Who's on First? Early Favorites as Top Pick

Based on conversations with scouts over the last few weeks, here are four strong possibilities for the Packers at No. 26. Given the team's needs, the Packers likely can fill a need by selecting the best available player. Long-term cap considerations might make this a forward-thinking pick.

With the first round of the NFL Draft exactly three weeks away, things are beginning to crystalize for the Green Bay Packers.

With Greg Jennings' departure and Jermichael Finley's uncertain future beyond the upcoming season, the Packers could use another weapon in the passing game. At least a couple of the second-tier receivers — Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton, Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins, Tennessee's Justin Hunter, Cal's Keenan Allen and USC's Robert Woods — should be there at No. 26.

Tight end could be an option, too, but Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert almost certainly won't be on the board and it's not clear what the Packers think of the second-best player at the position, Stanford's Zach Ertz.

The Packers' flirtation with powerhouse running back Steven Jackson signals that Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell or Alabama's Eddie Lacy could be in the conversation.

Coach Mike McCarthy vowed the offensive line would get better, meaning Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson or Wisconsin's Travis Frederick could be in the discussion.

Of course, those positions are on the offensive side of the ball, and Green Bay's problem is defense.

Minnesota, which is the No. 1 challenger to Green Bay's throne in the NFC North, scored 37 points on the Packers in Week 17 and will be better with Jennings and a more experienced Christian Ponder. San Francisco, which reached the Super Bowl, scored 45 points against the Packers in the playoff rout. Washington (436 points), Atlanta (419) and Seattle (412) reached the NFC playoffs behind offenses averaging at least 25.8 points per game. The Giants, who won the Super Bowl a year ago, scored 429 points.

Thus, while it likely won't be as dramatic as last year, when the Packers used their first six picks on defensive players, it figures to be another defense-heavy draft.

Much of this year's draft plan boils down to what the coaches and personnel department think of three of last year's rookies: first-round outside linebacker Nick Perry, second-round defensive end Jerel Worthy and fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian.

Perry missed the final 10 games with a wrist injury, seriously curtailing his development after playing defensive end at USC. Worthy sustained a torn ACL in the regular-season finale. He'll obviously miss the offseason program — a chance to improve his game — and, given the timing of the injury, he'll probably at the very least spend the first six weeks of the season on the PUP list. McMillian has a bunch of potential but not surprisingly struggled in jumping from Maine to the NFL.

Throw in the age and contracts of defensive end Ryan Pickett (33 and entering the final year of his contract) and cornerback Tramon Williams (30 and cap numbers of $8.5 million in 2013 and $9.5 million in 2014), the expiring contract for B.J. Raji, and the contracts at inside linebacker (A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop and Brad Jones count $12.15 million in 2013 and $13.9 million in 2014), the Packers could be looking to add talent while saving money.

So, where does that leave the Packers?

Based on conversations with scouts on what players should be available at No. 26 and which players fit what the Packers are looking for, here is what we consider the strongest possibilities for Green Bay.

1. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU (6-8, 277): An Olympic-caliber performer in the shot put and discus, the native of Estonia went to SMU to work with the school's renowned track coach and wound up being talked into giving football a shot. As a senior, he tallied eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses, and he's the NCAA record-holder with 17 blocked kicks. He could be impact player in mold of J.J. Watt. "He likely will be there and it will be interesting to see if the Packers take a swing at him," a scout said. "He's a Packers type of guy: high-character kid, going to work his ass off."

2. Jesse Williams, DE/NT, Alabama (6-3, 323): Williams is from Australia and was found by a coach from Arizona Western junior college who was helping teach fundamentals to Australia's junior national team. In the Tide's 3-4 scheme, he started at end as a junior and nose tackle as a senior. He tallied 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for losses during those seasons. He played frequently as a short-yardage fullback. "He's nicknamed, ‘The Monster,' and you can see why," a scout said. "He's got a mohawk, tattoos, plays like his hair's on fire."

3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: Here's the case for Bell.

4. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (6-0, 214): Vaccaro is the best all-around safety, as adept in center field as in the box. He might not be on the board, though his 4.63 in the 40 could push him down to Green Bay. He started 32 games, including 26 in a row. He was a first-team All-American by Pro Football Weekly as a senior with 107 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. "Kenny Vaccaro's the best safety in the draft. It's not even close," a scout said.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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