In the three years of putting out our annual Cheesehead TV draft guide, this year has been by far the most difficult to handicap the Packers' first round selection at No. 26 overall.
Among the factors that are complicating matters is a talent pool that (at least in this person's opinion) has roughly the same depth from late-round one to mid-round two.
From that perspective, it would make sense for the Packers to trade down in the draft and accumulate a few Day 2 selections, particularly if they can find a team looking to trade up for a franchise quarterback before the first round is over.
As I tell anyone inquiring about potential trades, however, it takes two to tango. Even if the Packers want to move down, it's not their choice and their choice alone. They have to find the proper partner and agree upon the mutual compensation for both parties.
Assuming the Packers stay put and exercise the 26th pick in the first round, these are the players who I think are options, broken down by position with commentary. To be sure, some make more sense than others, and a few are sure to come off the board before the Packers pick. But without further ado here are the 18 players I think could be the next first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers...
Obviously the Packers aren't going to invest a first-round pick into a quarterback, even if they were to feel a player like Ryan Nassib is the next Johnny Unitas. Perhaps the Buffalo Bills or another team feels that way, however, and might be willing to trade up with the Packers to secure a first-round quarterback who can be under contract for five years.
There's always a chicken or the egg argument in regards to the Packers running game. Some will argue that the Packers don't make much of a commitment to the run, so why invest in a running back they won't use? On the other hand, maybe if they had a more talented option at running back, perhaps they could do a better job at taking pressure off the passing game.
I like DuJuan Harris and I think the Packers should find a bigger running back to complement his running style.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama––Lacy carried the load for the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in 2013, carrying the ball 204 times for 1,322 yards (6.5 ypc) and 17 touchdowns to go along with 22 receptions and two more receiving TDs. Lacy has received recent criticism, notably from NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, for being "out of shape" at his recent pro day workout. A pulled hamstring prevented Lacy from working out at the Combine and Alabama's original pro day.
Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State––Most so-called draft experts don't have Bell rated as being a first-round draft pick, but an article on the Spartans running back from Bill Huber of Packer Report shows that scouts value Bell a little more highly than many perhaps expect. While Bell's yard per carry average is almost two yards lower than Lacy, among Bell's best qualities is his ability to gain yardage after contact. As Huber points out in the article, Bell led the nation with 922 yards after contact in 2012.
Now that Greg Jennings has left in free agency and Donald Driver has retired, the Packers could use some depth at wide receiver. But at the same time, any player they take at wide receiver isn't likely to be any more than fourth on the depth chart his first year in the NFL behind Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones.
Keenan Allen, Cal––Allen is a tall, athletic receiver that has produced at a high level over the course of his career at Cal. Some have thought that he could be the No. 1 receiver in this year's draft class, but knee (partially torn PCL) and ankle injuries are a concern. There are also rumors swirling about Allen and drug use, but at this point, they're just rumors. Between the injuries and drug allegations, he could perhaps fall to No. 26 or beyond.
Robert Woods, USC––Sharing the spotlight and the football at USC with fellow wide receiver Marqise Lee may have allowed Woods to fly under the radar. The reality is he's a fast receiver that was very productive in college, even when having to share the load. In just three years with the Trojans, Woods had 250 receptions for 2,933 yards (11.7 ypr) with 32 touchdowns. He's also an experienced return specialist and could take on that role if the Packers want to get Cobb off returns.
Jermichael Finley is only under contract for one more season, and with big-time money being doled out to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, it's becoming increasingly likely that Finley plays elsewhere in 2014. If the Packers were to take a tight end, that player might be a No. 2 tight end in 2013 but No. 1 in 2014 and beyond.
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame––In Eifert, you know exactly what you're going to get: a steady player that's a big target and fits the mold of new, athletic tight end in today's NFL. If he's available at No. 26, it's going to be hard for the Packers to pass him up, but he may not make it that far. With Jennings and Driver leaving, the Packers don't necessarily need a wide receiver to replace their production. They just need another weapon, and Eifert can be exactly that.
Zach Ertz, Stanford––If Eifert happens to be gone at No. 26, the Packers may not want to wait until the second or the third round and hope a guy like Ertz is still on the board. Ertz led the nation with 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns among tight ends last season. Some will criticize Ertz's blocking, but Stanford had Levine Toilolo as their in-line blocking tight end last season. They simply didn't need Ertz to block, but his frame and bench press reps (24) would suggest he can do so.
While the Packers could use a center, grabbing one in the first round is probably unrealistic. There's three really good offensive tackles in this year's draft with Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson, but the Packers aren't going to get a sniff of any of those guys. With Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod and Marshall Newhouse, the Packers have to be sure that any tackle they'd take in first round better be darn good, because there's already other options on the team.
Menelik Watson, Florida State––A former basketball player and British native, Watson played right tackle at Florida State but might be athletic enough to move to the left side of the offensive line with a little development. He's really raw, however, with only one year of major college football under his belt. His upside could be enough to invest a first-round pick.
D.J. Fluker, Alabama––Fluker is a mauler and could definitely bring a new dimension to the Packers run blocking. There are concerns about his ability to handle speed rushers off the edge, however, and whether he could adequately protect Aaron Rodgers for a team that drops back to pass as much as the Packers. If Green Bay were to take Fluker, they'd also have to move Bryan Bulaga to left tackle, because Fluker he's the type that doesn't fit anywhere but the right side.
There's currently eight defensive linemen on the Packers' roster, so they have depth, but the overall quality is still lacking. They took two smaller, quicker linemen in the draft last year between Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, so if the Packers go defensive line this year, it's probably more likely someone that's bigger. Ryan Pickett is nearing the end of his career, and at some point they'll need another player of his mass to replace him.
Datone Jones, UCLA––Jones was a big reason for a vastly improved UCLA team last season that won the Pac-12 South title as he made 62 tackles, 19 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Cheesehead TV's own Zach Kruse assures me Jones uses his hands extremely well, but I'm skeptical that at 283 lbs., Jones can hold his own at the point of attack. With a 6-4 frame, however, Jones has a high ceiling if he can add weight and not lose athleticism.
Margus Hunt, SMU––A former discus thrower from Estonia, Hunt displays rare athleticism for a person of his size. He provides length at 6-8 and 277 lbs., and that's something the Packers don't have much of on the defensive line. His 40 time was 4.60 seconds at the Combine, and perhaps even more impressive was his ability to put up a Combine-high 38 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press considering he has arms over 33 inches long! The downside to Hunt is that he's already 25 and will be 26 before his first season in the NFL is over. By the time his second contract comes around, he'll already be over 30 years old.
Sylvester Williams, North Carolina––On one hand, Williams doesn't add the height the Packers could use on the defensive line at 6-3. Still, he has good bulk at 313 lbs. and has a knack for forging his way into an opponent's backfield as evidenced by his 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks last season, which are pretty good numbers for a person of his size.
Jesse Williams, Alabama––A barrel-chested behemoth, there might not be a better run defender in the entire draft class. If the Packers defense is truly lacking in "toughness" Williams can definitely provide Green Bay with that type of personality. What he won't provide, however, is a pass rush with only 1.5 sacks in two seasons at Alabama. The Packers might be looking for a more well-rounded player that can play both the run and provide a pass rush, at least out of a first-round player.
Kawaan Short, Purdue––Short was a productive defensive tackle for Purdue with 186 tackles, 49 for a loss and 19.5 sacks over a four-year college career. At 6-3 and just 299 lbs., he has the frame to be bigger. There are times when Short would disappear for an entire game, which raises questions about his tendency to take plays off and underachiever tendencies.
Like defensive line, the Packers have plenty of options at inside linebacker with seven of them currently on the roster. That doesn't mean they couldn't use an upgrade, however, especially with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith coming off significant injuries.
Arthur Brown, Kansas State––Alec Ogletree and Manti Te'o bring with them too much baggage (on field and off) to be considered in the first round, so Brown might be the only first-round consideration at the position. Although undersized at just 6-0, Brown brings a physicality and nose for the football that might not be matched in this year's draft class. The negative is that he hasn't shown much big-play ability, either in terms of interceptions or sacks.
After investing a first-round draft choice in Nick Perry last year, the Packers probably have to roll the dice and hope he's the player they thought he would be a year ago. There's little sense in taking a first round outside linebacker and then having either him or Nick Perry always on the sidelines, because Clay Matthews isn't coming off the field.
Jarvis Jones, Georgia––Jones might be the one player who will give the Packers serious pause if he's still available at No. 26, assuming they give him medical clearance after being diagnosed with stenosis in his neck earlier in his college career at USC. Given their conservative approach to Nick Collins' spine injury a few years ago, they might not want to take the risk. Regardless, Jones proved he's among the best pure pass rushers in college football with at least 19.5 TFL and 13.5 sacks in both 2011 and 2012. He also had seven forced fumbles last season.
The argument could be made that Washington's Desmond Trufant or Boise State's Jamar Taylor will be the best players available at No. 26, but it's nearly impossible to see the Packers go after a cornerback in the first round with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House all under contract in 2013.
Safety represents probably the biggest "need" on the Packers roster and the one position where there's an immediate opening after Charles Woodson's release. Sure, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings are options, but a first-round pick probably becomes a starter from Day 1 opposite Morgan Burnett.
Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International––With Kenny Vaccaro likely gone by No. 26, Cyprien is a worthwhile (and in my opinion, better) alternative. He offers the versatility to play both strong and free safety and could be an interchangeable chess piece when used in tandem with Burnett. Cyprien is a hard hitter and the type who's still able to snap interceptions on the back end of the defense, despite concerns about his small-school pedigree.
Eric Reid, LSU––Reid doesn't have as many interceptions as you'd like to see from a first-round safety with no more than two in each of his first three years in college. But those that he did grab seemed to come in big games and in big moments. Reid has ideal athletic ability with a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a horizontal leap of 134 inches that ranked first among safeties at the NFL Combine and perfect size at 6-1 and 213 lbs.
David Amerson, North Carolina State––There are some who think Amerson is a cornerback with 4.4 speed, but others think he'll have to move to safety in the NFL. There's some amount of projection involved in making a position switch, and it will take some time for Amerson to become comfortable, but he has a high ceiling. Comparisons to Ed Reed aren't to be taken lightly, especially for a guy who's picked off 13 passes in one season.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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