Green Bay's 2013 NFL Draft Wish List

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 24, 2013

Green Bay's 2013 NFL Draft Wish List

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    The 2013 NFL Draft will be a very important one for Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers.

    The draft has turned out to be Thompson's main building block in putting together the Green Bay organization.

    Going into the 2012 season, the team had 30 players on their 53-man roster who were drafted by the Packers. That's almost 60 percent of the roster—almost unheard of in today's NFL.

    Thompson has also drafted a number of players who have been either All-Pro or selected to a Pro Bowl team.

    This list would include quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver Greg Jennings, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle B.J. Raji, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk and left guard Josh Sitton.

    Every once in a while Thompson will have a hiccup in the draft, like when he selected defensive tackle Justin Harrell in the first round of the 2007 draft. But overall, Thompson has selected 75 players in his seven drafts with the Packers, with 63 of those 75 players making the roster.

    His talent-selecting prowess in the draft has earned Thompson two NFL Executive of the Year honors (2008 & 2011) by The Sporting News, which is voted upon by his peers. 

    I have put together a wish list for Thompson and the Packers as they get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft.

Hope Barrett Jones Is Available with Pick No. 26

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    The Packers need to make sure that their most important asset, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has a good offensive line playing in front of him. That was not the case all the time in 2012, as Rodgers was sacked 51 times, the most of any individual quarterback in the NFL.

    Injuries have certainly played a part in this situation. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost in the middle of the season due to a hip fracture. The Packers hope he will be ready to go next season.

    Another former first-round pick (like Bulaga), Derek Sherrod, wasn't ready to play in 2012, after fracturing his leg in two places late in the 2011 season. Again, it is hoped that Sherrod will be ready to go next year.

    The Packers did get some good news on the line, when Don Barclay filled in admirably at right tackle for Bulaga, while Evan Dietrich-Smith did the same, when he took over for veteran Jeff Saturday late in the season at center. Saturday is not expected to be back with the Packers in 2013.

    The Packers need to add some quality depth to the offensive line, mostly because of injury questions, but also because there is no depth at center behind Dietrich-Smith. And there is nobody who is as versatile and talented in the 2013 NFL draft than Barrett Jones of Alabama.

    Jones named All-SEC by both the coaches and writers as the first-team center in 2012, plus was named to the first-team of the Associated Press All-American team, as Alabama won the national title.

    Jones actually played on three national championship teams at Alabama, and he played a different offensive line position on each one of those teams.

    Jones played left tackle in 2011, was named All-American and All-SEC and won the 2011 Outland Trophy. Alabama also won the national championship.

    In 2009 and 2010, Jones played right guard, including his freshman year, when Bama won yet another national title.

    This versatility is the key asset for Jones coming to Green Bay. Jones also has excellent size (6'4", 305 pounds), plus the Packers love offensive linemen who can play different positions.

    Finally, there are some who see Jones falling all the way to the second round in this draft. I just don't see that. Jones has good athletic ability, unbelievable versatility, great leadership skills and a championship-filled resume that leads me to believe otherwise.

Ted Thompson Needs to Stay Aggressive

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    Ted Thompson did something in the 2012 NFL draft that went against his modus operandi. That is, he traded up three times to select a player he was targeting.

    Up until last year, from 2005-2011, Thompson had traded up three times...total. In seven drafts.

    In the 2012 draft, Thompson traded up to select defensive end Jerel Worthy, cornerback Casey Hayward and linebacker Terrell Manning. The jury is still out on Worthy and Manning, but the selection of Hayward turned out to be genius.

    Hayward had led the Packers with six interceptions and 27 passes defended. It led to Hayward being named as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (October) as well being named Defensive Rookie of the Year by ProFootballFocus.com.

    In 2009, Thompson also traded up to select Clay Matthews. One of the draft choices that Thompson used in that trade was the third round selection he received from the New York Jets in the Brett Favre trade.

    Matthews has made the Pro Bowl in four consecutive seasons, and has 42.5 career sacks.

    Thompson also traded up to select safety Morgan Burnett in the 2010 NFL Draft. That picked has turned out very well, as Burnett led the Packers with 123 tackles in 2012, plus had two sacks and two interceptions.

    Thompson needs to be aggressive like that in this draft, when he sees a talented player he covets on the Packers. Green Bay needs just a few more pieces to their puzzle to help get them back to the Super Bowl again.

Have Some Good Fortune

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    Sometimes a team has to have good fortune in the NFL draft. The Packers certainly had that, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers slid all the way to the 24th selection of the first round in the 2005 NFL Draft.

    Just prior to that draft, Rodgers was considered one of two players who might be the first overall choice. The other player (Alex Smith) was selected by the San Francisco 49ers instead. There were other teams in the top ten who had expressed interest in Rodgers too—namely the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jon Gruden, who had the fifth pick that year.

    But that didn't happen either. Rodgers then slid into the happy arms of Ted Thompson later in the first round.

    Sometimes things like that happen in the draft. Players get selected long after they should have been picked. There can be various reasons, such as team needs at that particular time, or the injury status of a player.

    Speaking of injuries, the Packers were able to select running back James Starks in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft because he had missed his entire senior season due to a shoulder injury. Before the injury, Starks had put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Buffalo and rushed for 28 touchdowns those two seasons.

    In the 2013 NFL Draft, one of the biggest questions concerns the health status of running back Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina. Before he suffered a horrific knee injury against Tennessee in the 2012 season, Lattimore was undoubtedly considered the best back in the country. Lattimore also suffered another knee injury in 2011.

    Lattimore was a dual threat at running back as he was a terrific runner (2,677 yards and 38 touchdowns), and pass catcher (74 receptions and two touchdowns).

    Reportedly, Lattimore has made remarkable progress since the injury occurred. The question now is where Lattimore will be selected once teams look at his medical report. Will it be as early as the second round? Or will Lattimore slide to the middle rounds of the draft?

    Will someone like Thompson take a chance on Lattimore? Well, Thompson already took a chance on Starks, and he closely followed running back Christine Michael at last week's East-West Shrine game practices. Michael also has a checkered medical history.

    Time will tell. Fortune favors the bold.

Get Bigger on the Defensive Line in This Draft

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    The Packers added two defensive linemen to their roster in last year's NFL draft, but both are undersized in terms of the prototypical size of linemen in a 3-4 defense. The Packers selected Jerel Worthy (6'2", 308 pounds) and Mike Daniels ( 6'0", 295 pounds) in the 2012 NFL draft.

    The Packers also utilize veteran Ryan Pickett (6'2", 340 pounds), B.J. Raji (6'2", 335 pounds), Mike Neal (6'3", 295 pounds) and C.J. Wilson (6'3", 290 pounds) on their defensive front.

    Preferably, the defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme are supposed to be at least 6'5" and near 300 pounds.

    The Packers have the girth but not the height at that position. Players who are taller can disrupt an offense in more ways than just rushing the passer.

    For one, they can see the play (run or pass) develop more quickly due to their height. Plus, they can react faster to a thrown ball and bat the pass down. The poster child of that skill in the NFL is defensive end J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, who is 6'5" and 295 pounds. Watt batted down 17 passes this year to go along with his 20.5 sacks.

    The Packers need to find a taller defensive end who can disrupt things in many ways. One player who fits this criteria is Margus Hunt of SMU. Like Watt, Hunt (6'7", 285 pounds) is a very athletic defensive end, who also had 17 blocked kicks in his career. 

Find a Nasty and Productive Inside Linebacker

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    The Packers have some questions at the inside linebacker position. Green Bay lost both Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and D.J. Smith (knee) to season-ending injuries. Both are expected to be ready for the 2013 season.

    The injury to Bishop was huge because he is the heart and soul of the Green Bay defense. Nobody hits harder and goes to the hole more aggressively than Bishop. The Packers lost Bishop in the first preseason game.

    Smith took his place, but he hurt his knee in Week 6 versus the Houston Texans. After that injury, the Packers had Brad Jones take over at right inside linebacker. Jones did okay, as he was third on the team with 77 tackles, plus two sacks. Jones is also an unrestricted free agent.

    Left inside linebacker A.J. Hawk had a much better season than he had in 2011, as he was second on the team with 120 tackles, plus three sacks. However, Hawk did not have an interception or force a fumble either. Plus, Hawk has a $5.45 million salary.

    Bottom line, the Packers have to weigh their options with both Jones and Hawk.

    In addition, the Packers also have Terrell Manning, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft. The Packers are intrigued by Manning, who saw most of his 2012 season derailed by illness and injuries. However, the Packers liked what they saw in Manning on special teams, and he was certainly a playmaker at linebacker for North Carolina State in college.

    I expect the Packers to look at the inside linebacker position in the 2013 NFL Draft. One linebacker who might be there for the Packers at pick No. 26 in the first round is Kevin Minter of LSU.

    Minter had a great junior season for the Tigers, as he had 111 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, five passes broken up, an interception and a forced fumble. That led to Minter being named first-team All-SEC.

    There are other inside linebackers who the Packers might target later in the draft, such as Gerald Hodges of Penn State or A.J. Klein of Iowa State. 

    Bottom line, the Packers will get nastier and more productive at inside linebacker next season just with the return of Bishop. They can add to that by finding another player of that caliber in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Find Some Small School Talent

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    The first ever draft choice of Ted Thompson was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, out of the University of California. His second draft choice ever? That would be safety Nick Collins, who went to Bethune-Cookman, a small school out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

    That selection turned out to be a very good pick for Thompson, as Collins had a stellar career in Green Bay before he suffered a neck injury in the second game of the 2011 season, which ended his career as a Packer. Before then, Collins had 21 career interceptions, four of which were returned for a touchdown.

    Collins also returned an interception in Super Bowl XLV for a touchdown.

    Thompson and his scouting staff have been able to find other small school talent as well, such as offensive lineman Allen Barbre (Missouri Southern St.), linebacker D.J. Smith (Appalachian State) and safety Jerron McMillian (Maine). 

    Additionally, the Packers have been able to select some real talent out of schools that aren't in major conferences. Players like wide receiver Greg Jennings (Western Michigan), wide receiver James Jones (San Jose State), right guard Josh Sitton (Central Florida), left guard T.J. Lang (Eastern Michigan), running back James Starks (Buffalo) and cornerback Davon House (New Mexico State) come to mind. 

    That's why you see Thompson at the East-West Shrine game practices, as well as the Senior Bowl practices. The talent is there at smaller schools, and from schools in lesser-known conferences. You just have to find it. Thompson has been able to do that.