Yes, I know there are still three games to play in the 2013 season for the Green Bay Packers, but it's never too early to take a look at the draft prospects for the 2014 NFL draft and also the possible selections for the Pack.
A lot will change between now and the time of the draft. First, when will the Packers pick? It depends on how their season ends. Their pick could be anywhere from the middle-teens of the first round to the early-20s of the round.
Also, we still have a number of things that have to go on to scout the various prospects. Like the East-West Shrine game (which I'll be at), the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine and the various pro days that the prospects will have.
In the past, although I'm no Nostradamus, I've had a pretty good track record regarding whom the Packers might select in the draft.
In my final 2013 NFL mock draft, I correctly said that the Packers would take defensive end Datone Jones. In an earlier mock draft, I had the Packers taking Eddie Lacy in the first round. The Packers did indeed take Lacy, but they selected him in the second round instead.
I have had similar success in other mock drafts I have done in the past.
Why? I try to get into the head of Ted Thompson and the way he thinks and also look at players who fit the offensive and defensive schemes that the Packers utilize.
With that being said, let's take a look at some prospects who I believe would help the Packers in 2014 and beyond.
Weight: 311 pounds
Most recent mock drafts have the Packers taking a tight end in the first round. That is certainly a possibility, based on all the questions the Packers have at that position. But even with those questions, I think Ted Thompson will be looking to help out his defensive line in the draft, first and foremost.
Why? B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson are all unrestricted free agents. Add to that, the defense has been ravaged by teams running the football very successfully as of late. And that all starts with the battles being lost in the trenches.
I expect the Packers to re-sign of couple of the defensive linemen, but more talent has to be added to the defensive line, just like the 2013 NFL draft when Thompson selected defensive end Datone Jones in the first round.
That's why defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman would be a wise choice in the first round. Hageman is a mountain of a man and can be dominant, especially in stopping the run.
In 2013 for the Minnesota Gophers, Hageman has 34 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, eight passes batted down, one interception and two sacks.
Hageman was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team by both the coaches and the media.
Weight: 215 pounds
Drafting a safety early in the 2014 NFL draft has to be a priority for Ted Thompson. The play of safety Morgan Burnett has been up and down in 2013 after he signed a contract extension in the offseason.
The other safety position has been a disaster. The Packers hoped that either M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian would be an effective player in the secondary. That has not happened.
McMillian was recently released, and Jennings was benched last week after missing a tackle. Missing tackles has been an epidemic this year for the defense of the Packers, especially in the secondary. Besides missing a tackle that led to a touchdown, Jennings has also been less than mediocre in pass coverage all season. In fact, he doesn't have one pass defended in 13 games.
A perfect compliment to Burnett in the 2014 draft would be hard-hitting safety Deone Bucannon from Washington State. Burnett can rattle one's teeth with his hits, plus he is very effective in pass coverage.
In 2013, Bucannon has 85 tackles, three forced fumbles and five interceptions. In his first three years playing for the Cougars, Bucannon averaged 90 tackles a season, forced four fumbles and had nine interceptions.
Bucannon was also named to the All-Pac-12 First Team by the coaches.
Bottom line, Bucannon has the size, ability and the track record for being a very effective strong safety in the NFL.
Weight: 246 pounds
The Packers also have questions at the linebacker position. Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk is probably having his best year of his career in 2013, but he is also in his eighth NFL season. The other inside linebacker position has been manned by Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore, and both have had solid moments, but they have also missed time due to injuries.
Speaking of injuries, outside linebacker Clay Matthews missed four games this year with a broken thumb but still is a force when healthy. There have also been a number of injury issues at the other outside linebacker position, as both Nick Perry and Mike Neal have been hampered with various ailments and have also missed playing time.
Still, between the three of them, they have 14 sacks. The Packers have been forced to use rookies Nick Palmer and Andy Mulumba at times at outside linebacker.
Bottom line, the Packers need a real playmaking linebacker, and also someone who has the skills to play either inside or outside. That player is Chris Borland from Wisconsin.
Borland has played in both the 4-3 and the 3-4. He has played inside and outside. No matter where you put No. 44, he's always making plays.
In his career at Wisconsin, Borland has 411 tackles, a whopping 50 tackles for a loss, 14 forced fumbles, 17 sacks and three interceptions.
Some scouts feel that Borland is a bit undersized at 5'11", but scouts said the same thing about linebackers like Sam Mills and Zach Thomas.
Borland was named 2013 All-Big Ten First Team by both the coaches and the media.
Bottom line, all Borland does is make big plays on a consistent basis.
Weight: 241 pounds
As I mentioned in a previous slide, the Packers have a lot of questions at tight end.
Jermichael Finley was having his best year when he suffered a neck injury that put him on injured reserve. He had a spinal fusion surgery procedure done last month to correct the damage done when he was injured. Time will tell whether No. 88 can continue his NFL career. Plus, Finley will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Andrew Quarless is just now returning to form, as he had six catches for 66 yards last week versus the Falcons. Quarless suffered a devastating knee injury late in the 2011 season and missed all of the 2012 season. No. 81 will also be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Than there is Ryan Taylor, who is used mostly on special teams, where he is one of the best players on those units. Both Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner have some upside, due to their pass receiving skills, especially having the ability to split the seam down the field.
Still, I expect the Packers to pick a tight end fairly early in this draft. As I also mentioned earlier, most mock drafts have the Packers taking a tight end in Round 1, where there will be an opportunity perhaps to draft a very talented tight end, by taking either Jace Amaro from Texas Tech or Eric Ebron from North Carolina.
I like both of those players, but I also think the Packers can select a very nice talent in Round 4 if they pick Jacob Pedersen from Wisconsin. Most draft boards have Pedersen going in later rounds, but I believe his stock will continue to climb as he goes through the process.
Pedersen has had a fine career as a Badger, as he has 101 career receptions for 1,344 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pedersen has the frame to put on weight and get stronger, plus you have to be skilled as a blocker to even play in the Wisconsin offense.
Pedersen was named 2013 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by both the coaches and the media.
Wisconsin has put a number of talented tight ends in the NFL as of late, and I believe Pedersen will add to that list, as I see him having a skill set similar to that of Jason Witten of the Cowboys.
Weight: 185 pounds
Based on the way the Packers have returned kickoffs in 2013, it is apparent that the team needs someone who has real ability to return kicks. The Packers have averaged 18.8 yards a return this season, which is dead last in the NFL.
Rookie Micah Hyde returns both kickoffs and punts for the Packers now, and has done a pretty decent job returning punts, as evidenced by a 93-yard return against the Vikings earlier this season. Hyde has a 12.7-yard return average on punts and a 21.6 average on kickoffs.
The Packers definitely had a quality return man returning kicks for the team in 2011 and 2012, when Randall Cobb returned one kickoff for a score and three punts for touchdowns. But the team wanted Cobb to focus on his wide receiver job in 2013, plus it thought it had a capable return man in Jeremy Ross.
But Ross was cut early in the season, as he didn't flash any of the ability he showed late in the 2012 season. Since then, Ross has flourished for the Lions, as he has two returns for touchdowns for Detroit this season.
The Packers could also use some more depth at the wide receiver position, as currently there are only four wide receivers on the roster; Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and rookie Chris Harper. Cobb is on the injured reserve; designated to return list due to a leg injury, while rookie Myles White was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
James Jones will also be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Christion Jones from Alabama could help both of those units. Jones has had 66 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in his career.
But he is really a threat returning kicks. Jones has returned two punts for touchdowns and one kickoff for a touchdown in 2013. Overall, Jones has four returns for touchdowns, and has a 12.2 average returning punts and a very healthy 28.6 average returning kickoffs.
Jones was named 2013 All-SEC First Team by the coaches.
Weight: 319 pounds
If there is one constant theme when the Packers select an offensive lineman in the NFL draft, it's that the lineman has versatility. Versatility to play multiple positions, and also to play on both sides of the line.
But before the draft, the Packers will have some questions going into the 2014 season.
Will left tackle Bryan Bulaga return to form after missing all of the 2013 season with an ACL injury?
Will the Packers re-sign center Evan Dietrich-Smith, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014?
Will former first-round pick Derek Sherrod ever play up to his potential after suffering a horrific leg injury his rookie year in 2011?
Will the younger offensive linemen like Don Barclay, David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter take the next step and get better?
One offensive lineman who probably won't be back is Marshall Newhouse. No matter what position he has played recently, his performance has been getting worse with each appearance.
That's one of the reasons I think the Packers will add another offensive lineman who has the versatility that the Packers like to see from their linemen. That would be Andrew Norwell from Ohio State.
Norwell can play both guard and tackle. Norwell played very solidly at left guard for the Buckeyes in both 2012 and 2013, especially in run blocking. No. 78 also has played left tackle in 2011, when Mike Adams was suspended for five games. Norwell also has the ability to play on the right side of the line.
Norwell was also named 2013 All-Big Ten First Team by the media and 2013 All-Big Ten Second Team by the coaches.
Weight: 186 pounds
The Packers also have some questions at the cornerback position. For one thing, Sam Shields will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014. Secondly, Casey Hayward has to prove he can play like he did in his rookie year in 2012 (when he had six interceptions), as his 2013 season was derailed by hamstring issues.
Tramon Williams still has his moments, but he obviously is not the same player he was in 2010, when he was named to the Pro Bowl, plus had three picks in the postseason for the Pack.
Davon House also looks good at times but has been too inconsistent overall. Rookie Micah Hyde has been pretty good overall, as he is a solid tackler and has had to man the slot-corner position that Hayward played in 2012. Hyde might eventually end up playing safety when it's all said and done.
Veteran Jarrett Bush comes in from time to time to play when he is needed, and although he obviously has limitations in coverage, he has his moments, much like he did in the game against the Falcons last week, when he broke up a pass late in the game and then sealed the victory with a pick. Bush is still the best special teams player that the Packers have, as nobody on the team works harder in practice (and after).
You can never have enough cornerbacks in today's pass-happy NFL, which is why I think the Packers will draft another cornerback in the 2014 NFL draft. A good late selection would be Deven Drane from Cincinnati.
Drane has eight career interceptions for the Bearcats, defended 24 passes, plus returned a fumble for a touchdown. Drane's father Dwight played for the Buffalo Bills for eight seasons. If nothing else, Drane would help on special teams.
Drane was named to the 2013 All-American Athletic Conference Second Team.