While he opened eyes this offseason with the unexpected, big-name signing of Julius Peppers, plenty of work remains to be done, namely upgrading the safety position, improving the run defense with an impact front-seven player, bolstering the interior of the offensive line and stocking up a receiving corps. that lost James Jones in free agency. The phrase that pays this time of year is always "Best Player Available," but that often means deciding among a couple players that could make an impact.
If the players come off the board like I've mocked below, then Green Bay will land a dynamic playmaker in Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. Not only does Ward possess similarities to a young Nick Collins, his range in coverage and ability to come down and stop the run should let Morgan Burnett get back to being the player Packers brass envisioned him becoming when they rewarded him with a contract extension last October.
On Day 2 of the draft, the Packers will have their pick of receivers who could come in and contribute or add some competition for J.C. Tretter at center. Instead, they add another outside linebacker with the selection of pass rusher Marcus Smith, a defensive end out of Louisville.
Across the league, the top headlines are Jadeveon Clowney, who is either the next Lawrence Taylor or an overrated player with terrible work ethic, depending on who you believe, and a quarterback class that comes with as many questions as answers.
I can't see the Texans passing on a talent like Clowney with the top pick, especially when they can grab a passer at the top of Round 2. Similarly, if Teddy Bridgewater falls to No. 8, the Vikings would be crazy not to snatch him up. I wouldn't bet my kids' college fund on this mock draft, but more than two weeks out from the official start, this is how I see it shaking out.
1.) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — This should be an easy pick for a team facing Andrew Luck twice a year. Put the freakishly athletic Clowney on the other side of J.J. Watt and see who gets to the quarterback first. Then, take your quarterback of the future at the top of Round 2.
2.) St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M — If Clowney isn't the No. 1 pick, rumor has it a deal is in place to trade this pick to Atlanta. But with Clowney gone, the Rams take Matthews — the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, whom coach Jeff Fisher coached in Tennessee — over Auburn OT Greg Robinson.
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF — It wouldn't be a total shock for the Jags to pass on a quarterback. But here's betting they tab Bortles as their signal caller of the future rather than Buffalo pass rusher Khalil Mack.
4.) Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — Someday, they might wish "Draft Day's" Kevin Costner had made this pick instead. Manziel has the talent and intangibles to change the fortune of the Browns franchise, but his arrogance and attitude will put him on a short leash with fans if the wins don't come quickly.
5.) Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson — GM Reggie McKenzie is looking to win now with the additions of QB Matt Schaub and RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Watkins is the class of the receiver crop who is the kind of vertical threat Al Davis would love, but the type of ball skills and route running that help McKenzie start winning, baby.
6.) Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo — The Falcons need more out of their front seven and Mack is a versatile player who can line up in multiple spots and get after opposing passers. The MAC isn't exactly the Big Ten or SEC, but Mack had big games against Ohio State and Baylor and has the size and speed to be a force.
7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn — It would be tempting to add a receiver for newly acquired Josh McCown to throw to, but instead they opt for a big, strong, prototypical tackle that could be a 10-year starter.
8.) Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — Three years ago they reached on QB Christian Ponder. To have the most polished and accurate passer in the draft sitting here at No. 8 should merit high-fives in the Vikings' "war room." While his stock is dropping in some circles, they may want to put on his film. Bridgewater thrived in a pro-style offense, excelled against the blitz and had a knack for fooling defenses with his eyes.
9.) Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina — Want to make QB E.J. Manuel look good? Give him a 6-foot-4, 250-pound athlete at tight end that will catch everything thrown to him. Ebron accelerates like a receiver and will create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
10.) Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State — The Lions' secondary was terrible last year and, when you play the Packers and Bears twice a year, that's a problem. Gilbert is a big, fast, fluid player that provides an instant upgrade for new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
11.) Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA — Just two years removed from playing offense, Barr isn't a finished product. But his blend of size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), speed (4.41 40 at his pro day) and production (23.5 sacks in two years) make him hard to pass up for a defense that finished 21st in sacks last year.
12.) New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M — Eli could make his big brother jealous with this kind of a target. Evans is a 6-foot-5, 231-pound bully of a receiver who will physically dominate against smaller cornerbacks. His superior body control and sticky hands will help him thrive as a red zone target.
13.) St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama — The premier safety in the draft comes off the board here. With the type of speed, agility and ball skills that earns comparisons to Seattle's Earl Thomas, Clinton-Dix could team with T.J. McDonald as a formidable duo in the secondary.
14.) Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville — Packers fans let out a collective growl as Pryor comes off the board immediately after Clinton-Dix. But the Bears were even worse at safety than the Packers … as evidenced by the fact that they signed M.D. Jennings away from Green Bay. Pryor is no worse than a 1A to Clinton-Dix. Shorter but more explosive, Pryor shores up a major area of need.
15.) Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State — A confident, long-armed defender, Dennard excels in man coverage and can be physical in run support. Pittsburgh needs defensive help up front and in the secondary. Dennard gets the call ahead of NT Louis Nix of Notre Dame.
16.) Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt — A bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 285, Donald possesses elite pass-rush skills and is a proven playmaker who led the nation in average sacks per game (1.6) and tackles for loss (2.4).
17.) Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan — Baltimore isn't afraid to take a player that's shown he can be nasty on the field and off. Lewan is big (6-foot-7, 309 pounds) and raw, but with improved technique, he could be a dominant player for years to come. Too talented to pass up at this spot.
18.) New York Jets: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech — With good length, speed and awareness, Rex Ryan gets just the type of player he needs to match up against AFC East Rivals. Fuller's broad jump was tops among corners at the Combine, a nod to his explosiveness.
19.) Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame — Instinctive, tough, and technically sound, Martin lined up at both guard and tackle during the Senior Bowl. But his measurable all but assure that he'll play guard in the NFL, despite starting four years on the outside in college. Martin gives the Dolphins the help they need inside.
20.) Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State — A versatile player who can drop, blitz and cover sideline-to-sideline with his 4.38 speed, Shazier has the versatility to play inside or outside. He'll make a good Cardinals defense even better.
21.) Green Bay: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois — Shazier might've been the pick here with that phenomenal speed, but with him off the board — along with safeties Clinton-Dix and Pryor long gone — the Packers bypass ILB C.J. Mosley and NT Louis Nix to take the best safety available and secure a Week 1 starter at their biggest area of need. A rangy player with 4.47 speed who can play free or strong safety, Ward was named the most outstanding defensive back at the Senior Bowl. A willing tackler, despite being slightly undersized at a shade under 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Ward made a name for himself as a ball hawk in 2013 with seven interceptions and 10 pass break-ups. No other safety remaining can boast the tangible production, measurables and scheme versatility of Ward.
22.) Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU — After cutting ties with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles need some more speed on the outside. Beckham clocked a 4.43 at the Combine and is a fluid athlete who can beat press coverage. He's also an explosive return man.
23.) Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State — Ward would've paired nicely with Pro Bowler Eric Berry, had he been available. Instead, the Chiefs add Cooks, the Biletnikoff winner as the nation's top receiver. Cooks is a dynamic slot receiver/returner with good hands who provides an intriguing alternative to Dwayne Bowe.
24.) Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri — Michael Sam's Tigers teammate gets tabbed to replace Michael Johnson in Cincy. A big, athletic and still-developing pass-rush talent, Ealy is one of the fast-rising prospects leading up the draft.
25.) San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame — A massive specimen at 6-foot-2, 331 pounds, Nix is a big man with a rep for a strong motor and not taking plays off. That's hardly the M.O. for nose tackles. The Chargers likely didn't expect him to be here, but can't pass on his talent.
26.) Cleveland Browns: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State — The Browns go to the other side of the ball and stay in-state with the selection of the speedy Roby. His 4.39 40 and aggressive nature instantly makes the Browns' secondary faster and tougher.
27.) New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama — The leader of the Crimson Tide defense, Mosley notched four sacks and two picks and can play multiple spots within a defensive scheme. He drops to this spot because of medical red flags over knee and shoulder surgeries, but he's a special player.
28.) Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC — A Top 10 physical talent who struggled with injuries and inconsistencies in 2013. The Panthers hope they get the speedy and savvy route runner who won the Bilitnikoff Award as a sophomore.
29.) New England Patriots: Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota — There are inconsistencies in his game, but at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, there's a whole lot to like, as well. Bill Belichick might see shades of Richard Seymour in the massive Minnesotan.
30.) San Francisco 49ers: Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State — A long-armed and lanky pass rusher who played a variety of positions for the Broncos, Lawrence has a tool box of pass-rush techniques to bring to the next level. Given the bizarre behavior of Aldon Smith, Lawrence could be needed off the edge sooner than later.
31.) Denver Broncos: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn — Sure, they signed Demarcus Ware this past offseason, but you can never have enough good pass rushers and Ford gives Denver much-needed depth. Ford may be a one-trick pony rushing off the edge, but it's a good trick.
32.) Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA — The reigning Super Bowl champs could go in a few directions, take a luxury pick,or pull out a surprise. But if they go for need, Su'a Filo is a plug-and-play guy after losing left guard Paul McQuistan and right tackle Breno Giacomini in free agency.
33.) Houston Texans: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois — The Tony Romo comparisons go beyond the same college and Houston gets their QB of the future.
34.) Washington Redskins: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State — A force on the Seminoles' defense during their championship drive, Jernigan goes later than some thought.
35.) Cleveland Browns: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State — The Browns get a 6-foot-5 target with a 83-inch wing span to put opposite Josh Gordon.
36.) Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State — Matt Schaub isn't their long-term answer and Terrelle Pryor just got traded to Seattle. Carr has the velocity, accuracy and athleticism to be a long-term answer at QB.
37.) Atlanta Falcons: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington — You never really replace a Tony Gonzalez but ASJ has a skill-set worthy of getting picked here.
38.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss — More smooth acceleration than straight-line explosion, Moncrief has the hands, body control and ability to separate that will make fans forget about Mike Williams.
39.) Jacksonville Jaguars: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana — A fast-riser with a high ceiling, the Jags get a new toy for new QB Bortles.
40.) Minnesota Vikings: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU — Verrett is an outstanding cover corner reminiscent of Antoine Winfield.
41.) Buffalo Bills: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU — The Bills get an athletic rusher who had 13 sacks and 22 tackles for losses in 2012 and four sacks and 17.5 TFLs in 2013.
42.) Tennessee Titans: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State — The first RB off the board will get a shot to replace Chris Johnson.
43.) New York Giants: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State — Signing J.D. Walton to a two-year deal doesn't mean they won't draft their center of the future here. And that future could be sooner than later if Walton is less-than-dominating and Richburg lives up to expectations.
44.) St. Louis Rams: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State — Sam Bradford gets an Anquan Boldin-type player who lacks elite speed but can make the tough catch in traffic.
45.) Detroit Lions: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State — Good size at 6-foot-3, 273, Crichton has a high motor and could work himself into the d-line rotation.
46.) Pittsburgh Steelers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt — The SEC's career receiving leader is a solid red-zone threat with prototypical size.
47.) Dallas Cowboys: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State — The Cowboys need better play at safety and Bucannon is a thumper that put up big numbers the past two seasons.
48.) Baltimore Ravens: Stephon Tuitt, D /DE, Notre Dame — Versatile lineman plays quicker than a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder should have a right to.
49.) New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech — The Jets get a replacement for Dustin Keller with what amounts to a 265-pound slot receiver who caught 106 balls last year in a pass-happy offense.
50.) Miami Dolphins: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin — All the former Badger does is makes plays, and will continue to do so in the middle of the Dolphins' D.
51.) Chicago Bears: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU — After losing Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, the Bears get a big lineman that's equal parts production and potential.
52.) Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia — Moses made the jump to right tackle and opened eyes in the 2013 season, capped by an impressive Senior Bowl.
53.) Green Bay Packers: Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville — Green Bay ran out of outside linebackers last season and will use Mike Neal and Nick Perry in the multitasking elephant position with Julius Peppers. So, Smith gets the nod over guys like USC center Marcus Martin and Fresno State receiver Davante Adams. A former prep quarterback from Georgia, the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Smith switched to defensive end in 2011. Playing mostly in a two-point stance as a senior, he was the American Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Year with 42 tackles, 18.5 for losses and 14.5 sacks. He also had three batted passes, four forced fumbles, and a blocked kick. He'll apply pressure alongside or opposite of Clay Matthews.
54.) Philadelphia Eagles: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford — Green Bay passes and Philly pounces. The Eagles need to boost their production and pass rush at linebacker and Murphy is as intense as it gets.
55.) Cincinnati Bengals: Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada — After three standout seasons at left tackle, Bitonio opened eyes at the Senior Bowl playing guard. With Anthony Collins gone, the Bengals get another option for the interior of their line.
56.) San Francisco 49ers: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State — The Niners infuse some youth into their receiver corps with Adams, a player with strong hands and deceptive speed.
57.) San Diego Chargers: Lamarcus Joyner, CB / FS, Florida State — The Bolts' pass defense ranked 29th, and though just 5-foot-8, Joyner made big plays all year for FSU.
58.) New Orleans Saints: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn — He's not Darren Sproles, but Mason's build and ability is Ray Rice-esque.
59.) Indianapolis Colts: Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State — Indy replaces Antoine Bethea with the speedy Brooks, which would allow LaRon Landry to play strong safety.
60.) Carolina Panthers: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson — Cam Newton needs targets and Bryant is a 6-foot-4 bull's-eye with 4.42 speed.
61.) San Francisco 49ers: Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice — Gaines has the size and physical tools, but needs refinement. He'll get a chance in a secondary that could use some more youth.
62.) New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame — Gronk's new running-mate excels at blocking when he's not creating mismatches with his 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame.
63.) Denver Broncos: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama — Concerns over his knee drop the massive tackle to the bottom of Round 2, but Denver's game of musical chairs on the o-line could open things up inside or at right tackle.
64.) Seattle Seahawks: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska — A converted receiver who might ultimately play safety, Jean-Baptiste is a big athlete who can learn at the knee of the "Legion of Boom."
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.