Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Updates: Latest News, Trade Rumors, Storylines

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IIApril 17, 2012

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Updates: Latest News, Trade Rumors, Storylines

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    As the 2012 NFL draft gets closer, the storylines of the Green Bay Packers' season are beginning to take shape.

    General manager Ted Thompson has built a championship-caliber squad through smart decisions on draft day, and he will look to continue to improve the roster at the end of April.

    Thompson will be tweaking the team leading up to the draft, as well as after it. The players he brings in will shed light on which players may be pushed out of Green Bay before Week 1.

    Here's all the questions (and at least some of the answers) that surround the Packers' 2012 season.

Latest Green Bay Packers Draft News, Rumors and Speculation

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    The Green Bay Packers have plenty of holes to fix on their roster, and Ted Thompson has been diligently gathering information on the players who can step in and deliver next season.

    Thompson personally attended the Central Florida pro day, which featured cornerback Josh Robinson and defensive end Darius Nall. 

    Robinson ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and would be a useful addition to a beleaguered Green Bay secondary. 

    Nall is projected to go undrafted but is the ideal size (6'3" and 254 pounds) to move to linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He also has the kind of mental toughness that Thompson loves, and has beaten cancer twice in his life.

    The Packers general manager also made the short trip south to attend Wisconsin's pro day. Peter Konz and Russell Wilson are two Badgers that Thompson thinks can excel at the next level.

    Konz is widely considered the top center in this year's draft and will be a tempting choice if he falls to Green Bay at No. 28 in the first round.

    Wilson is a natural leader and great competitor but stands only 5'11" and may not have the stature to play QB in the NFL. 

    While Thompson got a closer look at some interesting prospects during these pro days, the mock draft community almost universally agrees that the Packers will take a pass-rusher in the first round.

    Here's some projections from some of the top NFL draft writers:

    Mel Kiper ESPN Nick Perry USC DE
    Todd McShay ESPN Andre Branch Clemson DE
    Matt Miller B/R Whitney Mercilus Illinois DE
    Sigmund Bloom B/R Nick Perry USC DE
    Steve Wyche NFL.com Shea McClellin Boise St. OLB

    Defense early and often is the strategy that Thompson will likely employ, and with Green Bay's awful performance on that side of the ball in 2011, the fans will greatly appreciate all the new additions.

Latest Green Bay Packers Trade Rumors and Speculation

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    The men in the Green Bay Packers' war room are no strangers to draft-day trades and will likely pull off another deal this year.

    The Packers have made a trade during the draft in each of the past three seasons. Last year, Green Bay moved back in the fourth and fifth rounds and stockpiled picks.

    In 2010, the team traded up in the third round to grab Morgan Burnett, and in 2009, they worked their way back into the first round to take Clay Matthews.

    General manager Ted Thompson has built a reputation for making keen decisions during the draft, and this year, he may chose to make a move in to the early rounds.

    ESPN's Rumor Central speculates that the team could jump up in the first round and avoid missing out on Shea McClellin. 

    The linebacker has been shooting up draft boards and may go before the Packers' first-round pick. McClellin is an explosive pass-rusher who also has the versatility to be moved around in Dom Capers' defense. He's a perfect fit for Green Bay, and the team would be wise to take him, whether it's at No. 28 or earlier.

    If the Packers end up getting a player they want without having to move up in the first round, then they can make a deal in the second round. The team could package a few of its 11 remaining picks to move up and take Chris Polk—another player that reportedly impressed Thompson.

    The Washington running back has slimmed down in the offseason and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at his pro day. Polk also has reliable hands from playing receiver in high school and is tough as nails; he played in last year's season opener just eight days after knee surgery.

    Polk will likely slip out of the first round but could go very early in the second. B/R's Matt Miller has him going at No. 34 to the Indianapolis Colts.

    If the Packers want Polk, they'll probably have to reach for him in the first round, or trade up to get him in the second. The latter option seems the better one in this case, and the Packers' brass would uphold their draft-day reputation if they pulled off a move to add Polk to the already-potent offense.

What Position Is the Packers' Greatest Need?

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    The Green Bay Packers did many things right on the way to a 15-1 record, but they also did a few things very poorly and will need an upgrade at some positions.

    The one area in which they struggled the most was rushing the passer. In 2010, the Packers were second in the NFL with 47 sacks. In 2011, they dropped to 27th with just 29 sacks.

    The secondary also had its fair share of problems and gave up the most passing yards in NFL history. However, the lack of a pass rush played a large part in the embarrassing amount of yardage allowed through the air.

    This glaring flaw has been the motivation behind many mock drafts assigning an outside linebacker to the Packers in the first round, but OLB is not the only position integral to the team's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

    The biggest difference between the 2010 front-seven and the group in 2011 was the absence of Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins was fast and quick enough to pressure the QB but was also big and strong enough to stop the run. The Packers did not have a player with a set that they could call on last season, and Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji struggled with all the extra attention. 

    Green Bay's greatest need is for an every-down player who can rush the passer. Whether that guy is an outside linebacker or a defensive end does not really matter. The team just needs someone who can take some pressure off of Matthews and Raji and put some pressure on the other team's quarterback.

    Ideally, the Packers would add both within the first few rounds. Any of the linebackers picked by the NFL draft writers in the previous slide would be excellent fits for the Packers. Boise State's Billy Winn and Tyrone Crawford, as well as Nebraska's Jared Crick, would all be great fits and available in Rounds 2 or 3.

Will the Packers Find a New Backup Quarterback in This Year's Draft?

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    Matt Flynn is too good to remain a backup quarterback for the 2012 season, and now that he's with the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers will have to find his replacement.

    Graham Harrell and Nick Hill are Aaron Rodgers' current understudies. Both players went undrafted, and neither has thrown a pass in the NFL.

    With plenty of uncertainty over who will step into Flynn's role, the Packers may add to the competition on draft day. But Green Bay has several other needs to address and will likely wait until the later rounds to target a quarterback. 

    Flynn was a proven winner in college but fell to the seventh round because of perceived physical limitations. Several players who fit this description will be available as the 2012 draft winds down.

    Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Boise State's Kellen Moore won a lot of games while at their respective schools, and Houston's Case Keenum broke the NCAA records for passing yards, touchdowns and completions. But all three players are under 6'1" and will slip to the third day of the draft because of their height.

    Arizona's Nick Foles is more than tall enough to fit the profile of an NFL QB, but his lack of athleticism and mobility raise concerns that he'll be a sitting duck for pass-rushers at the next level.

    These players are risky picks because of their shortcomings, but all have the intangibles to do what is necessary to compete at the next level. Their competitive spirit, along with guidance from Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, will allow them compensate for their weaknesses. 

    Any one of them would be a good fit as a backup to Rodgers, and the Packers will find their man in this year's draft.

Will Nick Collins Play in 2012?

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    Nick Collins' neck injury was one of the more emotional moments of the Green Bay Packers' 2011 season, and the incident may prematurely end the All-Pro safety's career.

    Little is known about when Collins will make his decision on his return, but several people close to the situation, including Collins himself, have publicly commented.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy expressed concern for his player and said:

    "That's probably one of the worst parts of your job [as a coach], walking out on the field, looking over a player — especially when it didn't look very serious, and then you get out there … I don't want to be put in that position again. And this is not about me. I'm just talking about, if that was my son, if Nick was my son, I would not let him play."

    Collins' agent Alan Herman agreed with McCarthy's cautionary mindset but knew his client might not. He said:

    "I've told him, why come back? You've got more money than you can spend. But I don't think it's any different with Nick Collins than it is with Peyton Manning. That's why Peyton Manning has come back from a neck injury. They like to compete. They're willing to accept the risk."

    Collins briefly and clearly expressed his views on the situation (in the same article in which Herman was quoted).

     "If everything's good, then we're going. If (doctors) say there's a slight chance of something, then that's it."

    As Tom Silverstein from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out, there is precedent for defensive backs returning from similar injuries, so medical clearance is not out of the question.

    However, there are many different extenuating circumstances that could lead doctors to force Collins' retirement.

    While little is known about the discussions between Collins, his doctors and the Packers, the safety's desire to return to football is well established.

    If Collins' injury ends his career, safety will become a much bigger need in the draft for Green Bay. The Packers may even spring for Notre Dame's Harrison Smith in the first round, or look to move up in order to get him in the second.

    Regardless of Collins' return, Green Bay will likely add depth at the position and could go for later-round players with value like Boise State's George Iloka and Syracuse's Phillip Thomas.

Will Donald Driver and Chad Clifton Get Cut?

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    Chad Clifton and Donald Driver have been fixtures of the Packers' offense for many years, but age and injuries have taken their toll on the veterans. Both could be released due to the combined $10.75 million that the two are owed next year. 

    Clifton missed time last year with back and hamstring injuries, and Mike McCarthy referred to the tackle's future with the team as a "medical decision."

    Green Bay did not find a reliable replacement for Clifton as Marshall Newhouse was inconsistent and Derek Sherrod broke his leg before he had the chance to prove himself. If Clifton is healthy, he would be a very valuable presence along the offensive line.

    However, Clifton will be 36 when next season starts, and last year's injuries don't suggest that he has long left in his career. 

    Driver, who is set to make $5 million in 2012, was slowed by minor injuries and being 37 years old but still was able to make some plays.

    The Packers have a very young receiving corp other than Driver, and his experience is invaluable in a unit that has a tendency to lose focus and drop easy passes. He may not be the athlete he once was, but he can still contribute in the locker room and as a fourth or fifth receiver.

    Ultimately, the Packers would benefit from keeping Driver but cutting Clifton. The team does not risk losing any big-time talents by keeping a proven winner and leader on the roster, and Driver can still contribute when the team goes into the spread offense.

    Clifton, however, would either have to sit on the bench or inhibit Sherrod and Newhouse's growth. The team has much more invested in these players than it has in the receivers behind Driver. This, in combination with the severity of Clifton's injuries, does not bode well for the tackle's chances of returning to the Packers in 2012.

    Without a need to add to the loaded receiving corp, the Packers can spend some middle-round picks to get more depth at tackle. Florida State's Zebrie Sanders and Oklahoma's Donald Stephenson both have the athleticism and size to be successful left tackles in the NFL and are projected by CBS Sports to be third- or fourth-round picks.