Packers 2010 Draft Preview: Problematic Predictions

I'd like to draft that Halle Berry, if you know what I mean . . .

Despite the general perception that the Green Bay Packers are excruciatingly predictable in the way they build their team – you hear the words “blockbuster trade” associated with Packers GM Ted Thompson about as often as you hear the words “bondage party” associated with Betty White – the team’s recent drafts have had their share of surprises.

Some of the surprises have worked out. Trading up to get linebacker Clay Matthews last year resulted in the Packers having a rookie Pro Bowler for the first time in thirty years. And remember Thompson’s initial first-round pick as Packers GM in 2005 was on a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers who seems to have adjusted to the pros just fine.

Other draft day head-scratchers have not panned out as well. 2007 first-round pick DE Justin Harrell and 2008 second-round QB selection Brian Brohm (since signed by Buffalo) are as beloved in Green Bay as Randy Moss and any mention of raising Wisconsin’s beer tax.

But the point is that Thompson can surprise. And this year, with the NFL draft expanded to three days instead of the usual two, surprises could increase exponentially as teams have more time to analyze and prepare, particularly for Friday’s second round but also for Saturday’s fourth round.

Teams that rely heavily on building through the draft – like the Packers – are likely to use that extra down time to trade picks, either to move up to get a player they want who’s still available, or to move down to add a quantity of picks if quality is not perceived to be there.

So predicting the NFL Draft this year – especially that second round – is more problematic than usual, and it’s especially problematic with a team like the Packers who stress taking the best player available, a philosophy Ted Thompson emphasized in last Friday’s press conference.

“I honestly and truly believe that if you get caught up trying to reach for need at all, that’s when you make your mistakes,” Thompson said. And I feel like our core team is strong enough that we don’t have to search out like that.”

But no draft strategy is foolproof and the Packers – like every team – have needs.

So even though Thompson resists such strategizing, here are the Packers’ eight biggest needs in conjunction with how they should spend their eight (for now) draft picks on addressing each one:

Round one (pick 23): For a team as young as the Packers, their starting tackles are old and beat up. Left tackle Chad Clifton is entering his eleventh season and suffered two ankle injuries last year, the second coming in the Wild Card loss to the Cardinals. Right tackle Mark Tauscher is equally old and injury-prone.

The emergence of 2009 fourth-round pick T.J. Lang – who played at both tackle positions in 2009 – improves the situation somewhat, but Lang was drafted as a guard and Green Bay probably will want him back in that position.

If USC OT Charles Brown – an intelligent player touted as having those  intangible “good instincts” – is still available at pick 23, the Packers should snap him up. Brown may need time to develop, but with Lang available to rotate in, the Packers may be able to grant him that time.

Round two (pick 56): While cornerback Charles Woodson had a career year in 2009, deservedly earning 2009 Defensive Player of the Year honors, not all was right in the Packer’s backfield. Corners Al Harris, Will Blackmon, and Pat Lee all suffered season-ending injuries. Harris’s injury was not only the most significant, but the most troubling given his starter role and his age (35).

It was no coincidence that the Packers’ pass defense had their worst games of the season after Harris went down, exposing the likes of Tramon Williams and Brandon Underwood as not quite the heir apparents to Woodson and Harris.

The Packers would love to land either Alabama’s Kareem Jackson or Florida State’s Patrick Robinson here to add depth to their cornerback position. Both are speedy players who should adapt quickly to the aggressive style employed by Woodson and Harris.

Round three (pick 86): Although he struggled adapting to Dom Capers’s toupee – I mean, 3-4 scheme – losing outside linebacker Aaron Kampman to the Jacksonville Jaguars was still a significant loss. Though seventh-round pick Brad Jones filled in pretty well when Kampman went down with a knee injury, Thompson and McCarthy need to shore up what is otherwise a very solid group of linebackers.

If they can risk taking a hit on the character issue, which Thompson admits is important, the Packers would be wise to take linebacker Brandon Spikes from Florida if he’s still available.

Spikes is infamous for appearing to try to gouge the eyes of a Georgia player in a game last Halloween. Not the sort of incident to endear yourself to sports talk-show hosts, but the sort of incident that may cause him to fall to the Packers late in the third round despite being widely considered one of the top linebackers in this year’s draft.

Round four (pick 122): Here we get into some serious speculation, but after discussing linemen and corners, how about a so-called “skill” position? In a league where two productive rushers are more and more important to a team’s success, Brandon Jackson hasn’t stood out as a solid number two behind Ryan Grant. Perhaps Joe McKnight from USC, a small but explosive runner, could prove a better change-of-pace back to Grant.

Round five (picks 154 and 169): The Packers are relatively thin at safety, and adding a character guy like Florida State’s Myron Rolle, who was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and missed the 2009 football season in order to study at Oxford University, would be a great story. Rolle is an impressive guy who could be unfairly ignored in the draft due to his obvious interests outside of football.

With their second fifth-round pick, a defensive end makes sense. If he hadn’t tore his ACL in January practicing for the Senior Bowl, Wisconsin’s own O’Brien Schofield would be a sentimental pick here. But given Schofield’s injury, a more durable player like Arthur Moats from James Madison or Florida’s Jerrmaine Cunningham would be more logical.

Round six (pick 193): Some project the Packers taking a guard with one of their first three picks, and while I don’t argue it’s a need, I don’t think they need to address it quite so early. But it’s a position they should look at by Saturday. If he’s around, Mike Johnson was key to an impressive rush attack at Alabama and would be a steal in round six.

Round seven (pick 230): Quick. Name the Packers’ punter. If you said Jeremy Kapinos, you’d be wrong. Kapinos was booted — pardon the expression — by the team after a so-so 2009 season. (Has a punter for the Packers ever not had a so-so season?) 

Right now the Packers’ depth chart at the position consists of two players that combined have exactly zero NFL experience, including one who made his name in Australian Rules Football, which I haven’t seen since ESPN was in its infancy and was forced to devote much airtime to fringe sports like Australian Rules Football and NHL hockey.

 The punter position has been surprisingly maddening for the Packers recently. Why not have another go at finding someone, anyone to fill this easily mocked but highly important role?

Enjoy the draft and its new format and best of luck to O’Brien Schofield and Garrett Graham.

Remember the NFL schedule gets released Tuesday evening. Somehow the NFL Network has figured out how to make a primetime show out of answering the burning question of just when the Rams will play the Chiefs. Brilliant.


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