Draft and develop. It’s the Ted Thompson way, which is why draft weekend is always extra riveting for Packer fans. It’s basically the only time in the offseason that the Packers make significant roster additions.
We tend to focus on the first pick, especially now that the first round has its own day, but Thompson will use his eight picks to add depth and a couple of new starters. We expect Thompson to add a DL or two, a safety, a running back, wide receiver, an offensive lineman or two and maybe a tight end.
As for his first pick, whether it’s at #26 or early in the second round, it’s likely to be one of these seven names. Here they are, in reverse order of my preference:
7. Sylvester Williams, DL North Carolina This is a real position of need for the Pack, with the likely loss of Jerel Worthy in 2013. But I have a feeling there will be a run on D linemen in the back half of the first round. If Thompson does see a defensive lineman he loves still there when it’s his turn to pick, it’s likely to be the former Tar Heel, who can play anywhere on the line. He had a great pro day, raising his stock to this range and could step right in to the starting lineup and play some nose, to give Raji a breather. Downside, he’ll be 25 in November. Look for Thompson to address the defensive line before Saturday, but probably not in the first round.
6. Menelik Watson, OT Florida State I know, we’re bored with taking tackles in the first round. If this is the name on Ted’s card, it’s likely a trade down into the second round to allow a QB-starved team (Buffalo?) to get back into the first round. The top tackles are expected to be long gone by the time Green Bay picks, unless DJ Fluker happens to drop. Let’s face it, we don’t know exactly where we stand at tackle right now. Can Bulaga bounce back from a bad hip injury? If so, can he move to the left to allow Don Barclay to man the right side? Is Barclay ready for that? Can Marshall Newhouse improve enough to hang on to the left tackle spot? Is Derrek Sherrod alive? Lots of questions at this crucial position and if Ted trades down to the second, he may grab Watson, a native of England who is considered raw, but with upside that could put him on a par with the guys drafted in the top five. Some question his passion for the game, since he jumped from sport to sport, but he does have a cool British accent.
5. Eddie Lacey, RB Alabama He’s probably higher on some of your wish lists, but to me it’s a gamble drafting a running back this high. It’s certainly not something we’ve seen Thompson do, and we know that the position is less important in this offense than in most. But wouldn’t it be nice to consider adding the draft’s top back to see what a talent like that could mean for the Packers’ offense? The problem is, many of us felt the same way a couple of years ago, when a more heralded Tide back, Mark Ingram came out. He’s been ordinary so far in another pass-happy offense. DeJuan Harris may have shown enough to let the Packers brain trust wait until the third or fourth round to add some additional competition. But after missing out on Stephen Jackson, maybe Thompson finally takes the plunge and rolls the dice.
4. Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame This is probably the biggest long shot of the seven names here, but just close your eyes for a moment and imagine third and eight, Aaron Rodgers lining up with an empty backfield; Jordy Nelson one one side and James Jones on the other. Randall Cobb is in the slot, with Jermichael Finley and Eifert at tight end. Who’s going to be able to cover that? Of course, we would need an offensive line that can protect Rodgers long enough to get the ball to someone. Eifert would allow McCarthy to install a batch of new plays featuring duo tight ends, a la the Patriots. If Eifert plays like the best tight end in the draft and Finley doesn’t, it will allow the team to let #88 walk after 2013. This mitigates the loss of Greg Jennings and gives the offense a new and different look.
3. Damontre Moore, OLB Texas A&M This one feels outside the box, since Thompson went with this position in the first round last year. But Moore stands out as a perfect fit for Capers’ defense and would give the Pack some flexibility with Nick Perry, who is still getting used to playing linebacker and could be moved around a bit to make the most of his strengths. The Packers waved good bye to Erik Walden and Frank Zombo this offseason and could desperately use a pass rusher to complement CMIII and keep opposing offensive coordinators from focusing strictly on #52.
2. Jonathan Cyprien, FS Florida Int’l If Thompson has a few names available that he likes, the guess here is that he goes in this direction. This feels like the year Thompson finds a free safety to pair with Morgan Burnett, one that will give the defense a Nick Collins-like presence that it has sorely missed, since Collins was forced to retire. I believe Thompson will make a safety one of his first two picks. Cyprien would represent another small school safety, a direction Thompson has gone in the past. He’s smart, hard-hitting and would give the Pack some instant toughness–as would this guy…
1. Matt Elam, FS Florida Here’s a smart, tough, aggressive, productive defender in the SEC who would instantly step into the starting lineup. His consistency has been questioned, but his natural talent and intelligence have scouts drooling. Elam can cover a slot receiver and is terrific against the run–not to mention read option QBs. You can argue whether defensive line or safety presents the biggest need. Both positions will be addressed early, but Elam feels like the guy that Thompson will grab first.