This will be the first in a series of reports where I will be analyzing the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft from a Green Bay Packers perspective. This first article will focus on general needs and a potential strategy to meet those needs.
The NFL mock draft season is upon us, and while I am a contributor to what I consider one of the better NFL draft sites , from my viewpoint, it’s too early to be making predictions about who the Packers will draft.
Of course, it’s still fun to do, but there are still so many other questions to be answered. Will there be a salary cap? Will the Packers be able to re-sign most of their own free agents? Will Ted Thompson dip his toes a bit deeper than usual into the free agent waters? Will Thompson look to trade from a position of depth to fill a need? Can players coming off of IR be counted on for 2010?
So what we will focus on here is exploring the right draft strategy for the Packers. For the purpose of this discussion, we are going to assume the Packers' roster will be very close to how they finished the season, with the addition of Patrick Lee, Will Blackmon, and Jason Spitz coming off of IR. It would take a miracle for Al Harris to be ready in time, and Aaron Kampman’s situation is so up in the air, I’ll leave them out of the equation for now.
The Packers’ needs positions are basically five: OT, CB, OLB, S, RB. The main thing to consider is, will the Packers be drafting to make a run at the Super Bowl THIS year, or will they continue to build long-term depth? I propose that there is a way to do both. Ted Thompson needs to go back to his previous draft day m.o. and TRADE DOWN.
Most draft experts have been reporting a significant drop in talent level after the first 20 players, with a fairly flat plateau of talent over the next 30-40 spots. Drafting at the top of that range is a poor value.
At No. 23, will there be a top-flight impact player like Clay Matthews available at any of the Packers' needs positions? CB Joe Haden will be gone. OTs Okung, Davis, and Bulaga will be gone. S Eric Berry will be gone. The only possibility would be at OLB, with Brandon Graham probably gone, but Ricky Sapp, Sergio Kindle, and Jerry Hughes still available. It’s very likely, however, that one of these players would be still be available 10-20 picks later. So why not address multiple needs?
Possible trade partners could be Tampa Bay, holding picks 35 and 44 or New England, with picks 42, 47, and 53, among others. For example, a trade of the Packers first (No.23) and fifth (No. 150) round picks for Tampa’s second (No. 35) and third (No. 67) is pretty equal value according the the trade charts. That would give the Packers a total of four picks in the second and third rounds (Nos. 35, 56, 67 and 86). That’s an opportunity to pick up four of the best 100 players in the country. Of course, there would have to be someone high on Tampa’s wish list at 23 for them to be interested.
Looking at the Packers' needs, most people would say that left offensive tackle is the most glaring need. The odds are pretty slim, however, of landing a player at No. 23 that can step in and start at LT immediately. If you don’t believe that, I’ve done some research and will present the results in an upcoming article.
So the question is, do the Packers use their No. 1 pick on an OT that may need a year or two of bulking up and seasoning? The answer depends on Chad Clifton. If Clifton is back for another year, then perhaps you can afford to pass on an OT in the first round. That is, unless someone like Bulaga or Davis falls into your lap. Regardless, Selvish Capers, Ciron Black, Jason Fox, and Roger Saffold are all good prospects and one of them will be there for the Packers in round two.
But let’s go back to what the Packers are feeling for 2010. Do they think this is THE year to make a run at the Super Bowl? If it is, then I would first be looking for an impact pass rusher to compliment Clay Matthews. Despite the progress made overall by the defense in 2009, lack of a pass rush against the better quarterbacks was the single factor that most impacted and defined the Packers season.
And in my opinion, that was also the main difference between the Packers and the Super Bowl Champion Saints. In big games against top quarterbacks, the Saints were able to significantly pressure those quarterbacks, throw off their timing, and physically wear them down. The Packers gave some great quarterbacks a mostly free ride and lost games they could have won.
So, while it’s still early, my initial thoughts on strategy would entail re-signing most of the Packers’ own free agents, addressing one of the five needs through free agency, and accumulating 4 picks in rounds two and three to address the other 4 needs.
In most years, this would be a strategy that could fit in nicely with Ted Thompson’s way of thinking, although he rarely admits to drafting for need. In 2009, he reversed course out of necessity. The Packers were switching to a 3-4 defense so the impetus was there to make picks at the two most important 3-4 positions, NT and OLB.
In 2010, the Packers are on the cusp. The transition to a defensive roster of 3-4 style players must continue, and they must find a way to protect the quarterback. There are various other strategies that could address those issues and possibly vault the Packers into the “Big Game.” Much can and will change between now and draft day, but this would be my approach based on what we know right now. Of course, tomorrow is another day…