Ted Thompson and the Packers would love to be standing on the podium with Super Bowl Champion hats on very soon. There is just one problem. It's not going to happen with the team they have now.
The Pack are strong on the offensive side of the ball coming in at third in the NFL in total offense. That is an exceptional stat especially since Aaron Rodgers only played in nine regular season games. They maintained their ranking with three quarterbacks playing the other seven games, and not a single one was on the Packers roster at the end of training camp. The play of the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen was enough to keep the Packers alive in the NFC North playoff race. Eddie Lacy carried the team on his back while Rodgers was sidelined, literally, racking up 666 yards and seven touchdowns. The Packers seem to have a strong offense every year.
The defense of the Green Bay Packers has been well below average since they won the Super Bowl in 2010. Blown coverages, missed tackles and poor gap responsibility, among others, were huge problems for the green and gold in 2013. The Packers defense was ranked 25th in the league. If you watched any of their games you would swear they would be last.
The most notable problem on defense was at the safety position. Out of five players who played the position, not one of them could muster up an interception throughout the whole season. Another big problem was the linebacker group. Clay Matthews, again, struggled to stay healthy, Nick Perry was inconsistent as usual and the pair of Andy Mulumba and Mike Neal just could not get it done. The inside linebacker play was very inconsistent. AJ. Hawk had his best year as a Packer, but other than him nobody stepped up and made plays. Brad Jones was constantly on the injury report, and Jamari Lattimore was inconsistent. The defensive line also had its struggles. BJ. Raji played absolutely terrible in his contract year and turned down $8 million a year offer from the Packers during the season. Datone Jones and Josh Boyd showed potential to be premier players but didn't earn enough playing time. The bright spots of the defensive line were Mike Daniels and Johnny Jolly. Jolly was a beast in run coverage while Daniezls excelled in rushing the passer racking up 6.5 sacks in the regular season.
One could argue that the Packers should draft a defensive player in the 2014 NFL Draft with every pick. While the Pack and Ted Thompson (TT) may not pick a defensive player every round, the main priority will be the defense.
Let's start with the needs on the offensive side of the ball:
The Packers seem to have some depth at the tackle position with Bakhtiari, Bulaga, Barclay and Sherrod. Questions arise with all 4 of these tackles. David Bakhtiari is quite undersized for a LT weighing in at 6'4" and 300lbs. Is he a guy that can protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side on every play? Brian Bulaga has been known to suffer quite a few injuries in his career with the latest being an ACL tear in training camp. Derrick Sherrod, former first-round pick, is still recovering from breaking his leg in 2011. How will his leg hold up? Don Barclay is the Packers' utility lineman who excels on the inside of the line. He is a better guard than tackle. Marshall Newhouse will most likely be looking for a new job since he is a FA unexpected to be resigned by the Packers. Expect TT to pick up at least one offensive lineman to add some depth to the questionable group of tackles.
Tight end would probably not be a need for the Packers hadn't Jermichael Finley went down with the possible career ending neck injury against the Cleveland Browns. Even though Finley says he will play football again, it is an extreme risk for the Packers to resign him. Unless he asks for a much smaller contract than last year, I fully expect them to let him walk. Andrew Quarless is also a free agent this year. He took advantage of his opportunity when Finley went down and showed us he has big play potential. The only problem was that he was inconsistent. He would make a miraculous catch to move the chains, and on the next play he would drop a ball perfectly placed in his hands. The Packers may keep Quarless around for some depth at the position as long as he doesn't ask to be overpaid. The other tight ends who are not FAs are Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner. Bostick made a big play against the Philadelphia Eagles but hasn't really had any more chances and solely plays special teams. Ryan Taylor is a powerhouse when it comes to run-blocking but is iffy catching the ball. Jake Stoneburner played very few offensive snaps but found some time on special teams as well. Expect the Packers to target a big-bodied tight end in the middle rounds such as Crockett Gilmore or C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Now we will transition to the defensive needs of the Packers in the 2014 NFL Draft. Buckle up!
Safety has to be the main priority for the Packers in the first-round of the 2014 NFL Draft to fix step one of multiple steps of the defense. The production from the safeties was, by far, the worst of any position on the defense. Safeties in the NFL are one of the most important positions on the field. They are asked to step up in the box to tackle the ball carrier and also cover receivers and tight ends mostly in the slot. The Packers were unable to perform either one of these tasks. As stated above, the safety position could not come up with an interception all year. They also could not tackle to save their lives. Morgan Burnett signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension last offseason, and he was the most disappointing. He led the position in missed tackles with 11 which was also good for second on the team. The Pack must draft a safety in the first-round of the draft, and there are a couple of names who stick out, one more than the other. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Calvin Pryor, Louisville, are the first and second ranked safeties, respectively, in the draft class according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Both players will step up and play the run and cover big receivers efficiently. The Packers need to have one of these players in green and gold next year to help fix their broken defense.
The anchor of a 3-4 defense is the nose tackle. If the nose tackle does not get constant penetration and clog up holes, the whole defense will struggle as the Packers did. The Pack did not have consistent play at the position all year. Johnny Jolly showed flashes of being the premier guy but his conditioning and injuries slowed him down for most of the year. For the last couple of years, the Packers haven’t allowed BJ Raji to do what he is best at which is rush the passer. Raji became a two down player to stop the run. He did not do that efficiently and the Packers defensive coaching staff is mostly to blame for that. Mike Daniels was the shining star of the Packers defense all year along with AJ Hawk. He was second on the team in sacks with 6.5 and was constantly raising havoc in the backfield on opposing quarterbacks. Rookie defensive tackles Josh Boyd and Datone Jones showed great potential and should get a very good shot to become premier players of the Packers’ defense. The Pack are also waiting to see what Jerel Worthy can do when he is healthy. The second round pick out of Michigan State in 2012 broke his leg towards the end of his rookie campaign and only appeared in two games this season. The Packers will most likely take a defensive lineman pretty early in the draft. Expect them to target DaQuan Jones out of Penn State in the second round. He would be a steal to get in the second round. If the Packers were to take a DT in the first-round, a couple prospects would be Louis Nix III from Notre Dame or Ra’Shede Hageman from Minnesota. The Packers must draft a solid defensive lineman to anchor the 3-4 defense.
It’s no secret the Packers have been looking for a great pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews. Nick Perry, the hyped OLB out of USC was selected in the first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft has shown flashes of dominance in rushing the passer but inconsistency and injuries seem to slow him down an awful lot. Mike Neal, the DL converted OLB, was a work in progress this past year, and he also made plays at his new position. Neal was also run down by injuries and inconsistency. Mike Neal is a free agent, and it will be interesting to see what the Packers do with him. UDFA Andy Mulumba played a lot more than he expect to in his rookie campaign and showed extreme potential. He goes as hard as possible on every play and made plays here and there. He is definitely a work-in-progress but the coaching staff really likes him. Nate Palmer, the sixth-rounder out of Illinois State, only appeared in three games and had zero sacks. The Packers will most definitely looking for a pass rusher to compliment Clay Matthews on the opposite side. If they get another big-time pass rusher, it will be huge in fixing the defense. The Pack may also be looking to add depth at the inside linebacker position to compliment AJ Hawk. The position was filled with injuries in the 2013 season and they want to add a big play guy. A guy like Chris Borland from Wisconsin would fit the system perfectly. Borland may be undersized, but his instincts are unreal. He finds the ball, and he hits the ball; hard. Borland is projected to go somewhere between the third to fifth rounds. Another prospect at ILB would be Shayne Skov out of Stanford. Skov is a beast against the run and plays well in coverage. He could be competing for a starting spot right away in Green Bay. At OLB, Dee Ford out of Auburn lit up the Senior Bowl, and is shooting up draft boards everywhere. He would be the guy to compliment Matthews. Two other guys who would make an immediate impact are Kyle Van Noy and Michael Sam. Both Noy and Sam excel in rushing the passer and would fit perfect for the Packers. There is a ton of depth at the linebacker position in the 2014 NFL Draft so expect Ted Thompson and the Packers to take full advantage of that depth and bring a few of them into Green Bay to compliment the Claymaker.
It is clear the Green Bay Packers need a lot of work to get back to the championship caliber of 2010. With the window of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews closing very fast, Ted Thompson has to make some smart decisions in the draft. TT’s drafts have been average, at best, in the last few years. He must have one of his best draft classes of his long career to propel the Packers past the top teams in the league. It all starts with the defense. If TT is smart in the draft, he should have a starting FS in the first round, an outside and/or inside pass rusher in the second and third rounds and depth to positions for the rest of the draft, the Packers will have a championship team who can finally get past the pesky San Francisco 49ers on their way to the biggest game in all of sports. The team needs a lot of help on the defensive side of the ball and minor additions to the offense to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Title Town U.S.A.