Who Will Packers Take? We Say Justin Pugh

How we came to that prediction is almost as interesting as the pick itself. Late developments with two players on the Packers' wish list potentially will have a major impact on how the first round shapes up. In the end, we went with Syracuse OT Justin Pugh over two other strong possibilities.

It's here.

The Green Bay Packers' season ended on Jan. 12. Three months and 13 days later, the Packers will be on the clock with the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

So, of course, here's what you want to know: Who will the Packers take in the first round tonight?

First, here's how we got here.

Late developments perhaps will have a profound impact on who the Packers wind up getting tonight, because two of the apples of their eye made late surges.

On Saturday, Florida State defensive lineman Tank Carradine, who had 11 sacks this past season, had a shocking personal workout. Just five-and-a-half months removed from surgery on a torn ACL, Carradine put on a show that sent scouts' jaws dropping and general managers scrambling to reconsider their first-round boards. At 6-foot-4 and 276 pounds, Carradine ran a 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds. A source said Carradine immediately became a first-round target as a defensive end — with his 32 reps on the bench also making him one of the strongest prospects in the draft.

However, that workout sent Carradine surging up a bunch of draft boards. Chances are, he won't be available for the Packers.

USC's Robert Woods also was a target for the Packers' first pick — if not in the first round. This is one of the more remarkable stories in recent draft history. San Francisco, with 14 picks on a roster oozing with talent, has called just about every team in the league in hopes of getting another pick in the first round. One possibility, according to a source, was a deal with the Packers that would send the Niners' second-round pick (No. 34) and third-round picks (Nos. 64 and 93) to Green Bay in exchange for No. 26.

"It's like Ron always said it's kind of like baseball, you're not going to get a hit every time you go to the plate, but if you have more swings you have a better chance at getting a hit," general manager Ted Thompson said last week. "I think in general philosophy I'd rather have more than less, but at the end of the day, I'd rather have more quality than anything. But quality and quantity, both is a nice thing."

According to a source, the Packers were interested because they like Woods — and two more picks in the top 93 would come in hand to fortify a roster that has a few too many holes.

Then the remarkable thing happened: In the middle of a story by Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver in which USC quarterback Matt Barkley spoke critically of his former coach, Lane Kiffin, Barkley questioned how the team used receiver Robert Woods this past season. In 2011, Woods caught 111 passes; in 2012, he caught just 76. Scouts, for obvious reasons, don't like declining production, and two sources said Kiffin was telling teams that Woods wasn't reliable enough to be such a big focal point of the offense.

Packer Report spoke to two scouts who said that one statement made all the difference in vaulting Woods over several similarly ranked receivers. Even a source close to Woods told Packer Report that Barkley's words provided "big-time" help in moving him up boards.

So, where does that leave the Packers?

The Packers could always move down — certainly, that conversation with San Francisco wasn't the only one had by Thompson. A team holding a pick early in the second round that needs a quarterback might want to move back into the first.

If they stay at No. 26 and Carradine or Woods fall, those could be the targets.

Otherwise, here's what we know — and by "know," we mean "think we know" because there's so much subterfuge as teams play cat and mouse.

Syracuse's Justin Pugh is an interesting case. At 6-foot-5 and 301 pounds, he's got prototype left tackle height and the frame to add more bulk. He's "off-the-charts smart," a scout said. With 31.5-inch arms, however, he does not have prototype left tackle length. He was a big-time player, with back-to-back first-team all-Big East nods and third-team All-America recognition from the NFL Draft Report. In three years as a starter, he had 40 touchdown-producing blocks and helped power three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and Ryan Nassib's record-setting passing season in 2012.

Scouts, however, are divided, to say the least, on whether he can play left tackle in the NFL. Then again, the Packers didn't blink at drafting Bryan Bulaga in 2010.

"No," a scout said flatly when asked if Pugh could play left tackle. "Could he play left tackle and get you out of a game? Yeah. Is he better at left tackle than Marshall Newhouse? It's probably close to a wash, and I know Marshall isn't everybody's favorite."

That scout did think Pugh would be a good pick because he could play guard and even center, and he'd provide much-needed depth to the line.

Added Phil Savage, the former Cleveland Browns general manager and current director of the Senior Bowl: "I would say that my view of Justin is he looked better on his tapes than he looked in Mobile as a left tackle. He doesn't have great length in terms of his arm length to be an ideal left tackle, but I do think he can do it, and I do think somebody will take a shot on him. If it doesn't work out at left, he could slide inside."

A second option — and perhaps the top option if a run at offensive tackle takes Pugh off the board — is UCLA's Datone Jones. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, he'd finally give the Packers a tall defensive end. Playing in coach Jim Mora's 3-4 scheme, Jones was a dominant force with 6.5 sacks and a career-high 19 tackles for losses as a senior. His 36.5 career tackles for losses rank 11th in school history. He's got the strength to play the run and the ability to rush the passer, which the Packers badly need with Jerel Worthy's torn ACL clouding his prospects for 2013.

"The good thing about him is he can rush from the inside in sub, so he's a three-down defensive lineman," Savage said. "Anytime you can draft a lineman who can play all three downs, it's a positive. He would definitely give you something in sub as a third-down pass rusher. He's a real versatile player. Jim Mora recommended I take him and said he would really rocket up the boards, and he was right. Datone came in here and had an excellent Senior Bowl week. He's going to go late in the first or early in the second round."

A third option is LSU inside linebacker Kevin Minter. He doesn't have preferred height at 6-foot and he doesn't have sideline-to-sideline speed (not that he's slow with a 4.59 at pro day). What he does have is a nose for the football and big-time leadership qualities as a team captain and the glue to a defensive with a bunch of "knuckleheads," as longtime scout Dave-Te' Thomas put it. As a junior in 2012, Minter piled up 130 tackles, the fourth-most in school history. That included 15 tackles for losses, which is tied for ninth.

"Minter was a very productive player at LSU," Savage said. "He doesn't have ideal height but he carries 240-plus pounds very well. He's a better-than-average athlete. He's a nice fit for a 4-3 or a 3-4 team looking for a Mike. To me, he has a little bit more juice, a little bit more suddenness than Manti Te'o. We'll see how that shakes out on draft night but he's a potential starter who you could probably plug in and play this year if necessary."

"He's a hell of a player," added a scout.

So, who's No. 1? The guess is Pugh. A scout charged with studying other teams' tendencies said Thompson tends to draft with "scarcity" in mind. After Pugh goes off the board, there are no other players in this draft capable of starting immediately at left tackle. The Packers can find defensive line help later and there are a bunch of starting-caliber inside linebackers who should be available through at least the third round if not the fourth.

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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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