Though the draft is still 16 weeks away, it's never too early to begin examining the Green Bay Packers' needs this offseason. Though prospect rankings will fluctuate and mocks will need to be revised as the Packers re-sign any of their 17 unrestricted free agents, the following seven-round mock highlights the team's biggest areas of need as Ted Thompson begins considering what his draft board will look like.
Positions at major areas of need include include safety, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive tackle.
This mock is a straight-up seven-round draft; it does not account for projected compensatory picks the team will receive. It also attempts to place equal emphasis on both value and need, as, infamously, Thompson is unlikely to reach for a position of need or pass up the best player available on the board at key positions.
Mocks are, of course, made difficult pending the re-signing of key unrestricted free agents, so players were chosen that would add depth and value to the team regardless of what the Packers do here. Above all, prospects were chosen who were highly probable to be available when the Packers are on the board (pick No. 21 in Round 1 and then in each round thereafter, barring a trade).
Thus, a backup quarterback is not included in the mock as it's likely that the Packers will re-sign Matt Flynn and, having him in addition to Scott Tolzien sitting behind Aaron Rodgers, will not need to waste a pick on a backup quarterback.
It also assumes that, in keeping with his usual mode of operating and especially in a year with 17 unrestricted free agents, Thompson will not fill a major position of need (such as safety) in free agency.
There's disagreement as to whether Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Alabama's Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is the No. 1 free safety in the draft.
Regardless, since the St. Louis Rams (picks No. 2 and No. 13), the Tennessee Titans (pick No. 11), the Chicago Bears (pick No. 14) and possibly the Dallas Cowboys (pick No. 17) could all go after a safety in the first round, it's unlikely both Pryor and Clinton-Dix will last until the Packers pick 25th (No. 57 overall) in the second round.
Unless Ted Thompson wants to wait for USC's Dion Bailey in Round 3, it's likely he fulfills this need without sacrificing value, as neither would be a reach at pick No. 21.
CBSSports.com and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah have Pryor being taken off the board ahead of Clinton-Dix, while NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranks Clinton-Dix as the No. 1 overall safety. ESPN.com doesn't even have Pryor being selected in the first round.
It's safe to assume at this point in mid-January that Clinton-Dix will be the first safety taken, likely by Tennessee or St. Louis, which will have the opportunity to select for a position of need with the No. 2 pick and are unlikely to pass up on a safety with the 13th pick.
Thus, if Pryor is on the board at No. 21, expect Thompson to snatch him up. It's entirely possible that Pryor is a better fit for Green Bay than Clinton-Dix, regardless. He's an incredibly physical tackler who takes correct angles on his tackles and can defend the run as well as the pass, excelling in man-to-man.
He's a game-changer for Green Bay's struggling secondary who would make an immediate impact, and with both need and value such a plus, Thompson will be hard-pressed to pass on him.
Picking toward the end of the second round, the Packers will have an opportunity to make an incredible value pick with Stanford's Shayne Skov while also fulfilling arguably the team's second-highest position of need after safety.
It's not that A.J. Hawk didn't produce on the stat sheet for the Packers in 2013. He had a career-high five sacks, doing his share to step up in the absence of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry and lead an effective outside pass rush. He also forced and recovered a fumble.
Still, Hawk and Brad Jones have drawn criticism for their lack of speed, especially when drawn into coverage. Skov is an explosive inside 'backer who can make tackles in the open field and also shed blocks in the box.
Though he's listed at 245 pounds, his speed is a huge attribute, having also played wide receiver and safety. A Week 1 starter for sure, Skov could be just the boost the Packers need as they look to start 2014 with the same aggressiveness in the run defense as they did in 2013.
Packers defensive linemen B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly will all become unrestricted free agents in March, and it's virtually certain that the team won't re-sign all four players.
Perhaps the Packers let Ryan Pickett walk and move Raji to nose tackle. Maybe they elect not to re-sign Raji and sign the 34-year-old Pickett to a one or two-year deal. It's still unclear if Jolly will have surgery following the neck injury he suffered against Dallas and whether that would inhibit him from returning.
Regardless of the free-agent moves Green Bay makes before May, a wide body up front is an area of need. Kelcy Quarles, listed at 6'4" and just under 298 pounds, is an ideal candidate to convert to a 5-technique defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.
Quarles displays initial burst off the ball, plays low and is much larger than Datone Jones and Mike Daniels, the two frontrunners for the 5-tech position. Daniels, given his pass-rushing ability, has proved especially effective as the 3-technique. His height is also well-suited to that position.
Green Bay could bring Quarles in either for depth or to compete with the first-rounder Jones, who was disappointing in his first season.
Either way, a cornerstone of the 3-4 defense is a large 5-technique defensive end, and Green Bay would do well to select Quarles in the early rounds rather than wait to draft one later.
If the Packers medically clear Jermichael Finley to play and re-sign him, Ted Thompson isn't likely to draft a tight end in the fourth round; even if the Packers elect to let unrestricted free agent Andrew Quarless walk, they'd still have Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner on the bench.
However, if Finley is not re-cleared, which is likely given the nature of his injury and the Packers' history with not clearing players (like Nick Collins) who injure the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae, Green Bay needs to make finding a pass-catching tight end a priority.
The Packers struggled in red-zone production all season, but it became especially apparent after Finley's injury. Finley was a constant red-zone target for Aaron Rodgers, and neither Quarless nor Bostick has yet been able to fill that role. Though many people are not impressed with C.J. Fiedorowicz's 299 receiving yards for the Hawkeyes in 2013, he also (and more importantly) had six touchdown receptions.
There's no doubt that with Rodgers and not Jake Rudock throwing him the ball, Fiedorowicz could become the receiver that Finley was. He has soft hands despite his large frame (6'7" and 265 pounds). He's also a physical blocker.
The Packers shouldn't look for a tight end higher than the fourth round, but when they do, Fiedorowicz will be the best option available. He's a valuable upgrade as a weapon for Rodgers and can make an immediate impact in the system.
It's a universal truth on defense, but especially so in a 3-4 scheme: A team can never have too many pass-rushers.
Without an effective outside pass rush, the 3-4 loses its potency. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry both out of commission for five games in 2013, Green Bay had to turn to Mike Daniels (6.5 sacks) to bring the pressure from the interior.
At one point in the Wild Card Game against San Francisco, rookie Andy Mulumba was the only healthy outside linebacker available for the Packers. While the team can hope that Matthews doesn't suffer a major injury next season and that Perry continues the improvement he started to show in 2013, it can't go wrong drafting a playmaker like Michigan State's Denicos Allen in the fifth.
In 2013, Allen led the Rose Bowl champion Spartans in tackles with 91, tackles for a loss with 15 and ended the season with 5.5 sacks.
Allen is undersized for an outside 'backer at 5'11" and 218 pounds. However, he takes the right angle on his tackles and has impressive burst off the line. His speed makes him an explosive player, while his size enables him to slip past blockers to get after the passer or ball-carrier.
The Packers should continue to give Perry an opportunity to develop on the outside as a complement to Matthews, but Allen would be a key acquisition to give the position depth and possibly competition for starting spot.
If the Packers re-sign James Jones, they'll have a formidable quartet of receivers: the "Big Three" (Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb) as well as the breakout Jarrett Boykin, who proved himself to be an adept receiver all over the field in 2013.
However, it's possible Green Bay won't re-sign Jones, especially considering Nelson and Cobb are both about to enter contract years. Adding a receiver in the late rounds for depth isn't a bad use of a draft pick, and Cody Hoffman out of BYU is an intriguing option.
Larger than Jones at 6'4" and 210 pounds, Hoffman is incredibly difficult for defenders to cover. He's also been consistently productive; he exceeded or came close to 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons. He was especially productive in 2012, with 100 receptions and 1,248 yards.
Rodgers could find that Hoffman is able to make a lot of the same catches as favorite target Nelson; his film is peppered with acrobatic catches on the sideline.
Especially if the Packers let Jones walk, the sixth round is a good place for Thompson to consider picking up a quality receiver to develop in the system.
The Packers are likely to let Marshall Newhouse walk this offseason, but they'll have Derek Sherrod and J.C. Tretter finally healthy and returning to start 2014 (pending an injury-free training camp and preseason).
The seventh round is a nice place to pick up the depth on the offensive line they'll lose if Newhouse isn't re-signed, and it would be tough to find an offensive lineman more physically gifted than Cornelius Lucas.
At a towering 6'9" and 328 pounds, Lucas was a dominant left tackle on Kansas State's line. His wingspan is enormous, making it incredibly difficult for pass-rushers to sneak by him. Despite his imposing frame, he still displays the athleticism of a smaller player.
Lucas could benefit from some skill sharpening, which is why he is currently projected by CBSSports.com to go in Round 6 or Round 7. His size, while a benefit, can also be a hindrance in tacking angles and finding leverage.
Given some time to develop in the Packers system under offensive line coach James Campen, Lucas's unique physical attributes could be refined, making him an excellent rotational player on the line.