For the majority of the 2011 season, the Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFL. Fresh off winning their fourth Lombardi Trophy in Dallas, the Packers saw the rest of the league from a bird's-eye view. Green Bay's offense was nearly flawless throughout the season; MVP Aaron Rodgers tossed a franchise-record 45 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions.
Despite being historically efficient on offense, it was Green Bay's defense that prevented the Packers from repeating as Super Bowl champions.
Although vulnerable against the run at times, the fatal flaw for the Packers was their lack of a consistent pass rush. Not only was it an obvious problem in their postseason loss to the Giants, the pass-rush issue was a constant throughout the season.
When Cullen Jenkins signed with Philadelphia, it left a gaping hole in the middle of Green Bay's defense. The Packers tabbed second-year DE Mike Neal as the replacement for Jenkins, but Neal's injuries and mediocre play left the Packers wondering if they made the right choice in letting Jenkins walk via free agency.
Perhaps the more pressing issue is the revolving door at outside linebacker on the opposite side of Clay Matthews. Brad Jones started there as a rookie. Erik Walden has had several big games in that position in his two years with the Pack, and Frank Zombo has been serviceable when he's been active.
However, not one of these guys has separated himself from the pack—no pun intended. Combine the departure of Cullen Jenkins with not having a full-time, reliable starter on the other side of the defense, and offenses viewed Matthews as the only legitimate threat to rush the passer, allowing teams to double- and triple-team him on a regular basis.
In the 2012 draft, I expect the Pack's search for Clay Matthews's running-mate to be near the top of Ted Thompson's to-do list. While considered a genius in his field, I do not believe Thompson is skilled enough in the science department to clone Mr. Matthews. Although if he could, you can bet your bottom dollar that he would.
Now that the NFL Scouting Combine is complete, the measurables for this outside linebacker class can be compared to those of Matthews in 2009. It's my belief that the pass-rushing OLB prospects in Round 1 are very top-heavy; Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw are clearly a notch above the other guys at the position.
Barring a blockbuster trade, Green Bay won't have a chance at either of the draft's top two pass-rushing linebackers, so the team may be forced to address the OLB position in the later rounds.
Having nailed recent second-round picks such as Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Nick Collins and Randall Cobb, let's take a look at a few potential running-mates for Matthews in Round 2 and how they compare to him.