Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Packers Bolster Defense

In the interest of fairness, equal time, and actually taking a few moments to write about the team that has made the playoffs over the last couple years, I figured I'd offer up a few draft thoughts on my favorite football team, the Packers.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Packers were in a rather odd position. Even though Green Bay was 15-1 last season and didn't lose much in free agency, the general consensus going into the draft is that the Packers have some work to do, especially on defense.

General manager Ted Thompson apparently agrees with this assessment. In his time as GM, he has now made five trades to improve his team's draft position ("trade ups," in other words). Two of those trades happened Friday night.

Dissatisfied with his position at 27th in the second round, Thompson moved up four spots in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He dealt the Packers' second-round pick and a fourth-rounder for the right to move up and take Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy. The big man should work as a defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme, while first-round pick Nick Perry is slotted in opposite Clay Matthews at right outside linebacker. The goal with Worthy is to get a replacement of sorts for Cullen Jenkins, who was a key cog in the Packers' line during their Super Bowl XLV run. Jenkins left for Philadelphia after the lockout last summer, and he was not even remotely replaced. His loss rendered many guys, most notably Matthews and nose man BJ Raji, as much less effective than they were the previous season. Matthews' dropoff in production was also caused by a lack of a pass rush threat anywhere else in the front seven.

Thompson wasn't done. Seeing a lack of depth at cornerback, he dealt back into the second round, getting the 62nd pick from New England in exchange for the Packers' third-round selection and another Saturday pick. Thompson added to his secondary with Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward. He doesn't have to make an immediate impact, but instead can work behind Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. If he develops quickly, he provides the Packers with the security needed to potentially move Woodson to safety if that's a choice the organization wants to make.

(I'm not saying I'm in favor of it or not. As long as Woodson can play at a high level, I don't care what position he plays. I'll let the coaches make that call.)

Green Bay isn't done. This week's release of former All-Pro safety Nick Collins -- who suffered a serious neck injury in Week 2 last year and was apparently not going to be cleared to play by the Packers' medical staff -- creates a gaping hole in the middle of the secondary. Green Bay suffered greatly without Collins last year, as Charlie Peprah was torched on a seemingly regular basis. This isn't a good draft for safeties, so it's possible Thompson has something else in mind there.

Hopefully, the team doesn't plan to go into the season with the status quo. It was a scary good last season, and not in a good way. The other hope is that building more strength elsewhere on defense will help alleviate the issues at safety.

As we all know, a good pass rush can cover for a lot of deficiencies in the back. Similarly, having a strong secondary can help counter a poor pass rush. Of course, no matter what, you can only expect to cover receivers for so long before someone gets open.

The Packers still have some picks on Saturday, giving them a chance to add to a pretty solid special teams group (not the kicker and punter, instead I'm talking about adding depth for the return and coverage teams). Between that and the crop of undrafted free agents, it seems unlikely Thompson -- no matter how good he is at this job, and we know he's good -- is going to find a Week 1 starter. Can't be ruled out, but it would be foolish to count on it.

Last year's playoff disaster is still fresh in the minds of the Cheeseheads, but the way Thompson has started this draft should help calm their nerves a little bit.

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