The 2011 NFL draft is almost here, and with no free-agency period, and the very real possibility that this will be the only meaningful activity in the NFL for some time, football fans are even more excited for the draft than usual.
So what can we expect from the reigning Super Bowl champs? Honestly, I have no idea, and that's the way Ted Thomson likes it.
The Packers have very few holes to fill on the roster, and even if they did, it is unlikely Thompson would deviate much from his best player available approach.
With that said, here are a few thoughts on the Packers upcoming draft.
The Packers have nine picks in the draft, and they don't have a ton of needs on either side of the ball, so trading up to land an impact player would not be out of the question. With the selection of Clay Matthews in the 2009 draft, Ted Thompson showed that he would be willing to part with a few draft picks to move up in order to land an elite player who could come in and make an immediate impact.
It's possible the Packers could be tempted to trade up for an offensive lineman like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi or Florida's Mike Pouncey, if they fell to the mid-20s.
However, I don't think think this draft contains the type of elite talent after the top-10 picks to merit the Packers trading up. Players like A.J. Green, Von Miller and Julio Jones will be taken in the top 10, and the cost to trade up over 20 spots would be tremendous.
I see the chances of the Packers trading down out of the first round like they did in 2008, as a more likely scenario.
The 32nd pick on the draft could be very desirable, especially for a team that is in need of a quarterback. After Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, who are expected to go in the top 10, there are a handful of quarterbacks, including Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick, who could be late first-round picks. Teams like Cincinnati, Tennessee or Arizona may be willing to package some picks to get the first crack at one of the second tier quarterbacks.
The Packers could surely find some value picks in the early second and third rounds.
The Packers have three players who started at outside linebacker opposite of Clay Matthews last year, Brad Jones, Eric Walden and Frank Zombo, none whom seemed to be a legitimate pass rush threat that could take some of the pressure off Matthews. In the game-and-a-half the Matthews missed due to injury last year, the Packers failed to get any pressure on the opposing quarterback.
There could be options at outside linebacker for the Packers in the first round, including Jabaal Sheard, Brooks Reed and Justin Houston, all of whom played defensive end in college but could make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. However, none of the outside linebackers who are likely to be available when the Packers pick at the end of round one is a sure thing, so expect the Packers stay true to their draft board and take the best player available.
One unfortunate play could make a backup quarterback the most important player on the team, and with Matt Flynn scheduled to be a free agent after the 2011 season, it might be time to look for a replacement. After Flynn's performance against the Patriots this past season, there may be some teams that see him as a potential starting quarterback.
It's possible the Packers see former Texas Tech QB, Graham Harrell, as the long-term backup, but most likely, Mike McCarthy will look for someone to groom and compete with Harrell.
Teams who normally rely on free agency to help fill holes on their roster will be at a little bit of a disadvantage this season because of the lockout. Teams may draft based more on need than best player available because there is no guarantee they can fill their needs through free agency.
With the Packers rarely using free agency and having such a deep roster, they may not be forced to reach for a need unlike some other teams.
The Packers have not had an effective kick or punt returner in years, nor does it seem like finding one has been a priority for the team.
Pat Lee, James Starks, Jordy Nelson and Sam Shields all returned kicks last year at some point, but none of them showed a real flair for the job. Tramon Williams was respectable returning punts, but putting one of the league's best young corners in that position seems a little too risky.
The Packers have had a couple of the top college kick returners in for pre-draft visits, so maybe this will be the year the Packers get serious about finding someone who can help improve their special teams.
In his time in Green Bay, Ted Thompson has done something to surprise Packer fans in the early rounds every year. From his first draft when he selected Aaron Rodgers, the pick of Justin Harrell, trading up to get Clay Matthews and last year's selection of Mike Neal in the second round, when most assumed he would be a fourth or fifth-round pick.
Fortunately for Packer fans, more often than not, Thompson's draft day surprises have panned out.
We have no idea what Ted Thompson will be looking for on draft day, but rest assured, Thompson and his scouts have done their homework.
Last year, when it seemed apparent the Packers needed help at cornerback and at outside linebacker, most assumed the Packers would fill the needs in the draft. Instead, the Packers signed Sam Shields and Frank Zombo as undrafted free agents, and both contributed heavily to the Packers success last season.
This year due to the lockout, teams will not be able to sign any players who go undrafted, taking away one of the avenues the Packers have been successful in using to find players.
I don't expect this to alter the Packers draft strategy early in the draft at all, but it could possibly cause them to look at a player at a need position a little closer towards the end of the draft, rather than just taking the best player available.
Many Packer fans, including myself, have been critical of Ted Thompson and some of his moves on draft day, but after last season's Super Bowl victory, there is little question Thompson knows exactly what he's doing. Yes, there have been some mistakes made in his tenure, but no GM is perfect, and the Packers seem to be in great shape for years to come.
Thompson will almost undoubtedly make a move during the draft that causes Packer fans to raise an eyebrow, but you can't argue with the results Thompson has gotten in his time with the Packers.
The Packers won the Super Bowl with one of the youngest rosters in the league and over a dozen players on injured reserve.
This year, they are due to have nine picks in the draft; their starting tight end and running back will be coming back from injured reserve along with their second and third-round draft picks from last year and the only key free agent they are likely to lose will be Cullen Jenkins.
With no glaring needs, the Packers can take the best player available in each round and continue to build one of the deepest rosters in the league.