Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Packers Need To Do Well, Despite Recent Success

The Green Bay Packers have posted three straight winning seasons since a 6-10 performance the year after Brett Favre's first retirement.

Once Aaron Rodgers got his feet wet and was entrenched as the starter, there was no need or reason for worry about the offense.

In 2010, Dom Capers got his defense to peak at the best time possible, as it played incredibly well late in the season to help the Packers get into the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. In the playoffs, the defense had plenty of high moments, including some big turnovers in all four games as the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.

Last year, as the Packers started 13-0 and finished 15-1 in defense of their title, the defense struggled. They couldn't sack the quarterback, they got gashed in the passing game, and they allowed too many big plays, due in large part to missed tackles.

With general manager Ted Thompson entrenched in a philosophy that eschews free agency in favor of drafting and developing guys into top players, the Packers aren't going to try to find a quick fix on defense. They're sticking with the 3-4, and Capers will do what he can with the talent Thompson procures for him.

That makes this a pretty important draft. Green Bay is scheduled to pick 12 times, and the Packers have plenty of needs, most notably on defense. Thompson needs to find some depth for a defensive front that had none last year, and he needs to find an explosive guy to put opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker, a position where Green Bay was so weak last year it adversely affected Matthews' game.

Thompson isn't known for predictability in the draft, but there are a couple names I've honed in on as potential picks for the Packers late in the first round.

One of those is Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin. I'm a bit concerned that McClellin will be off the board when Green Bay picks, but if he's still around, he's a good bet to become a Packer. He's a top player who fits a pretty huge need for the Packers.

I could also see Thompson taking a shot at a defensive lineman.

I don't think that guy will be Memphis tackle Dontari Poe. The 350-pounder had everyone's attention at the scouting combine, but didn't do much on the field in college. I'm not saying guys don't wow at the combine and turn into good pros, but I don't see Thompson wasting a first round pick on a guy when YouTube searches for him yield more weightlifting and combine clips than football highlights.

More realistically, if Thompson is going to take a lineman who might not be high on the pre-draft boards you can access on the interwebs, I think a safer bet is Penn State's Devon Still.

Still can play, and he might start right away as an end in the Packers' 3-4 lineup. I like the fact that he has some explosiveness, but he also takes on blockers well. In a 3-4, the linemen need to hold their own and take up blockers. It frees up the likes of Matthews to make plays in the backfield instead of fighting off blocks while the quarterback finds an open guy 15 yards downfield.

Of course, with all this said, watch Thompson draft a running back.

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