Biggest Needs Packers Still Must Address After 2013 NFL Draft
To most experts, the Green Bay Packers had a very successful 2013 NFL draft. The team addressed a number of needs at various positions, and in some cases doubled-down in those areas. Still, there are positions on the team that still have question marks, either with the depth or the stability of the position.
I'm listing five positions that the Packers need to address in the coming months leading up to the 2013 regular season.
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The Packers did not draft a safety in the 2013 draft, although cornerback Micah Hyde, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Iowa, has the ability to play there. The Packers also signed safety Ben Ericksen of Illinois State as an undrafted rookie.
Otherwise, it looks like the Packers seem perfectly happy with M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian vying to win the job at the position of strong safety.
Both received ample playing time in 2012, especially after veteran Charles Woodson missed nine games due to another broken collarbone injury. Both played in all 16 games last season, with Jennings having 52 total tackles, while McMillian had 27.
Each intercepted a pass as well, with Jennings returning his for a touchdown.
Bottom line, both Jennings and McMillian are still developing at the position. To me, I see more upside for McMillian.
The Packers could still address the situation by signing a veteran to help out at the position. Maybe someone like Woodson. Woodson has not found a job yet after being released by the Packers over two months ago.
Is that because of the money Woodson is asking for, or because Father Time has caught up with Woodson and his ability to play in the NFL? That and two broken collarbones in three years.
I could see the Packers bringing Woodson back at the right price, especially because of his leadership qualities.
We shall see.
Left Tackle Stability
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The Packers did select two offensive linemen in the 2013 draft. Both were starters at left tackle. I am speaking of David Bakhtiari of Colorado and J.C. Tretter of Cornell. Time will tell if either will continue to play at left tackle, or if they would be utilized in other areas of the offensive line.
The Packers obviously have high hopes for both Bakhtiari and Tretter, since both were selected in the fourth round.
No matter what occurs with the development of those two players, the Packers have to address the stability of the left tackle position. Marshall Newhouse has been the primary starter at left tackle the past two years and has been inconsistent at times. Furthermore, he is considered a soft blocker in the run game.
There is the possibility that right tackle Bryan Bulaga will move to left tackle (the position he played in college) in 2013, with the Packers keeping Don Barclay at right tackle. The Packers are also hopeful that former first-round draft choice Derek Sherrod will be fully recovered in 2013 from his broken leg from late in the 2011 season and will be able to be an option at the position.
The Packers also have Andrew Datko as a possibility at left tackle as well. Datko was a seventh-round draft pick last year who spent the season on the practice squad. Before he injured his shoulder in college at Florida State, Datko looked to have a very promising future in the NFL.
The Packers just signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the richest contract in NFL history, so it is imperative that the team protects him with the best possible alternative at left tackle (his blind side).
Outside Linebacker Depth
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Going into the 2013 NFL draft, the Packers only had three players listed on their depth chart at outside linebacker. They were Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Dezman Moses. The Packers could also use inside linebackers Brad Jones and Terrell Manning on the outside as well.
The Packers did draft defensive end Nate Palmer of Illinois State in the sixth round. Palmer will become an outside linebacker in the NFL. Palmer definitely has upside, as he had 17 sacks the past two seasons.
The Packers also signed undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba of Eastern Michigan, and he also will make the transformation from defensive end to outside linebacker.
The Packers were hurt at the outside linebacker position in 2012, when Matthews missed four games due to a hamstring injury, while Perry was lost for the season after only six games due to a broken wrist.
Erik Walden, who also played at the position, left the Packers via free agency earlier this year.
Bottom line, the Packers need to make sure their depth chart is solid at outside linebacker this year, just in case the injury bug bites the team again this year at the position.
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After the Packers released center Jeff Saturday earlier this year, the depth chart at center was almost bare. There was starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith, and also guard/center Greg Van Roten. That was it.
The Packers did not draft a center in the 2013 NFL draft, but there is a chance that either David Bakhtiari or J.C. Tretter, who both played left tackle in college, could move inside to play guard or center in the NFL.
The Packers also signed undrafted rookie center Patrick Lewis out of Texas A&M.
It appears that the Packers are very comfortable with Dietrich-Smith at center, especially due to the way he played after replacing Saturday late in the 2012 season and in the playoffs.
But that situation from last year underscores why depth at the center position is vital. The Packers must have a backup center who can step right in for Dietrich-Smith in case there is an injury.
Right now, that situation is still evolving. The organized team activities (OTAs), minicamps and training camp should shed some light on the position.
Backup Quarterback Stability
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Packer Nation crossed its fingers last season, hoping that starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers would not go down with an injury. Not just because he is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but because the depth behind him seemed so lacking.
Why would I say that? The main backup at quarterback is Graham Harrell. Harrell had a very rough preseason statistically in 2012 before finally having a nice performance in the last preseason game of the year.
Then, when Rodgers had to leave a regular-season game versus the New Orleans Saints due to blurred vision because of an eye poke for a few plays, Harrell fumbled the ball trying to hand off on a running play. The play happened just as the Packers appeared to be ready to score a touchdown near the Saints' goal line. The Saints recovered the fumble and almost came back to beat the Packers after that turnover.
The Packers' third-string quarterback last season was B.J. Coleman, who spent the entire 2012 season on the practice squad after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft.
The Packers did not draft a quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft, but did sign undrafted rookie quarterback Matt Brown of Illinois State. Brown had a very productive career in college as he threw 78 touchdown passes, compared to just 36 interceptions.
Bottom line, the Packers need to see better and more consistent play from the backup quarterbacks. The Packers would like to see the strong-armed Coleman push Harrell for the second-string position behind Rodgers.
Perhaps Brown can also make some noise and push both Harrell and Coleman to play better or maybe even make the team (or practice squad) with a strong showing this summer.