The Packers most glaring need on draft day is their defensive line. They are currently understaffed and undersized for new defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 alignment and will definitely try to alleviate this in the draft. The team is looking to have Cullen Jenkins and Justin Harrell as their defensive ends in 2009, and Jenkins should be able to handle the move, being a former defensive tackle, but Harrell has yet to show anything for the Packers in his career, making this a break year for him. Behind them are Johnny Jolly, Alfred Malone, and Michael Montgomery, with Jolly the only the one of them seeing substantial playing time in 2008. Jolly is also facing a court case, putting some of his availability up in the air. Montgomery was a backup the Packers decided to bring back, and Malone will try to win a job in training camp. In the center, veteran Ryan Pickett is the favorite for the nose tackle job while the Packers have signed an assortment of young free agents to compete for the job. It’s a wide open defensive line that will need improvement for the 3-4 to be successful.
The next area in need of the most improvement for the Packers is the linebackers. With the switch to the 3-4, they need an athletic and physical edge rusher to complement Aaron Kampman who is moving to outside linebacker from the defensive line. However, Kampman will still line up in the three-point stance in numerous instances, giving the team more of a 4-3 look. This being said, the Packers do have talented linebackers. Nick Barnett, tweeting his way back from a severe knee injury, will be in the middle, but the question is who will start with him. A.J. Hawk, Brandon Chillar, and Brady Poppinga are all solid linebackers, but are all more suited for the 4-3 defense. I expect Capers and Mike McCarthy to rotate the linebackers in and out and really mix up the looks they will give the offense. Desmond Bishop, who filled in late last season for Barnett, is also expected to make a run at the job. With this surplus of linebackers, drafting one might seem superfluous, but it can only make the team better.
Everyone is talking about how much the Packers need help on defense, which is 100% true, but they also need help on the offensive line. The bookends for this decade, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are old and banged up, with Tauscher currently unsigned (I believe) and coming off of a serious knee injury. Behind them are Allen Barbre, Breno Giacomini, and Tony Moll. Barbre reportedly has great potential and the Packers just drafted Giacomini in 2008. However, because of Clifton and Tauscher’s consistency, no one knows what they can do. If the Packers were to take a tackle high in the draft, Clifton or Tauscher could be a year or two-year stop-gap before that youngster is ready to takeover. The interior of the line changes frequently, as Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Scott Wells saw the majority of the playing time in 2008. The Packers drafted Josh Sitton in 2008 to hopefully compete for a starting job and they also signed Duke Preston in one of their free agent moves this offseason. It seems as if McCarthy and Ted Thompson are trying to breed competition to get the best starting lineup they can get.
This brings us to the point of this. Who will the Packers draft? When will they draft? Thompson is a notorious mover on draft day, making unexpected trades (ie trading out of the first round in 2008) and making unexpected picks (Aaron Rodgers in 2005). That being said, there is no sure pick for the Packers at #9. I have said in some posts on Lombardi Ave that I want the Packers to get either Brian Orakpo or B.J. Raji at #9, or Malcolm Jenkins, the one everyone has the Packers picking, if Raji or Orakpo are gone. It seems logical that the Packers will go defense, given their personnel is ill-suited for a 3-4 defense currently. But Thompson could surprise. If Andre Smith or one of the other major tackle prospects falls down to them, Thompson could pounce and add some meet to his offensive line. If a skill player such as Jeremy Maclin or even Michael Crabtree falls down to #9, Thompson could go offense. Last season’s number one pick by the Packers was a wide receiver, in Jordy Nelson. The amount of elite offensive players drops off after the tackles, Maclin, and Crabtree, so defense seems as if it will reign. In the later rounds, I expect the Packers to pick multiple front-seven defensive players and offensive linemen, as that is where the biggest needs are. Don’t rule out a defensive back such as Gregory Toler out of St. Paul’s in the later rounds. As for skill positions, I expect the Packers to add a running back in the mid-rounds and possibly a tight end or wide receiver later. Over on Lombardi Ave, I’ll have a more comprehensive analysis up on what I think the Packers will do soon.