As the draft approaches ever so slowly, it’s hard to think of topics to write about without being repeptivie. Most guys I know or read that do mocks have published their 3rd or 4th version despite no more meaningful football being played by the prospects in question. Individual prospect profiling is a very helpful and very time consuming activity, but not something that I’m interested nor have the time to do. Pushing the draft back into May is part of what every believes to be the league’s attempt to keep itself in the sports news cycle 12 months out of the year. They are succeeding but they are making things repetitive.
What I’m going to do here is something I don’t plan on doing again. Admittedly it’s a play off of the off season needs piece you can read here and the post-free agency audit that I provided here, but it is different. I’m going to rank the need level of every single non-special team position on the roster leading up to May’s draft:
1. Safety- It would be hard for me to explain myself if I didn’t pick safety first, wouldn’t it? The Packers have actually taken a step backwards from last season if that is even possible. Most, including myself, would argue that letting starting safety MD Jennings walk is actually addition by subtraction but it is a subtraction nonetheless. So far the team has done nothing to address it’s weakest position of a year ago, and considering that the only move made was allowing Jennings to sign with Chicago, this remains the top area of need heading into the draft.
2. Inside Linebacker– This is slightly different from safety in that the two starters from a season ago are returning and both have shown seasons of competence. Brad Jones was a competent player in 2012, even being named Pro Football Focus’s “Secret Star” coming into the 2013 season. He disappointed. AJ Hawk has been a disappointment his entire career. Hawk has been assignment-sure, dependable and durable but has not shown the ability to make the game changing plays requisite of a 5th overall pick. The only move that the team made in free agency was to tender RFA Jamari Lattimore, an intriguing prospect, but not one that has the ceiling of the impact starter the team so desperately requires.
3. Center- Allowing Evan Dietrich-Smith to sign with Tampa Bay is certainly a risky move. The Packers have not drafted a true center since Ted Thompson took over as general manager. Scott Wells was not a Thompson selection. All of the other centers selected by the Packers played a different position in college and the current favorite for the job, second year pro JC Tretter played left tackle at Cornell. It appears as if the Packers are completely uninterested in a veteran option at the position, and after the Jeff Saturday expiriment I can understand why. It would not surprise me to see the Packers draft some offensive line competition as there has not been a Thompson draft in which no offensive linemen were selected.
4. Outside Linebacker- In my humble opinion, the addition of the “elephant” end position has actual increased the need for another true outside linebacker in this defense. When I say true outisde linebacker I mean another player like Clay Matthews who played linebacker in college and is capable of running sideline to sideline as well as acquitting themselves in coverage. The team does not need to add another undersized defensive end and try to convert him. Allowing Mike Neal, Nick Perry, and Julius Peppers to play this elephant position leaves Matthews’ backups as Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba, both small school defensive ends that the team is attempting to convert to linebacker and neither is a player that I would trust in coverage. I think the team desperately needs someone to fill this role, especially considering Matthews inability to stay healthy.
5. Tight End- I certainly don’t rank this position as highly as most. I happen to be of the opinion that Jermichael Finley will either eventually be cleared by Green Bay’s doctors and return to the Packers or he will retire. I don’t really see a scenario in which he signs with another team. That said, I actually believe that a one-two punch of Andrew Quarless and the rising Brandon Bostick could be league average if not better. With so many positions defensively being below average, I am more than happy to ask Aaron Rodgers to elevate the play of Quarless and Bostick and have resources allocated to the defense.
6. Wide Receiver– If I could pick one roster trait that has defined the Ted Thompson era in Green Bay, I would definitely choose depth at wide receiver. I remember the original “Fab 5” of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Koren Robinson, and Ruvell Martin. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin have contributed to other very deep receiving corps. Upon the departure of James Jones to Oakland, it would appear that that depth is all dried up. On the surface it would appear that the Packers have an enviable set up. Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin outside and Randal Cobb in the slot. Beyond them, though, are nothing but question marks. Myles White is very fast but he is also very skinny. Chris Harper was a 4th round pick last season but he was released by two teams. Kevin Dorsey is an intriguing prospect but many were surprised he was even drafted last season. 4th wide receivers are often considered a luxury, but in the Packers offense it is vital that they can contribute.
7. Defensive Line- To me, this position is the most interesting. It’s very possible that the Packers took measures to make this unit a strength. They re-signed BJ Raji and have moved him to his more natural nose tackle position. The took a division rival’s starting nose guard and are going to make him the last man in their DL rotation, providing depth. They have added Mike Neal, Nick Perry and former Bear and Panther Julius Peppers to the group as “elephant” ends. These moves along with the hopeful development of Mike Daniels (future superstar), Jerel Worthy (further removed from ACL injury), Datone Jones (2nd year jump) and Josh Boyd (2nd year jump) should put the Packers in an acceptable position in 2014. If these players don’t develop, if BJ Raji stays ineffective and if Julius Peppers is completely washed up then the position will again need to be addressed in the 2015 off season.
8. Cornerback- This might be the deepest position on the team. Most NFL teams would kill to have a top 6 of Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House and Jarrett Bush. Each player brings a different skill-set and potential to the table. The reason that this unit is even this high is the future. There is a possibility that going in to the 2015 season, Tramon Williams is no longer a Green bay Packer and Micah Hyde is playing safety. This situation would leave the Packers with Sam Shields and Davon House as the outside corners and Casey Hayward in the slot. That is certainly an acceptable configuration but it would leave the team with little (if any) depth of consequence. The Packers may invest in a corner somewhere to avoid this situation.
9. Tackle– This doesn’t appear to be an area of need for the team. David Bakhtiari is going to be the team’s starting left tackle. Bryan Bulaga is going to be the team’s starting right tackle. Derek Sherrod is going to be the team’s swing tackle and Don Barclay is going to be the team’s utility man with the capability of playing the interior line and right tackle. The team is about as set up as it could possibly be at the tackle position depth-wise, which is really the only way you can affect the depth chart at this point. Sure, it would be ideal to have a more premier left tackle than David Bakhtiari, but there’s no guaranteeing that at any of the positions that the packers will be drafting at, and it sure seems they are uninterested in any veteran options.
10. Guard- Again, the team doesn’t appear to have a need here. I ranked guards below tackles because the Packers have better players at the position. According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers have the 2nd best (Josh Sitton) and the 15th best (TJ Lang) guards in football. Considering that there are 64 starting guard positions in the NFL that’s pretty damn good. As far as depth, the team believes in Don Barclay, a former starter, as their utility man and they also like prospect Lane Taylor, an undrafted player out of Oklahoma State who is one of the rare true interior linemen acquired by Thompson during his time in Green Bay.
11. Quarterback– I understand that it’s hard to believe this wouldn’t be the least important need on the team considering the best QB on the planet plays for our favorite colors. The issue, however is behind him. Matt Flynn has been re-signed for one year, but one year only. Scott Tolzien is the other QB on the roster and your opinion of him is probably your opinion of the long term prospects at the backup QB position. I, for one, am not a Tolzien fan. I remember the offense at the University of Wisconsin being challenged to throw the ball when he was there despite a mammoth offensive line and a studly stable of running backs. It seems imperative that the Packers acquire a 4th QB this off season to compete with Flynn and Tolzien and possibly be the backup in 2015.
12. Running back– the Packers should not acquire a running back in the 2014 NFL Draft. The only exception to this is a player who can return punts and kicks like Dri Archer or De’Anthony Thomas. The Packers have both talent and youth at the position. Starter Eddie Lacy is the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and appears to be one of the most talented young backs in the NFL. Backup DuJuan Harris is a wonderful change of pace to Lacy’s bruising style and was the head coach’s starter going into the 2013 season before his knee injury. Johnathan Franklin was the #3 back on my board in the 2013 draft behind Lacy and Gio Bernard. James Starks is finally flourishing in the role he has always been suited for, one with limited carries. There is no reason to put any more eggs in the running back basket.