What Do The Packers Need To Do In The Draft?
The Green Bay Packers are set to sign Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to megabucks deals that will keep these franchise cornerstones in green and yellow for the foreseeable future. Rodgers’ deal could very well make him the highest paid player in NFL history.
However, these rumored signings hamstring GM Ted Thompson’s ability to add players through free agency. In other words, the Packers will need to build its supporting cast through the draft.
Although the jury is still out on the 2012 draft class, Thompson has exhibited an ability to select key contributors like Casey Heyward and Randall Cobb outside of the first round.
The Packers biggest need in the 2013 draft is an offensive lineman. Sure, the Packers defense was exposed by Colin Kaepernick in the Divisional round loss to the 49ers, but protecting Rodgers' arm is of utmost importance. The Packers offensive line allowed 51 sacks last season, second most in the NFL behind Arizona’s 58. Part of that is Rodgers' fault, but the Pack need to do a much better job of creating a clean pocket for him to throw in.
Look for the Packers to select a tackle to compete for the starting job with perennial weak-link Marshall Newhouse to protect Rodgers’ blindside. Potential candidates include Syracuse’s Justin Pugh and Florida State’s Menelik Watson.
With that said, there is sure to be a run on offensive linemen early in the draft likely causing the Packers to go another direction with the 26th pick of the first round.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. has the Packers selecting Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the first round. This would conclude a nearly three-year search for a franchise running back since Ryan Grant’s departure (and return).
In 2012, Alex Green led the Packers by rushing for an anemic 464 yards and just 3.4 yards per carry. While running back has been devalued in today’s pass-happy NFL, the Packers need to show opposing defenses that running is at least an option. DuJuan Harris showed signs of life late in the season, much like James Starks in 2011, but the Packers would be much more comfortable with a backfield presence like hard-nosed Eddie Lacy.
Finally, the Packers will look to stockpile defensive talent hoping to land another instant contributor like Casey Hayward last season. The Packers are set at cornerback with Hayward and Sam Shields, but need to add a safety following Charles Woodson’s departure. It’s a deep safety class so don’t expect the Packers to nab one early even if Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro drops in round one.
Green Bay likely won’t tab a linebacker in the first round, either. The Packers recently signed MLB Brad Jones to a three-year, $11.75 million extension while A.J. Hawk took a pay cut to stay with the team. Last year's first round pick, LB Nick Perry suffered through a rookie season of setbacks and injuries but Green Bay is encouraged by his potential. The Packers will take a flyer on a linebacker beyond the second round, but don’t expect to see Manti Te’o manning centerfield for the Packers next season.
Entering the 2013 season, the Packers are certain to be the favorite to win the NFC North despite head-turning moves by the Lions and Vikings. If Ted Thompson can work his magic in this month’s draft, Green Bay should be an early Super Bowl contender.