the future.
Neal's performance in 2011 raised many questions, though. He has been frequently injured, and when on the field, has been less than spectacular.
The Packers were missing a piece in the defensive line, which was a big reason why they weren't able to stop the run in 2011, and also a reason they couldn't rush the passer. If the Packers get a linebacker in the first round, and a defensive lineman in the second or third round, then they should certainly improve their defense, as long as they bring in the right guys.
The Packers will draft their fourth straight defensive player in the fourth round of the draft, this time tending to their need at cornerback.
While the Packers have three solid starters in Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, they have no depth behind those players, and Woodson is getting older. The Packers need to bring in an heir to Charles Woodson, or at the very least, add some depth to this position so they can get rid of weak links like Pat Lee or Jarrett Bush.
The Packers will finally target offense in the fifth round of the draft, when they target an offensive lineman. The Packers' line is certainly improving, but lacks depth, and with Chad Clifton on his way out the door, they may want to bring in another tackle in case Marshall Newhouse or Derek Sherrod doesn't work out. Either that, or they could get a center to backup Scott Wells, or a guard to replace T.J. Lang.
The Packers' line is definitely better than it was a few years ago, but a few extra pieces certainly wouldn't hurt.
Right now, the Packers are stacked at tight end. But Mike McCarthy loves the tight end position, and the Packers have consistently drafted tight ends in late rounds, like they did D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor last year, and Andrew Quarless two years ago.
This pick could be higher if Jermichael Finley is no longer with the team. But even if he is, it wouldn't surprise me to see McCarthy draft another tight end to experiment with, whether he would be on offense or special teams.
At this point, the Packers will likely be picking luxury picks, and a quarterback this late in the round could be intriguing. This is where the Packers drafted Matt Flynn, and now Flynn is headed to another team, and the Packers could be in search of another quarterback to develop along with Graham Harrell.
The Packers could very well draft a quarterback late in the draft so he could enroll in Mike McCarthy's quarterback school, which has already boded well for both Aaron Rodgers and Flynn.