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Packers shift focus to NFL Draft

Jacob Westendorf , Sports Writer, Commentary
April 1, 2014
Filed under Sports

Usually the NFL offseason brings about a lot of roster turnover. For the Green Bay Packers, who are typically quiet in free agency, they opt to make changes to their roster via the draft.

But this year was a little different.

With a wide variety of needs,  Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed a pair of outside free agents.

The biggest surprise came when the Packers signed former Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.

Peppers is 34 years old and is coming off a year in which he showed some declining skills, but he should give the Packers some versatility along their defensive front. In addition, he will add a proven veteran to get after the quarterback, teaming up with Clay Matthews.

Shortly after adding Peppers, Thompson added former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Guion isn’t a flashy name, but he will add another big body to the Packers rotation along their defensive front.

Despite the Packers’ activity in free agency, Thompson will build the majority of his roster through May’s NFL Draft.

The Packers have needs in a variety of positions, including the tight end position. With Jermichael Finley’s future in doubt, the Packers could look to add a dynamic tight end when they’re on the clock in the first round.

One of those players is North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. Other tight end prospects could warrant a first round pick, but for now, it appears Ebron will be the only one to go in the first round.

Ebron interviewed with the Packers at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He has the size that’s becoming more coveted with the emergence of the receiving tight end. He is six feet four inches tall, and weighed in at 250 pounds at the Scouting Combine. His size and speed combination will be a major factor for teams in need of a tight end.

Ebron finished his final season for the Tar Heels tallying 895 yards receiving. That total is an ACC record, surpassing the mark set by current 49ers’ tight end Vernon Davis in 2005. Adding Ebron would give the Packers another downfield option to replace the void left by Jermichael Finley’s injury.

The Packers’ needs on offense don’t stop at tight end, but with a deep class at wide receiver, they’re likely to address that in later rounds.

Some names to keep in mind for the second day of the draft are Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Clemson’s Martavis Bryant and Penn State’s Allen Robinson.

The Packers’ biggest needs are on defense, most notably at safety.

In 2013, the Packers got zero interceptions between the tandem of MD Jennings and Morgan Burnett.

There are two potential safeties that could be targeted in the first round. They are Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s HaSean Clinton-Dix, who is commonly referred to as “HaHa.”

Each player has different styles. Clinton-Dix is more of a coverage type safety, whereas Pryor likes to play close to the line of scrimmage and hit people.

The Packers described themselves as a team starving for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and both players have shown the ability to make plays on the back end of their defense.

If the Packers were to pass on a safety in the first round, they could target Washington State’s Deone Bucannon or Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward later in the draft.

The other big need the Packers have on defense is at the linebacker position. For a team that employs a defense that runs 3-4 concepts, the Packers’ depth at linebacker has been less than stellar the last two seasons. Brad Jones struggled as a starter, so they could look to replace him to give another running mate to the incumbent A.J. Hawk.

One option in the first round would be Alabama’s CJ Mosley. Mosley was the captain of the Crimson Tide’s defense for the last two seasons, and was one of the best players in the country at his position. He reportedly has some health issues that could push him down the draft board, but there is no denying his skill set if he is healthy.

If Mosley is on the board when the Packers pick, he would give them a punishing presence in the middle of the defense with the ability to cover tight ends down the field. Covering the middle of the field has been a problem for the Packers since they won the Super Bowl in 2010, and drafting Mosley would help alleviate that problem.

Another option at the linebacker position would be Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier. The Packers came into the offseason hoping to improve their team speed, and Shazier would help that cause. He ran an unofficial 4.36 in the 40-yard-dash at Ohio State’s pro day.

Shazier is a versatile player who has played in both the 4-3 and the 3-4 while he was at Ohio State. He finished his final season with six sacks and 142 total tackles for a Buckeyes defense that helped the team finish the regular season undefeated.

The Packers have nine picks in this year’s draft and are likely to add more as the draft progresses. With a wide variety of needs, look for the Packers to attempt to get as many chances as possible to pick players.

The good news is, this is a deep draft class and that will allow the Packers some flexibility with their picks throughout the weekend.