We are now officially less than two weeks away from the 2013 NFL draft, which will be a three-day affair starting on April 25.
The Green Bay Packers need to address a few issues in this draft. I have no doubt that general manager Ted Thompson and his staff will do just that. Thompson has built the current Packers team via the draft for the most part.
The Packers are definitely a draft-and-develop team. Thompson and his staff draft the players, and head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff develop them.
This plan has resulted in a 74-38 record in the regular season under McCarthy, to go with five playoff appearances, three NFC North titles and one Super Bowl win.
In the upcoming draft, Thompson needs to fill some holes in the roster and also add to the quality depth of the team.
Let's take a look at some of the issues that the Packers need to resolve.
The offensive line of the Packers was hit hard by injuries in 2012, and that situation severely tested the depth on the line. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed the latter half of the season due to a hip injury. Bulaga was the team's first-round draft pick in 2010.
The first-round draft pick in 2011, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, missed all of the 2012 season due to a broken leg suffered late in the 2011 season. In addition, left guard T.J. Lang missed a game due to an ankle injury. Lang injured the ankle after he switched to right tackle after the hip injury to Bulaga.
That situation put Evan Dietrich-Smith in at left guard, while undrafted rookie Don Barclay became the right tackle after Lang's injury.
After Lang came back, he returned to left guard and Barclay stayed in at right tackle. Dietrich-Smith became the starting center in Week 16 of the season, replacing veteran Jeff Saturday.
Right guard Josh Sitton and left tackle Marshall Newhouse both started all 16 games at their respective positions.
Bottom line, there were issues on the line, even besides the injuries. For one thing, Newhouse did not play much better at left tackle last year compared to 2011.
If everyone is healthy, the Packers will be bringing back quite a depth chart for the offensive line. If the season started on Friday, from left to right, you would have Newhouse, Lang, Dietrich-Smith, Sitton and Bulaga. The reserves would include Sherrod, Barclay, guard Greg Van Roten and offensive tackle Andrew Datko, who spent his rookie year on the practice squad.
The Packers have to address the lack of depth in the interior of the line, notably at center. The perfect candidate would have the versatility to play all the line positions—someone like Barrett Jones of Alabama or David Quessenberry of San Jose State.
Such a player could fill in at center or guard or even play offensive tackle if the situation is warranted.
The defense of the Packers improved quite a bit in 2012 compared to 2011. Two years ago, the Packers finished 32nd (last) in the NFL in total defense. Last year, the defense improved to 11th in the league.
The defensive line did play better last year, as the Packers improved their sack total, from 29 in 2011 (27th) to 47 last season (fourth).
The Packers were ranked 11th against the pass defensively and 17th against the run. That became a real issue in the NFC Divisional Game against the San Francisco 49ers, when the Packers allowed a whopping 323 yards rushing and 523 total yards to quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option offense of the Niners. It all led to a resounding 45-31 defeat.
Right now, the depth chart for the defensive line includes Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels. Jerel Worthy is expected to miss some significant time in 2013 due to an ACL injury he suffered late in the 2012 season.
The NFL also reinstated Johnny Jolly, who has missed the last three years due to his off-the-field issues. When he was able to play, Jolly was effective, but he is a long shot now based on all the time he has missed.
The Packers need to try and find a replacement for the aging Pickett, who is nearing the end of a solid career in Green Bay after signing as a free agent in 2006. The Packers also need to get taller at the defensive end position and bring in someone who can play the run effectively and also apply pass pressure.
The Packers did get a number of sacks from the line, led by Neal's 4.5. Wilson and Worthy added 2.5 sacks apiece, while Daniels had two.
That number needs to keep improving, as does the ability to stop the run.
Some prospects to consider are Datone Jones of UCLA, Margus Hunt of SMU and Sylvester Williams of North Carolina.
The Packers have a massive hole now at strong safety after the release of Charles Woodson. Yes, Woodson missed nine games last year due to another broken collarbone, but it's hard to say whether his future replacement is on the roster.
Both M.D. Jennings and rookie Jerron McMillian received significant playing time in 2012, but both are works in progress. They played in all 16 games last year, and each had an interception. Jennings returned his for a touchdown.
The Packers are in good hands with Morgan Burnett at free safety. Burnett had a good year, leading the Packers in tackles with 123. He also had two interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles and recovered one.
Of the two candidates on the roster who can play strong safety, McMillian probably has the better upside, mostly due to his tackling ability.
Still, I expect the Packers to draft a safety fairly early in the draft to add to the competition.
This would include prospects like Eric Reid of LSU, Phillip Thomas of Fresno State and T.J. McDonald of USC.
When you check out any defensive back prospects in the draft (like Matt Elam of Florida), you have to remember one detail. Ted Thompson has never drafted a player who was shorter than 5'11". Elam is 5'10".
The Packers had a smorgasbord of running backs last year. First, it was veteran Cedric Benson, who was signed as a free agent in training camp after James Starks suffered a turf toe injury in the first preseason game.
Benson rushed for 248 yards and a touchdown before he suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 5. Alex Green then received an opportunity, and he ended up leading the Packers in rushing with 464 yards before he wore down late in the season. Green had issues with the scar tissue from his ACL injury he suffered the year before.
Starks also had his chances too, and he once again flashed some talent at times (255 yards rushing and a touchdown), but he also followed the pattern of getting hurt again. Starks missed the first part of the season with the turf toe injury and then suffered a knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13.
By the end of the season, the Packers might have found their option at running back. The Packers signed DuJuan Harris as a "street" free agent in the regular season, and he ended up starting two games at the end of the year. He had 157 yards rushing with 4.6-yard average and two touchdowns.
In the playoffs, Harris was solid, as he rushed for 100 yards and had two touchdowns.
The Packers will probably pass on bringing back Benson but keep Green and Starks, who both need to improve their consistency and productivity while staying healthy. The Packers also have Brandon Saine, who ended up on injured reserve last year due to a knee injury.
Right now, the starting job is Harris' to lose. The Packers want to add another back in the upcoming draft to share the load with the 5'9", 208-pound Harris, who is quick and hits the hole hard.
Some prospects that Ted Thompson has closely observed include Eddie Lacy of Alabama, Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Christine Michael of Texas A&M.
The Packers have seen their depth chart at wide receiver get smaller this offseason, as veteran Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings left via free agency to join the Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers have plenty of talent still on board.
Randall Cobb led the Packers with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. James Jones led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches and also had 64 receptions for 784 yards. Jordy Nelson added 49 receptions for 745 yards and had seven touchdowns.
That depth came in handy for the Packers last year, as Jennings missed eight games due to an abdominal tear and Nelson missed four games due knee/ankle issues. Cobb also missed a game with an ankle injury.
The Packers also have two other young receivers with some upside in Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross.
It's important to note that Jones will be an unrestricted free agent again after the 2013 season.
Expect the Packers to draft a wide receiver in this draft, most likely in the early rounds—at least based upon Ted Thompson's modus operandi for drafting wide receivers.
In his nine years running the draft for the Packers, Thompson has drafted four wide receivers in Round 2 (Terrence Murphy, Jennings, Nelson and Cobb) while drafting another (Jones) in the Round 3.
Prospects that the Packers might be considering include Terrance Williams of Baylor, Robert Woods of USC, Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech and Kenny Stills of Oklahoma.