Green Bay Packers: Which 2013 NFL Draft Prospects Should They Be Scouting?
The 2012 NFL season hasn't even begun, so there's a lot to be determined between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. However, it's never too early to take a peek ahead.
The Green Bay Packers, like all other NFL teams, have a full-time scouting staff and front office whose jobs are to determine the best collegiate talent who fit what the Packers are doing. Pretty soon they'll be attending college practices and getting an up-close and personal look at the players who will be eligible for the draft.
Until then, it's film study time, as the scouting department is in the early stages of developing their draft board.
What follows is a look at a handful of intriguing prospects who already should be on the Packers' radar.
Montee Ball, RB (Wisconsin)
Montee Ball is already a name familiar to Wisconsin sports fans as a player who's helped the in-state Badgers win consecutive Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl berths the past two years.
Equally impressive as what the Badgers have been able to accomplish as a team is what Ball has been able to do as an individual.
In 2011, Ball tied the NCAA record held by Barry Sanders for the most touchdowns in a single season with 39 (33 rushing, six receiving). Ball also led the FBS in rushing yards last season with 1,923 yards, good for an average of 6.26 yards per carry.
For all those accomplishments, Ball was named a Heisman Trophy finalist and finished fourth in the voting.
Also notable was Ball's extreme weight loss, in which he reportedly shed more than 25 pounds (from 231 to 205) between the end of the 2010 season and the beginning of the 2011 season. Following the 2012 Rose Bowl, Ball said he'd like to be around 215 pounds this season, which will be a challenge to add weight yet maintain speed.
Chris Steuber, director of player personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League and NFL Draft analyst, said in an interview with Bleacher Report that he currently thinks Ball is more of a second-round prospect, but acknowledges there's a long time to change his mind as the upcoming season has to play itself out.
"He's a powerful runner," Steuber said. "He's a guy that can be probably more of a north-south guy at this point. He has a little bit of questionable lateral movement, but again, he's explosive player. He hits the hole very hard. He's just a tough-nosed player. I really like him as a running back."
As important as the passing game is in Green Bay, Ball's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is also valuable, as the Badgers back has 49 career receptions for 526 yards.
With Ryan Grant unsigned, the Packers would appear to be thin at the running back position. They'll rely upon James Starks, along with Alex Green and Brandon Saine, but every one of them still has a lot to prove at the NFL level.
Jeff Tuel, QB (Washington State)
With Aaron Rodgers firmly entrenched as the starter, Green Bay won't be investing a first-round draft choice into a quarterback anytime soon.
That means the Packers probably don't have to spend much time on guys like Matt Barkley of USC or Tyler Wilson of Arkansas this season.
Given the uncertainty behind Rodgers, however, the Packers have to stay on the lookout for mid-round backup quarterbacks. Maybe Graham Harrell will take command of the No. 2 job, but there's no guarantee he'll become the next Matt Flynn.
One player to keep an eye on, because of his likeness to Harrell, is Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel.
Tuel will be playing in his first season under pass-happy coach Mike Leach, just like Harrell did at Texas Tech when he was breaking NCAA records. Perhaps surprisingly, Tuel put up impressive numbers in 2010 for a team that won only two games all year; he completed 59.8 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.
This season, Tuel will have to prove he's over a broken clavicle that he injured twice last season, forcing him to miss the majority of 2011. At 6'3" and 223 pounds, Tuel has the size to make it in the NFL. Now, he just has to consistently display the arm strength, accuracy and decision-making skills to make it at the next level.
Mario Benevides, C (Louisville)
The Packers signed 37-year-old center Jeff Saturday as a free agent this offseason, but they still don't have a long-term answer at the position. Saturday signed a two-year contract with Green Bay, but whether he fulfills both years of his deal is still uncertain.
The Packers have no shortage of candidates to back up Saturday in 2012, but none of them is an obvious candidate to supplant him.
Young players fighting for a job include Evan Dietrich-Smith (last year's backup center), Sampson Genus (spent 2011 on the practice squad) and Tommie Draheim (an undrafted rookie).
If none of them pans out, the Packers will have to turn to the draft in order to find a center, and one candidate is Louisville's Mario Benavides.
Standing 6'4" and 302 pounds, Benavides is the fifth-ranked center coming into the 2012 season, according to NFLDraftScout.com, and he is considered a mid-round draft choice. He also is a first-team preseason All-Big East selection by Phil Steele.
Benavides will be protecting first-team quarterback selection Teddy Bridgewater, which would be good experience for protecting Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers also have a history of drafting Louisville offensive linemen under general manager Ted Thompson, with Jason Spitz in 2006 and Breno Giacomini in 2008. Neither of those selections has panned out exactly as the Packers probably would have liked, however.
Star Lotulelei, DL (Utah)
The Packers have a lot of defensive linemen with potential on their roster, but outside of B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, none is a sure thing.
In the Packers 3-4 defense, they need a couple big-bodied, 330-plus-pound war daddies, and with Pickett entering his 12th NFL season, it's up for debate how much time he has left in his career.
If the Packers are looking for a mammoth defensive lineman with an eye toward the future, Utah's Star Lotulelei can't be dismissed.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Lotulelei has a frame who can pack on the pounds, and better yet, he's still becoming a well-rounded player.
"He is very intriguing," Chris Steuber told B/R. "Very quick off the ball. He gets lost sometimes when I watch him on film. He kind of disappears, but very versatile.
"He's very rangy for a big man; he can get up and down the line, moves around very well. He doesn't really have the impact stats that you want to see, but I think he's still developing, he's still learning the game."
Lotulelei is coming off a season in which he had 43 tackles, including nine for a loss, and he is a preseason first-team All-American selection, according to Phil Steele. Projections for Lotulelei are high; he's ranked as a third overall prospect, regardless of position, by NFLDraftScout.com.
"I talked to some people, he's a very shy kid, but he doesn't play shy at all," Steuber said. "He's a very interesting player who I think will probably be a first-round pick, probably a Top 15, Top 20 pick when it is all said and done. "
T.J. McDonald, S (USC)
After releasing three-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins during the offseason, the safety position in Green Bay is as uncertain as it's been in years.
The Packers also haven't committed to moving Charles Woodson to safety full time, so there's an opening for a player if he can unseat Charlie Peprah for one of the spots in the starting lineup.
Morgan Burnett would appear to have one safety spot firmly in his grasp, but Peprah's contract is up after the 2012 season is over. Fourth-round draft choice Jerron McMillian is a possibility to earn some playing time, but he's not a shoo-in as a future starter.
If Peprah isn't re-signed or McMillian falters, the Packers will look toward next year's draft for help, and at the top of the list among safeties is USC's T.J. McDonald.
"Hard hitter," Chris Steuber told B/R. "That's the one thing that pops out to you on film is when you watch him, he loves to hit. I think the biggest thing with T.J. is he has to learn coverage. He has to play better in coverage. Kind of stiff in the hips a little bit, but very explosive."
Last season, McDonald was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and is a preseason first-team All-American selection this year, according to Phil Steele. NFLDraftScout.com has McDonald as the top overall senior safety, although LSU's Eric Reid, a junior, is ranked higher.
"I'd like to see him improve more with his coverage skills, but (he's) probably the best safety in his class," Steuber said.