Green Bay Packers 2012 Draft: Top 10 College Prospects to Watch
No trades. No free agency. No new players. And, quite possibly, no 2011 NFL season—in part or in its entirety.
In the silent wake of the 2011 NFL draft, the only foreseeable football-related news on the distant horizon is, well, the 2012 draft.
Even the most hard-bitten analysts would have to assume that the Green Bay Packers, with its abundance of talent and MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers at the helm, will finish in the upper half of teams in the NFL.
Here's a list of players projected to be available in the second half of the first round, and who fill probable needs for the Packers (which skew heavily toward the defensive side of the ball).
This is not an attempt at prognostication—a foolhardy proposition if there ever was one—but a "viewer's guide" for following college football in the coming fall.
And with the NFL season in jeopardy, that might be the only football we'll be able to see.
Andre Branch, DE/LB, Clemson
Overshadowed by Da'Quan Bowers last year, Branch could see his stock rise dramatically with a breakthrough season. At 6'4", 255 pounds, Branch projects as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme. His athletic ability—and pure explosion—jump out on tape, as this brief clip demonstrates.
Maybe he will finally be the play-making complement all the experts want to bookend with Clay Matthews III.
Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
Although starting center Scott Wells has been a warrior, he is undersized and has logged a lot of snaps. The tough and athletic Brewster is rated as the top center in the 2012 Draft, and would be tempting for the Packers as they add more top-shelf talent to the interior of that all-important wall in front of Rodgers.
Check him out as No. 50 in these clips.
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
Although Brown best fits as an OLB on a 4-3 team, perhaps Packers GM Ted Thompson would find Brown's freakish speed too enticing to pass up. A track star at UNC, Brown can flat-out fly around the football field. A productive 2011 campaign is needed to allay worries about his marginal size.
Jared Crick, DT/DE, Nebraska
Evaluators' opinions vary widely on this leader of the Black Shirts, putting Crick anywhere from a top-10 slot to the bottom of the first round. With prototypical size, strength and quickness of a five-technique end in the 3-4, Crick has drawn favorable comparisons to Houston Texans' draftee J.J. Watt.
With DE Ryan Pickett another year older and slower, Crick is a possible plug-in starter on coordinator Dom Capers' line.
Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
At 6'3", 310 pounds, Forston is another possibility to replace Pickett, who's in the twilight of his career. Despite his quickness and penetrating ability (shades of Warren Sapp at "The U"), questions about Forston's motor and desire could cause him to slip into the latter part of the first round.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Despite a paucity of interceptions, Gilmore should emerge as one of the elite players at his position in 2011. His size (6'0", 195 pounds) and athleticism make him a great fit for the Packers press coverage system.
With Charles Woodson another year closer to retirement, it makes sense to draft a physical, aggressive corner in his mold.
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
A savvy, intelligent player, Minnifield is rated as one of the top corners in the 2012 draft. An outstanding young man, he matches Thompson's recent emphasis on high-character players.
Minnifield, whose father Frank was a Pro Bowl corner on the Cleveland Browns with Clay Matthews, Jr., would fit in as "Bloodline II" with the Packers.
Kelechi Osemele, T/G, Iowa State
A mountain of a man at 6'4", 325 pounds, the versatile Osemele played LT for the Cyclones, but projects as a RT or guard at the next level. With the Packers seemingly set along the flanks with Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga, Osemele could provide a physical presence along the interior.
He could supply some power that has been lacking with incumbent Daryn Colledge. Check him out as No. 72 in this clip.
Donte Paige-Moss, DE/LB, North Carolina
Another product of Butch Davis' factory of first-round defensive talent, Paige-Moss is a pass-rush demon. At 6'4", 260 pounds, he presents an imposing presence on the edge of a 3-4 defense like the Packers'.
His stats should benefit from the attention paid to teammate Quinton Coples, arguably the best pass rusher in the college ranks.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Upshaw is ready-made for the 3-4 Packers defense, with experience playing OLB in a similar scheme at Alabama. At 6'2", 265 pounds, Upshaw is a hard-hitting 'backer who looks like a potential star for the Crimson Tide this coming fall.
A standout year will put him well beyond Green Bay's likely spot near the end of the first round.