Packers 2004 draft preview

With all 11 starters returning on a very productive offense, the Green Bay Packers will almost certainly use this weekend's NFL draft to improve a defense that failed miserably when the team had a golden opportunity to advance to the NFC Championship Game last January. The Packers need playmakers in the defensive secondary and defensive line, and there are college prospects who might be able to help during the upcoming season.<p>

As Brett Favre nears the end of his Hall of Fame career, there is a chance that the Packers may select a quarterback with their first selection – 25th overall pick – but that seems to be far-fetched. If the Packers are going to take the next step under Mike Sherman and advance to the NFC title game, they need help immediately on defense, thus, using their top pick on a possible future successor to Favre would defeat the team's goal of winning a Super Bowl now.

Sherman, however, told the Wisconsin media at his pre-draft press conference Wednesday that he is not dead set on taking a player at a certain position. Last year, Sherman admitted that he was focused on improving the linebacker position and promptly took Nick Barnett. But this year, he cannot rule out any position with the Packers' first round pick, even running back, which is presumably the Packers' deepest position.

"This year may be a bit different in regard to which way we go," Sherman said. "I don't know how many impact players, even rookies, are going to be able to start for us at this present time. This is probably the most comfortable I've felt from a talent standpoint since I've been here that we have people in place. To get one (a rookie) that can impact us next year, I would not say is not a high probability, but at some point in the season could be come a starter."

This is a strong draft for quarterbacks, wide receivers and linebackers, according to Sherman. Other than Mississippi's Eli Manning and Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger, who will be drafted right away, the other quarterbacks who could be drafted in the first round are North Carolina State's Philip Rivers and Tulane's J.P. Losman. Some experts feel the Packers might go for Losman, if available, but Green Bay may be too focused on defense.

"I feel the same as I did a year ago in regard to the quarterbacks," Sherman said. "I'm always looking to upgrade a lot of positions if we can do that. That position in the backup capacity is one that I feel like if we can do something that can help our team, I would look into it.

"I don't feel like we have to go reach. I'm not going to reach for something just to do it. If there's a quarterback there that's a possibility, I could take one."

The Packers are currently in negotiations with the agent for Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch. Sherman said that a possible trade for Couch would not have to take place before the draft begins on Saturday to determine if the Packers will pursue a quarterback. "I don't look at the Couch deal as having anything to do with what we do on Saturday or Sunday," Sherman said. "I think it's separate." The Packers' needs are simply the greatest on defense. Green Bay could use a cornerback for depth behind Al Harris, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. With cornerback Mike McKenzie disgruntled over his current contract, the need seems even greater. The best cornerbacks are Ohio State's Chris Gamble, Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall, Southern California's Will Poole, Montana's Joey Thomas, South Carolina's Dunta Robinson and Oklahoma's Derrick Strait.

Though the Packers sank a boatload of money in recent seasons into the defensive end position, it remains a weak link. Joe Johnson and Jamal Reynolds have been busts and may released yet this off-season. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila wore thin as an every-down player last year and struggled against top offensive tackles.

Defensive ends that might be available when the Packers are on the clock in the first round include LSU's Marquise Hill and Alabama junior Antwan Odom.

Grady Jackson is returning at nose tackle, but the Packers released veteran Gilbert Brown, creating a need for a solid backup at that position as well.

The top defensive line prospects are USC end Kenechi Udeze, Oklahoma tackle Tommie Harris, Ohio State end Will Smith and Miami tackle Vince Wilfork.

This could be one of the best drafts for receivers in history, but the Packers are fairly comfortable with their top three wideouts, plus second-year pro Carl Ford has completely healed from a knee injury he suffered late last preseason.

Texas receiver Roy Williams, Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald, LSU's Michael Clayton, Washington's Reggie Williams, Wisconsin's Lee Evans, Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods and Ohio State's Michael Jenkins have first-round ability.

The Packers do need depth at tight end behind Bubba Franks, so plan on Green Bay selecting a tight end with one of their seven picks. Miami underclassman Kellen Winslow Jr., a receiver masquerading in a tight end's body, should go in the top half of the first round, but there are no other tight ends in the draft worthy of a first round selection.

Though the Packers signed unrestricted free agent Mark Roman in March, look for the Packers to select a safety at some point. The Packers have shown no interest in re-signing Antuan Edwards, the team's No. 1 pick in 1999, and Marques Anderson (third round pick in 2002) has fallen short of the team's expectations.

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and Contact him at

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