The 2012 season isn't over yet for the Green Bay Packers, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start thinking about this spring's NFL draft.
The Packers could be drafting anywhere from the mid-20s to 32nd, depending on how their season ends, so they probably won't get many of the real "big name" people in the draft. Not that it matters much to GM Ted Thompson, who is like a kid in a candy store on draft day.
This year, Thompson very well could be looking to beef up the offensive line in hopes of better protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked a remarkable 51 times this year. With Greg Jennings potentially leaving via free agency, wide receiver may be on the list as well. Should Jermichael Finley be traded or released, tight end would be a big need as well.
The Packers also could be looking at a running back. Cedric Benson likely won't be back, and the Packers don't have a definitive answer at the position.
Of course, the Packers traditionally stick to drafting the best available player instead of drafting for need. Only Thompson knows what he'll do, but we can take out best shot in a mock draft.
As mentioned previously, protecting Rodgers has to be priority No. 1 for the Packers, and drafting Jones late in the first round would be a coup for the Packers.
Many mocks have him all over the place, some even outside the first round, but his work ethic would suit the Packers quite well. At 6'5" and 300 pounds, Jones also learned the center position his senior year.
With Jeff Saturday on the way out, the Packers are not yet sold on Evan Dietrich-Smith as their long-term answer at center, so Jones could be an intriguing pick.
Eifert is being listed by some as either a mid or late first-round pick, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he slips into the second. The Packers, ironically, could package Finley in a trade that allows them to move up. Finley's potential can still be realized, which means one team could be suckered into giving up a second-rounder for him.
As for Eifert, he'd be a big threat for the Packers over the middle like Finley was supposed to become. He also has better hands than Finley who has become notorious for dropping the ball.
His pass-protection skills could use some work, but that's why the Packers should be bringing back TE Tom Crabtree, who specializes in blocking more than receiving.
The Packers seem to have been avoiding members of their in-state university lately, but the Packers need a running back, and the chance to bring on someone like Ball is almost too good to pass up.
Ball is a very quick running back, and his draft stock took a bit of a hit this year thanks to the Badgers' struggles (even though they made the Rose Bowl almost by default). Ball has what it takes to be successful in the NFL.
The Packers won't get the next Adrian Peterson in Ball, but they'll get a back who will work in their offense. Ball sometimes struggles to gain yards in traffic, but his abilities in the screen game and pure speed will be an asset to the Packers' high-octane offense.
The Packers may already be loaded at wide receiver, but the loss of Jennings would still be felt. James Jones is not a No. 1-type receiver. Jordy Nelson could be, but he needs a presence to fight off attention to allow him to get open.
Enter Vernon. At 6'1" and 200 pounds, he helped lead Duke to a bowl game this year and nearly their first bowl victory since the 1960s. He's a threat down the field and has shown willingness to makes plays in the ever-dangerous middle of the field.
Sounds like he'd be worth the chance in the fourth round. Rodgers could bring him along pretty quickly.
A little too early for a kicker? Not really.
Mason Crosby redeemed himself a little bit against Minnesota, but he still had one of the worst seasons any Packers kicker has ever had. He never was the most accurate kicker, either, and the Packers will want to at least bring in some competition this summer.
There's nothing too special about Maher, but he's kicked in the elements, which is a key qualification for a Packers kicker.
The Packers defensive line showed improvement, with BJ Raji and Jerel Worthy leading the way along with Mike Neal, but Ryan Pickett isn't getting any younger, so it's time to add depth to the defensive line.
Why not add one of Worthy's college teammates? Michigan State had a down year (as did the Big Ten as a whole), but White at 330 pounds, he would be a suitable developmental pick behind Pickett. He battles all the way to the whistle and has strong hands.
His burst may not be as good as Worthy's, but he will have time to develop and learn from Pickett and Raji.
Call me crazy, but working with Mike McCarthy would be the best thing for Collin Klein.
Klein is a big, powerful quarterback who can make decisions while on the run. His delivery and release, however, are what is keeping him from being higher on teams' draft boards.
Many thought McCarthy would have been the one to fix Tim Tebow, and he may get his chance to work with a Tebow-type player in Klein.
Klein would probably sit on the practice squad for a year, but going through the Packers' quarterback school would be a godsend for a player who has the intangibles and athletic ability to succeed in the NFL.