2012 NFL Draft: Top 5 Positions Green Bay Packers Should Target This Draft
It is no secret as to why the Green Bay Packers were not able to live up to expectations during this past postseason: defense. Last year, the Packers’ D couldn’t stop a nose bleed with a doctor, Dom Capers, in this case, directing them how to do so. The talent in the Green Bay starting defensive 11 is there, but upgrades at a few positions will go a long way in returning the Packers’ defense to 2010 levels.
This is not to say the Packers’ offense is without its woes, but with the talent they have on offense, those needs are less urgent regarding a return to the Super Bowl.
The proceeding slideshow will outline which positions Packers’ GM Ted Thompson should target to improve the team's chances at a second Super Bowl title in three seasons. The players highlighted are those who may be available when the Packers make the 28th selection in the 2012 NFL draft, mitigating the possibility of Green Bay trading up or the more likely scenario of the two the Packers trading down.
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Let’s begin with the Packers’ most pressing need, and that is help in the defensive backfield. Face it, as dominant a player Charles Woodson can be, he cannot do it all. Last season, Dom Capers utilized Woody more as a blitz corner and less as a cover corner than he did in the Packers’ Super Bowl season. If he plans to continue to do so, Ted Thompson will want to find a player who can better fill the cover part of the cornerback responsibilities.
Sitting with the 28th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Packers do not seem likely to be able to acquire a top college cover corner. Removing the top three cover corners available in the draft, the best of the remaining options is a bit iffy based on character, but not on talent. Janoris Jenkins, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune is one of if not the best cover corners available in the draft, has two marijuana arrests on his record, which may scare off enough teams that he will be lying there for the Packers to pick up.
The Packers could decide on taking a chance on him as their need outweighs his past. What should concern them is not so much he getting into a lot of trouble while in Green Bay, but rather what could occur in the offseason. We have all seen what can happen to a young, rich athlete with prior offenses during the offseason. However, the Packers have taken a chance on a player with questionable character before via free agency, and that player has won a Defensive Player of the Year award, a Super Bowl championship with the Packers, all the while being a team captain and leader.
*Side note, with Asante Samuel demanding a trade, and if a cornerback of the Packs’ liking is not available, they may want to inquire as to what Philly would want in return. Again, the Packers have taken on a disgruntled but talented veteran corner with a chip on his shoulder in the past and it worked out then. Could lightning strike twice?
2. Defensive End
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When the Packers decided not to re-sign Cullen Jenkins last offseason, I was very surprised. He was a good enough pass rusher that defenses could not double-team him and Clay Matthews at the same time, allowing Matthews to breakout in the 2010 season as an elite pass rusher. But, 2011 showed us without a legitimate pass rushing threat from the other side, opposing teams could focus on double-teaming Matthews due to a threatening pass rush coming from their quarterback's blindside not being there.
This lack of a non-Matthews-related pass rush is what led to Dom Capers having to over-blitz Charles Woodson to compensate for their lack of legitimate pass rush from the D-line or linebacker crew, thus, opening up holes that allowed opposing quarterbacks to shred their defense like cheese through a grater (pun not intended.)
Of all of the defensive end prospects in the draft, one I find most intriguing and a possibility to be available to the Packers at the 28th spot is Chandler Jones out of Syracuse. According to NFL.com’s Chad Reuter, Jones opened up a few eyes with his performance at the NFL combine. His size, power and athleticism make him very appealing to NFL teams in need of a young pass rusher. However, this is not what I found most appealing about him, as his heritage is what I see as a major plus side for his career.
Chandler Jones is the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens’ defensive lineman Arthur Jones and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. Why do I see this as a sign of what could be? He knows what it takes to be a professional athlete. The experiences of his older brothers can show him how to succeed as a professional athlete and in the NFL. One problem defensive linemen have is weight management, and with one brother being a NFL player and the other being a dominant MMA champion, I do not see his focus wavering in the offseason. Thus, maintaining his physical fitness throughout the year should not be much of a concern with Jones.
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When Nick Collins was lost for the season, and possibly for his career, in the Packers’ Week 2 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, they lost a major player whose presence could have masked many of the future problems the Packers had throughout the 2011 season. With Collins skipping a meeting that was planned with the Packers and postponing it until after the draft so he can further consult doctors regarding the continuance of his playing career or whether he should retire from football, the future of the Packers safety corps is all but sure.
This is where draft supply definitely does not meet NFL demand. According to NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, there are two legitimate NFL-ready college safety prospects who will be in high demand due to the emerging need for safeties and their ability to cover tight ends in the also emerging two-tight end offensive sets. And since the future of Collins is still up in the air, if Mark Barron from Alabama or Harrison Smith from Notre Dame is available when the Packers' number is called, strong consideration would have to be given to either of these two players.
If not, then Packers and their fans may have to go through another season of opposing quarterbacks lighting them up like the Griswold's house on Christmas.
4. Running Back (HB)
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The Green Bay Packers have a duo of serviceable running backs, but it is obvious an upgrade is needed. Fans and sports pundits place a large emphasis on 1,000-yard seasons, but that number as the benchmark of elite running backs is no longer relevant. As the league is entering an era where two running backs are necessary for a successful running game, the Green Bay Packers barely have one running back in two (I consider John Kuhn a fullback as opposed to a traditional halfback or “running back”.) Combined, last season James Starks and Ryan Grant barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,137 yards between them.
Such a number should be a minimum of one running back let alone two. There is the argument their numbers are so low due to having as great a quarterback as Aaron Rodgers. As valid an argument it is, an adequate running game just did not seem to ever appear for Green Bay during the 2011 season. To be the best team in the league, the Packers offense must be one of the best all-around offenses. Yet, this lack of running threat cannot be overlooked.
This is not to suggest taking a flier on a running back with the 28th pick, but to keep the need for an upgrade to the position in mind when making considerations in the later rounds, and possibly sooner if Grant decides to leave via free agency.
5. Offensive Line
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Last, and not least, the offensive line, which in recent years has been offensive. I place their need to draft an O-lineman fifth not because their need for better offensive line play is less than those mentioned previous. No, I list it fifth due to Green Bay’s constant drafting of O-linemen to see them not pan out. The Packers need to look at why they continue to have failures all along the O-line. Is it the offensive line coach? Is it poor scouting of collegiate offensive linemen by Green Bay’s scout team? Whatever the bug may be in their continued failure to produce a solid O-line, one thing is for sure they need to re-think doing so mainly through the draft.
And this year, they finally took a step in doing so. The signing of Jeff Saturday this offseason was a surprising acquiescence to their philosophy of building through the draft, and signing a big name free agent to a position where talent and experience is much needed.
So, how does this pertain the draft? The Packers need to consider using their 28th pick to trade for a proven veteran if none of the above options are available when it comes time to make their pick. The organization has proven they are dedicated to improving the play of their “offensive” offensive line, now they must make a decision whether to continue drafting college offensive linemen or consider other avenues to improve the O-line such as with Saturday.
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Whichever of these positions the Packers decide to improve through the draft it will be done so to achieve the goal every team places before themselves each season: to become Super Bowl champions.