This is a big year for us. For the way we’re designed—we’re a draft-and-develop program—this is a big offseason for us. We need to make big jumps in April, May and June because we haven’t had that, just like everybody else, but we really rely on it just because of the way we operate in player acquisitions.
— Packers head coach Mike McCarthy
The Green Bay Packers offseason has been relatively uneventful thus far, just as Ted Thompson prefers. While the franchise did bid farewell to center Scott Wells, welcoming Jeff Saturday in his stead, and Nick Collins' future remains in limbo, the offseason has finally wound to the stage at which Green Bay is most comfortable: the annual draft.
This year, Ted Thompson has 12 picks at his disposal, enough to fill the gaps he and McCarthy agree to prioritize. Given Thompson's draft success in the past, it almost seems unfair to grant the Packers a dozen selections; the bevy of picks also opens the potential for Green Bay to trade picks and move around in the draft.
However, I'll leave that potential to the experts with more time on their hands than I and instead suggest how I see Green Bay's draft shaking down, assuming no draft-day swaps.
The following 12 picks secure Green Bay's immediate needs, while bolstering the team's depth at several crucial positions for the long run. It's all guesswork at this point, but few, if any, of the following 12 picks will surprise the Packers fans who have followed Thompson's decision-making in the past.
After taking a noticeable step back last season, particularly in terms of its pass rush, which forced 18 fewer sacks than the season prior, Green Bay must prioritize its front seven.
Dom Capers’ defense calls for plenty of blitzes and stunts, something for which USC’s Nick Perry has a natural knack. Perry, a defensive end in college, has excellent size (6’3", 271 lbs.) and blazed past his peers at the combine with a 4.64-second 40-yard dash time, 38.5-inch vertical jump,and 124-inch broad jump.
As a first-round pick, Perry can immediately line up opposite Clay Matthews in Green Bay’s defense, a thought sure to give quarterbacks headaches and offensive coordinators insomnia.
The plight of safety Nick Collins (neck) has left uncertainty in Green Bay’s defensive backfield. Charles Woodson, 36, is in the twilight of his career, and the Packers’ depth at corner and safety leaves something to be desired. All these factors combine to make Trumaine Johnson, a tall (6’1"), athletic corner, an ideal pick in the second round.
Johnson, a natural athlete, offers a diverse skill set that could position him to replace Woodson or Collins in the future, and despite some criticism stemming from playing in the Big Sky Conference, rather than one of the elite conferences, his play at Montana suggests he can start in the NFL on day one.
Schwartz doesn’t possess great athleticism, but he’s a smart offensive lineman who uses leverage to frustrate defenders. He isn’t particularly suited for guard or tackle, but his effort leaves little to be desired.
Though Schwartz may not be a year one starter, he could certainly compete with Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, pressing the somewhat underachieving tackle to perform better.
Ryan Grant is gone, leaving a hodgepodge of running backs in his wake. James Starks has shown flashes of impressive play, but has been relatively mediocre over the course of his two seasons in the NFL. Meanwhile, Alex Green’s torn ACL is worrisome and Brandon Saine is little more than a roster-filler with good hands.
Enter Bernard Pierce, a one-cut runner who can thrive in Green Bay’s zone-blocking offensive scheme. He has average speed (4.49-second 40-yard dash), which might frustrate fans when he doesn’t break away after emerging past the second level, but his overall athleticism is nothing at which to scoff. He led all combine running backs with a 123-inch broad jump, and his size (6’, 218 lbs.) will allow him to shed arm tackles on his way downfield.
Even if the Packers select Trumaine Johnson in the second round, as was earlier predicted, the team may wish to draft a true safety prospect like Ihenacho who can deliver big hits to opponents. Ihenacho is a great run-support safety with solid play-recognition skills; his strength was evident at the combine, too, where he pushed 20 reps on the bench press.
But while I stated above Ihenacho is a true safety prospect, it should be noted he dabbled at corner prior to his senior season. That versatility, and his understanding of man and zone coverage from multiple perspectives, will lead him to success in the NFL.
Wide receiver may not be at the top of Green Bay’s to-draft list, but the team could do much worse than Coale, a possession receiver with a high football IQ. Coale’s recognition of and response to zone defensive schemes, as well as his fearlessness to make catches in traffic, lends him credibility as a role player in pass-heavy offenses.
While he may not have the skill set to be a starter in the NFL, he could have great potential working out of the slot in Green Bay’s offense.
Excellent size (6’3", 320 lbs.) and strength make Washington a solid “future” pick, someone who can someday start after polishing his technique with a coaching staff. Washington missed zero games in his final two seasons in Miami, suggesting durability, and he looks excellent on paper as a developmental, depth player at tackle or guard.
At 6’3" and 285 lbs., Guyton has the frame to play defensive end in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme. He’s quick off the snap and his motor makes him an attractive, Ted Thompson pick. His unique combination of size and quickness suggests he could give opposing quarterbacks nightmares if he breaks through the line.
For a team like Green Bay looking to upgrade the pass rush, Guyton is a good place to look in the sixth round.
Round 7, Pick 17 (224) (from Jets): Michael Brewster, C, OSU
Drafting Brewster to learn the ropes from Jeff Saturday would be a sly move by Thompson. Either way, he adds depth to an offensive line interior currently lacking.
Round 7, Pick 28 (235): Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Green Bay has enough depth at quarterback with Graham Harrell and Nick Hill, but Thompson and McCarthy may want to give Keenum, who set a collegiate record for career passing yardage at Houston, a second look. He doesn’t have great size (he’s only 6’0"), but he’s mechanically sound and could develop behind Aaron Rodgers into a dependable backup.
Round 7, Pick 34 (241): Tyler Nielsen, OLB, Iowa
Nielsen has decent size and speed for a linebacker, and he’s a reliable tackler. He’ll need to work on his blitzing skills in Green Bay’s defense but otherwise appears to be a solid special teams player.
Round 7, Pick 36 (243): JR Sweezy, DE, NC State
At 6’5", Sweezy towers. He lacks speed and athleticism but compensates with a motor that just won’t quit. His competitiveness will push him to make the final roster, even if he’s drafted 243rd overall.