The Packers (arguably…see below) need a running back early in this year’s draft. But in today’s NFL with the viciousness of bone breaking and muscle ripping, drafting a running back in the first round — or at least early in the first round — is something that’s greeted with great hesitancy unless the player in question is named Trent Richardson.
Even with Green Bay’s late-round perch this year, that hesitancy is still there. But it could quickly be trumped by need, and Eddie Lacy. He’s big and scary, so he often trumps many things.
After Cedric Benson suffered his early-season injury, the Packers were left to move forward in 2012 with their committee of DuJuan Harris, James Starks, and Alex Green. Later they were even forced to re-sign Ryan Grant when Starks went down too. The patchwork was everywhere, and it led to an average of just 3.9 yards per carry, far less than sufficient support for Aaron Rodgers.
1. With Charles Woodson set to leave, is a safety the first-round priority? Matt Elam would fit in nicely, especially in a secondary that features Casey Hayward’s shutdown skills on the outside.
I wouldn’t say it’s a first-round priority, but right now safety is the best bet if you like to gamble on stuff like this. This is a deep draft for safeties. So deep, there may be a starting-caliber player available in the second round. So, while I see the Packers using a high pick on a safety, I don’t think it necessarily has to be a first. It’s important to note that the last two Packers to start at safety as rookies — Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett — weren’t first rounders. Collins was picked in the second and Burnett was picked in the third.
2. Running back is another need, even though Mike McCarthy has said a lot of nice things about DuJuan Harris. How early will the Packers address their backfield? They may shy away from the cost of Eddie Lacy, but Montee Ball or Le’Veon Bell are more affordable on Day 2 and beyond.
I wouldn’t write off Lacy and the Packers just yet. We know the Packers want someone who can move a pile and Ted Thompson is anything but predictable on draft day. Of course, I can also see them taking more of a project guy and starting the season with Harris and Green.
I’m not sold on the Packers’ need for a running back. Harris was fine when he actually got the ball in 2012 and he proved he can move the pile. What the Packers need is someone who isn’t a buffoon calling plays. That means someone who will actually commit to making the running game part of the offense. It also means someone who can commit to a back. The Packers used five guys last year. Six, if you count fullback John Kuhn. How can you establish any continuity in the running game when your rotation is a carousel? You can’t. Mike McCarthy, the chief buffoon, has already said he’s committed to a one-two punch this season. Harris is one half of that. The other half is either Green or a draft pick. My guess is a running back comes in the third round or lower for Green Bay.
3. What about a defensive tackle? That need was seemingly addressed last year when Jerel Worthy’s name was called in the second round, but then he tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. Who’s on top of your list if a DT is targeted?
The Packers definitely need to look at the defensive line again. Worthy will miss part of the season and the Packers are weak against the run after B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. Plus, Pickett maybe has a year or two left. All that being said, I don’t see an obvious early-round pick for the Packers. They play a 3-4, so they basically need an interior lineman that can move to end. They also need a guy who can keep blockers off. So, large (300-plus pounds) and tall with a good reach. Of the top guys, Georgia’s John Jenkins probably fits the bill best. I see the Packers addressing this position, but not too early.
4. The possibility of a tight end early has been floated too. Jermichael Finley wasn’t released, but he’s been inconsistent at best, and he’s entering the final year of his contract. Will the Packers be among the teams considering Tyler Eifret and Zach Ertz? There’s also the added motivation to replace the lost depth after Tom Crabtree’s departure.
I don’t see the Packers being too worried about tight ends. Even with Crabtree leaving, they still have four on the roster. Personally, I’m not enamored with any of them, but the Packers drafted all four of those guys and they’re all still young. For better or worse, Finley is on the team this season and the Packers are going to utilize him. If he leaves as a free agent after the season, then you have to think about addressing this position.
5. What other needs would you like to see addressed in the later rounds?
For one, receiver. The Packers have three proven guys in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, but they lost Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. That leaves Jarrett Boykin at No. 4 and Jeremy Ross at No. 5, currently. The Packers will want to add a little more depth there.
Second, the offensive line. Although the starters are more or less set, the Packers will be replacing Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. That replacement will probably be either former first-round pick Derek Sherrod or right tackle Bryan Bulaga (which puts his injury-replacement, Don Barclay, in line for the starting right tackle job). The Packers need more depth here at the very least. At the end of the 2012 season, the only backups were center Jeff Saturday, who’s since retired, and undrafted free agent Greg Van Roten.