Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014 Green Bay Packers First Round Draft Preview

Who do Ted Thompson and the Packers scouting staff have their eyes on?
It's Super Bowl week and the NFL draft is still four months away. But college football's post season scouting showcase games are complete so now seems like a good time to become familiar with potential Packer draft targets. To begin with we'll look at players that could be on the board in the first round. Organized within a descending order from positions of need, these players are most likely to be wearing Green and Gold on draft day(or at least should be). Quick aside - I just can't bring myself to look at tight ends in the first round. There are too many other defensive positions that need impact players.

The following list comes with the qualifier always noted with Ted Thompson drafts; the best player available is almost always selected over reaching for a player at a position of need. 

Position of Need: Safety

Packers need improved safety play to avoid plays like this
The lack of production from the safety position in 2013 has been rehashed endlessly since the end of the season. Zero turnovers and only five passes defensed are pretty strong supporting evidence that change of some kind is needed. However, the Packers extended Morgan Burnett last summer to the tune of 4 years and $25 million dollars, $8.25 million guaranteed. $8 million is a lot of money to give up on a player quickly, especially for the traditionally reluctant to give up on homegrown talent Thompson. Someone to play along side of Burnett is a must going into 2014, whether through the draft or free agency. The unfortunate truth for the Packers is this draft lacking high end talent at safety.

HaHa Clinton-Dix 6-1 210 lbs Alabama

Clinton-Dix is really the only sure fire first round pick at safety in this year's class. He continues the recent trend from Alabama of defensive backs taken day one of the draft following the footsteps of Mark Barron(#7-2012) and Dee Millner(#9-2013). Clinton-Dix is big and rangy, he breaks on the ball well and shows natural ability to make big plays. The only real knock was his two game suspension this past season taking a loan from an assistant coach. However, barring a complete no show at the combine, Clinton-Dix is unlikely to available when the Packers pick at 21.

Calvin Pryor 6-2 208 lbs Louisville

Like Clinton-Dix, Pryor is an early entrant to the NFL draft leaving Louisville after his junior season. Pryor is a big physical player and his more than comfortable coming up to make plays near the line of scrimmage. In coverage Pryor played a lot of deep zone where he used his speed and big hitting to control the back end of the defense. He was not asked to play much man to man coverage in college. Lack of man coverage combined with lesser competition in the American Athletic Conference are the biggest factors holding Pryor back from a definite first round grade. Pryor figures to be around when the Packers make their first round selection, but whether he grades out high enough will largely depend on his Combine performance.

Tre Boston 6-1 205 lbs North Carolina

The reports on Boston are mixed, some view him as a second or third round pick, while others have him lower. His career production at North Carolina cannot be dismissed though. He had 13 interceptions, three forced fumbles and 20 passes broken up. All the areas the Packers are desperate to improve. Boston also spent time at corner and has the top end speed and coverage skills necessary to play safety in today's pass happy NFL. That being said, Boston will most likely not be called with the Packer's pick at 21. He will remain on the radar though after spending some time with Ted Thompson at the East-West Shrine Bowl earlier in January.

Position of Need: Defensive Line

BJ Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are all free agents. Raji seems interested playing in a different scheme capable of showcasing his pass rushing prowess. He turned down an $8 million a year offer from Green Bay prior to last season and after this year's disappointing performance isn't likely to be given that kind of offer from Ted Thompson again. Pickett and Jolly are both on the wrong side of 30 and Jolly is in progress of rehabbing a significant neck injury. It seems fair to assume bolstering the D-line has to be the second on the list of priorities during the off season.

Ra'Shede Hageman 6-6 311 lbs Minnesota
Hageman might be the pick to rejuvenate an older defensive line

Hageman has all the measurable NFL scouts look for in defensive linemen. He has the size and strength to play on the interior of the line as well as the foot speed and explosiveness to attack quarterbacks from the edge. The biggest knock on Hageman is similar for a lot of college defensive lineman; he lacked consistent high level effort from on every play. But his size and versatility will be coveted on draft day, and he seems likely to be around when the Packers are on the clock in the first round. Unless someone drops unexpectedly from the top of the draft, don’t be surprised if Thompson pulls the trigger on Hageman.

Aaron Donald DT 6-0 285 lbs Pittsburgh

Dodson was one of the dominant players at the Senior Bowl and has positioned himself to move into the first round despite lacking ideal size. He had a terrific regular season as well. He won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player of the Year), Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year), Outland Trophy (Outstanding Interior Lineman) and Lombardi Award (Outstanding Lineman). Bottom line, Donald is a good football player. The Packers have shown their willingness to gamble on undersized lineman. Mike Daniels was also considered smaller for his position and ended up being one of the most consistent defensive players for Green Bay in 2013. The question for Thompson will be whether a line with two undersized players can hold up in a division with Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Reggie Bush.

Louis Nix NT 6-3 340 lbs Notre Dame
Nix fits the mold of the pro typical 3-4 nose tackle. With a mammoth frame, he uses his body well, plays with the strength and leverage needed to occupy double teams and hold the point of attack along the line. At times he even displayed explosiveness to rush the passer for the interior of the line. Nix recently had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Considering the recent struggles the Packers have had with injuries, they may want to avoid taking someone already in the middle of rehabbing.

Position of Need: Linebacker

Clay Matthews is locked in at one outside linebacker spot. The other three positions could all improve. Nick Perry has been inconsistent throughout his two years but has battled injuries so it’s probably too early to give up on him. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones are average at best. Dom Caper’s 3-4 scheme relies heavily on a dynamic linebacker core to make plays in the run and pass game. Really the only consistent playmaker the Packers have is Matthews, which was underscored after Matthews missed time and the defense struggled to stop anyone one.

Mosely would be an impact player from day one.
CJ Mosely ILB 6-2 235 lbs Alabama

Mosely is the cream of the crop for linebackers in this draft class. He is a two time first team All American and All-SEC player. Mosely has great instincts reading gaps and diagnosing plays in the run game. But also excels with speed and fluidity in the pass game. Mosely would be an immediate starter at ILB and would team nicely with AJ Hawk. If he falls to the Packers at 21, he will be the pick, hands down.

Dee Ford OLB 6-2 238 lbs Auburn

Ford has vaulted into the conversation as potential first round pick after he dominated at the Senior Bowl. He was largely un-blockable all week during practice and registered two sacks and a pass deflection during the game. Ford is rumored to run in the 4.4 second range in the 40 yard dash. If he can show that speed at the Combine in Febraury, he will absolutely be able to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. Thompson has been on the record saying he wants the Packers defense to improve in speed and athleticism and Ford clearly fits the bill.
Trent Murphy OLB 6-6 261 lbs Stanford

Murphy is another who played defensive end in college and looks to move to OLB at the next level. Last season he led the country in sacks with 15 and finished second (to Aaron Donald) in tackles for loss with 24.5. He has great instincts and quickness as a pass rusher off the edge. At the Senior Bowl, Murphy showed enough athletic ability that pass coverage should not be a major issue. He is on the fringe of being drafted in the first round and could use a big performance at the Combine to solidify that status. If not, Murphy might be someone the Packers look to steal with their second round pick. 

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson

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1 comment:

  1. I would like Donald for the Pack - he is disruptive to an offense and has a high-motor, unlike many defensive line candidates. Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, and Jerel Worthy provide reason for optimism. Adding Donald to the mix would be a big plus.