As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, the window to a Super Bowl is open. The goal of the team's front office should be not to squander it.
While the offense could use a big, seam-busting receiving threat and someone to grab the center position by the horns, Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy generally have that side of the football under control.
The best and quickest way to improve this Packers team is to upgrade the defense.
By adding Julius Peppers, general manager Ted Thompson made the organization's biggest splash in free agency since signing Charles Woodson in 2006. And it shouldn't end there.
When the Packers are on the clock with the 21st overall selection, the prediction here is Thompson will continue swinging for the fences and take Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, a player predicted to be still on the board.
Obviously, this prediction assumes the Packers stay put and don't trade either up or down. And things could change based on how the draft unfolds in real time, but the guess more than 48 hours away is that Shazier will be available and the Packers will take him.
Shazier declared for the NFL Draft after his true junior season as a 4-3 weakside linebacker for the Buckeyes.
Playing at just 228 lbs. in his final season in college, the concern is that Shazier won't be able to hold up on the inside of a 3-4 defense like the Packers run, struggling to get off blocks from much bigger offensive linemen and being prevented from making the big plays he made in college (45.5 career tackles for a loss).
At the NFL Combine, however, Shazier weighed in at 237 lbs. and the extra nine pounds didn't appear to affect him in the least. His 42-inch leap in the vertical jump was the most of any player regarless of position and a display of the explosiveness he possesses.
Shazier also had the top broad jump of any linebacker (130 inches) and had one of the top five fastest three-cone drills (6.91 seconds) among players at his position.
Although a hamstring issue prevented him from running the 40-yard dash at the Combine, Shazier was clocked as low as 4.35 seconds (and as high as 4.41 seconds, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com) at his pro day at Ohio State in March, showing the added weight didn't slow him down.
At this time of year, the desire to compare and contrast is unavoidable, and as such, observers are quick to juxtapose Shazier and Alabama's C.J. Mosley, thought to be two of the best inside linebackers in this year's Draft class. Whereas Mosley is stronger and stouter, capable of using his hands to stack and shed, Shazier has the higher ceiling.
Speed is Shazier's best quality. While some might worry that he'll struggle to disengage from blocks, the tradeoff is that he'll be able to avoid blocks with his quickness better than 99 percent of other linebackers.
Shazier is better able to find creases, knife his way into the backfied and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Such ability makes him the better pass rusher of the two, whether he's asked to blitz up the gut or occasionally come off the edge.
Arguably, Shazier is the more undisciplined player, liable to miss more tackles, but at just 21 years old, there's room for Shazier to grow, both from a learning standpoint and in defining his body—upper and lower.
Paired with an unselfish linebacker like A.J. Hawk willing to take on blockers, Shazier would be the perfect foil, free to react and attack. And thanks to his speed and fluidity, he could instantly become a three-down linebacker, able to stay stride for stride with receivers in pass coverage.
In Ted Thompson's tenure as general manager, he's recognized the unbelievably high expectations placed upon first round picks. Earning millions of dollars, there's already enough pressure from the fan base, so Thompson doesn't take chances from a character standpoint.
Shazier would seem to fit the same mold. Son of the team chaplain of the Miami Dolphins, Shazier considers himself a person of faith, integrity and discipline and doesn't have any red flags off the field.
Drafting a safety in the first round isn't out of the question in Green Bay either, and it could be a situation of "pick your poison" for Thompson on Thursday when the first round gets underway.
If Thompson passes on an inside linebacker in the first round, both Shazier and Mosley are likely to be gone by the time the Packers pick again with the 53rd overall selection.
Conversely, if they address inside linebacker in Round 1, the Packers may not have the opportunity to grab a safety like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Deone Buccanon, Jimmie Ward and Terrence Brooks in Round 2.
Might that influence them to trade down in Round 1 or trade up in Round 2 to get one player at each position?
We don't have much longer to find out.
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 email@example.com.
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