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Packers Needs Extend Beyond Outside Linebacker, Defensive Line

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Packers Needs Extend Beyond Outside Linebacker, Defensive Line

After a year in which the Green Bay Packers gave up the second-most regular season yards in NFL history, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or a blogger to know the Packers need help on defense.

Their two biggest needs are obvious: outside linebacker and defensive lineman. The right player could step in immediately and become a starter.

But the Packers have a litany of other, lesser needs. Like any team, they need depth, the next generation of players that will play specific, smaller roles immediately and hopefully develop into productive starters down the road.

With the Packers very likely to have 12 draft choices (one in each of the seven rounds, four compensatory draft choices for 2011 free agents losses and one for the trade of offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff to the Jets), they'll have plenty of opportunities to find players to fill those holes and the roster.

The following is one man's opinion of the hierarchy of needs the Packers have entering the 2012 offseason:

1 and 1A) Everyone can debate the Packers biggest need until the cows come home. Is it outside linebacker or defensive lineman? Flip a coin. They need both. A good player at either position could take pressure off the other. All things being equal, they should just take the player they think will be better, if they happened to be forced to make a decision between the two. Outside linebacker is listed first for no particular reason.

1) Outside linebacker––The Packers need a running mate opposite Clay Matthews. A revolving door of players was experimented with in 2011 with no one taking the bull by the horns.

Erik Walden occasionally held his own, but rarely stood out and could not hold his own against the run. Brad Jones got his chance late in the season, made a handful of sacks, but doesn't appear to be the answer. Frank Zombo couldn't stay healthy. Vic So'oto and Jamari Lattimore were undrafted rookies and are no sure thing.

History has shown that the outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense can be a big-time playmaker, the type of guy that's ideally a big-time pass rusher and gets double-digit sacks. A three-down type of player would also play big roles in run defense and in pass coverage as well.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a dynamic outside linebacker duo with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley the past several seasons. Their defensive success over time has been demonstrated. The Packers could benefit from their own productive pair.

1A) Defensive lineman––The absence of Cullen Jenkins has been well documented. His pass rush ability, in particular, was sorely missed this past season.

In a perfect world, a new addition to the Packers defensive line fills two roles. He joins B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett in the base 3-4. And he's paired with Raji as their one of their two defensive linemen in the nickel sub-package.

It will be the job of the scouting and personnel department to find a player that isn't just a one-trick pony. They'll want to find a guy who's the best combination of run stuffer and pass rusher as possible, and that's not an easy task.

There are plenty of guys that can do one or the other well. And there's even more who can do both marginally well. Now that the all-star game circuit is over, the Packers will use the Combine, pro days and visits to find a three-down defensive lineman effective in all phases of the game.

2) Safety––The immediate need at the position is tied directly to Nick Collins. After a serious neck injury that forced him to miss most of the past season, he's weighing the pros and cons of playing versus retiring.

Collins has said he'll make a decision in March. If he chooses to resume his playing career, the need for a starter at safety is much less in 2012, but still not absent entirely.

There's always the chance, God forbid, Collins suffers a setback or another neck injury. And Charlie Peprah, while a reliable short-term backup, would be a liability if the Packers need him to be a long-term starter.

At the very least, the Packers need depth at safety and possibly a player that can step into the starting lineup.

3) Center––Like safety, the immediate need at center is tied to Scott Wells.

From all appearances, Wells is set to test the free agent market. The best situation for both parties would be for Wells to return, once again, all things being equal. The Packers need his services, and Wells would be best off playing for a team where he knows the players and the system.

But entering his ninth season, and very likely his last chance at a big-money contract, Wells is going to make sure he gets the money he deserves. If nothing else, it might be a scare tactic to force the Packers to pay him like a top five NFL center.

With Scott Wells, the Packers are set at center for the next several seasons. Without him, they need a replacement or settle for Evan Dietrich-Smith as the starter to open 2012.

4) Quarterback––Matt Flynn isn't long for Green Bay no matter how he leaves, via free agency or the less likely "tag and trade" route.

Graham Harrell is the incumbent and will be given every chance to become Aaron Rodgers' primary backup next season. But there's a very good chance the Packers will draft a rookie to compete with him.

The winner of the competition will become the second-string quarterback, while the loser will likely be the No. 3 QB either on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.

5) Cornerback––Charles Woodson has lost a step and isn't getting any younger. Tramon Williams didn't have anywhere near as good a season in 2011 as he did in 2010. And Sam Shields also took a step backwards.

It would be nice for the Packers if Davon House developed into a reliable cornerback, but that's no given.

In today's NFL and its emphasis on the passing game, no team can have enough cornerbacks for their nickel and dime packages.

6) Tackle––Bryan Bulaga might be on the verge of stardom, but beyond him, the other tackle job is up for grabs.

Chad Clifton is on his last legs, may retire or be cut. Marshall Newhouse has potential but isn't necessarily above replacement. Derek Sherrod is a question mark after suffering a broken leg that ended his 2011 season.

The opportunity is there for the right player to work his way up the depth chart.

7) Running back––Ryan Grant is a free agent and may or may not be gone. Meanwhile, James Starks is the unquestioned replacement, but he has to prove healthy and not be prone to mental mistakes.

Alex Green is coming off a torn ACL, and Brandon Saine must show he's more than just a speed merchant.

Recent history is showing effective running backs can be found in the late rounds or even after the draft, so the Packers can see if they can find a suitable running back without making a significant investment.

8 ) Fullback––John Kuhn's knee injury in the playoffs makes his status uncertain for next year. There's every chance he'll recover and go back to being his old self, but that's not a 100% guarantee.

So the Packers have a decision to make, do they eliminate the fullback position like a lot of other teams? Or do they go the route of using H-back including the several they already have on their roster?

9) Inside linebacker––Between Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk and D.J. Smith, the Packers are pretty well set at inside linebacker for 2012, but depth is always a concern.

There's always the possibility for injury, and some suspect Hawk's salary makes him expendable beyond 2012.

***

That's 10 potential positions of need and 12 draft choices to start filling them.

Assuming the Packers don't trade any of their draft choices, and it's certainly a longshot that general manager Ted Thompson doesn't make a single trade, that's allows for the Packers to draft one player at each of the 10 positions and two extras to take an extra outside linebacker and defensive lineman.

The odds that all happens according to plan are slim to none as well. But perhaps the point being is, the Packers have plenty of needs beyond outside linebacker and defensive line, but they should also have plenty of draft choices to help fill them.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (24) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

IMO - ILB is a much higher priority than fullback or RB.

Hawk sucks. It's time to see what Smith and Francois have in them. And time to draft another guy. Cut Hawk TT. Cut Hawk.

Bearmeat's picture

I'd put GB's needs at

1. RDE
1a. ROLB
2. CB/S (depending on Collins)
3. C (If Wells is not brought back)
4. Whatever wasn't #2 above
5. ILB
6. RB
7. More DL
8. Backup QB

CSS's picture

"....it doesn't take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or a blogger to know the Packers need help on defense."

You're right, they need HELP on defense, especially quality depth and starters along the defensive line. This draft will be under additional scrutiny because most Packer fans read this as:

'.....it doesn't take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or a blogger to know the Packers defense kept this team from reaching the Super Bowl.'

It was a lack of execution when it mattered most, not a lack of talent. As rough as the total yardage yielded numbers were that defense had more talent (hands down) than the Patriots, and more talent in the back 7 than the Giants.

Only writing this so you can prep for the knee-jerk reactions if Thompson and staff take a highly rated player where fans perceive they already have adequate talent and doesn't fit as a need.

No denying the list of 'needs' above, I fully agree. Especially along the DL.

Ebongreen's picture

I generally agree with your rating, but a lot also depends on what the offseason holds for Charles Woodson. If he moves to safety, with or without Nick Collins, cornerback is more of a need and safety somewhat less.

Between halfback, fullback and inside linebacker, it's almost a matter of flipping a coin on what's the position most in need of improvement. It's all about depth for all three positions, because neither offense or defense depends on them as playmakers. Would it be great to have more talented and durable players there? Sure. But on offense giving the ball to a halfback or fullback means fewer chances for a big play from AR, while on defense the ILB position is seen mostly a matter of "don't screw it up" for the Packers. Maybe it's been so long since I've seen an M/ILB playmaker for the Packers, but relative to other needs it's "just kinda there" to me.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

I'd like to see those 12 picks turn into around 7. I know the more picks you get the more chances there are to find a stud or two. I also know that there's a better chance of finding a stud earlier in the draft, though we're all aware of Tom Brady and James Harrison... That's the exception, not the rule. I'd love to see Ted use a pick or two, Hell, even three to trade up and get a bonifide blue chip prospect, OR TWO, for this defense. Will it happen? Not holding my breath, but I'm not sure this team needs 12 wide eyed rookies. I'd settle for 5 and two beasts. And if they don't pan out, I wouldn't hold it against Ted for trying. Pipe dream, I know.

GBP 4 LIFE

aussiepacker's picture

Agreed Fitz. That would be what i would do, but unfortunately i'm not GM of the Green Bay Packers.

BubbaOne's picture

Remember you can't trade the comp picks.

Here's a scenario for the Packers to move around and get 3 studs on D.

TT trades his 1st, 4th, and a 7th to Miami for their 40 or 42 and 73 or 74 (coin flips). At 40/42 he takes CB Chase Minnefield or Stephon Gilmore (some are comparing him to Woodson). He then trades his 2 third rounders (73/74 and 91) to move up to pick 54 and take an OLB in McClellin, Ronnell Lewis, Massaquoi, or Vince Curry. He then uses his own 2nd rounder (60) and takes a DE in Kendall Reyes, Derek Wolfe, or Kheeston Randall. Bottom line TT trades 1-2-3-4-7 into three 2nd rounders netting 3 areas of need on D.
All these scenarios fit the draft value table. I’m no expert and not sure which are Packer people but I’ve given options at each pick to bring home 3 studs.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Nice Bubba.

BubbaOne's picture

Some of these needs I feel will be filled internally.
What would Zombo do if he didn't have injury after injury?
W/ Graham Harrell and Nick Hill maybe they only bring in an UDFA at QB?
What can MD Jennings, So'oto, Lattimore et al provide w/ a full season under their belt and an OTA?
If Wells is gone, what about Sampson Genus?
What about all the other PS'ers? Chris Campbell was playing well at T during camp til he needed to have surgery? Levine at S? Guy at DE? Etc.
There's several S's in FA that are possibilities. A couple of them are said to be willing to take a 1 yr contract, so TT wouldn't have to overextend his cap.

redlights's picture

Exactly!

Sootofan97's picture

^ I have a feeling curry won't escape the first. Trade 1st, 1st nx yr and 4th to jacksonville for their 1st, 2nd to get upshaw

fred's picture

I'd agree that OT is an area of need if Sherrod's career is in jeopardy, but all reports have been that Sherrod should be ready to go by TC. With Sherrod and Newhouse already competing for a starting spot, I'd say it's a little early to be treating OT as an area of need. Sherrod was selected in the 1st rd for a reason

Cole's picture

Drafting a RB would make no sense we've drafted two the last two years plus found Saine. Unless its rediculous value, I don't see it.

packeraaron's picture

Agreed.

Mark's picture

Makes sense to me Starks hasn't played a full season in 3 years who knows if Green will be ok after the knee injury (although he looked good in limited snaps) and Saine is still unproven if TT can get Cyrus Gray in the 4th I'll be very happy/

bodman's picture

Would be curious what TT's scouting report on Jimmy Clausen was coming out of Notre Dame. He might be a free agent this offseason.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Ick

Mark's picture

Could be a good pickup low risk low reward might have MM/Clements/McAdoo groom him into a somewhat decent QB.

mark's picture

Hmmmm, very, very interesting.

MarkinMadison's picture

I really wouldn't put a back-up QB at #4 on the list - way too high. I think that Harrell is in a similar spot on his development curve as Flynn was say, two years ago. Competition for him would be great, but there are too many other needs to spend a draft choice. I'm thinking UFA. I don't think that it will be within the Packers' first six choices this year.

BrianD's picture

TE

Finley: unsigned, unrestricted free agent
Quarless: coming back from major injury
Crabtree: great person but limited player
Williams: project TE, was benched in 2011-2012 for mistakes on the field
Taylor: beast on special teams, huge unknown in the offense

As of today our TEs are a large question mark for the 2012 season. If we can't sign Finley, I'd like to see TT bring in an inexpensive vet who is capable of having a productive season or two while the rest of our TEs develop. We aren't in a position to gain much from drafting yet another TE at this point unless TT gets an absolute steal somewhere in the draft.

mark's picture

My dream free agent for the Pack would be London Fletcher.

I hear the Skins want him back, but who knows how much value they'd put on him. You know Fletcher wants a ring, and with GB he'd have a shot. We have reasonable depth at LB to give him some snaps off. But honestly, even in his 14th season or whatever, the dude is playing like a fucking beast. He is a Green Bay style player if there ever was one. What couldn't we do all year?? Tackle. And all London does is tackle people. His leadership would be a value unto itself.

BLACKHAWK's picture

No way do I think we need to draft a QB. Develop Harrel and/or bring in a vet to backup Aaron. We need more corners a safety, more DL and OL more than a QB

Also love Bubba's thinking on what TT may/could do....very well thought out!

Nononsense's picture

My pipe dream FA would be Mario Williams from Houston, DE or OLB we will find out when he gets here.

I also like Red Bryant from Seattle and Calais Campbell from Arizona for the Dline.

The only type of RB I could stand to see drafted would be a Darren Sproles type of guy. A lightning quick little speedster for STs and 3rd downs.

Maybe Cobb can be that kind of player for us but I would like to add another like that for depth.

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