Many have argued that our first pick at No. 23 should be a pass-rushing OLB to complement Clay Matthews III, who had a tremendous rookie season.
In this article I hope to present evidence to show that that player is already on the Packers' roster.
His name is Brad Jones.
After Aaron Kampman was placed on IR after week 11 of the regular season, Brad Jones was inserted into the starting lineup and did a solid job for a rookie. He had 4.0 sacks, half a sack more than Kampman with three games less to produce. I admit that most of his sacks were probably coverage sacks or due to the QB rolling away from Matthews, but it's something to work off.
Apparently the coaching staff is hoping for him to gain another 10 pounds. I believe that offseason training, OTAs, and mini-camp with the first team defense will help him immensely as well.
Brad Jones played OLB and was great at getting to the QB at Colorado and was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round as a 3-4 OLB. After Kampman was hurt, Jones was immediately inserted, which at the time I thought was very strange: Why not have Brady Poppinga, who was a starter until Matthews took over the Sam OLB spot, step in?
Sure, Poppinga seems to get a lot of penalties and may not be a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme, but shouldn't a previous starter and a player with actual game experience be a better option than a rookie who you have never seen on the field?
Well, Jones got the nod, and the coaching staff never looked back.
Green Bay's only free agent activity so far has been the re-signing of LT Chad Clifton. Ted Thompson is known to be very quiet during free agency and instead focuses on the draft; he furthermore likes to keep the roster young and cheap (the Packers have been one of the youngest teams in the NFL for around five years).
So why did Thompson give Clifton, who is 34 years old and has had a couple surgeries, $20 million over three years with a $7.5 million bonus? Because of continuity.
Simply put, there is no one behind Clifton that is remotely good enough to protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side, and LT (much like a 3-4 pass rush OLB), is a position that a team just can't wait for a player to develop at. They must be able to step in and contribute immediately.
Also consider that at the beginning on the year, Thompson decided to go with the cheap and young option of Allen Barbre at right tackle instead of bringing back Mark Tauscher, who was coming off a knee surgery. Barbre was a complete disaster, and Thompson was forced to bring back Tauscher midseason.
Now look at what happened when Aaron Kampman went down in week nine. Thompson didn't go out and find an OLB off the street to replace Kampman, who, despite being awkward at 3-4 OLB, was still a good pass rusher. He also hasn't had to overspend on a UFA in the free agency market after Kampman signed with Jacksonville (Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are still out there).
To me this means that Kampman was never seen as a part of the Packers' 3-4 defense, and if Brad Jones was a complete flop, they could always move Poppinga over and draft an OLB high in the 2011 draft.
This, added to the fact that the Packers apparently weren't very active in trying to retain Kampman during free agency, seems to point to the fact that Jones was considered a cheaper and, more importantly, better option.
4. Other Needs
As I mentioned before, Thompson is probably bashing his head into his desk right now at the huge amount of money that he had to spend to keep Clifton with the Packers.
Obviously this was the right decision, with Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Kyle Vanden Bosch now all part of the NFC North, but the structure of the deal makes it seem more like a one-year deal at best, meaning that the Packers will need to groom a replacement now.
Thompson showed last year that in the face of a huge need due to the switch to the 3-4 defense, he could draft for need instead of the best player available. With a league-high 51 sacks allowed last year, this means that offensive tackle is going to be one of the first couple picks of the draft (I personally think it should be the first pick, and they might have to trade up to get it).
After that, there are other huge needs, most importantly in the secondary. Assuming that the Packers want to bring in another OLB, I can't really imagine one being taken until an offensive tackle (two would be even better) and at least a cornerback are drafted. After that, I think Thompson goes back to the BPA approach.
O'Brien Schofield apparently had an interview with the Packers during the draft, so maybe they will draft him, but probably on the third day.
In conclusion, based off of the Packer's offseason activities and the general philosophy that Ted Thompson employs, it appears as if the Packers think very highly of Brad Jones and might see him as a potential starter for years to come.