Who will the Packers select in the NFL draft?

Joe Ballard, Staff Writer

To begin the 2014 offseason the Green Bay Packers had 17 free agents and $33 million in cap room the Packers were going to be active in free agency. The team ended the 2013 season with a defense that ranked 26th in yards against allowing 372.2 yards per game. Many defenses have a bend but don’t break philosophy in which the other team can get yards as long as they don’t score but the Packers ended the year surrendering 26.8 points per game, tied for 25th with the 2-14 Houston Texans. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers and his units have taken a lot of heat the past few seasons for underperforming.

So far this offseason General Manager Ted Thompson has re-signed many of the teams free agent players like cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle B.J Raji, outside linebacker Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless. Thompson has even broke what must be a golden rule this offseason and signed a notable free agent in defensive end Julius Peppers to help a defense that needs all the help it can get. I am still a little weary about signing the 33 year old 4-3 defensive end to play in a 3-4 scheme but the signing of a talented player like Peppers could be the sign of a shift in style for the Packers defense.

Many would like to see the Packers draft a player that can impact a game from the defensive side of the ball. Like a free safety to play alongside Morgan Burnett in the secondary. The team has been missing a defensive playmaker in passing defense since it lost Nick Collins to a neck injury during the 2011 season. The defense could also use an upgrade at inside linebacker, where A.J. Hawks and Brad Jones have underwhelmed in their performances the past few seasons. Also at cornerback the Packers have Tramon Williams entering the last year of his contract and the talented Casey Hayward struggling to stay healthy. With Micah Hyde the Packers have a versatile player who they want to get more involved but the team could use another cornerback to provide depth in a division that has arguably two of the best receiving combinations with Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson in Detroit and Alshon Jeffries and Brandon Marshall in Chicago.

Since Thompson first took over the reins of the Packers front office he has enjoyed tremendous success at picking offensive stars like Aaron Rodgers, Eddy Lacy, and Randall Cobb. What has routinely happened with Thompson’s drafts is a lack of playmakers or even solid contributors from the defense. With Thompson’s free agent spending spree likely coming to a close, for better or worse, the Packers front office will be looking to improve their roster through the upcoming NFL draft that goes from May 8-10. The Green and Gold have 9 selections draft and 4 of which are in the first three rounds.

I believe a playmaking safety is the Packers biggest need and they will be targeting a couple in the first few rounds of the draft in May. Don’t be surprised though if this draft is offensive player heavy though. Obviously the Packers need to improve their defense but I think the players on the roster are the ones who need to do that. The Pack needs to see improvement from Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Datone Jones, and B.J. Raji in order to see any immediate results. There is too much talent in that group of players for them not to produce and if the Packers want to do anything in the postseason during 2014 Mike McCarthy and company need those players to perform up to their potential.

Therefore I think that after addressing the safety position early, the best move for the team would be to reload an offense with talented players that can help Rodgers make plays in the passing game and make sure that they provide Rodgers with enough time to make those plays. Here is how I would draft if I were in Ted Thompsons shoes this year.

Round 1, #21 overall (FS or TE) – The Packers are likely targeting safety here. I would like to see either Ha Ha Clinton Dix out of Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville fall to them at this spot. If that doesn’t happen the Packers might look at tight end. If tight end Jace Amaro from Texas Tech falls this far Thompson might scoop him up or trade down and acquire more selections. It should be noted that Thompson will likely trade out of one of his spots to acquire more pics.

Round 2, #53(C) – The Packers have a huge hole at center and they will probably target one of the better ones with this pick. Weston Richburg out of Colorado St. would be a great fit. A strong center with the ability to pull in the running game could be just what the Packers need. He also played 49 games in college so he is durable. He can also play guard in a pinch and since the offensive line seems to suffer one major injury a year his versatility could be invaluable.

Round 3, #85(TE or FS) – This is where I see the Pack targeting a tight end to replace Jermical Finley. Tight end is very deep this year and the Pack should be able to find a good talent at this stage in the draft. Maybe someone like Troy Niklas from Notre Dame if he were to fall this far or C.J. Fiedorowicz out of Iowa. If the Pack has already picked a tight end then I would go safety here.

Round 3, #98 (compensatory selection) (CB/LB) – The Pack should look to defense with this pick, either addressing cornerback or inside linebacker. Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland could be available this late in the draft. Corner is deep this year as well and there will be at least one decent prospect who falls this far.

Round 4, #121 (CB/LB) – If the Packers take a linebacker at #98 then I would say cornerback here. Or vice versa.

Round 5, #161(QB) – I would like to see the Packers take a quarterback here. I would also be ok with it earlier in the draft. Last season the offense saw a considerable drop-off in production with Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone. With Scott Tolzein the only backup quarterback under contract for the 2014 season look for the Pack to draft someone to groom behind Rodgers.

Round 5, #176 (compensatory selection) (OL) – Thompson seems to make the right calls late in the draft with lineman and there should be someone who can provide depth for an injury prone unit over the past few years.

Round 6, #197 (WR) – Replacing James Jones will be a tall order but I think the Packers are well suited for the task, especially if they land a good tight end. With Nelson, Cobb, and Boykin at the top three spots, finding another big body to throw to in the red zone will help.

Round 7, #236 (OL) – Again the Pack needs depth on the offensive line. Someone who can play multiple positions has the best chance at making the roster.