Green Bay Packers Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

Green Bay Packers Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 NFL draft could be the most important of Ted Thompson's career in Green Bay, and the Green Bay Packers will have needs to fill on the defensive line, at safety, at linebacker and at tight end.

    From February 22-25, the Packers will observe prospects at each of those positions at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, measuring everything from the hands of tight ends to the motors of inside linebackers. The following players are ones the Packers are likely to target, ones they'll be watching closely and a sleeper who could prove to be an incredible value should Green Bay select him. 

    From the measurables, like the 40-yard dash and the bench press, to the positional drills for tight ends, defensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers, the following guide includes the key players and what to watch for each of them.

Target: Calvin Pryor (FS)

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    In a draft year that could see as many as five safeties taken in the first two rounds in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Deone Bucannon, Ed Reynolds and Jimmie Ward, the Packers should target Louisville's Pryor. He's a complete safety who is as strong against the run as he is in coverage, and he may be the most physical player in the draft—period—per NFL.com's draft preview.

     

    What to Look For

    Watch Pryor closely in the back pedal, speed turn and catch drill that defensive backs run at the combine. He hasn't been asked to play a lot of man coverage at Louisville, and it's the biggest potential weakness he could display.

    If, however, he proves adept at the speed turn, as he would need to in man coverage, Green Bay should have very few reservations about selecting him in the first round, especially as Clinton-Dix is likely to already be off the board.

Prospect to Watch: Timmy Jernigan (DT)

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    NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported last Wednesday that the Packers could look to get smaller and faster on the defensive line, which means that 337-pound B.J. Raji and 338-pound Ryan Pickett, both unrestricted free agents, are likely on their way out. The Packers will need a nose tackle, and while it's possible they look to free agency to fill the need, expect them to keep an eye on Florida State's Timmy Jernigan.

     

    What to Look For

    Though Jernigan weighs in at a trim 292 pounds compared to a big boy like Raji, he's proven he can be an effective 3-4 nose tackle at Florida State. Still, the Packers will want to pay attention to Jernigan's overall size and how that affects his stance off the snap.

    They'll need a powerful two-gapper to anchor the run defense up front, and they will want to see if Jernigan is the right size to do it. They'll likely discover that his strength is greater than his frame would suggest.

Sleeper: Preston Brown (ILB)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The first names off the tongues of anyone discussing inside linebacker prospects in the 2014 draft class are C.J. Mosley, Shayne Skov, Chris Borland and Christian Jones. But the Packers might get more than they would bargain for from Preston Brown out of Louisville, a physical tackler who has great instincts and could be excellent if paired on the inside with A.J. Hawk. 

     

    What to Look For

    Green Bay's biggest issue at inside linebacker has been speed, with Brad Jones demonstrating a disappointing lack of fit.

    Hawk has been better but still not ideal. Therefore, whoever the Packers decide to add on the inside will need to be particularly fast, and if Brown can wow them with his 40-yard dash time, he could emerge as a surprising sleeper at linebacker. 

Prospect to Watch: C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE)

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    Yes, the Packers are willing to spend big in free agency, per Rapoport on NFL Total Access (via NFL.com's Dan Hanzus), but primarily in order to rebuild the defense. That makes it less likely they'll be able to afford a potential free-agent tight end like Dennis Pitta or Dustin Keller to fill that need...but it also means they'll be able to select a tight end higher in the draft, and they could look for C.J. Fiedorowicz near the end of Round 3.

    The 6'7", 265-pound Fiedorowicz out of Iowa is an excellent blocker, but his size could make him the red-zone threat the Packers were missing after Jermichael Finley's neck injury. 

     

    What to Look For

    For Fiedorowicz, it's all about the gauntlet. This drill will tell the Packers everything they need to know about Fiedorowicz's hands and accuracy.

    Not nearly utilized as a receiver as often as he could have been at Iowa, he would play a big role as a pass-catching tight end in Green Bay's receiving corps, and the Packers' primary objective would be to make sure he would be a reliable red-zone target for Aaron Rodgers

Target: Kyle Van Noy (OLB)

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    The Packers need to build the linebacking corps up to be a dominant pass-rushing unit. If they are in fact going to go smaller on the defensive line, the linebackers must be faster. Nick Perry deserves a chance to show the team what he can do opposite Clay Matthews when he's consistently healthy, but in looking to make that unit elite, Ted Thompson will likely have BYU's Kyle Van Noy in mind for Rounds 2 or 3.

     

    What to Look For

    Matthews' motor doesn't have an off switch, and because cloning him isn't an option, the Packers need to find a similarly motivated match for him on the other side. Van Noy has a great build, and the strength is there, but he needs to demonstrate in the pass-rush drills that he has the skills to get after the quarterback consistently, proving himself a disruptive force on every play.