7 Names Every Green Bay Packers Fan Should Know Ahead of 2014 NFL Draft
The Green Bay Packers' draft needs are obvious, for the most part, and certain prospects at positions of need have been connected with the team in countless mock drafts and draft previews for months.
Though general manager Ted Thompson drafting an out-of-left-field prospect can never be ruled out, most people who are on top of the Packers' personnel needs know they will be going after players in the following position groups in the 2014 NFL draft: safety, inside linebacker, defensive lineman, tight end and wide receiver.
That means that safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Ryan Shazier, defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and tight end Eric Ebron have become go-to projections for the Packers. But in all likelihood, Green Bay would be lucky to walk away from the draft with one of those players.
The following slides prime Green Bay fans for the draft by providing breakdowns of players whose names are less well-known than Clinton-Dix, Mosley, Shazier and Hageman.
Fans should know those names too—most already do.
The following seven players are realistic options that Thompson is likely to have on his draft board to fill some of the Packers' most pressing needs for 2014.
Ed Reynolds (FS, Stanford)
If Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are off the board when the Packers pick in the first round, free safety Ed Reynolds out of Stanford is one of the very next names Ted Thompson will have on his draft board.
Green Bay needs a ball hawk, and after a year in which the safety group—including starter Morgan Burnett—produced zero interceptions, the Packers may need to draft for that skill.
His production dropped to one interception in 2013, but there's no denying that he has a nose for the ball. That probably comes from his days of playing running back in high school.
He also excels in taking angles, which would go a long way to eliminating the Packers' problem with missed tackles. According to Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel, Reynolds has said that football is "a game of angles," and he's talented at finding the right ones.
A bruising hitter, he will have to be mindful of the NFL's strict enforcement on illegal hits, though if the Packers are interested in Pryor, they won't find Reynolds' hard-hitting style to be any more objectionable.
If he's available for the Packers in the second round, Reynolds is a playmaker who could be the answer at safety.
Deone Bucannon (SS, Washington State)
If the lack of turnover opportunities was the Packers' biggest issue on defense in 2013, Bucannon could be the solution next season.
Some feel that the team needs a free safety rather than a strong safety. It's true that the Packers need a ball hawk above all else, but Morgan Burnett isn't locked into playing every snap at strong safety.
He was tied for having the third-most passes defended among all NFL safeties, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and he proved he can play at either spot at the end of 2013, when he played free safety so that Sean Richardson could play strong safety.
The top-ranked strong safety in the draft, Bucannon will likely still be on the board by Green Bay's pick in Round 2 and could be a value if the team waits until Round 2 to take a safety.
The 215-pound Bucannon is a hard-hitter, but he can also create turnovers for the secondary. He tied for the lead in interceptions in the Pac-12 in 2013 with six—and he led the conference in total tackles with 114.
That versatility is exactly what the Packers need to boost a struggling safety group that failed to take the correct angles in tackling and to record interceptions in 2013.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
The Packers just gave Andrew Quarless a two-year, $3 million deal, but does that mean he's the favorite for the starting tight end nod in 2014?
After Jermichael Finley's injury in Week 7 last season, Quarless had 28 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He showed improvement by the end of the season, but is he the pass-catching tight end that Aaron Rodgers needs in his arsenal?
It shouldn't come as a surprise if Green Bay drafts a tight end in the early rounds to compete with Quarless. The Packers met with nearly every top prospect in this year's draft prior to or at the combine—including Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Troy Niklas (the next player on this list), according to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.
Seferian-Jenkins has excellent size at 6'6" and 276 pounds, which allows him to be a skilled blocker as well as a difficult-to-cover pass-catcher. He'll leave Washington with a collection of school records, including career receptions by a tight end (110), career receiving yards by a tight end (1,388) and career touchdown receptions by a tight end (13), as well as single-season records.
His agility and technique despite his size make him a sure-handed target for a team in need of a pass-catching tight end, and his height and physicality can make him a go-to red-zone target.
The stress fracture revealed in his foot at the NFL combine shouldn't prove a deterrent to his draft stock—he is expected to be 100 percent by the medical re-check on April 26, per Pro Football Talk.
Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
At nearly 6'7" and 270 pounds, Troy Niklas is difficult to cover, which could prove useful in red-zone situations, where the Packers struggled to convert in 2013.
However, unlike fellow tight end Seferian-Jenkins, Niklas' size is somewhat of an impediment to his speed and his route-running ability. He'd be tasked with working on that in Green Bay's offense.
Notre Dame split him out wide often, in addition to running him out of the slot, and he would have to prove capable of continuing to line up in multiple positions for the Packers to consider him.
His experience at linebacker makes him a skilled blocker, but a major plus in his receiving game is his hand control. He doesn't drop many balls, and his height ensures that he's able to get separation more often than not.
Overall, he's a complete tight end, having only played the position for two years. Ted Thompson may have a hard time passing on him if the value is right.
Marcus Smith (DE, Louisville)
The Packers had interest in defensive end Marcus Smith, who will likely convert to an outside linebacker in the NFL, back in February before they re-signed Mike Neal and acquired Julius Peppers in free agency.
Do they feel that the pass rush is adequately built? Knowing Ted Thompson, if Smith is available for a value pick in the draft, the GM may want to pick him up and develop him in Green Bay's system.
Peppers' deal is structured in such a way that Green Bay may choose to cut him after one year. He'll have a cap hit of just $3.5 million in 2014, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky...but that hit jumps to $12 million in 2015 and $10.5 million in 2016.
Peppers isn't a long-term solution to Green Bay's pass-rush, which struggled in 2013, and drafting Smith would be an investment in the future.
Some might feel he's too much of a tweener for a team that already has many players who fit that mold in Neal and Nick Perry, but Dom Capers has been and will be adjusting his defense to suit the strengths of those men, who can play outside, line up with their hands in the dirt or play the Elephant end position, which Green Bay plans to use extensively in 2014.
Smith possesses the agility and athleticism to be used in a variety of ways in a front seven, and those talents may be best developed in the Packers' 3-4 scheme that utilizes hybrid players.
Mike Davis (WR, Texas)
An outside receiver in the vein of Mike Wallace, Mike Davis still needs some development. But as the Packers look to develop wide receiver depth and possibly a No. 4 after losing James Jones in free agency, Davis has the natural physical gifts and could benefit from spending time in Green Bay's offense.
Capable of making acrobatic in-air catches like Jordy Nelson, Davis would provide another outside option for Aaron Rodgers. He has excellent size in his hands, but that's a weakness as well, as he has had more than a few drops in his Texas career.
Of course, Brandon Marshall led all wide receivers in drops in 2013, per Pro Football Focus, and was still the highest-ranked receiver, so drops alone should not deter Ted Thompson from considering Davis.
He needs discipline, and with increased maturity and the right coaching to coax all the talent from his inherent physical skills, he could be a starting-caliber receiver. If the Packers want to add depth to the receiver group and could afford to give him a season to develop, Davis may be a hidden gem in the fourth or fifth round.
Cody Hoffman (WR, BYU)
Despite losing James Jones in free agency, Green Bay's receiving corps is still strong, with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as well as breakout star Jarrett Boykin, who proved to be skilled all over the field in 2013.
However, this high-octane passing offense needs a No. 4 to make many of its four-wide plays possible, and it's not clear that Myles White or Chris Harper is that player. Adding a receiver has become a higher priority than it was at the start of the offseason, and Cody Hoffman out of BYU could be a high-value, low-cost choice.
At 6'4" and 210 pounds (larger than Jones), Hoffman is difficult for defenders to cover. He's also consistent in his production. He has exceeded or almost exceeded 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons. He was especially productive in 2012, with 100 receptions and 1,248 yards.
Aaron Rodgers may find that Hoffman can make many of the same catches as favorite target Nelson; his film is a virtual highlight reel of acrobatic back-shoulder sideline catches.
With receiver depth being what it is in this year's draft class, expect Thompson to pick up a quality receiver to develop in the system.