Altered Draft Plans for the Green Bay Packers?
With the recent re-signing of Chad Clifton, the Pack have addressed their short-term need of OT help along the O-line, which couldn't have come at a better time. Especially with the Bears' recent signing of Julius Peppers, which has made the NFC North a real hot spot for defensive units that can get after the QB (see the Minnesota Vikings 48 sacks posted in 2009).
Of course, this is not to say that Clifton is their long-term hope, but he will shore up a glaring hole long enough for a younger player to get some much-needed development time. So where does this leave Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy headed into this year's draft? Well, it does give them a little bit of breathing room to go after the best player on the board, which Ted has historically done.
As far as "needs" are concerned I think everyone can agree that the O-Line still needs a lot of help and shoring up the defensive backfield is just as paramount. When reviewing the 2009 season these were the two units that struggled the most, especially after Harris went down for the season. The O-line did manage to get it together towards the end of the season just as the DBs took a step back. Al Harris probably won't be up to full speed until October and the younger DBs struggled down the stretch with penalties and double moves.
Now part of these defensive struggles can be attributed to the move to a much appreciated 3-4 attacking style of defense, where DBs get all of the risk and reward of the pass rush—or lack there of. We do have some talented, fast young cornerbacks that, hopefully, have been growing their skills under the expert tutelage of Charles Woodson and Al Harris, who aren't getting any younger.
So, where does that leave us headed into this year's draft? Well, the needs haven't shifted much, but we do have an insurance policy with Clifton. This year's draft class is deep with O-Linemen thru the first round and then tapers off quite a bit. And looking over all of the mock drafts, most of the premier O-Linemen are gone before the Pack have a chance to pick. One can hope a Brown or Campbell falls in their lap, but rest assured Ted's probably not going to trade up, despite the 2009 draft. If anything, he may trade out for more picks.
Let's consider that the Pack stay with their picks and throw a curveball in the mix that few analysts have considered. Ted Thompson believes in the young players that he has drafted and he has taken mid-to-late round CBs several times—there are 10 CBs on the depth chart. This is also true for O-Linemen: Looking at today's depth chart, they have 11 O- Linemen headed into camp, already. Ted is not one to give a drafted player a full three years of development before throwing in the towel without merit; see Justin Harrell, who, by the way, McCarthy has been raving about recently.
Defense wins championships, and as I recall, the last score of the season was a 51-45 loss. Now the offense was clearly capable of putting points on the board, but the defense was essentially a no-show. This is true for almost all of the losses the Packers had during the 2009 season. From the Pittsburgh late-game collapse all the way through the Tampa Bay debacle, the offense did their part, but the defense fell through.
Now, playing a 3-4 attacking defense, it's important to have a stable full of young, fast linebackers and you need a minimum of 12 going into training camp. We have 10 and some of those aren't going to make a 53-man roster, as a given. Dom Capers loves to play his "Big Okie" Package (5-2); in fact, in the latter half of the season we saw it at least 40% of the time. Kampan just signed with the Jags, which everyone knew was going to happen. Given that information, the question marks we have with our existing LB corps and the need to get a pass rush (only 37 for 2009), it is probably already decided the Packers are going after another LB or tweener DE/LB with their first pick. And it just so happens that most mock drafts have Sergio Kindle as a late-first-round pick still on the board when the Packers pick with No. 23. Keep in mind, this year's draft is very deep when it comes to quality LBs.
To sum up, I believe that if the right sort of LB is on the board, don't be surprised if the Packers make that pick and then go after O-Linemen and CBs in the later rounds. Sure, that may fly in the face of what analysts have been predicting, but it does make sense when you think about it and factor in Clifton's signing.
Only 44 days to go and then it won't be guessing anymore.
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