When it comes to ranking the perceived needs of the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, offensive line and outside linebacker come at the top of the list.
But if the Packers have a philosophy of drafting the best player available (sometimes referred to as "BPA") instead of drafting to fill a need, what's the use in analyzing positions of need, you might ask.
The reason for such an exercise is that in mere days the Packers will be adding nine new players to their roster barring any trades. By looking at each position and determining their relative strengths and weaknesses, we can see where the new players will fit into the team.
At some positions, a rookie may be able to step into the starting lineup right away. At others, they might be deep down the depth chart.
With that said, here's where I rank each position grouping in order of need from greatest to least:
- Offensive line––Part of the need is circumstantial. Guys like Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are scheduled to be free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll return to the Packers. At the same time, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will be entering their 12th season in the NFL and could be on their last legs. I also have a personal belief that the Packers haven't been a stronger running team in the past several years, because of personnel. Run blocking just hasn't played to the strengths of guys like Clifton and Colledge. The Packers have started to change that with guys like Josh Sitton. If they could draft some more players like Sitton, the ground game would be more effective. I personally love offensive linemen who are versatile, guys that can play multiple positions. I think that makes a guy like Georgia's Clint Boling a little more valuable, because he might be able to be a tackle or guard. The same goes for Wisconsin's John Moffitt who could be a guard or center. Draft them, get them to Green Bay and see where they fit in later.
- Outside linebacker––In a 3-4 defense, outside linebacker can be a very productive position. Look no further than Clay Matthews. Also look at Pittsburgh with bookend outside linebackers who both have double-digit sacks year after year. The Packers currently have okay linebackers to play opposite Matthews in Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden, but I don't think any of them are elite talents. And what if Matthews gets hurt? Then they're in a world of hurt at that position. If a player like Akeem Ayers is on the board when the Packers pick at no. 32, he's going to be hard to pass up.
- Return specialist––A lot has been made of the new kickoff rules in the NFL and how they'll decrease kickoff returns. That most definitely will be the case, but it's not as if kick returns will become completely extinct. As cold weather sets in, kickers won't be kicking the ball as far and there will be more kick returns. And punt return rules haven't changed at all. There will be just as many of those as usual. All things being equal, the Packers probably don't want their Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams returning punts any more. They need a return specialist badly.
- Wide receiver––As much as I personally would love to see the Packers have a more effective ground game, I realize the personnel they have suits the aerial attack. And it's just the way the professional game is headed: spread 'em out and throw it.With Aaron Rodgers running the show, you can never have enough weapons. Besides, James Jones is a free agent and Donald Driver isn't getting any younger. And it would certainly help if a new wide receiver could also help in the return game.
- Defensive line––Much has been made about Cullen Jenkins' impending free agency and Johnny Jolly's legal troubles, but the Packers are better equipped to handle the losses than most realize. They drafted two defensive linemen last year in Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson who figure to help the Packers for the next several years. That said, it can't hurt to add depth. Ryan Pickett is getting to the age where he could see his productivity decline at any moment.
- Running back––I like Ryan Grant and James Starks, I do. But they're very similar running backs. They're both one-cut, powerful runners that can grind out some tough yards. I think their weaknesses are generally the same: speed, receiving ability and pass protection. Brandon Jackson's strengths are pass protection and receiving ability, but he's a free agent. He may not be back. I still would like to see the Packers with a running back known for his speed, a guy who can get yards in the open field at the second and third levels. They haven't had that type of back in years.
- Cornerback––Thankfully the Packers are pretty well stocked at cornerback with Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. But it's such an important position in the NFL, it never hurts to add more good talent. In today's NFL, teams like to throw the ball all over the field, and good cornerbacks are needed to shut down the pass. If either Woodson, Williams or Shields were to get hurt, the Packers will be in need of another good shutdown corner.
- Inside linebacker––The need for an inside linebacker is based more upon the opinion that the Packers will eventually part ways with Nick Barnett. Right now they're loaded with Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar. But if the Packers happen to deal Barnett, they'll want to develop a new young linebacker to back the other players up.
- Quarterback––With Matt Flynn, quarterback isn't a need. But it will be. If the Packers don't trade Flynn, he's likely gone in free agency a year from now anyway. Maybe Graham Harrell is his heir apparent, maybe not. Whatever the case, the Packers will be better off addressing the situation and grooming a new no. 2 this year as opposed to next year. That might be a luxury they can't afford, though.
- Kicker––Mason Crosby is a free agent, and even though he may very well re-sign with the Packers, it can't be assumed. The Packers should be looking at options to replace Crosby and bring it training camp competition at the very least. They can probably accomplish this with an undrafted rookie.
- Tight end––The Packers are in pretty good shape with Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree all under contract for next season. But Finley is a free agent a year from now and may want to go to the highest bidder. Because the Packers draft the best available player regardless of position, it wouldn't be a surprise if they add a tight end. But if they do, that player will probably be far down the depth chart his rookie season.
- Fullback––Like Crosby, both John Kuhn and Korey Hall are free agents. There's a good chance they'll both be back, but it's not a given. And the one guy that is under contract, Quinn Johnson, hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. It's not out of the realm of possibility that a rookie fullback could be better than all three of them.
- Safety––With Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah, Morgan Burnett and Jarrett Bush at safety, there's not a huge hole at safety. If they do draft a safety or sign one as an undrafted free agent, that guy will have his work cut out for him to work his way up the depth chart.
- Punter––Tim Masthay made leaps and bounds as the season went on last year. Unless there's an injury, I can't see him losing the job. Same goes for long snapper Brett Goode.
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