2011 NFL Offseason: Best Ways the Packers Reload for Next Year

Alex PetersonContributor IIIApril 3, 2011

2011 NFL Offseason: Best Ways the Packers Reload for Next Year

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    Coming off one of the most remarkable playoff runs in NFL history, the Packers looked like a force to be reckoned with in 2011. Even with key multiple players going on injured reserve early in the season such, the Packers were still able to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.

    With all those players back and healthy again this season however, the Pack looked stacked at just about every spot on the field. They have youth and talent at just about every position, but even with all this skill on one squad, Green Bay still has some positions where improvements could be made.

    Whether it be adding depth or needing to stabilize a position, every team can get better in some way. 

    In order for the Packers to repeat their super bowl success last season, Ted Thompson will need to pick up players to fill in positions of need from last years team. In this article, we are going to assume the lockout eventually gets resolved sometime this summer, so trades and free agency will be used to fill holes on this team.

    If the Packers are able to successfully fill the missing pieces on their roster, every team in the NFL will be chasing the cheeseheads for a championship ring in 2011.

    (The needs will be listed in order from least pressing to the biggest team need)

Running Back: Why It's a Need

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    A lot of people have been saying that running back is a major need for the Packers, but looking at their backfield, they look pretty solid overall.

    Ryan Grant is coming back from an ankle injury last year, and even though he is getting up in age, Grant has been solid in the past and should have a few more good years left in him.

    Behind Grant sits running back James Starks, who exploded in the playoffs after missing most of the regular season with an injury. While Starks' yards per carry average in the playoffs were not outstanding, he ran hard, uphill and fits the Packers blocking scheme well. Also, if you take into account the tough defenses Starks had to run against, he truly was outstanding for a rookie who was playing his first football in over a year.

    While injuries are a concern for both Grant and Starks, the Packers have a solid and deep backfield when you add John Kuhn into the mix as a third and short specialist.

    However, with Brandon Jackson a free agent, the Packers could use a game breaking third down back to counter the hard running style of Grant and Starks.

    While not a pressing need, the Packers could use a back next year for depth and explosiveness.

Solution #1: Use 7th Round Pick on RB Noel Devine

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    While Devine isn't big enough to carry the ball a lot for a team, I think this back out of West Virginia is the perfect fit for the Packers third down back spot.

    Devine was a game breaker in college, posing a threat for a touchdown every time he was handed the ball. He has run the forty in the low 4.3's, and shows great quickness and acceleration out of the backfield.

    Devine is also a threat in the receiving game, pulling down more than 60 balls during his time as a Mountaineer.

    This kid perfectly fits the kind of back the Packers will be looking for, and while size is no question an issue, it makes a lot of sense for the Packers to take him with the first pick in the 7th round.

    This is a low risk high reward option, as Noel would not only fit perfectly in the Packers screen packages and draw plays, but he has had a lot of experience and success returning kicks which could certainly help the Packers.

Solution #2: Resign Brandon Jackson

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    Packers fans have thrown Brandon Jackson out, tearing him apart for his terrible season on the ground in 2010.

    While I don't blame Packer nation for being mad at Jackson after running the ball so poorly, Brandon isn't on the team to be a featured back. He was thrown into the role unexpectedly after Ryan Grant hurt his ankle, and while he looked awful in that spot last season, he truly is an exceptional third down back.

    Jackson has been extremely successful as a receiving back for the Packers in his tenure. He has caught 110 passes in four years with Green Bay, and while a lot of that has been forgotten because of his poor running abilities, Jackson can still be an effective weapon.

    While not the fastest player, Jackson shows good elusiveness out of the back field and is a good change of pace back.

    Not to mention, Jackson blocks as well as any back in the league, and that certainly is helpful while trying to protect Aaron Rodgers.

    It seems like people think Jackson is no longer an option for Green Bay, but he should be because he still fits into the Packers backfield well. It might be a perfect match like Devine, but if the Packers want a bigger and more battle tested player, Jackson is certainly an option.

Wide Reciever: Why It's a Need

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    The Packers had a solid receiving core last season with four players having over 500 yards. They had a lot of depth and skill at receiver, but in 2011, that could all change for Green Bay.

    With James Jones entering free agency, he could easily get a big deal from a team desperate for receiving help. The Packers might not be able to give him a ton of money like other teams might be willing too, so he could be gone next year.

    Donald Driver will be back next year, but the question is, will he be back in full form? Driver struggled this year with injuries and age is starting to become a factor for the veteran wide out. If Donald sees production fall again this year, the Packers could see a major decrease in skill at receiver. 

    Driver will eventually need to be replaced and if Jones doesn't come back to Green Bay, the Packers will need to add depth to a receiving core that will be weaker than last year's group.

Solution #1: Sign WR Malcom Floyd

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    Ted Thompson doesn't have a history of signing free agents, but if James Jones leaves via free agency, I think Floyd makes perfect sense for the Packers.

    Not only will Floyd most likely be a bit cheaper than Jones, he also has the size and athleticism that the Packers need in their receiving core.

    Floyd is a player who can stretch the field and make big plays, racking up over 700 yards on only 37 catches. Malcom will bring an extra dimension to the Packers receiving core as a big target that can go up over cornerbacks and grab jump balls.

    While it would be nice to have Jones back because of his potential and youth, Floyd fits in well for the Pack if they are unable to resign their receiver.

Solution #2: Draft Leonard Hankerson and Cecil Shorts

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    This one-two punch of Hankerson and Shorts would solve any problems at the wide receiver position for years to come.

    Hankerson would bring size to a small Packer receiving core and his ability to go over the middle makes him very valuable. This kid was extremely productive and Miami,and he would be able contribute immediately his rookie year.

    Hankerson would be a steal late in round two, and he will be a long term solution at receiver if the Packer land him.

    Shorts was also very productive in college, just at a much smaller school than Hankerson (Mount Union). Cecil's size isn't as prototypical of an NFL wide out like Hankerson, but his quickness definitely gives him the potential to be a productive slot receiver.

    Being one of the top performers at the combine in quickness drills like the 20 yard shuffle and three cone drill, it's obvious Shorts has what it takes to be a productive underneath receiver for the Packers.

    Shorts is heady and has no fear of going over the middle for a ball, which makes him a perfect fit for the Packers classic slant routes.

    While it is unlikely the Packer draft two wide receivers in this years draft, they would certainly wipe receiver off the needs list if they get these two.

Cornerback: Why It's a Need

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    With all the studs the Packers have in their secondary it would seem unlikely that cornerback would be a need for Green Bay.

    Pro bowlers Charles Woodson and Nick Collins are the most well known of the bunch, but Tramon Williams is also a Pro Bowl snub who's as good as any corner in the NFC, and Sam Shields is a promising young corner who picked off Caleb Hanie to send the Packers to the Superbowl.

    However, once Woodson, Williams, and Shields are passed on the depth chart, the Packers have absolutely no one who can cover.

    Depth at corner has been a problem for a while in Titletown, and while they Packers have a lot of skill at defensive back, Ted Thompson can no longer risk having Pat Lee and Jarret Bush playing important minutes on defense if their is an injury.

    The Packers need to get someone as a fourth corner who can actually play defense in case of injury, because I'm sure that I am speaking for most Packers fans when I say that I never EVER want to see Pat Lee step out on defense for the Packers again.

Solution #1: Draft CB Jalil Brown with 4th Round Pick

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    Brown is good value here in the 4th round and should provide solid depth right away. At 6'1'', the Colorado cornerback not only has the size for the NFL, but he has the speed as well.

    He was clocked running a 4.46 forty time at his pro day, showing he has the speed and size to stay with NFL receivers. Not to mention, Brown put up 24 reps on the bench at the combine, making him one of the strongest cornerbacks in the draft.

    This kid has all the physical tools to be a good NFL player, and with the way the Packers develop prospects, Brown could be a stud down the road.

    While Jalil might be a bit of a project, the Packers have a lot of talent at corner so he won’t have to right away.

Solution #2: Sign CB Fabian Washington

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    Washington was the Ravens nickel back last year, and while he's far from a stud, Fabian should give the Packers a cheap solution to their depth problem at corner.

    After 31 tackles and eight passes defended last season, Washington isn't exactly the talk of free agency. However, that means he will come cheap and won't expect to start on a team with such a good secondary like the Packers have.

    This signing will bring an immediate upgrade to Jarret Bush and Pat Lee, plus Washington can play special teams as well.

    The Packers will gain an experienced and solid corner for a low price with the signing of Washington, and that’s exactly what they will want if they don't pick up a DB in the draft.

Defensive End: Why It's a Need

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    With Cullen Jenkins likely leaving in free agency, the Packers are going to have a tough task in replacing one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league.

    Mike Neal played well when healthy, but he is still unproven after only playing a few games last year. He most likely will replace Jenkins this season and I have faith he will play well again if healthy.

    Across from him, the Packers have a house in Ryan Pickett who, when healthy, is outstanding against the run. Pickett is getting up there in years, but he's a few years away from retiring yet.

    Behind the starters, CJ Wilson and Howard Green both played much better than expected last year and probably have roster spots locked up, capping off a solid overall defensive line.

    Even with Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins most likely not coming back, there is still talent on this Packers defensive front. However, depth and injuries could be an issue for this d-line.

    Ryan Pickett missed time last year and Mike Neal was also injured, so it wouldn't hurt if the Packers added another good defensive end into the mix.

Solution #1: Draft Allen Bailey with 2nd Round Pick

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    Once considered a top 15 pick, Bailey has seen his draft stock plummet since the end of the season thanks to terrible showings during the entire senior bowl week.

    However, I still have faith that Bailey can be productive in the NFL based on his ridiculous athleticism.

    At the Combine, Bailey ran a 4.7 forty yard dash and had a 37 inch vertical leap—both ridiculous for defensive lineman. Bailey has great speed and explosiveness for a player his size and could be a similar player to Cullen Jenkins in terms of pass rushing ability if he gets a bit bigger.

    This kid played well at Miami this year as well, recording seven sacks in his senior year. I don't think one horrible weak should completely wash away all the potential and skill this kid has, and Ted Thompson will recognize that if he falls to the last pick of the second round.

    Bailey could be the next stud that the Packers have picked based on potential and developed into a star.

Solution #2: Draft Cedric Thornton and Brandon Bair

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    Neither Thorton nor Bailey would start right away for the Packers, but they would provide solid depth and could potentially start down the road.

    While most people think the Packers need to grad a stud defensive end in either the first or second round, I believe all Green Bay needs is depth in case of injury.

    I really think Mike Neal will be a solid starter for Mike McCarthy this year, but in case there is another injury outbreak on the defensive front, Bair and Thornton will be ready to step in if the Packers take them.

    Oregon’s Brandon Bair is a monster, standing at 6'6'' and weighing 290 pounds. He's a big, strong, hard-nosed player who could be a solid run stuffer for the Packers even in his first year. Bair athleticism is solid as well, and I think he is a pretty underrated prospect overall. He would be good value for the Packers in round six and could be a future starter at defensive end.

    The same goes for Cedric Thornton who dominated his competition at Southern Arkansas. While that might not sound impressive, Ted Thompson has a history of being successful with small school prospects and Thornton could be his next success. While not the most athletic player, Cedric could be a great clogger in the run game just like Ryan Pickett.

    While a lot of people would love to see the Packers use a high draft pick on a defensive end, I don't think it's necessary too and the package of Bair and Thornton would fill the hole up front nicely in my opinion.

Outside Linebacker: Why It's a Need

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    Well, one of the Packers outside linebacker’s spots is covered, that’s for sure. Clay Matthews pushed himself to elite status last season, dominating competition with 13.5 sacks in 15 regular season games. At only 24, Matthews looks like he's going to be a sure thing for years to come.

    The other outside linebacker spot, however, has some questions that need to be answered.

    Brad Jones, Erik Walden, and Frank Zombo all started games for the Packers at linebacker, and all three have shown flashes of being quality.

    Jones had six sacks replacing Aaron Kampman in his rookie season and looked solid until his injury in 2010, Zombo had 4 sacks this year and a sack in the super bowl, and Walden had a monster game against the Bears with three sacks and 11 tackles in order to secure a playoff spot for the Packers.

    However, none of these players are great and have had their share of troubles in the past as well.

    The Packers could use a stud outside linebacker to counter Clay Matthews, because if they got one, Green Bay could become the NFL's best defense.

    There is a lot of depth for the Pack at linebacker, but no true starter. If the Packers were able to find another good edge rusher however, it would be tough to score points against this Green Bay squad.

Solution #1: Draft OLB Akeem Ayers with First Round Pick

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    While most people have attached Brooks Reed to the Packers first round pick in the last few weeks, I still like Akeem Ayers as a player better. While it would be cute to have three long, blonde haired linebackers, the tape just isn't there for Reed to be picked ahead of Ayers.

    Akeem was an amazing during his tenure at UCLA, recording 137 tackles, seven sacks, and six interceptions in his sophomore and junior years. While his combine hurt his stock a bit, Ayers came back and ran a 4.68 at his pro day to prove his poor combine times were just a fluke.

    Ayers has the ability to stop the run, rush the passer, and drop into coverage; a rare combine for an outside linebacker. If he gets in the weight room and improves his upper body strength, the Packers could have themselves a gem who would be an immediate upgrade over any linebacker opposite Clay Matthews.

Solution #2: Develop Brad Jones

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    Even though Brad Jones was hurt last season, his rookie season was promising enough for the Packers not to draft an outside linebacker last season. If a linebacker isn't taken in the first round by Green Bay, I don't see them taking one for the rest of draft to add to a stock pile of already solid players.

    Unless the packers draft a star caliber player, I see Jones starting again next season after recording six sacks his rookie year but having his second year cut short by injury.

    Jones is solid against the run and can rush the passer better than people think. He's a solid option across from Matthews and while not a stud like Ayers could be, the Packers like to develop in squad prospects.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Jones stays as the starter, and if he does, the Packers will have a cheap option that has talent and experience as a starter. Plus, they won't need to use a draft pick at the position.

Offensive Tackle: Why It's a Need

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    Even after the Packers drafted Brian Bulaga last year in the first round, Green Bay still needs a quality player who can be a long term solution at tackle once Chad Clifton decides to retire.

    Clifton was a pro bowler last year, but there is no doubt that at 34, Clifton's career is coming to an end. Throw in the knee problems Chad has been having recently, and it seems pretty obvious that the Packers need to find a back-up and future replacement for the veteran tackle.

    With all the great edge rushers in the NFC North like Julius Peppers, Kyle Vandenbosch and Jared Allen, the Packers need to have stability at tackle in order to keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet and off the injury report.

    T.J. Lang was dominated against the Bears for the few series that he was in—he doesn't look like a great option at tackle.

    Green Bay needs someone who can hold their own against the best pass rushers in the NFL long term, or else Aaron Rodgers concussion issues might continue which the Packers can't afford to let happen.

Solution #1: Draft OT Derek Sherrod with First Round Pick

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    Sherrod is the last player of the first tier of tackles, and his talent level is much greater than any player Green Bay could take in the second round.

    If the Packers decided tackle is their biggest need, Sherrod will most likely be the best player at the position available when the Packers pick at 32.

    Sherrod is a road blocker, dominating in the running game with his size and strength. Derek also proved at the senior bowl he was a strong pass blocker as well, dominating defensive end Allen Bailey on every snap.

    This kid is a promising player, and he will only get better in a year developing under Chad Clifton before he takes over the reigns as starter.

    The Packers could have themselves their desperately needed future tackle with this pick.

Solution 2: Draft OT Joseph Barksdale with 3rd Round Pick

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    In my opinion, Joseph Barksdale is the most underrated prospect of this years draft. The kid was extremely productive at LSU and has the size and athleticism to be a starting NFL tackle.

    At 6'5'' and 325 pounds, Barksdale is a load at the end of the line. However, despite his size, the tackle shows good athleticism with a 29 inch vertical and a 5.1 forty time.

    Barksdale has good form in the passing game to counter his size, which makes him tough to pass rush against. In a passing offense like the Packers have, an edge pass blocker like Barksdale makes things a lot easier and safer for the quarterback.

    Big No. 78 is the best mid round tackle prospect, and if the Packers get him, they could have one of the steals of the draft.

    Barksdale will have time to improve his strength and explosion in a year behind Chad Clifton, but if Chad goes down at any point, Barksdale's pass blocking ability will keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet and throwing touchdowns.

Offensive Guard: Why It's a Need

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    The right guard position is locked down by a young stud named Josh Sitton. While I wish I could say the same for the other, the left guard position is basically up in the air for the Packers right now.

    The mediocre Daryn Colledge is a free agent this year, and his back-up, Jason Spitz, also could leave via free agency.

    While those two guys aren't studs by any means, they are the best guards the Packers have on their roster besides Sitton. If they leave, a gaping hole would be sitting at an already weak guard position.

    With studs like Ndamukong Suh, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams playing defensive tackle for teams in the NFC north, guard play is critical for both the running game and Aaron Rodgers health.

    If the Packers want to continue to keep their best player upright, they are going to need to make some serious improvements at the guard position this year.

Solution #1: Trade 1st & 3rd Pick for Colts 22rd Pick to Draft OG Mike Pouncey

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    The Packers need a good guard, and fast. Green Bay needs to do everything they can to improve their offensive line play and protect Aaron Rodgers because, when he has time, Rodgers is one of the most dangerous players in the league.

    While known for his run blocking, Pouncey can pass protect as well as any guard in this years draft. He is a versatile player who can play both center and guard, which makes him a perfect prospect for Green Bay considering how much they love guys who can play all over the line.

    Pouncey's brother turned into a pro bowler in his first year in the NFL, and while Mike probably isn't as good as Maurkice, he's no doubt a good prospect who would start right away for the Packers.

    If Pouncey could turn into a pro bowl caliber guard in replacing Dayrn Colledge, then the Packers offensive line might make a rapid change from below average to one of the leagues top ten.

Solution #2: Trade 1st Rounder & Nick Barnett for Logan Mankins & 4th Rounder

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    The Packers would have to give up a lot in this trade, but they would receive a star caliber guard in Logan Mankins who was a pro bowler last year. Mankins and Sitton would be the best guard pair in the league, which would be the best defense against all the stud defensive tackles the Packers will have to face this season.

    Not to mention, Mankins is only 27 and should be around for a long time if the Packers wanted to keep him

    Not only does the trade make perfect sense for the Packers, but it fits what Mankins, Barnett, and the Patriots all want.

    Mankins is no longer happy in New England after holding out for a new contract in 2010. He no longer wants to be a Patriots, and while Belichick won't give a star like Logan up for cheap, the Patriots love first round picks so the Packers offer would more than likely suffice.

    Barnett has always wanted to be in a big market, unlike Green Bay. If this trade happens, Barnett will be sent to the east coast and Boston to be beloved by one of the biggest fan bases in all of football.

    Everybody gets out with something they want in this deal, so no one leaves disappointed. While I doubt Thompson will pull a trade like this off based on his conservative history, I would love to see it happen as a Packer fan.