Five questions to ponder before the Packers’ draft
By Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; April 24th, 2013
~GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson doesn’t dabble much in free agency. Trades are a rarity for Green Bay’s general manager.
Instead, Thompson puts most of his chips on the NFL draft. And Thompson’s eye for selecting young talent is the overriding reason the Packers won Super Bowl XLV and have reached the playoffs four straight years.
Thompson enters this year’s draft with eight picks. And coming off a 12-6 season (including postseason), the Packers have a surprisingly large number of holes and question marks.
With the draft fast approaching, here are five burning questions surrounding Thompson and the Packers.
1 . Will the defensive overhaul continue?
A year ago, the Packers used their first six picks on the defensive side of the ball. That marked the first time Green Bay opened with six straight defensive players since the draft began in 1936.
From that group, Casey Hayward looks like a definite keeper. But the jury remains out on Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian and Terrell Manning.
Green Bay took baby steps on defense a year ago, allowing 336 points (21.0) after giving up 359 in 2011 (22.4). The Packers also jumped from No. 32 to 11 in total defense.
But Green Bay was obliterated by top offenses and allowed 32.3 points per game in its six losses. In the Packers’ final three defeats (San Francisco, Minnesota, New York Giants), they allowed 40.0 per game, including 45 in a playoff loss to the 49ers.
Clearly, defense remains the No. 1 concern. It’s unlikely Thompson will use his first six picks on defense again. But Thompson figures to use the majority on that side of the ball.
2. Running on empty?
Since Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006, Green Bay has ranked 23rd, 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in rushing. That’s an average of 21st.
DuJuan Harris came on strong at the end of 2012 and was the team’s top rusher down the stretch.
“He did a good job,” Thompson said of Harris during February’s NFL combine. “And we’re looking forward to having him here for the whole thing.”
But is Harris an every-down back? And both James Starks and Alex Green have been disappointments.
The Packers haven’t taken a first-round running back since Darrell Thompson 23 years ago. If Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is on the board when the Packers first-round pick at No. 26 comes up, will Thompson pull the trigger?
3. Will Aaron Rodgers get more weapons?
When Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings left for Minnesota in free agency, the Packers lost a combined 1,168 receptions, 114 touchdowns and nearly 17,000 receiving yards.
Granted, Driver was on his final legs in 2012, and Jennings has had consecutive injury-plagued seasons.
The Packers still have three quality receivers in James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. But depth is an issue and Jones is an unrestricted free agent after 2013.
It would make sense to bring in at least one youngster, and Thompson’s history suggests he could do so early. In five of Thompson’s eight drafts in Green Bay, he’s taken a wideout in the first three rounds.
“I think you still look for big, fast guys,” Thompson said. “But guys that catch the ball, guys that are instinctive, guys that have the ability to run after the catch. All those things are the same as they were in 1992, when I first started scouting.”
4. Can the lines of scrimmage be upgraded?
Green Bay needs to get better on both lines of scrimmage, and Thompson is likely to provide McCarthy some more ammunition.
Defensively, an end with some length is almost mandatory. With tackles B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett entering contract years, another inside player also could be targeted.
Offensively, Green Bay still has reservations about Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, are both coming off injuries.
Inside, there’s little depth, and no one is sure if center Evan Dietrich-Smith is much more than a stopgap.
The offensive guard and tackle groups in this draft are excellent. There are terrific interior defensive linemen, as well.
On multiple occasions, the best player on Thompson’s board could be an offensive or defensive lineman.
5. Will other voices be heard?
Since January 2010, Thompson has lost three key cogs of his management team.
John Schneider was the first to leave, taking the general manager job in Seattle. Reggie McKenzie took the GM job in Oakland in January 2012, and John Dorsey became Kansas City’s GM in January. All were terrific scouts, and people who Thompson trusted immensely.
The draft has always been Thompson’s baby, and the draft room has never been a democracy. But with so many of Thompson’s key lieutenants elsewhere, will their replacements have much of a voice on draft weekend?
“That’s a good question. That’s pretty sharp,” Thompson said. “Those people that we’ve put in those positions are mandated to question and to challenge from time to time – not for the sake of an argument but to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the organization.
“Yeah, those three guys (Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey) did that a lot. We have other people here that are doing that as we speak. The coaches have their say, the other guys have their say and the people that ask the tough questions do their stuff, so it’s good.”
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