Why Phillip Thomas Is the 1 Player the Packers Must Grab in the NFL Draft

Bob FoxContributor IMarch 20, 2013

Dec 24, 2012; Honolulu, HI, USA;  Southern Methodist Mustangs running back Zach Line (48) rolls under Fresno State Bulldogs strong safety Phillip Thomas (16) into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports
Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL Draft is quickly closing in for the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 teams in the NFL. The draft will be held in five weeks, and teams are scrambling to get their draft boards in order.

I've done two mock drafts so far for the Packers, with the first one in early February and the most recent one earlier this month.

The Packers have a number of needs, as they try and figure out a strategy for the upcoming draft, in which the Packers will have eight draft picks, one for each round, and also an additional compensatory fifth round selection.

Looking at what the Packers need to do in this draft to fortify their 2013 squad, there are some obvious issues on the roster. For one, the Packers need to add quality depth to both the offensive and defensive line positions.

Expect to see a linebacker selected as well.

The Packers will also add to their running back depth, as well as an addition to the wide receiver corp, which has recently seen the retirement of Donald Driver and the defection of Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings via free agency.

Speaking of free agents, the Packers released veteran safety Charles Woodson a few weeks back, and there is now a void on the roster due to his departure. I believe that is a key position for the Packers to try and upgrade. Most likely through the draft.

Right now, the Packers have M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian on hand to try and fill the shoes of Woodson at strong safety. Both are still developing however, even with the extending playing time both received in 2012, as Woodson missed several games due to another broken collarbone.

One player who filled Woodson's corner-slot role in the nickel defense last season very effectively was rookie Casey Hayward. Hayward led the Packers with six interceptions, plus led the team with 27 passes defended. In addition, Hayward was in on 53 tackles.

I had my eye on Hayward back when he played for Vanderbilt, and I correctly had the Packers taking him and outside linebacker Nick Perry in one of my mock drafts last year.

There was a lot about Hayward to like. His senior year at Vandy, Hayward had seven picks, and ended up with 15 for his career. That type of production and ability showed up his rookie year in the NFL as well.

I feel the same way about another defensive back in this year's draft. To me, this player could fill the departed roles of both Woodson and Nick Collins very well. That player is Phillip Thomas of Fresno State, who incidentally was one of the players I had the Packers selecting in my most recent mock draft.

Like Hayward, Thomas showed off his ball-hawking skills his senior year, as he led the nation with eight interceptions. Like Woodson and Collins had done so often in their career, Phillips also returned three of those eight picks for touchdowns.

Not only is Thomas great in pass coverage, he also can deliver quite a blow to opposing ball carriers or receivers. Thomas had 82 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, plus forced four fumbles. 

That led to Thomas being named to the AP All-American first-team. The former Bulldog was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Thomas continued showing off his athletic skills at the Senior Bowl, where he looked very good in the coverage drills.

I talked to coach recently from the Mountain West Conference who had to face the 6'0", 208 pound Thomas in 2012, and he was very impressed with the play of the hard-hitting safety. The coach used words like "instinctive, physical, athletic and versatile" in describing Thomas.

When it comes to today's NFL, which has developed into a pass-first league without a doubt, it's imperative that every team should improve the quality depth in the defensive backfield. A talent like Thomas would certainly help.

The Packers might try and look at free agency to find another safety, as the Baltimore Sun reported that the Packers were among a number of teams interested in Michael Huff.

Still, the Packers are a draft and develop team, first and foremost. That is Ted Thompson's formula. That is what head coach Mike McCarthy and and his coaching staff focus on each and every year.

I expect Thompson to be aggressive in this year's draft, just like he was in 2012. Last year, Thompson traded up three times in the draft, including twice in the second round. One of those trade-ups netted him Hayward.

Don't be surprised if the same strategy is used again this year. That plan might just allow him to grab two quality players in the second round again. And one of the players might be named Phillip Thomas.