Green Bay Packers' Draft Puzzle: March Editon

Dean SomervilleCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 23:  Defensive lineman BJ Raji of Boston College runs during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 23, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

The 2009 edition of the Green Bay Packers is in an enviable position. They only lose a single starter from the 2008 edition, and that could change if Tauscher is re-signed.  Think about that in context; average NFL careers are less than five years, and we have a team that none of the 22 starters are gone due to retirement or free agency.

Most teams roll over 20 percent of their starters, four or five per season. Many teams have higher turnover than that. Involentary turnover, not upgrade turnover.

To this team that has transitioned from old to youthful in the last four years, our management has set up this seasons college draft to have nine picks. I will divide the draft into “top half and bottom half” splitting mid-fourth round, about 120 players deep. 

Packers have picks nine, 41, 73, 83 and 105: Players whom normally should make team’s rosters.

The four picks beyond the middle of the fourth round are at best a crapshoot on average rosters, on a roster with a “no vacancy” sign hanging in the window any of these guys will seriously have to outperformed their draft status just to stick with the team

Add to the small fact the team is not losing starters, the transition personnel are in place to become starters for all five of the 30+ year olds. Clifton and Tauscher are backed up by Moll and College, both already having significant playing time, plus Giacomini a draft pick from last season that spent a year developing.

The interior line with Wells, Sitton, and Barbre seems set with Carvahllo and McKaskil filling out the O-line with plenty of youth and talent. Getting the unit jelled into an NFL elite is required, and standout young offensive linemen are also a great way to build continuity. 

With the depth and talent of the current draft class we may draft an offensive lineman even though this is clearly not a position of need. That further development players are available in later rounds is unlikely to deter taking one of this very gifted class in the first four rounds.

Press pundits point to the age of Tauscher and Clifton but rarely research far enough to discover the replacements are already on the roster.

Jordy Nelson was drafted last year as the replacement for Donald Driver, and along with Jennings and Jones, seems to have the WR spots in very good shape. A draft pick in the top half seems very unlikely, but a late-round development pick is quite possible.

The team has a franchise QB, drafted four years ago and still in the ascendancy of his career. There are two draft picks from last year backing him up, so QB also seems to be in very good shape, and would be considered a large surprise if one of the draft picks is used here.

The running backs are thought to be very functional, if not league elite. Depth at the FB spot would be a nice. With the very short career expectancy for the RB position players, this is always a potential, but would fall into the category of taking a best available player, rather than any true need.  A depth pick in the late rounds seems likely.

The TE spot saw a pick utilized on Finley last year, and he is slotted to be the starter this season. Donald Lee the second TE is league functional, but not a standout, and in this team’s offensive scheme better production from the TE spot would certainly be nice. 

It is very likely one of the top half picks will be used here, as there is value in the 2009 draft class at TE, and there is a spot for a 3rd TE on the roster.

Few GMs in the league would not sell their soul to have an offense as set as the one in Green Bay. This offense needs coached into the top five in the league. The defensive side of the ball is not nearly so set.

The secondary had two Pro Bowlers, and a replacement Pro Bowler in the starting four.  Very impressive other than the fact two of those gentlemen are rapidly approaching the end of their careers, and one was selected on interceptions statistics, not genuine great play.

The transition plan is well in place. Williams is set to step up from nickle to full time starter and replace one of the aging veterans (Harris). A free agent depth safety was added to the mix of three other highly regarded safeties. The other DBs from last season were resigned, and handle the kick return portion of the game. 

This is not really a position of need, as any drafted players will have to succeed the incumbent and veteran players will be cut.

There is already depth of that variety on the development roster, so draft picks at that position seem unlikely to be used in the early rounds unless they fall into the “best available player” and a choice simply too good to pass over. 

The shallow analysis of the sports-writing community that simply declares this a position of need by pointing to the age of Woodson and Harris has not looked closely enough at the roster.

The offseason saw Packers coaching and management philosophy shifting from the previous 4–3 defensive scheme to a 3–4 scheme. In that front-seven group, one significant playing time backup left as a free agent.

It was a group which suffered huge injury issues, and questions arise as to the fitness of the existing talent to fit the new scheme. 

That being said, there are six players on this roster with starting and significant playing time for the four starting LB positions.

Backups for those positions and many special teams players are designated LB. This roster currently has 12 players for these positions. Hawk, Barnett, and Kampman clearly will be starters.

The new coaching staff will need to assess the exact level of need, but from the outside it would seem the only requirement at this position is a player adept at putting pressure on the QB.

From strictly a talent perspective Hunter, Thompson, Bishop, Lansanah, and Havner should all have an excellent opportunity to step into a spotlight role. It is also a position that very likely will see veteran casualties. Poppinga and Chillar are both very good, not outstanding NFL LB.

It seems very likely to me that a trade involving one or both of these guys is about inevitable to make room for the development players. That still only reduces the existing roster to 10, so at least two of these guys is on the bubble prior to the draft, and a rush specialist may be one of the top five picks that should make the team.

It will make for a very interesting and competitive training camp at the LB spots. This is not, therefore, the position of greatest need.

That designation goes to the defensive line.

Of the three starting positions Jenkins who had a significant injury last season seems a lock and a very solid player at one DE spot. Ryan Pickett is thought a solid starter at NT. 

Jolly and Harrell are roster players, but seriously have not proven to be either durable or particularly effective.  They did re-sign Montgomery, who can be a rotational player, and have Bledsoe and Malone, who were in-season players signed that could not make other rosters. 

While as of this moment they could dress the necessary seven bodies to play a game, at least three of those positions need an upgrade, and with potential injuries to these big bodies it would seem to me at least four players from the nine draft picks need to be used to try to fill this, the gaping hole on the team.

Jenkins needs a bookend playmate.

This brings me to looking at the players in this draft class. While there is at least one QB, potentially a WR, and two CB that may push for top-10 spots in the draft, there are only five players in this class that would fit Packer needs and not be thought a stretch. 

BJ Raji, the NT, and Aaron Curry the LB are the only two defensive players thought to have certain top-five-through-nine talent in this draft. Either one would create a dash to the podium if available at No. 9, but that is very unlikely to happen. 

A trade up to get Raji, the most valuable fit to the Packers roster may be considered.  How far up is a value judgement. At present, it is nearly certain that  OT Monroe and Smith, and Curry will be top four picks.

Stafford the QB should be as well, with Detroit and Seattle both in that mix. Somewhere between five and eight Raji will very likely go, and would be the value pick on probably most of those team’s board at that point.

The value added to get to No. 5 Cleveland is more than just a third rounder and the No. 9 pick and is very unlikely. Cleveland is not happy with Green Bays' reject at the position and may take him with some spite in mind.

Thompson also values his picks, particularly as high as third rounders, too much for this to happen. To get No. 6 Cincinnati's pick would involve one of the third rounders and balancing of other lower rounders, and is very likely too steep. It is purely possible that Raji is Cinci’s target as well. 

Two picks up to No. 7 with Oakland would likely involve the fourth rounder, and is a very real possibility, as long as Crabtree is still on the board and confirmed not to be the Packers' pick; however Raji would be a fine fit in Oakland as well.

One pick up with Jacksonville is most unlikely, as if he is still on the board they would be racing to the podium to grab him. While it is my opinion that trading up to No. 6 to get Raji would be a huge benefit, I do not see it happening. 

This leaves the No. 9 pick squarely back in the Packers hands and their needs and value need to be looked at. With Raji and Curry the players of most interest and instant impact for the Packers off the board, they will be looking at the following list to fill team needs and the positional rankings the players have.

Offensive tackles Smith and Oher and even Eben Britton carry top-rated talent levels outside the top two OT. Each has apparent or imagined flaws, and the class is deep enough to get this type of marginal need much later in the draft. 

The value is not likely there at No. 9 for an OT, even if other teams may have these guys listed at this level or higher. (And Al Bracco has a hunch!) None of these three would be a “bad” pick at No. 9. Oher or Smith at this point may be the “consensus” top player available, so Al may be right.

Conversion project DE/LB that may be looked at with the No. 9 pick include Arakpo, whom Cleveland may be looking at higher, but who would seem to be more of a 4–3 DE.

Maybin has been thought about, but has slid to a 20th or even lower ranking leaving Everett Brown the most likely if this type of player should be the choice.  While he is going to be a good NFL player, I somehow do not see the need/value lining up to make him the choice.

There are as many as 10 more LB carrying 10th–50th draft spot rankings, and trading down, or leaving this to the second, third or later rounds is far more likely. If a “stretch” is being looked at Connor Barwin or Clay Matthews may have the highest upside potential. 

Either is a big strech at No. 9.

As I (and most Packer watchers) have identified the DL as the biggest and most significant need for the team, and we presume Raji is gone, I want to look at the other DL candidates that may seem a reach but would be the “best value” option. 

At the NT spot behind Raji there are four other serious contenders, currently considered first rounders or early second rounders but would be a stretch at No. 9. Peria Jerry, Evander (Ziggy) Hood, SenDerrik Marks, and Ron Brace.

Behind these four, there is a group of at least four (King, Maola, Scott, and Magee) that should be there for the third round.

At the five technique DE spot there are only two or three players with first-round rankings, Robert Ayers, Jarron Gilbert and Tyson Jackson, and little depth to the “project” level behind them. That fact makes these three more valuable than the inside guys. 

There is a strong likelihood that at least one of these seven would slide to No. 41 in the second round but it is far from certain. 

In my opinion, the most likely to be taken at No. 9 should the Packers not partake of the “trade down” option is Tyson Jackson out of LSU. Immensely powerful and at 6’5” 290, has the tools to step in and have the most immediate impact for the Packers in 2009.

If this is the pick to fill the need, Jackson is the choice.

With their needs and draft-position holdings, both Philadelphia and New England are trade partner potentials for the Packers. Thompson would love to get two picks late in the first or late first and early second.

New England picks at 23 and 35 are a near straight value trade for No. 9, and they could be looking at one of the top two cornerbacks to push them in the direction of a trade.

They have six picks in the top 100, so this trade would not surprise me. Philly, with picks 21 and 28, could be looking at WR Crabtree, and would likely jump fairly quickly if he is on the board. 

Green Bay would likely have to balance those two picks by including their second pick of the third round to balance points value in addition to the No. 9 pick.

Either one of those trades likely enables the Packers to get three players from the list of Jackson, Ayers and Gilbert DE, Jerry, Hood, Marks and Brace DT, and LB Matthews, Cushing , Barwin, Sidbury and Stinton. Certainly two or three of these guys improves the defensive front seven.

One way or another a first round pick will be used on the defensive front seven, and if no trade is available expect both the first and second rounders to be used there. It is a position of need, and the draft picks are there to fill the need.

What happens with the picks in the first two rounds will dictate the two choices in the third and fourth rounder. If we assume two DL/LB are selected, the odds are quite good that the third and fourth round picks will be used on TE, OL and another front seven pick.

If the second pick from the third round is included in a trade that nets three front-seven picks, the choices are likely to OL and TE.

Tight ends this year include Pettigrew and Nelson whom will likely go before the position is addressed by the Packers. The group of TE that should go in the third and fourth rounds include Casey, Cook, Coffman, Ingram, and Beckum.

Position runs in the draft will likely determine which one we take with which pick.  My feeling is that Cook is the best of these guys and would be looked at with No. 73 in the third round down to Beckum which would be the No. 105 pick in the fourth.

Beckum is moving up after his very impressive pro day, and a Wisconsin favorite would be good PR.

The next tier of OL is a big group, Loadholt, Meredith, Levitre, Green, Topou, Canfield, Lewis, Bell, and Lang all fall in that category. Some will surprise with moves up, some surely will be there. Eighty picks into a draft, a month ahead of the event is beyond my crystal ball, but this is where I expect the first OL to be drafted by the Packers.

The group of DL that fall into the “next tier” includes Miller, Favorite, Baker, Hill, Irvin, Knighton, Scott, Magee, Francis, Hill, and Bolden. Some of these guys may be there for the late picks, whom are taken on a flyer anyway, but one more depth player on the DL is likely in this group of picks in the third or fourth round.

While the selections listed for the three groups for third-and-fourth-round choices would all be likely to make the roster for 2009, none of them would likely have much impact.

Picks in the fifth, two in the sixth, and the seventh will simply be competition type picks. Perhaps a punter to compete, a RB with a special glint, or a player with extraordinary return or special teams potential.

For the first time in the Thompson era, there is enough talent on the roster that it is very unlikely any of these four picks even make the team. That is why I expect some of these picks will be seen as “throw ins” if we want to move up to get a specific player. 

The two or three players that will affect the 2009 season will likely be taken in the first two rounds. After all, this team does not have many spots available for the draft choices to make an impact on. 

A very nice position to be in with a month to the draft. Tweaking the draft puzzle, finding just the right couple of pieces to to complete the winning picture.


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