Thinking About the Draft and 2011 Schedule

Two weeks and change until the only player-related activity in this locked-out offseason. The draft is creeping closer and most of us are thinking about what the Pack will do at #32.

I think the Packers will have 6-7 guys in mind when the draft starts and will watch how things fall on Thursday night. Wouldn't surprise me at all if a team calls Ted Thompson and offers him a sweetheart deal to move out of the first round. Say there's a player, a QB maybe, who a team covets, but they're afraid he won't be there when they pick early in the second. They offer their second and maybe a third, or a #1 next year to pick at #32.

But assuming the Packers make the pick, the smart money is on a front seven defensive player, either a defensive end or outside linebacker. It's a deep DE draft and with Jenkins and Jolly unlikely to be back and Pickett getting older, the team may have a chance to add an immediate starter to the defensive line. And certainly, a bona fide pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews would add some serious punch to the unit. Yes, Zombo, Walden and Brad Jones all flashed last year. But adding a thoroughbred here would be fun.

Then there's the "how did he fall to us" scenario: Maybe not a position of need, but a guy that was so high on the team's draft board that they can't pass him up. A guy like running back Mark Ingram might qualify. If Miami and New England pass him up, he may be there at #32.

Like most of you, I hope and expect the Pack will address the return game. The new kickoff rules marginalize the kickoff returner position a little, but a punt returner must be added. There's no way they put Tramon Williams back there, now that he's become a Pro Bowl corner. The team brought in two returners last week: Antoine "Shaky" Smithson of Utah and Cal's Jeremy Ross.

Smithson was the nation's leading punt returner in yards and average in 2010 and was a first team All American. Ross leaves his school as the second best punt returner ever, behind DeSean Jackson and like Smithson, is nearly 6 feet and over 200 pounds. They both have the size and speed to contribute on special teams, but I question their value as receivers. Both guys were mainly return guys in college and the Packers always talk about a return guy needing to help out as a receiver as well.

Smithson caught just 25 passes for 383 yards and three TDs in 2010, and Ross was even less of a factor: 18 catches for 210 yards and no touchdowns. I would argue that picking a guy like Smithson and Ross is vital, whether he contributes to the offense or not. We know what a dynamic return guy can mean to a team. It's time the Packers draft one.

Another NFL rite of April is the schedule release, which should happen in the next week or two. It's lost some of its luster this season because of the labor uncertainty. But if a deal is reached before September, the Pack will likely open the season at home on Thursday, September 8th against the Bears. The only other candidate would be the Saints, matching the previous two Super Bowl champs.

On paper, the home schedule looks easier, with the Broncos, Raiders, Rams and Bucs joining the NFC north teams in playing at Lambeau. The road schedule is highlighted by likely prime time games in Atlanta and San Diego, plus trips to the Giants, Chiefs and Panthers along with the division games. We can expect four prime time games and a number of 3:00 starts, since we enter the season as world champs.

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