NFL Mock Draft 2011: Green Bay Packers Draft Take
I will be doing a team draft preview every day for the next 32 days leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft. We begin part one of my 32 part series with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
The Packers have been built primarily through the draft, as Ted Thompson has done a great job of assembling a very young and talented roster. Without a lot of extremely pressing needs heading into the 2011 season, look for Thompson to continue to follow his strategy of taking the best player available regardless of position.
The offense is one of the best in the NFL, and is led by Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Packers will live and die by their franchise quarterback, and I fully expect him to put up and MVP type season in 2011.
The Packers now look to be set at running back with playoff star James Starks teaming up with Ryan Grant, who will be back in the lineup after missing basically all of last year. Rodgers will have plenty of weapons to throw, regardless of whether James Jones is back next year. Look for Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley to have pro bowl seasons in 2011. The line was much improved in 2010 and I expect the unit to continue to improve in 2011. Chad Clifton doesn’t have much left in the tank, but Bryan Bulaga and pro bowl snub Josh Sitton are two very young building blocks.
The defense was great again last season, and they too are a very young unit overall. The line could lose Cullen Jenkins to free agency, and if they do, I think the line becomes their biggest weakness on the defense. However, B.J. Raji looks like a great talent and I expect Mike Neal to get a lot of playing time next year.
The linebacking unit is very solid, with young defensive cornerstone Clay Matthews Jr. leading the way. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are both very good players in the middle too, but the Packers may look to upgrade the other outside linebacker spot. The secondary has plenty of good young players, but they’re lead by pro bowl veteran Charles Woodson. I really expect this defense to be one of the best, if not the best, in the league in 2011.
2010 Draft Recap
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1.(23) OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa: Filled in capably for injured Mark Tauscher. Should be the left tackle of the future. 16 GP/12 GS
2. (56) DE Mike Neal, Purdue: Showed promise before getting put on IR. Could replace Cullen Jenkins if he leaves via free agency. 2 GP/0 GS
3. (71) S Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech: Earned starting safety job before getting put on IR after tearing his ACL in Week 4. 4 GP/4 GS
5. (154) TE Andrew Quarless, Penn State: Developed into a solid player after replacing Jermichael Finley as the starter. 13 GP/3 GS
5. (169) OG Marshall Newhouse, TCU: Never played in a game and was put on IR late in the season. 0 GP/0 GS
6. (193) RB James Starks, Buffalo: Missed most of the season before catching fire in the playoffs. 3 GP/0 GS
7. (230) C.J. Wilson, East Carolina: Played well after injuries along the line hit. Should be a solid rotation player in 2011. 15 GP/2 GS
Summary: Another solid draft that yielded two starters (Bulaga and Burnett) and other solid contributors (Neal, Quarless, Starks and Wilson). Don’t forget key undrafted free agents (Sam Shields and Frank Zombo).
Team Need: Offensive Tackle
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They found one future bookend at offensive tackle in Bryan Bulaga, and Chad Clifton was voted into the Pro Bowl. However, Clifton and Mark Tauscher are nearing the end of their careers, and both have been injury liabilities in recent years. The Packers need to find the other tackle of the future to pair with Bulaga for the next 10-12 seasons.
This year doesn’t have the greatest group of offensive tackle prospects, but there are still a lot of players who have the potential to become solid starters at the next level. I don’t expect the Packers to take a tackle early on in the draft, but maybe they will get lucky and have a top offensive tackle drop to them in the last part of the first round, just as Bulaga did last year.
Potential Offensive Tackle Targets
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Round 1: Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod,
Round 2: Ben Ijalana
Round 3: Chris Hairston, James Carpenter, James Brewer
Round 4: Joe Barksdale, Jason Pinkston
I think Carimi would be the best fit for Green Bay, but he will more than likely be gone by the end of round one. Green Bay will most likely have to pick a guy like Hairston or Brewer in Round 2 or Round 3 and let them develop for a year or two before taking over as the starter opposite Bulaga.
Team Need: Defensive End
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The need for this position basically depends on what happens with a couple of the current defensive ends. Cullen Jenkins could leave as a free agent, and Johnny Jolly’s Packer career is now over after his most recent arrest. Other defensive ends’ Mike Neal and Justin Harrell have injury concerns. With so much uncertainty surrounding the position, the Packers could opt to make the safe decision and draft a defensive end early on in the draft.
The defensive line group in this year’s draft is terrific, and it is very likely that a top defensive lineman will drop right into the Packers lap in the first round. The whole labor situation doesn’t really help out as the Packers won’t know whether or not Jenkins will be back when the draft occurs.
Potential Defensive End Targets
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Round 1: Corey Liuget, Muhammad Wilkerson, Christian Ballard, Cameron Heyward
Round 2: Allen Bailey
I expect Green Bay to strongly consider a defensive end in Round 1 or 2. Wilkerson and Liuget may not be there at the 32nd pick, but they’d be excellent picks if they are. Ballard is a personal favorite of mine, and it wouldn’t shock me to see him go in Round 1. Heyward and Bailey won’t go as high as many thought they would heading into the 2010 season, but they should still make very solid players in the NFL.
Team Need: Wide Receiver
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This is another need for the Packers that could depend on whether or not a key free agent is re-signed. If James Jones isn’t brought back, the Packers should consider drafting a wideout early on. Also, Donald Driver seems to be on his last legs, so a future replacement should be considered, possibly in the middle rounds. It would be somewhat of a surprise if a receiver isn’t taken t some point in this draft by Green Bay.
I think that even if the Packers bring Jones back, drafting a receiver at some point in this draft is a very good possibility. Driver won’t be around a lot longer, and they can find a solid player in the middle rounds who can take over in a year or two once Driver calls it quits.
Potential Wide Receiver Targets
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Round 1: Jon Baldwin
Round 2: Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith
Round 3: Niles Paul, Vincent Brown, Greg Salas
Round 4: Cecil Shorts III
Round 5: DeAndre Brown
Round 6: Jeff Maehl
The most logical thing for the Packers to do if they decide to draft a receiver would be to draft a guy who can also contribute in the return game. I doubt they take a receiver in the first couple of rounds, but you can’t rule it out if a guy falls to them in Round 1 or 2. Paul, Brown and Salas are underrated players who I think would be good value picks at the end of the third round.
Team Need: Outside Linebacker
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The Packers have one of the best young linebackers in all of football in Clay Matthews Jr., but they don’t have an intimidating pass rusher opposite him. Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Eric Walden all played well last season, but none of them strikes fear in other teams. If a top pass rusher falls to them in Round 1 or 2, it would be hard to pass that player up. By pairing Matthews with another top pass rusher, the Packers could potentially have the most dominating defense in the league.
It is entirely possible that Thompson could be content going into next season with the Jones, Walden, Zombo trio starting opposite Matthews. Either way, I think that this position will be a position of strength for the Packers next season.
Potential Outside Linebacker Targets
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Round 1: Akeem Ayers, Justin Houston
Round 2: Dontay Moch, Mason Foster, Brooks Reed
If the Packers are going to take an outside linebacker, I’d expect them to do so in the early rounds, as they already have three other solid linebackers on the roster opposite Matthews. Brooks Reed would make a good pick at the end of Round 2, and I think he could make an immediate impact in 2011.
Team Need: Cornerback
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Cornerback isn’t necessarily an immediate need due to the emergence of Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, and the always steady play of defensive leader Charles Woodson. However, Woodson probably doesn’t have too many years left in him, and the lack of depth outside of the top three corners became evident in the Super Bowl when Woodson and Shields left with injuries.
Shields and Williams look like they will be the starters in Green Bay for a long time once Shields takes over for Woodson. This should continue to be a strong position for the defense, but the depth for the future does need to be addressed as Jarret Bush and Pat Lee don’t look like they will offer much on defense next season.
Potential Cornerback Targets
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Round 1: Jimmy Smith
Round 2: Curtis Brown, Brandon Burton
Round 3: Rashad Carmichael, Jalil Brown, Davon House
Brown and House are two guys who I think have good long term potential. They have the talent to contribute as the dime back in 2011, with the upside and potential to become starters in a couple of years. Smith would be a good pick in Round 1, but his “character concerns” could lead to Thompson passing him up if he happens to still be available.
Other Possible Needs
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Kick/Punt Returner: The Packers have lacked a return man for many years, and Tramon Williams is way too valuable on defense to risk getting injured in the return game.
Offensive Guard: Josh Sitton is a rock at one guard position, but Daryn Colledge may leave as a free agent and he could stand to be upgraded anyways.
Running Back: The Packers have a solid one-two punch in Ryan Grant and James Starks, but third down back Brandon Jackson may not be back. If he’s not, they will need someone who can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield.
Team Draft Strategy
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Without a lot of big needs, the Packers can use this draft to build up depth. Ted Thompson will continue to draft best player available at every pick, so his drafts are always very hard to predict. Look for Thompson to pick up some quality players who won’t necessarily be counted on to make a big contribution in 2011, but they will be expected to be key parts of the team in the future.