Sweet 16: Five first-round possibilities

Here are five players the Packers may be focusing on as Saturday's NFL draft nears.

In the Packers' war room inside Lambeau Field, no doubt Ted Thompson and Co. have their draft board narrowed down to a precious few names who they expect might be available with the 16th pick in the first round.

Who might those names be? Here's a pretty good guess, with players listed in order of likelihood their name will be called by commissioner Roger Goodell about four hours into Saturday's draft.

1. Running back Marshawn Lynch

Running back is the No. 1 priority on offense, and Lynch is everything the Packers could possibly desire. He's big and strong enough, yet he has an extra gear to pop the big play. With his change-of-direction skills and vision, he'd be a good fit in the zone running scheme. He averaged 6.8 yards per rush at Cal, or 1.3 more than the consensus top running back pick in the draft, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. With 68 receptions in three seasons, he has the receiving skills to be the safety-valve receiver Ahman Green was for years.

In other words, Lynch appears to be the perfect player to replace Green, and that's why just about every expert expects Lynch to land in Green Bay on Saturday.

There are some knocks, though. He's had a couple run-ins with the law, but nothing ever came of them. He also has a back problem, but he's passed several pre-draft medical tests, including one during a visit to Green Bay last week. He never was a workhorse at Cal, but with the emergence last season of Vernand Morency, he wouldn't have to be one in Green Bay.

2. Tight end Greg Olsen

The Packers don't have a tight end on the roster who can catch or stretch the defense. With amazing 4.51-second speed in the 40 and 87 catches for 1,215 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons at the University of Miami, Olsen would at least be a dangerous down-the-middle receiving threat while he learns to block.

All three teams in the NFC North play Cover-2 defense, and a fast tight end who can split the deep safeties and clear the middle for the receivers is the ultimate way to beat that scheme.

Because he's a subpar blocker and because he has had inconsistent hands, picking Olsen in the middle of the first round may be a stretch. But, with an abysmal class of tight ends in this draft — and because he'd be a good fit against division foes — Olsen is the one and only tight end in this draft who can make a difference.

3. Wide receiver Robert Meachem

Meachem has the best combination of size and speed in the draft among receivers not named Calvin Johnson. He's 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, and he has 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Last season as a junior, his first season as a starter, he caught 71 passes, averaged 18.3 yards per catch and scored 11 touchdowns. He's fast enough to get deep and, more importantly given the Packers' scheme, powerful enough to make something happen after the catch. He runs like a running back, which he was in high school. Scouts say he has the best run-after-catch of any receiver in the draft.

With Donald Driver getting up there in years, with Greg Jennings perhaps nothing more than a solid No. 2 or No. 3 receiver and with Koren Robinson's status for next season unknown, Meachem would fill a long-term need while providing an immediate boost to a lackluster offense.

With Meachem's size and speed, he might be a better fit than the guy listed No. 5 on my list.

4. Safety Reggie Nelson

The Eagles have compared Nelson to Brian Dawkins. If that's the case, he'd be a great fit on a defense with only one major weakness: safety.

Nelson is a good hitter and, perhaps more importantly, he's got the ball skills incumbent starter Marquand Manuel lacks. In two seasons at Florida (he played one year of junior-college ball), he intercepted seven passes. An all-American safety, some scouts think he can play cornerback in the pros. With more and more teams employing pass-first offenses, defenses can never have enough guys who can cover.

Nelson struggled in the classroom, meaning he may have troubles digesting an NFL playbook. That could scare away the Packers, who had one secondary breakdown after another last season. On the field, though, Nelson has a high football IQ.

5. Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

Ginn would give the Packers a bona fied home-run threat on offense. With world-class speed, you wonder if even Brett Favre could overthrow him.

And if he's not ready for prime time on offense — as most scouts believe — he could provide some much-needed juice to the Packers' lousy return units. Last season, he averaged 24.4 yards per kickoff return and 11.1 yards per punt return. He famously returned the opening kickoff of the national championship game against Florida for a touchdown, but injured his foot during the celebration — an injury that could sideline him through at least the first minicamp.

At just shy of 6 feet and only 178 pounds, though, Ginn might not have the size coach Mike McCarthy desires in his wide receivers.

The question is, with Ginn's lack of ideal size, will he be able to beat jam coverage often enough to feature his athleticism. Or is he destined to be nothing more than a returner and slot receiver?

Not that there's any such thing as a sure thing among the receivers (with the exception of Johnson), but Ginn is more of a risk-reward player than any of the first-round wideout candidates. If he works on his skills enough and overcomes a bit of a me-first personality, he could develop into a lethal weapon.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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