The Green Bay Packers have many needs heading into next Thursday’s NFL Draft, which can be a gift and a curse. Obviously, you do not want many holes on your team, but it does give you the opportunity to take the top player on your board. One area I think that the Packers should look to specifically address is the speed of their defense.
This does not mean that they should go the Al Davis route of just picking the players with the best times in the 40-yard dash without putting enough emphasis on the film. However, it has been evident over the last few seasons –particularity against Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs– that the defense lacks speed.
It has been an argument for awhile among Packers fans and reporters whether the Packers need more speed or physicality on their defense. The two players who they miss the most from their championship defense in 2010 are Desmond Bishop and Nick Collins; both of whom were guys who used their speed to control the middle of the field.
Bishop was certainly a physical hitter too, but he used his speed to make plays going sideline to sideline and to cover the middle of the field. A.J. Hawk still struggles to do either of those things. Collins used his 4.36 speed to play center field as a deep safety. He had amazing range to make big plays and cover up the mistakes of the corners. Morgan Burnett has not shown the ability to be that player yet.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier of Ohio State and safety Terrence Brooks of Florida State would fit perfectly to add the kind of speed that the Packers are looking for. They should be doing cartwheels if they are able to get both in the first two rounds. It would completely change the complexion of the defense.
Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley would still be my first choice at inside linebacker for the Packers, but Shazier would be a great fall back option. Do not try to compare Shazier and Hawk just because they both played outside linebacker at OhioState. They are really nothing alike. Shazier ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at OhioState’s pro day and led all linebackers with a 42 inch vertical leap at the NFL Combine. Those are amazing numbers that Hawk could not touch.
While Shazier played outside linebacker at Ohio State he has bulked up since to 237 pounds, so he has enough size to convert to the inside. It is risky because the Packers have tried to change positions of defensive players before out of college, and they have ended up trying to fit square pegs into round holes. However, Shazier’s potential might be worth the risk.
Shazier certainly has the athletic ability to be able to run down Kaepernick. Not only does he have the speed, but he always seems to be around the ball and in the right positions to make plays. Also, he is very adept as a blitzer and good in coverage, so he is a very solid all-around player.
Brooks is not a first round prospect like Shazier, but he may be the best safety value that the Packers can get in the second round. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is unlikely to be available at N0. 21, and Calvin Pryor is not a system fit for the Packers. Jimmie Ward to the Packers in the first round seems to be gaining momentum, but that would be a reach in my opinion.
Brooks doesn’t quite have Collins’ speed, but he was the fastest safety at this year’s NFL Combine, as he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. He is a little undersized but has the speed, burst and agility to be the deep center field safety that the Packers need.
Brooks is a former cornerback, so he has the ability to drop down and play the slot receivers. The Packers will value that since they love versatile players.
There are certainly many good players for the Packers to select in this extremely deep draft, but Shazier and Brooks would be a good place to start.