In part one of our Packers’ offseason special, we’ll take a look at the team’s draft needs. The number one need for the Packers in 2010 is far and away the offensive line. In 2009, the position was a bit of a question mark due to age concerns on both ends of the spectrum. At left tackle, Chad Clifton was entering his 10th season fresh off a year of lingering injuries, while Allen Barbre was preparing to make his first start ever at right tackle.
Clifton would wind up missing four games and Barbre was ousted by free agent pick-up Mark Tauscher seven weeks into the season. Left tackle replacements Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang had trouble adjusting to the position when Clifton sat with an ankle injury and do not seem like long-term replacements; the verdict is still out on Barbre.
The aforementioned Tauscher came in as an important stopgap, starting nine of the team’s last ten games and improving the right side of the line considerably. Just like Clifton, Tauscher’s age and health are concerns. Neither can be considered starters longer than next year, at the latest.
Inside, the guard position was expected to be one of the stronger positions on the line, but left guard Daryn Colledge regressed in 2009, putting his future with the Packers in jeopardy. He started all 16 games but allowed eight sacks and provided little in the run game. Once projected to take over for Clifton at left tackle, Colledge’s future is at risk if he can not prove last year was just a fluke.
Keeping the offensive line afloat in 2009 was right guard Josh Sitton, who put together a Pro Bowl-caliber season while starting all 16 games for the Packers. Sitton allowed just three sacks, less than Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson, and was the go-to-guy on the majority of run plays. With the way he played last season, it’s safe to say the right guard position in Green Bay is locked up for years to come.
Jason Spitz was expected to make a splash on the line, but a back injury in November cut his season short. Scott Wells took over, putting together an average season in 2009. He didn't make the Packers worse, but he certainly didn't make them any better either. Wells will again fight for his starting role with Spitz, assuming Spitz is brought back.
Spitz and Colledge are both restricted free agents, so both are expected to be back. However, the presence of T.J. Lang could make things interesting and shake up the rest of the line. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are also free agents, which is where the offseason will come into play.
If the Packers feel Lang is ready to start at guard or right tackle next season, it is possible Tauscher, Spitz, or Colledge could get the ax. However, the most likely outcome from the offseason is that Tauscher will be brought back to start at right tackle, and Spitz will be back to compete at center. Colledge was Green Bay’s best offensive lineman in 2008 and still has room for improvement.
Ted Thompson has a lot of players he wants to secure, and he more than likely will not overpay for a left tackle. Combine that with his love for mid-round offensive linemen and there is no reason to believe he will do much during free agency.
The Packers might be able to survive 2010 with their current offensive line, but beyond that there are major question marks. The Packers have the 23rd pick in the first round of the draft next year; at this position there should be a left tackle available if everything goes according to plan.
Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and Maryland’s Bruce Campbell are at the top of the draft board, while Rutgers’ Anthony Davis is also expected to be off the board when the Packers pick. After those three, Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga, Southern Cal’s Charles Brown, and Oklahoma’s Trent Williams are all options.
Two things will determine whether or not the Packers go with a left tackle in the first round next year: Clifton’s health and ability to play another season, and the mid-round prospects that interest Thompson. Since 2000, Thompson has never used his first selection on an offensive lineman.
Thompson has had little success through free agency when it comes to offensive linemen, and with five of his current players in need of contracts, he probably won't dip into free agency. It is still too early to predict who Thompson will pick, because there are sure to be risers and fallers after the Senior Bowl and Combine, but offensive line is one of his favorite positions to go for later in the draft.
The Packers will surely take at least one offensive lineman in the draft, and it would be no surprise to see one or two more holding up Packers’ jerseys come April.