A View From the Cheap Seats|
By Craig Marx
With only two days until the premier, first-round evening of the 2014 NFL Draft, needs and concerns on the Green Bay Packers roster are quite clear. While sports media rarely offers a chance to see past the projected top 10 picks and how they will fall according to their fail-safe formulas and predictions, names like Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater bear little relevance to Green Bay fans. Ted Thompson and the Packers, with the 21st pick overall, have their eyes set on the pressing worry of the team’s defense.
Of utmost need for the Packers’ often-times nonexistent pass coverage, a quick and competent safety is the answer. While Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is considered the best overall safety in the 2014 Draft, the defensive back position in general, particularly safety, is a primary need for multiple teams ahead of the Packers in the draft order.
Safety is a needed asset amongst all NFC North teams, and Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago all are slated ahead of Green Bay. While the availability of Clinton-Dix is highly questionable at No. 21, either Calvin Pryor of Louisville or Racine-native Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois may still be on the board.
Ward would be the Packers’ best option, as he is a dedicated deep-coverage safety and all-around ball hound. In his career at NIU, he finished with 319 tackles, two sacks, 11 interceptions (142 INT return yards and a touchdown), with seven interceptions in his senior year alone, an FBS best.
Also defensively, the inside linebacker position needs addressing. With the ineffectiveness of Brad Jones on run defense and A.J. Hawk losing a step each year his career progresses, a talented inside linebacker would be the perfect compliment to a healthy Clay Matthews on the outside, covering over top of a newly-acquired Julius Peppers on the defensive line.
The Crimson Tide’s C.J. Mosley is the 2014 Draft’s most promising inside LB, but he unfortunately missed out on the majority of the NFL Combine due to a right shoulder injury. While relatively injury prone throughout his career in Tuscaloosa, scouts consider him the best run defense specialist available.
Ryan Shazier of Ohio State is the quickest linebacker coming out of the combine, running a 4.4 40-yard dash at 6’1”, 237 lbs. In his junior (and final) year under Urban Meyer, he recorded 142 tackles and six sacks for the Buckeyes. With the Packers’ lack of speed in the middle of their defense, Shazier might be an opportunity too difficult to overlook should he fall later in the first round.
While safety should be of primary concern in the first round, an interesting linebacker option in the third round or later may be the acquisition of Badger Chris Borland. Proving himself at Wisconsin with four straight bowl appearances, albeit at a loss each time, Borland completed his UW career with 420 total tackles (including 50 for a loss), 17 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 14 forced fumbles (8 recovered).
On the opposite side of the ball, a tight end will be necessary to at least backup Andrew Quarless if not compete for the position. With Jermichael Finley now a free agent, the Packers will definitely need a replacement for skilled hands in short-yardage situations. General manager Ted Thompson seemingly never drafts skill position players in the first round, and with defensive woes lurking from the previous season it is unlikely he will start now.
Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) are listed the best tight ends coming into Thursday. Should one of them be available in the second, third or fourth round, it would be in Green Bay’s best interest to acquire one of these TEs.
Either center Marcus Martin (USC) or Travis Swanson (Arkansas) could be a possible late-round pick-up and replacement for second-year Packers’ starter JC Tretter. Tretter broke his ankle in training camp last year after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Cornell. As a result, he saw no playing time last season.
On a final, personal note, I would be ecstatic if the Packers drafted Badgers’ wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, perhaps in the final round of the draft. From walking on at Wisconsin, vacating his sophomore-year scholarship for the sake of his new teammate Russell Wilson, to dominating as the Badgers’ only real receiving threat of the past four years, Abbrederis is a class-act athlete.
In his four years at Madison, Abbrederis finished with 3,140 receiving yards, averaging 15.5 yards per reception, and 23 touchdowns.
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