Ranking Green Bay Packers' Top 5 Draft Needs

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 24, 2014

Ranking Green Bay Packers' Top 5 Draft Needs

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The 2014 NFL draft will probably be the most important one Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers has presided over in the nine years he has run the front office at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

    The Packers have some glaring needs at a number of positions. Plus they will have 20 free agents on their roster this spring, and 17 of those players are of the unrestricted variety.

    Under Thompson, the Packers have always been a draft and develop team, but this year more than most, he needs to really hit some picks who will contribute right away as rookies.

    In 2013, Thompson did exactly that when he selected running back Eddie Lacy, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari and defensive back Micah Hyde. Thompson needs more than three of his draft picks in 2014 to help out right away, at least in the position areas that need the most help.

    That being said, the majority of the draft picks that Thompson has selected have shown a stark improvement in years two and three with the Packers. The Packers hope that will be the case with other draft picks from 2013, like defensive end Datone Jones, running back Johnathan Franklin, offensive lineman JC Tretter, defensive linemen Josh Boyd and linebacker Sam Barrington.

    Even with improvement from those players in 2014, the Packers still need to have a dynamic draft in May to offset the expected losses in free agency this offseason and to improve on the positions which are obviously in need of assistance.

    I'll list those positions in this slideshow.

Safety

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    In 2013, the safeties of the Packers did not intercept a pass the entire season.

    That hasn't happened in Green Bay since the early 1950s. In addition to that, both starting safeties, Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings, blew a number of coverages, and each had a number of missed tackles as well.

    Burnett, who signed a contract extension this past offseason, hurt his hamstring in training camp and missed the first three games of the season. After that he was too inconsistent in both his coverage assignments and his tackling, as he had a team-high 17 missed tackles.

    Jennings was even worse. He also missed his share of tackles and always seemed to be a second or two late in coverage. Jennings beat out Jerron McMillian in the 2013 training camp to become a starter, but that didn't prove much, as McMillian was later released during the season.

    The coaches had Sean Richardson share some time with Jennings late in the season, and although he was a better tackler, he also has coverage issues. Chris Banjo is more of a special teams player.

    The one person on the roster who could switch over to safety is Micah Hyde. Hyde primarily played the slot-cornerback position for the Packers this year as a rookie, as Casey Hayward missed most of the year with a hamstring injury. Hyde played some safety his senior year at Iowa and has qualities that should suit him well at the position.

    For one thing, he is a very good tackler.

    Jennings is a restricted free agent, and I would not be surprised if the Packers opt to say good bye to No. 43 and not offer him another contract.

    In terms of the draft, the Packers are fortunate that this is a very deep draft for safeties this year. If the Packers opt to select a safety in the first round, the two players who look to be taken there are Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Calvin Pryor from Louisville.

    I had the Packers taking Pryor in the first round in my second mock draft.

    There are also a number of safeties who could be taken in either the second or third round. This group includes Deone Bucannon from Washington State (second-round pick in my first mock draft), Ed Reynolds from Stanford, Dion Bailey from USC, Craig Loston from LSU and Tre Boston from North Carolina.

Defensive Line

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    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    Not too long ago, I had a conversation with scout Chris Landry regarding the early draft strategy of the Packers in 2014.

    Landry thinks that both the safety and the defensive line positions are priorities for the Packers, but that the defensive line is where Ted Thompson might go in the first round due to more value at the position in this draft.

    There will certainly be some changes on the defensive line in 2014. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson are all unrestricted free agents. The Packers may re-sign one or two of those players or perhaps not bring any of them back.

    My guess is that the Packers will have to bring back either Raji or Pickett to play nose tackle. Right now, I'm leaning that they will bring back the 34-year-old Pickett because he will cost a lot less. If that happens, Green Bay would need to draft a young nose tackle to groom for the future.

    In terms of the draft, I recently did a story regarding five defensive linemen the Packers should target.

    Ra'Shede Hageman is at the top of the list. I had the Packers taking him in the first round of my first mock draft. Hageman hasn't disappointed at the Senior Bowl, as he has looked good all week in practices and drills.

    The Packers should also look at players like Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame, Louis Nix III from Notre Dame, Deandre Coleman from Cal, Kelcy Quarles from South Carolina and Beau Allen from Wisconsin. All of them have proven to be capable performers in the trenches.

     

Linebacker

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    In baseball, you often hear the adage that a team has to be strong up the middle defensively. The same holds true defensively in football. The Packers need to get stronger up the middle defensively in all areas, but definitely at inside linebacker.

    That being said, veteran A.J. Hawk had his finest season ever as a Packer at inside linebacker in 2013, racking up 118 tackles, five sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

    The other inside linebacker position was manned by both Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore. Combined they had 117 tackles and five sacks. But they were both hampered by injuries, plus were inconsistent.

    The inside linebacker position is lacking a player who makes tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, in addition dropping back into coverage.

    There are a number of options for the Packers in the 2014 draft. One player is Chris Borland from Wisconsin, who is having a fine week at the Senior Bowl. I had the Packers selecting Borland in the third round in my first mock draft.

    Another player the Packers should consider is Shayne Skov from Stanford, who I had the Pack taking in the second round of my second mock draft.

    C.J. Mosely from Alabama will probably be off the board by the time the Packers select in the first round (21st pick).

    The Packers could also be looking at outside linebackers in this draft. Clay Matthews had 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games. The other outside linebacker position was manned by both Nick Perry and Mike Neal, who together had nine sacks and four forced fumbles.

    Neal is an unrestricted free agent, while Perry has been hampered by injuries his first two years in the NFL.

    If the Packers do decide to utilize the draft in terms of getting another outside linebacker, there are two players who have stood out to me: Trent Murphy from Stanford and Kyle Van Noy from BYU. Both players will probably be off the board after the second round.

    In 2013, Murphy had 62 tackles, 24.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one forced fumble and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown.

    Van Noy had 68 tackles with 17.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions for the Cougars in 2013.

Tight End

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    Mike McGinnis/Associated Press

    Both Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless will be unrestricted free agents, and if the Packers opt to bring one of the two back, I would believe it would be Quarless for three reasons.

    For one, No. 81 would cost less money. Secondly, Finley had a neck fusion procedure after his scary injury, and his football future is still in doubt. Thirdly, Quarless played pretty well down the stretch for the Packers in 2013, as he had 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns.

    There are three other tights ends on the roster. One is Ryan Taylor, who is used mostly for blocking and special teams. Then there is Brandon Bostick, who flashed some seam-stretching ability for a brief period in 2013, hauling in seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown before he broke his foot. Finally, there is Jake Stoneburner, who didn't have a catch this season, but showed some nice receiving ability in training camp.

    In terms of prospects in the 2014 NFL draft, there are three tight ends who will most likely be drafted in either the first or second round, if the Packers decide to go that route. They are Eric Ebron from North Carolina, Jace Amaro from Texas Tech and Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington.

    If the Packers decide to look for a tight end a bit later in the draft, there are two players with Midwest ties the team could look at, one being C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa, whom I had the Packers taking in my second mock draft in the third round and the other being Jacob Pedersen from Wisconsin, whom I had the Pack taking in my first mock draft in the fourth round.

Offensive Tackle

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If all hands are healthy, the Packers should be in good shape with their starting offensive tackles in 2014. The backups are another issue.

    Bryan Bulaga missed all of the 2013 season after he tore an ACL in the Family Night scrimmage early in training camp. Bulaga was starting to get used to playing left tackle after playing the other tackle position his first three years in the league.

    Rookie David Bakhtiari stepped in at left tackle and had a solid season protecting the blind side of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. No. 69 also showed some nice run-blocking ability, especially when he got out in space, demonstrating the agility to get to the second level.

    The only question in 2014 regarding Bulaga and Bakhtiari is who will play where. My guess is that Bakhtiari will remain at left tackle and Bulaga will return to his former home at right tackle.

    There are a number of questions regarding the backups, however. Don Barclay started at right tackle in 2013 but still had trouble with edge-rushers. Like in 2012 though, Barclay was better than average in run-blocking. Barclay is an option as a backup, but he looks to be a better fit on the inside of the offensive line.

    2014 will be a huge year for former No. 1 pick Derek Sherrod (2011), as he finally made it back to the roster in 2013, after suffering a terrible leg injury late in his rookie season. Sherrod did not get any playing time however, and 2014 will be a make or break season for him.

    Marshall Newhouse is an unrestricted free agent, and I don't see the Packers bringing him back, as his play has gotten worse over the past three seasons.

    Therefore, I expect the Packers to build depth at offensive tackle at some point during the draft.