The frenzied first couple of weeks of free agency is now over. The Packers lost some key contributors in free agency, and made a couple of additions to bolster an underperforming defense. Despite these moves, the Packers draft needs remain largely unchanged.
The biggest weaknesses remain on defense, but there are definitely needs on the offensive side of the ball as well.
With four picks in the first two days of the draft and nine picks overall, Ted Thompson should have ample opportunity to find some players who can make an immediate impact.
Round 1: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Since the Packers moved to a 3-4 defense in 2009, Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop, and Brad Jones have all started games at inside linebacker next to AJ Hawk. The Packers made a significant investment in Jones last off season hoping he was the long-term solution, but after a sub-par season in 2013, Jones does not appear to be the answer.
It may take some time to adjust to playing in a 3-4 defense, but once he is able to adapt, Shazier could be exactly what the Packers need in the middle of their defense. Shazier has the speed and athleticism to cover tight ends and running backs, and has the power and instincts to make plays in the backfield. Shazier had 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, and 7 sacks last season.
Round 2: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
The Packers are the thinnest they have been at wide receiver in years. Only Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin have more than marginal NFL experience. With the Packers relying so heavily on the pass, finding another receiving threat should be of importance.
Bryant’s teammate, Sammy Watkins, gets most of the attention, but Bryant has a very impressive skill set in his own right. At 6’4” 211, Bryant is arguably the most impressive athlete from a size/speed standpoint, in this year’s group of wide receivers. However, Bryant only had one productive season at Clemson, and at this point he is probably a better athlete than receiver. But given a year to develop while serving as the Packers fourth receiver could pay huge dividends.
Round 3: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
On the surface the Packers look set at cornerback. Sam Shields just signed a large extension, Tramon Williams played well last year, Casey Hayward should be coming back from injury this season, and Micah Hyde showed a lot of promise as a rookie. But Williams’ contract expires at the end of this season, and there is a good chance Hyde is moved to safety.
Jean-Baptiste is a big bodied corner, who like Sam Shields, is a converted wide receiver. Despite only playing 2 years at corner, Jean-Baptiste has put up some impressive numbers over the past 2 seasons, with 6 interceptions and 23 passes defended.
Round 3 Compensatory: CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
The Packers could use a field stretching tight end to replace Jermichael Finley, assuming he is not re-signed, but unless the Packers plan on using a first round pick on a tight end, they are probably not going to be able to find that offensive weapon in this draft.
Fiedorowicz isn’t likely to put up huge yards in the passing game, but he does have good hands and at 6’6”, he would also make an excellent red zone target. And with the likelihood the Packers will be emphasizing the run more this season; Fiedorowicz’s blocking ability could be a huge asset.
Round 4: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt
I’m sure there are a lot of Packer fans that would like a safety to be selected sooner in the draft, but with Mike McCarthy keeping the option open for Micah Hyde to see some time at safety, it may allow the Packers a little flexibility in the draft.
Ladler ran a disappointing 4.7 40 at the combine, but he plays faster on film. A 2 year starter at safety for Vanderbilt, Ladler had 9 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles during his college career, 5 of each came during his senior year.
Round 5: Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
Even though the Packers re-signed Mike Neal, and free agent acquisition Julius Peppers will be used predominantly as a pass rush specialist, the Packers could still use some depth at outside linebacker.
Breslin was a combine snub, but ran a 4.75 40 and put up 26 reps up on the bench press at the USC Pro Day. Breslin was very productive as a junior, registering 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss, but his production fell off his senior year due to a hip injury which caused him to miss all but 5 games. Despite only playing in 5 games, Breslin still notched 4 sacks this past season.
Round 5 Compensatory: Russell Bodine, G/C, North Carolina
At this point no one knows who will be starting at center for the Packers this season. If I had a guess I would say JC Tretter is the front runner for the job, but I don’t think the Packers plan on handing it to him without some competition.
Bodine has been the starting center for the Tar Heels the past 2 seasons, but he has spent some time at guard. Bodine plays with a mean streak and has excellent functional strength. His impressive 42 bench press reps at the combine led all offensive linemen.
Round 6: Tom Savage, QB, Pitt
Mike McCarthy has said he would like to draft a quarterback, and ideally they would have four quarterbacks in camp. Considering the issues the Packers had at quarterback last season, I could definitely see them keeping three quarterbacks during the season. I still think the Packers will sign a veteran before camp starts, but look for them to select another quarterback in the draft or possibly sign one as an undrafted free agent.
Savage has the prototypical size scouts look for in a quarterback, and has one of the strongest arms in the draft. However, Savage only started 2 seasons at quarterback, in 2010 & 2013, after being forced to sit out 2011 & 2012 after transferring schools. Savage would be a perfect 3rd quarterback or a possible practice squad candidate if the Packers sign a veteran backup.
Round 7: Zach Kerr, DT, Delaware
With BJ Raji only signing a one year prove it deal; the Packers may be looking for a new nose tackle next season.
After 2 seasons at Maryland, Kerr transferred to Delaware in 2012 due to academic issues. Kerr will probably never put up huge sack numbers, which isn’t a requirement in the Packers scheme, but he can be a disruptive force along the defensive line, and has surprising quickness for a man of his size.——————