Ranking the Packers' draft needs

From special teams to tight end, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence takes a position-by-position look at the Green Bay Packers and areas they need to bolster in this year's draft.

Ted Thompson got a lot of bang for his buck with his one major free-agent signing this offseason.

By signing linebacker Brandon Chillar, the Packers general manager turned a position that probably required an early-round draft pick into a position with superb depth. Mix in the once-promising Abdul Hodge with young Desmond Bishop and fellow special-teams star Tracy White, and the Packers are set.

With linebacker no longer on the must-have list, Thompson's task of strengthening the roster will be a lot easier when the draft begins three weeks from today.

Listed in order of need, here are the positions Thompson will be eyeing.

Special teams: The Packers have some of the best special teams in the NFL, with a promising kicker and punter and some big-play return artists. Thompson will invite an undrafted punter and kicker to camp just to ease the strain on the legs of Jon Ryan and Mason Crosby. Look for Thompson to improve special teams by selecting a player in the draft who can return punts and kickoffs.

Wide receiver: The Packers attacked opponents last season with five wide receivers, not just because of shortcomings in the run game, but because of their depth at receiver. What team has a No. 5 receiver the caliber of Ruvell Martin?

Fullback: With Korey Hall and John Kuhn, the Packers have a promising group. Hall was impressive last season as a rookie transitioning from college linebacker.

Linebacker: The Packers had one of the top starting trios in the league last season, and luckily for them, none of the three missed a start. Who knows if Chillar will unseat the aggressive and improving Brady Poppinga, but even if he doesn't, at least it won't be a disaster if one of the starters misses a game or two.

Center: Scott Wells might never make a Pro Bowl, but it's hard to knock a guy who works hard and has improved every year. Wells, entering his fifth NFL season, is in the prime of his career.

Safety: The group of Nick Collins, Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse will get one more season to show if they're the long-term solutions. Collins has been a bit of a tease, but he does a good job running the show. Can Bigby ever acquire that "feel" a safety must have that allows him to support the run aggressively but not get beat deep? All Rouse did in limited action was make plays, but there must be a reason he didn't earn a bigger role.

Offensive tackle: Some day, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are going to get old. Maybe their replacements are on the roster. Maybe Thompson will have to draft one, though that won't be this year unless someone falls into his lap.

Defensive end: A big-play, run-stuffing, quarterback-sacking defensive end is actually a bigger priority than I've listed. But, those guys aren't available with the 30th pick in the first round. Regardless, you could do worse than Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Someone to push Michael Montgomery and Jason Hunter would be nice.

Defensive tackle: The Packers are counting on Justin Harrell to make a big jump. After drafting him with a first-round pick last year, Thompson isn't going to spend a No. 1 at DT again. Ryan Pickett, Harrell, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole form a good group. Is Daniel Muir good enough, or does Thompson need to find a fifth player here? Together with defensive end, expect Thompson to use a pick in the first three rounds to supplement the defensive line.

Running back: The question here is whether the Packers think Brandon Jackson is a quality player, as judged by his strong regular-season finish, or if he's just a guy, as judged by training camp, the preseason and most of the regular season. The good news is, you don't have to spend a high draft pick to get a solid back. The Packers merely need a complement to Ryan Grant who can pass block and catch passes on third down.

Then again, in this post-Brett Favre era, maybe Thompson thinks the Packers need a dynamite back to give the Packers a prolific one-two punch. If will be interesting to watch Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, whose stock is slipping because of toe surgery that will slow him for a couple of months. If he slips to No. 30, Thompson will have a decision to make, just like he did when Aaron Rodgers slipped to him a few years ago.

Guard: How long can Thompson afford to wait for Daryn Colledge, a second-round pick in 2006? A big part of the Packers' success last year was the improvement of their young players. Maybe Colledge and Jason Spitz will make big jumps this offseason. Maybe Allen Barbre is ready. Obviously, the Packers will need a more consistent running game as they adapt to life without Favre. The Packers are strong at tackle and center, and adequate at fullback. The question is the guards, especially Colledge.

Quarterback: The Packers face a conundrum. They need a backup should Rodgers get injured. In large part because this was a hideously poor group of free-agent quarterbacks, Thompson didn't sign a veteran backup. So, common sense says Thompson is going to draft a quarterback.

But what round? If Thompson takes a quarterback in the first or second round, that just adds to the pressure on Rodgers.

So, look for Thompson to draft a quarterback in the third or fourth round, re-sign Craig Nall and cross his fingers, toes and eyes in hopes that Rodgers plays well and stays healthy.

Cornerback: Logically, this is where Thompson spends his first-round pick. The situation is simple: Al Harris is 33, Charles Woodson is 31, the No. 3 cornerback is 5-foot-11 Tramon Williams and there are a lot of first-round-quality corners in this draft. Fortunately for the Packers, even with Favre's retirement, they have the unquestioned best quarterback in the NFC North.

Tight end: A young quarterback has two best friends. One is a strong running game. Second is a tight end who is always available when a play breaks down. Donald Lee is a fine player, but he's not that type of tight end. And behind him, the depth is, well, there is no depth. If either USC's Fred Davis or Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett — a former basketball star — are available, look for Rodgers to steal the draft card, scribble down one of their names and sprint to the podium to the awaiting Roger Goodell.

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