The Green Bay Packers' Round 1 Big Board Before Combine
The Packers will be keenly looking at some early-round prospects who will be able to help the team in 2014 and beyond.
After the combine, the players will get a chance to raise their draft stock even further by performing individual drills at their various pro days.
Then the actual 2014 NFL draft will take place from May 8-10 in New York City.
Before the draft, teams will get an opportunity to supplement their rosters through free agency, which begins March 11. The Packers might actually be players in free agency this year, at least according to a report last week by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
If the Packers do indeed land free agents, their draft strategy might change somewhat. It depends on the position or positions which are supplemented in free agency.
Right now, the major needs of the Packers are at safety, defensive line and linebacker.
I expect the Packers to be aggressive in the upcoming draft. I expect Thompson to trade up at some point early in the draft to select a player that he is targeting, much like he did in the 2009 NFL draft when he traded up to select Clay Matthews late in the first round (pick No. 26).
I've put together a list of 15 first-round, big-board prospects that the Packers will watch closely at the combine.
The list is put together based on where the Packers will select in the first round (pick No. 21). I've also listed some late-first and early-second round prospects that the Packers might trade up to select.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
Weight: 209 pounds
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the top safety in the draft. In the past two seasons at Alabama, Clinton-Dix had 89 tackles, seven interceptions, 10 passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Scout Chris Landry gave me his take regarding Clinton-Dix last month on Steve Duemig's radio show in Tampa, Florida: "Clinton-Dix is the best of the bunch (safeties). He's got really good size. I think he's got good range. I think he's physical and I think he's got the ability to make plays on the ball."
Safety Calvin Pryor (Louisville)
Weight: 208 pounds
After Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor is the next best safety in this draft. The 2014 NFL draft is deep at the safety position, but only Clinton-Dix and Pryor are rated as first-round prospects by CBS Sports.
In his career at Louisville, Pryor had 218 tackles, seven interception and a whopping nine forced fumbles.
Pryor created 16 turnovers in three years as a Cardinal. That knack for producing takeaways is an attribute that the Packers desperately need from the safety position.
Defensive Lineman Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota)
Weight: 318 pounds
Ra'Shede Hageman has great size and strength, plus he can play inside or outside on the defensive line. Hageman's biggest attribute is stopping the run.
In 2013, Hageman had 34 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, eight pass deflections, one interception and two sacks.
Defensive End Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)
Weight: 322 pounds
Like Ra'Shede Hageman, Stephon Tuitt has excellent size and strength. The big difference between the two is that Tuitt is better at rushing the passer.
In the last two years for the Fighting Irish, Tuitt had 96 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception for a touchdown.
Defensive End Kony Ealy (Missouri)
Weight: 275 pounds
Kony Ealy has the height the Packers are looking for from their defensive ends, but he will probably need to bulk up a bit.
In his three-year career at Missouri, Ealy had 95 tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.
Nose Tackle Louis Nix III (Notre Dame)
Weight: 345 pounds
There's a chance that the Packers could be losing both B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett to free agency. Even if Pickett is re-signed, the Packers will still need a big run-stuffer for the future in the middle of their defensive line.
Louis Nix III can provide that for the Pack. In his career at Notre Dame, Nix had 122 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, eight passes deflected and one forced fumble.
Defensive Lineman Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)
Weight: 288 pounds
Aaron Donald is an undersized defensive lineman, much like the Packers have currently with Mike Daniels. But like Daniels, the production on the field is there for Donald.
Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley (Alabama)
Weight: 232 pounds
The 2013 NFL draft is fairly deep at the inside linebacker position, but there is only one inside linebacker rated right now as a first-round prospect by CBS Sports. That would be C.J. Mosley.
Mosley has the skill set to be a three-down linebacker. In his career at Alabama, Mosley had 319 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 24 passes defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Outside Linebacker Dee Ford (Auburn)
Weight: 243 pounds
Dee Ford played defensive end at Auburn, but he looks to be an outside linebacker in the NFL.
In his career as a Tiger, Ford had 93 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Outside Linebacker Trent Murphy (Stanford)
Weight: 252 pounds
Trent Murphy got some looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Murphy played outside linebacker at Stanford.
In his last three years as a member of the Cardinal, Murphy had 158 tackles, 51.5 tackles for a loss, 31.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns).
Outside Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (BYU)
Weight: 244 pounds
Kyle Van Noy was a very productive player at linebacker for BYU. Van Noy plays the run and pass equally well.
In his career at BYU, Van Noy had 223 tackles, 61.5 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, seven interceptions (two for touchdowns), 21 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State)
Weight: 197 pounds
The Packers might select a player like cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the first round, depending on what happens with Sam Shields in free agency. Either way, in today's NFL, you can never have enough good cornerbacks.
In his career as a Spartan, Dennard had 167 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, one sack, 10 interceptions, 26 passes defended and three forced fumbles.
Tight End Jace Amaro (Texas Tech)
Weight: 260 pounds
Jace Amaro ranks second to only Eric Ebron of North Carolina as the best tight end in the 2014 NFL draft. Amaro has excellent size and works the middle of the field very well.
The Packers might lose their two most productive tight ends (Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless) in 2013 to free agency.
In his career at Texas Tech, Amaro had 138 receptions for 1,818 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Tight End Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)
Weight: 276 pounds
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a huge tight end, who has also been very productive on the field.
In his three-year career as a member of the Huskies, Seferian-Jenkins had 146 receptions for 1,840 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has also improved his blocking throughout his career at the University of Washington.
Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State)
Weight: 235 pounds
Kelvin Benjamin has excellent size for a wide receiver and would always be a threat in the red zone.
The Packers would think about selecting a wide receiver like Benjamin, especially if veteran James Jones leaves via free agency this year. In addition, both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are due to be free agents next year.
In his short two-year career at Florida State, the big wideout was very productive for the Seminoles. Benjamin had 84 receptions for 1,506 yards and 19 touchdowns.