After gathering information on the NFL draft for the better part of four months, I present to you my first-round wishlist for the Green Bay Packers’ 2012 draft. We separated the prospects into two categories: Players in the “Could be available” section are likely to be around at No. 28 overall or could be had through a justifiable trade up; Players in the “Almost certain to be gone” section are exactly what you’d imagine.
Could be available
1. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: A complete defensive player that coordinator Dom Capers could move all around his 3-4 defense. He will be comfortable from day one setting the edge on early downs, and his ability to rush the passer with power would serve as a nice complement to Clay Matthews’ athleticism and explosion on the opposite side. He could also play inside linebacker if the defense ever needed him to. Simply too good in too many areas to pass up if available at No. 28, and absolutely worth the move up if Thompson sees him fall into the early 20s. 27 teams would regret passing on him if he gets to Green Bay.
2. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois: Had just one productive year at Illinois but he made the most of it. Led the nation in sacks while establishing himself as a NFL-ready pass-rusher. His tape reminds you a little of Aldon Smith, who the 49ers took the top-10 last April. He’s long and explosive and shouldn’t have a problem standing up as a 3-4 OLB. Wouldn’t play the run as well early on in his NFL career as someone like Upshaw, but you’d like to think he could be a 10-sack guy as a rookie if used right. Will likely go before the Packers get on the clock, but he’s good value if around at No. 28. Might be worth a trade up if he gets by Detroit at No. 23.
3. Devon Still, Penn State: Tall, powerful and athletic. Should be able to step in as a five-technique in the 3-4 defense and hold his own on all three downs. Might not be an immediate pass-rushing force, but there’s certainly reason to think he could be down the line. Questions about his motor were mostly answered during a productive senior season. The Packers may have the chance to take him, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did at No. 28.
4. Shea McClellin, Boise State: Packers fans have fallen in love with him because they see a similar build, skin color and motor as Matthews. There are valid comparisons between the two, but Matthews is the more explosive athlete. He’s an effortless pass rusher who Boise State lined up all over the place. Wasn’t always productive stat-wise, but he shows up on tape amongst a bunch of other draft-worthy prospects on the Broncos’ defense. The Packers could do a lot worse at No. 28 overall, but I’m not sure he’s worth moving up for in the first round.
5. Nick Perry, USC: Has the first step and slippery nature to be an impact player off the edge as a 3-4 OLB. The measurables are all where you’d like them to be. There’s more power and suddenness to his game than most given him credit for. He doesn’t possess a wide array of pass-rushing moves and will need to get more flexible. There’s a lot to like about his game, however, and the Packers would be getting an upgrade opposite Matthews by taking him. Looks like a good bet to be there at No. 28 at this point.
6. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama: A captain for one of the top college defenses of all-time at Alabama. Played inside linebacker for the majority of his snaps, but he’s a good enough pass-rusher that NFL teams will consider playing him outside to maximize his value. Won’t blow you away with athleticism or explosion, but few players in this class will bring the instincts and run-defending ability as a linebacker. The Packers need help where ever they can get it in the front seven, so there’s value here at No. 28. Could go as high as No. 11 to Kansas City or 12 to Seattle.
7. Kendall Reyes, UConn: Strong and athletic with long arms and a good burst off the line. Wasn’t always a big-time pass rusher but there’s experience playing in 3-4 fronts. Reports from the Senior Bowl had him displaying a better all-around skill set as a pass-rusher. Struggle to find a team that would take him before No. 28, but I’m not convinced he should be a top option either. The board may fall in a way that he becomes the BPA, however. Wouldn’t shock me if he’s the pick.
8. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin: Konz has received the majority of the publicity but Zeitler might be the better overall player. He’s a complete guard who would be the best in the class in many drafts. Probably a step below Stanford’s David DeCastro. He should be able to move inside to center if an NFL team needs him to. No major health flags. If the Packers are looking find an upgrade inside, Zeitler might be the best option.
9. Andre Branch, Clemson: A guy that will come into an NFL camp and wow with an explosive first step and ability to turn the corner as an edge rusher. Moved around the Clemson defensive line and has some scheme-versatility. However, he’s more of a one-trick pony in terms of pass-rushing. Will need time to develop a full arsenal of moves and counter-moves. Has plenty in terms of untapped potential, but it will take some time for it to all come together. In the end, it would be a surprise if the Packers didn’t have the option of taking Branch at the end of the first round.
10. Peter Konz, Wisconsin: Hands down the best pure center prospect in the class. Anchored one of the nation’s top offensive lines for several seasons, with his run-blocking prowess on full display in a power offense like UW’s. Is taller (6-5) than most NFL centers but didn’t have much problem holding his own against the likes of Jerel Worthy and Devon Still in the Big Ten. Has a major red flag in terms of health, as he suffered a blood clot in his lungs early in his college career and then battled lower leg injuries late. A late-first round value at a long-term need position, but falls down my board for one simple reason: He doesn’t play defense.
11. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame: A popular name connected with Green Bay, especially now that Nick Collins is on his way out. Has a good build that should allow him to develop into a factor as an in-the-box safety. Is just OK with angles and instincts as a center fielder. Not sure he’s athletic enough to hang with receivers and tight ends vertically. His big plays dropped off severely in his final season at Notre Dame, which isn’t something you’d expect as a college safety matures. There should be reservations about taking him in the first round.
12. Dontari Poe, Memphis: Few human beings on the planet can move a frame like he possesses as well as he does. It was shocking to see how athletic the 350-pounder was at the combine. However, is he more workout warrior than football player? Wasn’t overly productive at Memphis despite the size/athleticism combo. I imagine teams have cooled on him since the combine ended two months ago. Good bet to last into the 20s, although I can’t see the Packers biting if he gets to No. 28.
13. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State: Has the size and first step you want in a 3-4 DE. What worries so many analysts is his inability to get off blocks and anchor a side of the line like a 3-4 team would ask him to do as a five technique. I don’t see a first-round quality defensive lineman unless you’re a 4-3 team with a big need inside. Can’t imagine the Packers failed to see how many times he disappeared from games, too. They would do well to let him pass.
14. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia: An undersized but super athletic pass-rusher. There have been reports in recent weeks that some NFL teams love him. As a situational pass-rusher, it’s easy to see why some front offices would be enamored with what he offers. He’ll likely be a liability against the run and needs to put on a lot of weight to be a three-down player. I can’t see Green Bay spending on a first round pick on a guy who would only play 15-20 snaps (max) early in his NFL career.
15. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma: Solid in a lot of areas, has a good motor and won’t ever fall out of love with playing football. However, he won’t be a high ceiling NFL pass rusher. He’ll have to really work to produce sacks, as he lacks the go-to quality to beat offensive tackles. Second-round player who shouldn’t be considered at 28.
16. Mike Adams, Ohio State: An athletic giant who looks the part of an NFL left tackle. He can move his feet, slide and bend like few human beings his size can. Struggled at times to put it together mentally, and he reportedly tested positive for drugs at the combine. Packers aren’t desperate enough at tackle to even think about taking him at No. 28 overall.
17. Doug Martin, Boise State: Isn’t going to run past many NFL defenders and there’s no Adrian Peterson-Trent Richardson like athletic qualities. But he’s an all-around back that can play on all three downs and compares favorably to Mark Ingram. Would fit well in the Packers offense as a lead ball carrier and blocks better than anyone in this draft. Given the Packers defensive deficiencies, however, there’s no reason to even contemplate a first-round back.
18. Chris Polk, Washington: Can’t help but see Ryan Grant when you watch him on tape. Displays a good burst inside and will push the edge before slashing back inside. Not a breakaway runner, but fast enough. Strong enough to get through arm tackles, too. But again, the Packers would be crazy to go running back in the first round with all the holes defensively. The offense can put up historic scoring numbers with late-round backs on the roster.
Almost certain to be gone
Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina: Charles Woodson-type skills that will find a home within the top-20.
Fletcher Cox, Miss. State: The top defensive tackle in this draft should be off the board after 12 picks.
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina: A natural pass-rusher with the ability to play in both the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.
Mark Barron, Alabama: Hot name that looks like a sure-bet top-15 selection.
Luke Kuechly, Boston College: Tackling machine that fits for several teams picking in the first 20 picks.
Michael Brockers, LSU: Raw but filled to the brim with potential.
Chandler Jones, Syracuse: Don’t be fooled by the “sky-rocketing up boards” talk. NFL teams have likely been high on him for some time.
David DeCastro, Stanford: Possibly the top guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama: A physical corner who could transition to free safety ala Malcolm Jenkins.
Quinton Coples, UNC: Talent and potential will over ride the motor and consistency worries.