The Packers addressed one of their biggest needs Thursday night by selecting offensive lineman Derek Sherrod with the final pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. They have three picks on Day 2 (second and third round) and there is still plenty of talent that dropped out of the first round.
Much has been made of Ted Thompson’s recent philosophy change by trading up instead of down in the draft, and it could happen again tomorrow. Known for stockpiling late-round draft picks, Thompson has traded up in each of the last two drafts to select outside linebacker Clay Matthews (2009) and safety Morgan Burnett (2010).
With so much talent on the current roster and eight more draft picks in 2011, the Packers may be a candidate to trade up in the second round and grab a defensive end or outside linebacker who slipped through to Friday.
The top two candidates would be outside linebackers Brooks Reed and Akeem Ayers. Projected as first rounders in many mock drafts, both would be an upgrade at right outside linebacker over the likes of Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, Brady Poppinga and Brad Jones.
There were plenty of surprises in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, but everything was calm in Green Bay as the Packers selected offensive tackle Derek Sherrod with the final selection in the first round.
Sherrod started all 25 games the last two seasons at left tackle for the Bulldogs and his massive size had the Packers excited as to what he could do on the offensive line. His 35 3/8-inch arms and 11-inch hands were some of the biggest in the draft, and his 6-foot, 5-inch, 321-frame gives him prototypical size at left tackle.
The Packers obviously have not decided on whether or not Sherrod will play left or right tackle at the next level, but the pick gives Green Bay flexibility on the offensive line to mix and match the Sherrod and Bulaga at the tackle position.
Here is a scouting report on Sherrod, via ESPN.com insider and Scouts, Inc:
The NFL Draft is finally upon us, and for three days this weekend football fans can focus on the actual sport instead of labor negotiations that seem to be heading in the right direction. Past mocks can be found here, here, and here. This will be the final mock draft before things get going tonight on ESPN. As always, trades will not be taken into consideration because it is far to difficult to predict, and Ted Thompson never makes that easy.
Round 1, Pick No. 32: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
It’s almost a guarantee that tackles Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo will be gone when the Packers pick, but that doesn’t mean Sherrod isn’t worthy of the pick. Selecting an offensive tackle would allow Sherrod to improve behind Chad Clifton for a year and would also keep Bulaga at right tackle if that’s where his best fit is. Sherrod is also capable of making the switch to the right side, which would put Bulaga at left tackle when Clifton hangs them up. Protecting Aaron Rodgers is of utmost importance and the Packers could have their tackles for the decade in Bulaga and Sherrod.
Round 2, Pick No. 64: Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Donald Driver isn’t getting any younger and James Jones could leave via free agency this offseason, so drafting the ultra-talented Hankerson makes sense here. What Hankerson lacks in speed he makes up for with great hands, route-running and separation. At 6-feet, 1-inch he has good size and uses it well in traffic. Selecting Hankerson would allow Jones to walk this offseason, which he is almost assured of doing for starter’s money.
Round 3, Pick No. 96: Christopher Carter, OLB, Fresno State
When Ryan Grant was lost for the season just two quarters into the 2010 season, many wondered if the Packers could survive with Brandon Jackson and fullback-turned-bulldozer John Kuhn.
For 11 weeks that duo worked, but the return (and debut) of little-known seventh round rookie James Starks threw another wrench into the equation. A wrench that would pay dividends down the stretch in the playoffs.
As the Packers enter the 2011 offseason, Grant is expected to be ready for all activity once summer workouts begin and will battle with Starks for the starting gig. Jackson is not under contract but could be back as an excellent third down back.
Rookie free agent Dmitri Nance was a solid fill-in but projects as nothing more than a practice squad body.
All this begs the question as the NFL Draft gets underway tomorrow night: Is running back a need for the Green Bay Packers?
The Packers will surely address both lines and will look into improving their pass rush on the right side, and may even consider a wide receiver early in the draft, but could an early-round running back provide an answer for the future?
Starting from the ground up, Grant is one of the more under-appreciated yet successful running backs in the league. He finished ninth and seventh in rushing yards the last two seasons, and in 2007 rushed for 956 yards in eight starts. Those numbers say a lot considering Green Bay’s pass-happy offense.
His injury should not be of concern, considering he played 15, 16 and 16 games the last three seasons and a whole season off should have his legs fresh for 2011.
Starks made head turns when the playoffs came around, rushing for 315 yards in four playoff games and coaches like him enough to give him a chance to win the starting job outright. While there’s a chance he doesn’t become the clear-cut starter this year, the 25-year-old Starks was given rave reviews by the coaching staff before the public saw him, so there’s good reason to believe he could be the guy.
Here is version 3.0 of my 2011 NFL mock draft for the Green Bay Packers. This mock will be different from the first two in that it will include wildcard picks. Ted Thompson has surprised Packers’ fans on more than one occasion and with so much talent on the current roster, the Packers can be flexible with their picks in 2011.
Version 1.0 can be found here.
Version 2.0 can be found here.
Round 1, Pick No. 32: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland: The Packers have no glaring needs they must fill immediately, but they might be closest to needing a solid return man. Smith would do the trick. A combination of Tramon Williams, Jordy Nelson, James Starks and Sam Shields shared duties, but Smith would give the Packers a legitimate threat. He set the ACC record for kick return yards and has good size as a wideout. The Packers do not have a true speedster at wideout and with James Jones’ status in the air and Donald Driver aging, the slot could be a position of need in the near future.
Round 2, Pick No. 64: Sam Acho, OLB, Texas: This draft class has its fair share of top tier pass rushers, and while Acho isn’t one of them, he would still be a nice fit at outside linebacker. He’s a bit bulkier than a normal outside linebacker at 257 pounds, but that hasn’t stopped Acho. What he lacks in pass rushing he makes up for against the run, which is something the Packers struggled with in 2010.
Round 3, Pick No. 96:
Picking 32nd in the NFL draft is usually a good sign for your franchise, winning the Super Bowl and all, but it won’t do much help in the draft itself. Ted Thompson and the rest of the personnel in the war room will have their work cut out for them in the first round (assuming they keep the pick) and will see 31 players come off the board.
The Packers will have three options Thursday night to decide what to do with their first round selection. Here are the upsides and downsides to each option.
Keeping the pick: Staying in the first round has its obvious advantages: the top players in the class are available. This year’s crop of players set up nicely for the Packers to fill a potential need at offensive tackle, defensive end or outside linebacker, so there’s clearly upside. Last year’s 32nd pick, New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson, was signed to a five-year deal worth $12.25 million, so money isn’t an issue, especially if the Packers think they have a steal. Options include, but are clearly not limited to, DE Cameron Heyward, OLB Brooks Reed, OLB Justin Houston, LT Derek Sherrod, and OG Danny Watkins.
Trade the pick, move up:
Ted Thompson has surprised Packers’ fans with his first pick on draft day on many occasion, whether it was Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Justin Harrell in 2006, or even Jordy Nelson in 2008. But if there’s one thing that brilliant sterling silver Vince Lombardi Trophy has taught us, it’s to never doubt the White Wizard.
That being said, one can only assume the Packers’ first pick will either be an offensive lineman, a defensive end, or an outside linebacker.
Here’s a wish list Packers’ fans should hope for on draft day with the 32nd pick in the first round. These are all realistic projections (aka, outside linebacker Von Miller is probably at the top of the Packers’ draft board, but there’s a zero percent chance he is there when the Packers pick. The same goes for Tyron Smith, etc.) This also assumes the Packers keep their first round pick, which we know Thompson very well might not do.
1. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: There are a few tackles on the board who could fall in the draft, just like Bryan Bulaga did last season, but Solder would top the list. I project Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi to be gone at this point, but Solder, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, and guard Danny Watkins could be around. Solder is a prototypical bookend left tackle and would allow Bulaga to stay at right tackle. The two also could be interchangeable and would give the Packers their tackles for the future, which is just as important as any position in keeping Aaron Rodgers standing. Add Castonzo to this top part, as a left tackle would do wonders at No. 32.
2. Mike Pouncey, C, Florida: His brother Maurkice putting together a Pro Bowl rookie season means he shouldn’t fall to No. 32, but if he does the Packers would have a star in the making. He’s versatile enough to play either guard position, and probably would move to left guard to replace Daryn Colledge. He has all the tools inside and should be just as good as his older brother.
3. Cameron Jordan, DE, California:
Round 1, Pick No. 32: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: The Packers’ top two needs, by this author’s estimation, are the offensive and defensive line, but Houston’s value is too good to pass up at the end of the first round. One of the most intriguing aspects of Houston’s play is that he has experience playing both defensive end and outside linebacker. For a 3-4 outside rusher, that should give him a head start as he makes his case for a starting gig in August. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the draft and, if he continues to fall down the board, would make a great addition opposite Clay Matthews.
Round 2, Pick No. 64: Jerrell Jernigan, WR/KR, Troy: Who? Ted Thompson tends to go with the biggest need in Round 2 after selecting the best player available in Round 1, and as crazy as it sounds the Packers’ biggest need could be kick returner. Jernigan ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and would, at the very worst, be the answer to the kick return needs. If James Jones leaves to get starter’s money, Jernigan would fit in perfectly as a speedy slot receiver behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson. This is a huge wildcard pick given his questionable size (5-feet, 9-inches; 185 pounds) but then again, so is every pick in the NFL Draft. This could be a steal. In a nutshell, he is explosive.
Round 3, Pick No. 96: Chris Hairston, LT, Clemson: The Packers have plenty of depth on the offensive line, but outside of Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, and potentially T.J. Lang, they’re thin on the outside. Hairston would be a project at left tackle, with the capability to move to right tackle, but it would give the Packers more options to work with around Bulaga. Hairston played well in the East-West Shrine Game but will need to work on his conditioning and footwork before he sees the field. That being said, his size and potential would make him a nice third round pick.
Round 4, Pick No. 129: Cortez Allen, CB, Citadel:
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews followed up his stellar rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season, racking up 13.5 sacks and 60 tackles and finishing second in the AP Defensive Player of the Year voting. Making his production even more impressive was that, opposite Matthews, four players saw significant time due to injuries.
Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, Erik Walden and Brady Poppinga all saw time at right outside linebacker, with Jones and Poppinga being lost to season-ending injuries. There’s no question the Packers have plenty of depth at outside linebacker and, as is the case at a couple positions, there will be some tough decisions when Ted Thompson has to cut the roster to 53 players.
Zombo, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010, is probably the best of the bunch with the brightest future, while Walden performed admirably after being signed in late October. Jones, a seventh round choice two seasons ago, has potential as well but projects as a back-up. Poppinga may make the roster as depth and a good special teams body, but that remains to be seen.
After selecting offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga in the first round, Ted Thompson went away from “expert rankings” by selecting Purdue defensive end Mike Neal in the second round. Known more as a workout freak rather than an on-the-field talent, skeptics had a field day with Thompson’s selection of Neal.
Despite missing a good chunk of the season with a torn rotator cuff, Neal provided depth when the Packers lost Johnny Jolly in the offseason and Justin Harrell in Week 1. In 2011, the Packers will again need to look on the defensive line early in the draft.
Two main reasons justify this need. First, Cullen Jenkins was not given the franchise tag, which would have awarded him around $12 million, and is likely to find a much larger payday elsewhere than the Packers are willing to give him. The Packers’ best lineman from a year ago had a career-high seven sacks, despite playing much of the season with a wrapped broken hand.
Second, Johnny Jolly is again in serious legal trouble after again being arrested on drug charges. His days in a Packers uniform are over, and there’s a good chance he doesn’t play in the NFL again.
The Green Bay Packers were ecstatic that Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga fell to them at pick No. 23 a year ago, and while it wasn’t the sexy pick fans hope for in the first round (Sergio Kindle was a popular want), it gave them stability on the offensive line that proved valuable in their playoff run.
One year later, the offensive line is better but could still use an upgrade and is the biggest need for the Super Bowl champions. Lucky for them, there are plenty of linemen toward the back end of the first round worth looking at.
Center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton, and Bulaga are the three spots on the offensive line the Packers feel comfortable moving forward with in the future, with left tackle Chad Clifton nearing the end of his career and left guard Daryn Colledge serviceable, at best.
T.J. Lang has been on the cusp of starter-worthy the past two seasons and still provides versatile depth, while rookies Marshall Newhouse and Nick McDonald project as back-ups at this point. The same goes for Evan Dietrich-Smith, while Jason Spitz has battled injury last season.
The main question for the Packers is whether or not Bulaga can ultimately move to left tackle when Clifton hangs his cleats up. Draft experts had concerns about his (relatively) short arms, but his smooth feet and size should give him the capability to be Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protection in the future.
That being said, the Packers could go with a tackle with the 32nd pick and not have to move Bulaga from his right tackle position, where he played last season.
The Packers had obvious needs entering the 2010 NFL Draft. Safety was not one of them. But that did not stop Ted Thompson from trading up for just the third time in his career to select safety Morgan Burnett, a junior out of Georgia Tech.
Burnett joins a group of players Thompson has traded up for that includes former Packers defensive end Jeremy Thompson and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Thompson was an end who projected as a project at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, but a neck injury forced him to retire earlier last month. Matthews recorded 10 sacks in his rookie campaign last season and projects as the Packers rush linebacker of the future.
Next in line is Burnett, who the Packers moved up to to select in the third round and feel as though they received excellent value. He was projected by most to go in the second round but slipped on day two. With teams in front of the Packers needing help at safety, the Bears included, Green Bay jumped up and got their guy.
If, for whatever reason, you have never liked Tim Tebow and never given him a shot, don’t read the rest of this article. If you think the media overplays what he does on and off the field to make him look like a saint, definitely stop reading this article. Ever since the University of Florida’s all-everything quarterback gave his apology speech to Gator Nation after a loss to Ole Miss last season, he became my role model and also one of my favorite athletes to play the game.
Anyone who watched #15 tearfully enter The Swamp for the last time in a Gator uniform had to feel for him. What a legacy the Heisman Trophy and two-time National Champ will leave in Florida in about a month. He has received more trophies than he probably knows what to do with, run for more yards as a quarterback than Duke has a team, and scored more touchdowns in his career than anyone to play in the SEC. Yes, that means you Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker.
That’s why in next April’s NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers need to draft Tim Tebow if he is within reaching distance on Day One. The verdict on Tebow’s draft stock is still out, with some believing he can be a first round, starting quarterback while others believe he will move to running back and work out of the Wildcat formation on most plays as an H-Back.
Because it’s never too early to start looking toward the NFL Draft in April, here are the top five biggest draft needs for the Packers as well as potential picks that could help them in 2010 and beyond. It is only October and many things can and most likely will, but it’s good to get an early grasp on the potential future Packers.
It’s no secret that the Packers’ offensive line is struggling mightily this season. While the line is relatively young minus Chad Clifton, production is an issue for the struggling youngsters while age is a concern for the productive veterans. It’s not a good combination for a team trying to protect their franchise quarterback and trying to get their high-powered offense back on track.
Despite Mark Tauscher and Levi Jones working out for the Packers, it’s obvious that no one on the current roster or in the free agent pool is going to be the answer going forward. While the potential for improvement is there for the young players, if there is going to be a drastic improvement on the offensive line, it is going to need to come in the form of an early draft pick.
Last season, the Packers selected two offensive linemen in T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith. Both were selected on the second day of the draft (Lang in the fourth, Meredith in the fifth) and were not expected to make a huge impact in their first seasons. General manager Ted Thompson has been a huge fan of taking project linemen in the later rounds of the draft and letting them gain experience before putting them on the field.
In 2005, Thompson selected center/guard Junius Coston in the fifth round and guard Will Whitticker in the seventh round, neither of whom are still on the active roster. In 2006, he used his first of two second round selections to take current starter Daryn Colledge and also used the latter of his third round picks to take center Jason Spitz.
The next year in 2007, Thompson’s lone offensive lineman selection was in the fourth round in Allen Barbre, the team’s current but struggling right tackle. In 2008, Thompson used his fourth and fifth round picks to select Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini. It would be quite deceiving to say that Thompson has done a good job selecting offensive linemen because four of his nine offensive line picks are current starters.
When he took over as GM in 2005, he declined to re-sign veteran guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and trying to replace them with free agent signings Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer was cut in training camp and Klemm lasted just a year with the Packers. The only other free agent signing Thompson has gone for on the offensive line was this past off-season in Duke Preston. However, he flopped as well and was cut before the season began.
Simply put, Thompson has put all his offensive line eggs in the draft basket and it clearly is not working, especially when he waits so long to select them. Granted it makes little sense to take a guard or center in the early rounds of the draft, but this season Thompson will surely be expected to address the tackle position on Day One. Luckily for him, there will be options available when the Packers go on the clock in April.
Scouts, Inc. has Russell Okung listed as their top left tackle in next year’s draft, and just by looking at him it’s easy to see why. The six foot-six inch senior from Oklahoma State is big in size and moves extremely well for his size. He has everything you look for in a franchise left tackle and could potentially learn for a year under Chad Clifton. The only issue with Okung is that he is almost a lock to be taken within the first half of the first round. So maybe Packers’ fans should hope they don’t have the opportunity to take him.
More realistic options include Trent Williams from Oklahoma, who has the versatility to play both tackle positions if he can improve on his pass blocking. His run blocking is superb which gives him the ability to play right tackle, the position he played up until this season. If his pass blocking improves, his name could be called in the top ten picks. For now, he looks like a viable option for the Packers come draft day.
Bryan Bulaga from Iowa is almost a sure-fire first round draft pick and someone who can help in the run game as well. Bruce Campbell from Maryland and Charles Brown from USC round out the borderline first round picks for 2010. While many things can and will change, but keep an eye on these five players leading up to the draft.
The Packers have relied on middle of the pack linemen for too long and need to go out and get a stud next season. Clifton and Colledge are both free agents after this season and it will be interesting to see what they do and who they keep. Either way, there’s a good chance a spot (or two) is opening up at the tackle position next season. It’s time that Ted Thompson moved away from the defensive front seven and focused on shoring up the offensive line.