With the NFL combine set to kickoff shortly, NFL fans have begun to turn their attention to the NFL draft. And with GM Ted Thompson’s sparse use of free agency, there are few fan bases that obsess over the draft more that of the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers have needs on both sides of the ball, but their defensive deficiencies far outweigh those on the offensive side of the ball. While I don’t see this draft playing out exactly like the 2012 draft, where the Packers didn’t draft anyone on the offensive side of the ball until the seventh round, I do see them loading up on defense in this draft.
Although compensatory picks won’t be announced until March, I used the projections from Philly.com to create this mock draft, which gave the Packers an extra third round pick for losing Greg Jennings and a seventh round pick for the loss of Erik Walden.
Here is my 7 round pre-combine mock draft.
Round 1: Ra’Shede Hageman, DE/DT, Minnesota
The idea of having the Packers select a safety in the first round was pretty tempting, but I didn’t for one reason, and that is because at this point I don’t think Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton Dix will be there when the Packers pick at 21.
The Packers need help along the defensive line, and Hageman, who has the size and versatility to play defensive end or nose tackle in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme, could be the pick. Hageman has the strength and nasty streak to win one on one matchups, and probably could be compared to a younger, taller, more athletic Johnny Jolly.
The biggest knock on Hageman is his inconsistency. At times he can look like the most dominant player on the field, but he can also have stretches where he completely disappears. The Packers coaches will need to find a way to get the best out of him on every play.
Round 2: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Despite all the Packers needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Packers can’t completely neglect the offense. And with no viable options for a starting tight end under contract, I think they will look to fill the position early in the draft.
After backing up Tyler Eifert in 2012, Niklas started 13 games for Notre Dame in 2013 and caught 32 passes for 498 yards. Those may not seem like incredibly impressive numbers, but Niklas is an excellent blocking tight end and is just beginning to scratch the surface of his pass catching ability.
If Niklas stayed in school for his senior year he may have been a first round pick in the 2015 draft. Instead, Niklas should hear his name called on the second day of the draft and it could very well be by the Packers.
Round 3: Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State
The Packers have settled for mediocrity at inside linebacker for far too long and could use an upgrade.
Jones could be a steal for the Packers if he is still available in the third round, and I could see him moving up draft boards after the combine and as we get closer to draft day.
Jones is an excellent tackler who also has the ability to cover in space, something the Packers could use at the position.
Jones had 56 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, and 2 sacks his senior season.
Round 3 Compensatory: Craig Loston, S, LSU
Unless the Packers sign a safety in free agency, there is little doubt they will draft a safety, probably in day one or two of the draft.
A two year starter at LSU, Loston is one of the more well rounded safeties in the draft. Loston has the ability to make plays on the ball and is a willing tackler.
Loston has 7 career interceptions and was named honorable mention All-SEC in 2013.
Round 4: Demarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB, Boise State
With Nick Perry’s inability to stay healthy his first two years in the league, and the very real possibility that Mike Neal could leave in free agency, the Packers should try to find some additional help at outside linebacker.
At 6’3” and 245 pounds, Lawrence may get the dreaded tweener label -not large enough for defensive end, and not quick enough for linebacker. But Lawrence has proven that he can get to the quarterback, putting up 20 sacks in two years at Boise State after transferring from Butler Community College.
Lawrence’s performance at the combine should help determine where he will best project at the NFL level.
Round 5: Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State
With Johnny Jolly, BJ Raji, and Ryan Pickett all likely headed to free agency, the Packers will need to find some bulk for the interior of the defensive line.
His size would suggest Carrethers would be a perfect fit as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He can occupy blockers and has the strength to push the pocket.
Carrethers was selected first team All-Sun Belt Conference last season, after a 93 tackle, 4 sack season for the Red Wolves.
Round 6: Justin Britt, OT, Missouri
I don’t see offensive line as a huge need for the Packers, but Ted Thompson has never gone without taking one at some point in draft.
Britt would seem to have the versatility that the Packers look for in their offensive lineman. Starting games at both right and left tackle during his college career, and he may have the ability to move inside to guard in the NFL.
Britt received ALL-SEC first team honors for his 2013 season.
Round 6 Compensatory: L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri
The Packers drafted two developmental wide receivers in late in last year’s draft, but unfortunately for the Packers neither worked out, as Charles Johnson was claimed off the practice squad by Cleveland, and Kevin Dorsey was placed on injured reserve before the season even started. However, I think the Packers may try this strategy again this year.
Washington’s route running needs some polishing, but that can be coached, his size and speed cannot. Washington could run a 4.4 40 at the combine, which might inch him up draft boards a bit.
Washington did not put up huge numbers while at Missouri, but he had his best year as a senior, catching 50 passes for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Round 7: Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
Like offensive line, I don’t see cornerback being a huge need for the Packers, unless Sam Shields is not brought back. But I do think it is an area where the Packers can always use depth.
Gaines was an excellent pass defender and set a school record at Rice by breaking up 38 passes in his career, and received ALL-Conference USA honors in both 2012 and 2013.
Playing at a smaller school like Rice, Gaines did not receive a ton of publicity, but he could open up some eyes with a strong showing at the combine.