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Which ILB/S Combo Should the Packers Take in the 2014 NFL Draft?

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Which ILB/S Combo Should the Packers Take in the 2014 NFL Draft?

Safety and inside linebacker are universally considered among major needs for the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL draft. 

The Packers will likely enter this week's draft with only three pure safeties—Morgan Burnett, Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson—and another—second-year defensive back Micah Hyde—likely to play a hybrid cornerback/safety role. M.D. Jennings, last season's starter opposite Burnett, signed with the Chicago Bears, and former fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian was cut last December. 

Inside linebacker is a little more settled in terms of overall depth. A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington are all expected to return and contribute, but most consider the position a prime candidate for a talent infusion. Jones was hurt for long stretches in 2013 and no one really knows if Lattimore or Barrington can be a full-time starter on a championship-caliber defense. 

The 2014 draft provides potential options for the Packers to upgrade both positions, especially in the first few rounds. 

In an effort to find the best pairing of safety and inside linebacker for the Packers, I asked a few of the people I trust most on the subject. The question to be answered was simple; which combination of players at the two positions—factoring in value, likely availability and fit in Green Bay—was the best fix for the Packers in this draft?

Below are the answers, with my own opinion last. A vote tally is also provided at the end. 

 

Brian Carriveau, Cheesehead TV

ILB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

S: Deone Bucannon, Washington State

Shazier has the speed and play-making ability that is missing in Green Bay, along with the potential to stay on the field all three downs. Bucannon, meanwhile, is the best combination of big hitter and turnover generator in the 2014 draft class at the safety position. Together, they'd instantly upgrade a Packers defense that is desperately in need of an infusion of talent.

 

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report

ILB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama

S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State

Both players fill areas of need, but they're also high-level athletes with versatile skills. For example, Brooks can play center field, but he's also a very good edge blitzer. If the Packers are truly going for a hybrid, versatile defense, these are the two best picks.

 

Wes Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press Gazette

ILB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

S: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Keep hearing the narrative of “Oh no, not another Ohio State linebacker” and wish it would stop. That’s not a metric. You can’t judge Shazier based on the failed expectations of Buckeye linebackers before him. He’s his own man and the top inside linebacker on my board. I love his athleticism and I get the feeling the Packers do, as well. No question he lacks size and bulk. I believe he played most of last year in the 220s, but he’d bring explosiveness to that position the Packers haven’t had in years. I think A.J. Hawk has a couple more seasons in him and could bring Shazier along nicely. Plus, not as great of an injury risk as Mosley. There isn't as much depth at inside backer, so I feel you can plug a hole with Shazier and find a stellar safety prospect on the second day.

Let me get this straight – an undersized, athletic safety who isn’t afraid to hit or play in the middle of the field? The Packers hit on a second-rounder like this in 2005 and he developed into a three-time Pro Bowler. Even if Jimmie Ward doesn’t develop into Nick Collins, I’m intrigued by the possibilities. We all made the mistake of thinking McMillian would be the next small-school safety to man the Packers’ secondary for years, but Ward is the real deal. Don’t know if he’ll be there at 53, but have him as the third safety on my board.

 

Ty Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville 

ILB: Kyle Van Noy, BYU

Both might not seem like exact fits for the Packers. But if Pryor falls, Green Bay can find a way to use him. The defense could use his violence on the back end. Van Noy played on the edge at BYU but has the versatility to slide inside. Mike McCarthy wants players who can handle multiple roles defensively. Van Noy, wherever he lines up, would provide exactly that. Plus, he's a playmaker (26 sacks, 11 FF, seven int.).

 

Paul Imig, Fox Sports

ILB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama

S: Deone Bucannon, Washington State

In an attempt to be realistic with the players who I believe could be available at Nos. 21 and 53, I'll say the ideal safety/inside linebacker combination would be: Mosley in the first round (I'd take Mosley over Shazier, but not by a substantial margin) and then Bucannon in the second round (I have Bucannon ahead of Ward by quite a bit as the third-best safety overall).

At safety, I think there's a clear top two players (Clinton-Dix, Pryor) and a clear second-tier (Deone Bucannon, Jimmie Ward), then a fairly steep drop-off. Therefore, if the Packers don't go safety in the first round, they had better get their calculations right that either Ward or Bucannon will be available at No. 53. If they don't get one of those four safeties, they deserve criticism (in my opinion) for not addressing their biggest positional need with one of this year's top prospects.

Similarly, if Green Bay doesn't get either C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier or Chris Borland, then there probably isn't another inside linebacker who would be a good value pick in the first two rounds.

 

Jersey Al Bracco, AllGBP.com

ILB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

S: Deone Bucannon, Washington State

While I'm one of the minority that would like to see Shazier as the Packers' other 3-4OLB, I would not complain one bit if the Packers drafted him and moved him inside. He's the impact player they covet with the speed to chase down the likes of Colin Kaepernick (He's my "Kaepernick Killer). Deone Bucannon is the most complete safety in this draft. In the box, deep zone, man coverage, blitzing, whatever role you put him in, he can handle it. Doesn't hurt that he's a heat-seeking missile either. May require trading up ten spots or so to land in the second round.

 

Justis Mosqueda, Draft Breakdown

ILB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

S: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

If for some reason Shazier should fall to 21, he'd be a slam dunk pick. As the great Lou Tepper says, an offensive lineman isn't fearing the size of a 220-pound linebacker, but he's not fearing a 250-pounder, either. Shazier is ideal as a 4-3 WILL, but he's not a square peg as a 3-4 WILB, either. He's a coverage linebacker with great closing speed, which allows him to blitz and make tackles in the backfield efficiently. The problem is keeping a body off of him, but with Hawk playing that defensive fullback role, he could be very impactful. Essentially, you're getting Sean Taylor at linebacker.

Ward is my favorite safety prospect for the Packers for one simple reason: flexibility. He has traits of an Eric Weddle type free safety, but also played corner at NIU. He's a prospect who could play high, play slot strong safety, or slot corner. He and Micah Hyde would play off each other with complimenting skill sets that allow the "loser" of the free safety battle to still have an impact at SLOT2.

It seems like the media is higher on Ward than scouts (throw me in there), so if that seems like a reach that he'll be there in the second, I'll go with Terrence Brooks.

 

Aaron Nagler, Bleacher Report/Cheesehead TV

ILB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama

S: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Let's not over-think this. Mosley would provide the explosion, inside-outside speed and overall athleticism that the linebacking corps has sorely lacked the last few years.

I actually think he'll be gone by the time the Packers pick, but this is my fantasy world we're living in, ok? Ward would be about a thousand percent upgrade over anything the team threw out there last year, including Morgan Burnett. Ward's versatility should help the young safety get back on track. Ward's ability to drop down in the box or slide over to the slot is big as well. 

 

Zach Kruse, Bleacher Report/CheeseheadTV

ILB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama

S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State

Mosley may not be available at No. 21, but if he is, he'll become a best-player-available pick and an easy choice. He has top-10 talent and represents a better schematic fit into the 3-4 than Ryan Shazier. I like Shazier, but I fear he's more athlete than football player at this point. He's also much more of a projection, and the Packers have been fitting square pegs into round holes far too often on defense. Mosley is plug-and-play as a three-down linebacker on Day 1. 

Brooks is my pick at safety because I truly believe the Packers need a true centerfield-type safety. Also, I'm not confident Jimmie Ward will be there at No. 53 overall. Combining Brooks—likely the best true free safety in the second tier of safeties—with Morgan Burnett would free Burnett of some of his deep-half burdens and allow him to continue working closer to the line of scrimmage, where he's a better fit. Brooks can man the back as a poor man's Nick Collins and a serious upgrade over M.D. Jennings. 

Add talented athletes like Mosley and Brooks to a defense that acquired Julius Peppers and that will getting back Clay Matthews, Casey Hayward and Nick Perry and the Packers could have serious rebound potential in 2014. 

 

Voting Results

ILB

Ryan Shazier, 4

C.J. Mosley, 4

Kyle Van Noy, 1

S

Deone Bucannon, 3

Jimmie Ward, 3

Terrence Brooks, 2

Calvin Pryor, 1

 

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV and is the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (29) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

jmac34's picture

mosely-ha ha Clinton dix for Brian Carriveau twitter level trolling

ballark's picture

God, please tell me Shazier isn't it. Does not pass my eyeball test.

L's picture

1st Round - ILB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

2nd Round - S: Deone Bucannon, Washington State, Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois or Terrence Brooks, Florida State

This is how I'm feeling; I'm really liking Ryan Shazier in the first, but I'm not too picky with 1 of the 3 safety prospects in the second as I think they'll all provide good value and help the team in the coming season.

JimTaylor31's picture

I'm not totally sold on Shazier due to his size. If he can keep his weight above 235 lbs I think he'll be fine. If he gets back down to 220-225 lbs. where he played last year, I'm not so sure that he won't get buried by the big bodies in the NFL. That's why I like Mosley a bit better but then again with Mosley you have the injury issues. Actually, I'm getting kinda fond of Fuller. I like his versatility a lot.

Stroh's picture

Shazier is a 21 yr old true Jr. There is no reason to believe he can't maintain or even gain a few more lbs gradually over the course of the next few years. That's not a concern for me at all. Mosley's injuries concern me far more than Shazier being able to maintain his weight.

JimTaylor31's picture

Shazier is 6'1" which means he could probably reach about 245 lbs. on his frame. Now, is Shazier an elite athlete who plays LB or a LB who happens to be a great athlete? I guess I'm always skeptical of guys who are athletic freaks. I mean I'd rather have a great football player who is a pretty good athlete than a great athlete who happens to play football. I haven't seen that much of Shazier so just asking the question.

Stroh's picture

Watched quite a bit of film on him. Nothing I've seen says athlete more than football player. IMO he's a Football player that happens to be a great athlete. Makes plays all over the field... In the backfield at the LOS and dropping in coverage. Good to very good instincts that'll get better.

JimTaylor31's picture

Good info Stroh. I wasn't sure about Shazier's football IQ. I guess I'm favoring either Shazier or Fuller at #21. Both have the athleticsm we need and both are versatile guys who can fill an immediate need or at least be an upgrade with a high ceiling. If Ted goes in another direction though I won't be shocked or disappointed. There are a few guys that may be available at #21 that scrare me: Hageman, Nix, Ward (size for safety), Amaro. I'm sure there are others.

Stroh's picture

The players that scare you have legit reasons to scare you.

Hageman is immensely talented but didn't play to it. Huge bust potential, but in the 2nd I would take that gamble.

Nix has a knee injury that concerns me for a NT. Again, in the 2nd I would take that gamble. Not in the 1st. But I think Raji will be around longer than one year.

Ward would be a reach as a smallish Safety in the 1st, great value in the 2nd.

Not interested in Amaro, can't block and now that we have a legit running game the type of TE we should be targeting should change IMO. Amaro won't work as an inline TE. Bad pick, maybe in the 3rd but I wouldn't take him in the 1st or 2nd. Niklas/CJ Fed in the 3rd or 4th respectively would be great picks that might fit a round higher.

JimTaylor31's picture

Agree on your assessment. Good values in Rd 2 but not worth the gamble in Rd 1. We don't have to gamble on boom/bust or health risk type guys given there will be a pretty good player availbale at #21. i'm liking CJ Fed with one of our 3rds. Not a dynamic player but I see him as a solid blocking and 3rd down pass catching TE. If we can get a steady TE and add some WR depth I'll be happy.

jimtalkbox's picture

I've got to go with the Mosley/Brooks combo.

cpitt's picture

This was a cool read.

I agree with Paul Imig...they have to get a safety in one of the first two rounds. It's unfortunate that we are in that position because we most certainly are going to have to trade up in either the 1st or 2nd to get the safety they want. Dix and Pryor won't be there in the first (possibly Pryor, but I'm not convinced he can cover). Buchannon and Ward won't be there in the 2nd. Brooks is a wildcard.

I feel like Ward is the what the packers need at free safety. We've seen receivers running free for the last three three seasons. We need a safety that is a talented cover guy back there. Morgan Burnett has shown that he can come up into the box and be physical. He should be our SS, while Ward plays FS.

I know Buchannon had a lot of INT's but when I watched the highlights it didn't seem like amazing plays on the ball in the air, just run of the mill stuff. Granted I wouldn't be upset if they got him, just not sure he's worth trading up for in the 2nd.

I'm not sold they have to take an ILB with the first two picks. There's going to be a lot of talented OLB prospects in the 2nd.

Evan's picture

I'm entirely done with draft analysis and mocks - I think I've lost the ability to have an opinion on these guys.

I'd be happy with any combination of Shazier/Mosley and Pryor/Bucannon/Ward.

Four more days...

Brian Carriveau's picture

The problem is, I'm willing to bet all five of those guys will be off the board by the 53rd overall pick.

Evan's picture

I'll defer to your judgement there.

Though I still think that the 3rd round comp makes a trade up in the 2nd a real possibility if one of those guys is still there in the late 30s/early 40s.

4thand1's picture

By the 53rd for sure, maybe one left standing. Remember bad teams are picking early, they'll make dumb choices, hence that's why they stay bad.

jh9's picture

In my true fantasy world it would be Mosley/Pryor. However, to play between the lines of this post it would be Mosley/Bucannon.

Mosley would be able to come in and make an immediate impact on defense. Watching his film you can see he has the ability to consistently shed blockers find the ball carrier and make the tackle. If we can't get Mosley and we take Shazier, I'm fine with that. But I don't see the same consistency from Shazer in terms of shedding blockers like I see in Mosley. I don't think Shazier will make the immediate impact Mosley will make but I think Shazier will get there after a year or two in the NFL.

Bucannon isn't as NFL-ready as Pryor, but like Shazier I think he has the ability and character to develop into
a first-rate player at his position within a year or two. If anyone wants to compare college stats between Brooks and Bucannon, here they are:

Brooks 5’11” 198 4.42 40 yd.
126 tackles, 88 solo, 9.5 TFL, 3 FF
, 5 interceptions, 15 deflections
Bucannon 6’ 1” 211 4.49 40 yd
384 tackles 268 solo, 13.5 TFL, 7 FF
, 14 interceptions, 14 deflections

Stroh's picture

Shazier/Brooks. The Packers get those 2 players and the draft is already a success. I've liked Shazier over Mosley for about the past 6 weeks now. Shazier is the better sideline to sideline player, makes more plays in the backfield and is almost as good in coverage. His speed will make him better to handle the Kaeperdork's, Griffin's, Newton's and Wilson's of the NFC. Mosley would be a close 2nd, but Shazier IMO will be the better long term player and Mosley's injuries scare me off a bit.

Burnett was drafted to play alongside Collins and Brooks is easily the closest thing to a Collins in this draft. Packers need a Safety that is more of the Centerfielder type, certainly not another SS type. Bucannon isn't very good in coverage and needs to play near the LOS like a SS. Bucannon would force Burnett to play out of position. Brooks has speed, range, coverage and plays w/ a physical presence. Collins ball skills weren't very good in his first couple year (a lot of dropped INT's) Brooks would have to work on that part of his game. He and Burnett would make a very good Safety duo and allow each to do what they do best! Brooks might be the best FS/Centerfielder in this draft.

Jamie's picture

Barring a trade up, I think Mosley will be gone, and possibly Shazier as well. I was one of the first here to start pounding the table on Shazier and questioning the value of Mosley, but have since done an about-face. If Mosely can stay healthy...I think he has the best chance of having an excellent career. Shazier is dynamic...I just have real concerns about how he handles blockers and how his game will translate to a bigger/faster NFL.

Anywho, I am going with...

Clinton-Dix (1st rd) - the most complete (size/speed/agility/ability) centerfield type safety in the draft...another player I have come to appreciate more as I've seen more of them.

Khairi Fortt (3rd/4th rd) - listed as an OLB, but I believe he may be the 2nd or 3rd best 3/4 ILB prospect in a draft...granted it's not a very deep class at the ILB position. Watch this guy's Cal game film on Youtube. He reminds me of Bobby Wagner...even seen some Navarro Bowman in his play. His ability to engage and shed blockers in his periphery, yet maintain his full attention on the ball carrier, is exceptional. He also looks to have great instincts, is decisive, and arrives with force.

Stroh's picture

Good call on Fortt. Hadn't looked at him at all. Like his athleticism and size. Doesn't sound like a 34 OLB in the NFL, no mention of pass rush ability. Seems like a good fit as a 34 ILB maybe a bit like Bishop, tho not as physical, but 3rd seems a bit high. Maybe a late 4th or 5th round guy. If we get a Shazier/Mosley in the 1st, Fortt would be a good ILB to develop to replace Hawk. Personally, I still like Carlos Fields in that area of the draft. But Fortt wouldn't be a bad choice.

ben's picture

Futile. CJ Mosely & Deone Bucannon will be gone by #21. Most likely Ryan Shazier too.

I'm might as well go with LB:Khalil Mack & S:Justin Gilbert.

4thand1's picture

No way. Good fortune will fall on the Packers, they're way over due.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I'm with Matt Miller.

Zach Kruse's picture

Which means you're also with me. :)

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I'd like to see at least four new guys at ILB and Safety come into camp out of this class. Between nine picks and rookie free agents Thompson's got the ammo to inject some talent into the middle of this defense.

Stroh's picture

While I still am firmly in the Shazier/Brooks camp, any combination of Shazier, Mosley and Brooks/Ward would make me a happy camper. It would seriously affect the Packers playmaking abilities at ILB and Safety.

An ILB that can run sideline to sideline making plays vs the run and in coverage and an athletic playmaking FS to play deep centerfield but has versatility to play all the Safety roles.

Speed and playmaking are needed at ILB and S.

As long as it doesn't include Bucannon since he can't play deep coverage.

HankScorpio's picture

Whatever the Packers do in the draft, I hope they are not chasing need. That leads to a downward spiral, IMO.

If it happens to work out that the best player on the Packers draft board plays the middle of the defense, they should run the card up to the podium. But they absolutely should not deviate from taking the best player on their board.

The only exception that seem appropriate is if a QB is BPA in rounds 1 & 2.

JimTaylor31's picture

I do agree that we should not feel forced into taking a guy just to fill a need. I'm guessing there will be 3-4 guys at #21 who Ted ranks pretty closely. In that case go with the guy who can upgrade a position of need. If an impact player at another position falls into our lap who is clearly BPA then I agree, go BPA and upgrade the roster at another position. We have to come out of the draft with an stronger roster first and hopefully upgrade a need position or two second.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Problem is at ILB only Mosley/Shazier and at FS only Dix/Pryor are likely to be impact players in year one. Need to get one of those 4. Every other ILB or FS after those 4 represents a significant drop off in talent, and there aren't too many of either so to get one later means probably overpaying. I prefer to get Mosley or Shazier at #21 because I think Ward, Brooks, maybe Vereen, could help at FS, even if we have to overpay to get them. I wouldn't trade up 10 to 20 spots to get Ward. Bucannon is my 3rd rated safety, but as a SS, not a FS. I don't think he can play FS at a high level. I'd pass on Bucannon at #53.

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