NFL Draft 2011: Who Do the Packers Help, Rodgers or Matthews & Co.?
The 2011 draft is just hours away, and mocks are abound across the web. Instead of a mock, this slideshow will raise the question of what position will be available, and ultimately who will be drafted by the Green Bay Packers with their first pick.
The five primary needs that are likely to be available at this spot are OT, DE, OLB, OG, and RB. Ted Thompson (TT) has shown that he likes to take trench players in the first several rounds, but will he this year? Who should he take, as in who do Packer fans want him to take?
This draft will not delve too deeply into the possibility of trading down, but will account briefly for the possibility of this happening. Furthermore, if Thompson does trade down, its unlikely that he'll trade far into the 2nd round, thus making the players highlighted in this article possibly still in play.
Defensive Ends Available
Several options at defensive end are likely to be on the board at 32, and knowing TT's history of drafting, he would be tempted to take one of them at this spot, assuming that said player represents the best value.
A football savvy, hard-working prospect with the ideal measurables to play the 5-technique in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense. Heyward's ability to hold up at the point of attack, his understanding of the game and ability to sniff out screens or play-action would enable him to immediately compete with Mike Neil at the defensive end position opposite Ryan Pickett.
Heyward has been a popular pick for the Packers at 32, but this appears wishful thinking to this writer; Heyward is one of the safer picks in the draft, with great intangibles, height-weight-speed and pedigree. Though still raw in his consistency, these attributes make him likely to be picked prior to the 32nd pick. Likelihood: Medium; if available, high.
A one-gap defensive tackle who does not appear to project wonderfully to a 3-4 defensive end. Many 3-4 defensive ends are defensive tackles in college, but Austin appears better suited to stay on the inside, especially in a Tampa-2 scheme with smaller, penetrating tackles looking to wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage. Whereas a guy like Heyward can and will hold the point, and maybe even take on a double-team, this appears less certain for Austin.
His maturity and effort have also been questioned; with the combination of him missing time at UNC due to improper communication/dealings with an agent, Austin seems unlikely for the Pack at 32, despite his obvious talent. Likelihood: Low
Player such as Christian Ballard, Adrian Clayborn and Muhammad Wilkerson are other options, but Ballard appears to be a second rounder, while Clayborn and Wilkerson are very likely be gone at that point.
Given the choice between Heyward and Austin, the former appears to fit the Ted Thompson mold of tough-guy, football player mentality. Ballard seems especially unlikely amidst the news that he tested positive for marijuana at the combine.
Help on the Other Side for the Claymaker? Available OLBs
If hair is an indicator of greatness, then taking Reed over the other options at OLB would be an easy decision. As silly as this sounds, it appears that many talent evaluators are seeing CMIII's double when they watch Reed. Reed and Matthews do share similarities, including long hair, great intangibles, and a relentless motor, and while there are doubtlessly other similarities, this is the end of the important ones for Ted Thompson to concern himself with.
Reed appears to lack the athleticism that was the trademark of No. 52 over the last two years in Green Bay. He also lacks great production in conference not called the ACC or the SEC, demonstrating underwhelming sack totals over his three starting seasons. Bearing in mind Green Bay's penchant for athletic marvels or high production players, Reed could be a very solid player, but seems unlikely to be one that Ted drafts at 32. Likelihood: Low at 32
Unlike Reed, Houston has great athleticism, freakish size, and decent sack totals over the last two years. What he also has, unfortunately, is questionable football savvy, inconsistent effort, and a blemished character record. Houston was one of the players that tested positive for marijuana at the combine, likely putting him in a free-fall position come Thursday.
One of the positives going for Houston is that he has played the 3-4 OLB position, giving him an edge over a player like Reed. If available in the second or third, Thompson might take Houston, but the first round seems too high with his red flags. Likelihood: Low at 32
Ayers is somewhere between Houston and Reed; he is not the perfect character player, nor the problem child (his passion and toughness has been questioned). He is a very fluid athlete whose flexibility allows him to bend well off the edge. He also demonstrates some violence in his tackling, but not consistently enough when attacking the quarterback.
The reason that Ayers is so attractive to a team like the Packers is his versatility. What seems most lacking from his game from an evaluator like Ted Thompson is Ayers' apparent lack of fire or intensity to complement his athleticism. TT's view on what Kevin Greene could get out of Ayers will likely dictate the likelihood of this pick. Likelihood: Medium to High at 32
Sheard might be a little early at 32, but could be a player the Packers target upon trading down a few spots. Sheard is a talented defensive end who possesses the size and athleticism to play the 3-4 OLB postion, though he is much better at rushing the passer at this time.
Sheard is a player that Kevin Greene could mold, and with whom he shares the characteristic of a great motor, along with a competitive streak that elevated his game during pivotal moments. His character concerns are a mixed bag, with both positive and negative history, but not a long laundry list of the latter, thus probably still keeping him on Green Bay's draft board. Likelihood: Medium at 32; High if GB trades down
All the above players have their shortcomings, but it appears that the top two should be Ayers or Sheard, with the close nod going to Sheard due to his fantastic motor, especially if he can be had at 40 instead of 32. This is certainly a position that Thompson and company could address with the first pick, and would likely win out over anything other than OT, though DE would probably be very close. The argument could be made for DE being slightly ahead as well of OLB as well, but many scouts believe that solid 3-4 defensive ends can be picked in the 4th-7th rounds, while finding an impact OLB can be more difficult to find outside the second round.
Offensive Tackles: Right Side or Left Side Help for the Super Bowl MVP?
Offensive tackle is not a universally recognized need for Green Bay among media outlets, but that may be due more to wishful thinking and ignorance than to actual importance. With Clifton's injury history and the uncertainty surrounding Bulaga's ability to play left tackle, another tackle is of high importance. The difficult question for all prognosticators, and even for the Packers' brass, is which side do they address?
Sherrod may not even be available for Thompson to take at 32, though the same was said regarding Bulaga last draft. Typically, OTs tend to go in groups, and often quicker than their actual grade would dictate because of the vital importance of the LT position. Sherrod is a gifted, athletic tackle who can play either side, though may work best on the blindside.
While he lacks a killer instinct, and is not a masher in the run game, Sherrod is a naturally gifted pass blocker, tailoring him to a team like Green Bay. The current regime has shown an affinity for linemen from big conferences, and the SEC is certainly full of talent, giving Sherrod seasoning against NFL type players. Likelihood: High if available
This may be early for Ijalana, so this is another pick that could be had by trading down. Ijalana is something of an unknown, and therefore not as likely to be picked at 32.
First, he hails from tiny Villanova, limiting his competition level, and secondly, he is on the short side, with questionable feet to play the tackle position. He is more likely a right than a left tackle, and possibly even a guard, which should lower his value. Likelihood: Low; Medium, with a trade down
Offensive Guards: Saying Farewell to Colledge
Offensive guard is a position typically reserved for the later rounds of the draft, but with so many mocks projecting Danny Watkins and Clint Boling to this position, it requires a look.
It's highly unlikely that Pouncey will remain on the board until 32, and seems out of the norm for Thompson to trade up for a guard/center. That being said, Pouncey is a high character kid who loves football and whose passion for competing outweighs his lack of elite athleticism. The added value of his twin brother playing so well last year for the Steelers keeps him high, perhaps higher than he deserves even. Likelihood: Low, unlikely to be available
Watkins, the former rugby player/aspiring firefighter with four years experience playing football, is an intriguing prospect. Regardless of his limited experience, many critics cite Watkins' age, 26, as his biggest possible downside. Aside from his birth year, Watkins shows good pass blocking skills, natural athleticism, a superb work ethic, and solid fundamentals to accompany a gritty, tough attitude.
Should he be there at 32, and the other DE, OLB, and OT prospects are gone, he's a player that Thompson would likely take, barring an age bias unknown to this writer (yes, yes, the Packers are always among the youngest players, but this is more about building through the draft than age bias in my opinion.) Likelihood: Medium
Wilcard: Upgrading the Run Game
The running back position is not one that I expect the Packers to address at 32, or at any point before the third round. The reason for this is that McCarthy places so little emphasis on running the ball in his offense that the value of the position appears to not merit early round consideration. That being said, with several players likely to be available, it bears discussion.
The smallish back form 'Bama is considered a player with Emmit Smith-esque ability. This appears slightly over-hyped, but Ingram himself appears to be a very good running back prospect. While he lacks homerun ability, he is a very shifty runner with toughness and superb balance.
His pass catching leaves something to be desired, and he is of only adequate size for pass protection. That being said, what cannot be forgotten is TT's penchant for taking the best player available, and at 32, Ingram may be that player. Likelihood: Medium
The big back out of Illinois fits the zone blocking scheme better on the surface than Ingram. Leshoure also demonstrates better receiving skills and fits the size that the Packers desire in their running backs. He lacks the supreme instincts and shiftiness of Ingram, but his scheme fit might outweigh these factors. Likelihood: Low; higher with a trade down
In Summary... Green Bay Selects
It's this writer's view that the position that the Packers' front office would prefer to fall to them in the 2011 draft would be an offensive tackle like Derek Sherrod in order to avoid pictures like this one from becoming common place. As previously mentioned, Thompson prefers to build his team from the trenches out, and there is a significant need at the OT position. I doubt Thompson reaches for a tackle at 32, but if one is there, he will take it.
Second on the list will be the BPA between the OLB and the DE position, according to value. Players such as Cameron Heyward or Jabaal Sheard appear most appealing from their respective positions. That being said, I simply do not believe that a DE of equal value, such as Heyward, will be available, so OLB is appears more likely.
Running back is possible, but not as dire a need, and can be filled more easily later than the other positions. I did not discuss the possibility of cornerback, which is also a need with prospects available at 32, because I think that players that are in Green Bay's sights are more valuable in the second round.
The offensive guard position is another position that the Pack have had good luck with in the mid rounds, and I suspect they will keep that trend going. The fun part of the draft, however, is that someone is going to fall to 32, and until the Packers are on the clock, who that is will keep draft geeks, such as this writer, on the edge of their seats.