With general manager Ted Thompson and many other Packers representatives down in Mobile, Ala. this week at the site of Senior Bowl practices, the NFL draft rumor mill is getting heated up and there's couple items of note coming out of the college all-star game practices.
Because of the glaring need at safety in Green Bay, Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is predictably hot on the trail of players at the position, and learned that the Packers scout spoke with Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler this week.
First of all, our obligatory reminder that a Packers scout simply speaking to any particular player is essentially meaningless. The entire scouting department will talk to almost every draftable prospect at some point over the course of the next several months.
But this does present a good opportunity to discuss the connection between Ladler and the Packers, because of the need for a safety and Ladler being a top-ranked prospect.
As Dunne notes, there's the growing connection between Vanderbilt and Green Bay with former Commodores defensive backs Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson already wearing the green and gold.
It would appear the Packers have maintained a close relationship with former Packers assistant coach James Franklin, who had been the head coach at Vanderbilt for the past three seasons before recently being hired by Penn State.
And as Dunne also notes, Ladler was a turnover machine in college.
"The 6-foot, 200-pound Ladler has started in Vanderbilt's defense since his freshman year, actually playing alongside Sean Richardson," writes Dunne. "He made plays — consistently — in the country's best conference. A first-team all-SEC selection, he was the only FBS player with five forced fumbles and five interceptions."
Because he doesn't play at Alabama and his head coach doesn't have a reputation for developing first-round safeties like Nick Saban, Ladler is flying under the radar right now. But make no mistake, Ladler is every bit the player as the higher-profile Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of the Crimson Tide and a bigger playmaker.
The NFL Combine and its numerous measured drills will play a large part in determining both players' relative value, but I am confident in saying right now that Ladler is not a fourth or fifth round prospect as projected by NFLDraftScout.com. He will likely go on Day 2 and may very much be a target of the Packers if they don't go after a safety in free agency.
Another rumor emanating from the Senior Bowl is the Packers' purported interest in Stanford defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid Trent Murphy, coming from WalterFootball.com.
"The Packers are also interested in Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy," writes draft analyst Charlie Campbell. "Green Bay has some edge rushers in Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, but both players have dealt with injuries. Murphy (6-5, 252) fits the mold as an edge rusher in their defense as he led the nation with 15 sacks last season. If Murphy falls to their second-round pick, that would be ideal for Green Bay."
As usual, take this information with a grain of salt coming from an unnamed source, but once again, this provides as good an opportunity as any to take a closer look at Murphy.
The Packers have invested recent first round draft choices into Matthews and Perry in the past couple several seasons, but as seen in both 2012 and 2013, they have trouble staying healthy.
If Matthews and Perry are available, they figure to be among the best players on the Packers defense, but the organization can't afford to stand pat, especially with Mike Neal becoming a free agent.
It's notable that Murphy measured in smaller at the Senior Bowl (6' 5 3/8", 252 lbs.) than his published size at Stanford (6' 6", 261 lbs.), perhaps hinting that he's more linebacker than defensive end.
According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, "Really liked the overall game Murphy showed today. He was able to hold the point out of a three point stance and never gave up an inch of room to opponents. Murphy also displayed a good deal of agility and easily moved about the field. In a nutshell he was stronger and more athletic than anyone thought."
And like Ladler, how Murphy performs at the Combine will go a long ways toward determining how high he gets drafted. Scouts are going to want to see how well he moves in space, doing things like dropping into coverage, typical things asked of a linebacker and things he didn't do on a frequent basis in college.
But it also remains to be seen how high a draft choice the Packers can afford to invest into an outside linebacker before also addressing positions of greater perceived need such as safety, inside linebacker and tight end.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "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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