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Mike Millburn: Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Preview

There are very few things in my life that I can say I truly love.  Other than the obvious loves of friends, family, and pets (at least when my cat doesn’t wake me up in the morning), my list of lucky recipients of those three magic words is staggeringly short.  And yes, that means I’ve never said “I love you” to a girl – alas, that is another story for a different blog.

However, there are two things in this world that I love unequivocally, that have always been there for me through the good times and bad, and that I know will never abandon me:

The Green Bay Packers and the NFL Draft.

Luckily for me, these two wonderful things are destined to coincide once again in less than 24 hours, when Roger Goodell welcomes the world to Radio City Music Hall and the 2013 NFL Draft.  As is customary for this time of year, pundits and fans alike entertain themselves with numerous mock drafts and projections that are almost certainly never right.  This year is no exception – but instead of focusing on all 32 teams, I will go position by position to see if I can find eight players in this year’s draft that would make a good fit for the Green and Gold this upcoming season.  This is assuming, of course, that GM Ted Thompson will stand pat and not trade any picks, but that probably won’t happen.

Quarterback: Seriously?  Next…

Running back: OK, now we can get serious.  The Packers have not taken a running back in the first round since 1990 (Darrell Thompson), and their best first-round back in the modern draft would be John Brockington (1971).  Green Bay’s position in the back end of round one suggests a potential landing spot for Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, but given Ted Thompson’s aversion to taking running backs early, my guess is he waits.  A guy like Wisconsin’s Montee Ball makes sense in the second round, and if the Packers bring back free agent Cedric Benson that will certainly take the early pressure off of Ball (who had over 300 carries each of the last two years).

Wide receiver/tight end: Despite the loss of Greg Jennings to division rival Minnesota, the receiving corps still stands as one of the strengths of the team.  That being said, having an extra pair of hands in the slot certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.  Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope could fit that role nicely in the fifth round.  Jermichael Finley, despite his inconsistencies, is still the number one tight end, and there’s enough depth on the roster to absorb the loss of Tom Crabtree to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Offensive line: Green Bay has taken an offensive tackle in the first round two of the last three years, but Bryan Bulaga (2010) may be better suited to play on the right side and Derek Sherrod (2011) still hasn’t recovered from a gruesome broken leg.  Given Marshall Newhouse’s struggles this past season, another first round offensive lineman may be in the cards.  Florida State’s Menelik Watson, despite his relative inexperience, could be the answer with most of the talented tackles off the board at 26.  The two guards are the stalwarts of the line.  With Jeff Saturday’s retirement, and Evan Dietrich-Smith unproven, there may be a need for the center of the future.  Alabama’s Barrett Jones, the reigning Rimington Award winner, would be a steal in the fourth round and could start from day one.

Defensive line: Anybody who watched the playoffs last year saw that the Packers had just a bit of trouble stopping the run against the San Francisco 49ers (something the Editor of this blog likes to remind me of every now and then).  Even with B.J. Raji in line for a contract extension and plenty of young bodies to man the other spots on the line, an extra body would be welcome.  A speedy defensive end like LSU’s Lavar Edwards, who could play end or outside linebacker in the 3-4, might be a nice fit for the Packers’ second choice in the fifth round.

Linebackers: The Packers just signed this guy to a long-term deal, which will keep him as the face of the defense for the foreseeable future.  Last year’s first round pick Nick Perry got hurt early last year and should be ready to take back his spot opposite Matthews.  The inside linebackers, however, are a different story.  Desmond Bishop didn’t make it out of the first game of the preseason after tearing his hamstring and his replacement (D.J. Smith) tore his ACL against the Houston Texans and was recently released.  Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk were average at best; Iowa State’s A.J. Klein could bring some relief in the sixth round.

Secondary: Fan favorite Charles Woodson was released after this past season, but the cornerback situation is in good hands.  Second-rounder Casey Hayward allowed quarterbacks an NFL-low 31.1 quarterback rating against him, and even though Tramon Williams had a tough 2012 he is firmly entrenched in the other corner spot.  However, the safeties have struggled since the career-ending injury to Nick Collins and it remains to be seen if any of Green Bay’s recent picks (save Morgan Burnett) will be the answer.  Phillip Thomas from Fresno State could be that guy in a fairly deep safety class; the third round would be an ideal place to pick him up.

Special teams: Mason Crosby was essentially the worst kicker in the league last year not named David Akers.  Yet through all of his struggles, head coach Mike McCarthy displayed unwavering support for Crosby all season.  Bringing in some healthy competition in the seventh round might not be a bad idea.  Florida’s Caleb Sturgis was one of the nation’s premier college kickers this past season and could be just the guy to push the incumbent Crosby.  The punter Tim Masthay (affectionately known as “Ginge”) isn’t going anywhere.

To recap, here is the ideal Packers draft (provided Ted Thompson keeps all eight picks):

First round: Tackle Menelik Watson (Florida State)

Second round: Running back Montee Ball (Wisconsin)

Third round: Safety Phillip Thomas (Fresno State)

Fourth round: Center Barrett Jones (Alabama)

Fifth round: Receiver Ryan Swope (Texas A&M)

Fifth round: Defensive end Lavar Edwards (LSU)

Sixth round: Linebacker A.J. Klein (Iowa State)

Seventh round: Kicker Caleb Sturgis (Florida)

Of course, given the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft, there is a great chance that none of these picks will come to fruition and this article will be rendered moot.  But that’s the best part of this time of year – the unpredictability.  I know I won’t be the only one glued to my TV for the next three days.

Happy drafting to all, and to all a good draft!

Mike Millburn

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