Packers pre-draft analysis: Linebackers

Team has focused on reinforcing position this offseason

The Packers appear pretty deep at the linebacker position. That was helped out in free agency as Green Bay was able to sign OLB Brandon Chillar from the St. Louis Rams, who will compete with Brady Poppinga for the strong-side linebacker position.

But Ted Thompson knows the position is very important, especially with quality depth and the ability to play on special teams. Thompson was a linebacker in the NFL himself for the Houston Oilers, and he filled that type of role.

Two of the starters are definitely set, with MLB Nick Barnett and weak-side linebacker A.J. Hawk. Poppinga and Chillar will compete for the strong-side job. Backups include Desmond Bishop, who is more of a MLB, and played well on special teams in 2007, and Tracy White, who is mostly a key special teams player.

Two other players will compete for jobs as well, as Abdul Hodge will try and come back from knee problems that hampered him in 2007 and also Spencer Havner, who has spent the last two years on the practice squad.

Bottom line, Thompson will once again pick the best player on his board. He will not shy away from picking a LB, especially with his history. A game-changing type of linebacker will definitely attract Thompson, but the skills to play special teams effectively will also factor in the decision.

Keith Rivers (USC)
Round most likely selected - 1st or 2nd. Most likely Rivers (6-2, 236) will not be available when the Packers pick in round 1. But obviously, Thompson liked someone or several players when he went to USC's pro day. Rivers is very fast and is quick to the football. Rivers is a big hitter, but also is a solid tackler. Rivers has also played all three LB positions, and was very good on special teams.

Jerod Mayo (Tennessee)
Round most likely selected - 1st or 2nd. Mayo (6-1, 230) has been moving up the draft boards recently. Can play inside or outside. Mayo has nice speed and can get through traffic to zero in on the ball. He has had some knee issues in the past.

Dan Connor (Penn State)
Round most likely selected - 1st or 2nd. Connor (6-3, 233) can play inside or outside, and is very instinctive as well. Very smart, knows when a screen or a draw is coming. Connor would certainly add more quality depth to the linebacker position and would also would be a natural on special teams. Connor seems like a typically good Penn State linebacker.

J. Leman (Illinois)
Round most likely selected - 5th or 7th. Leman (6-2-plus, 237) had 41 starts at Illinois and was very productive. Is smart and he reads his keys well. He is a great competitor who will excel on special teams. Leman is always around the ball and versatile. He can play inside or outside linebacker.

Bo Rudd (Nebraska)
Round most likely selected - 5th or 7th. Rudd (6-3, 234) is smart and knows how to read things well. His brother, Barrett, plays MLB for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Rudd is good in coverage and has played both weak-side and strong-side linebacker. He can play special teams as well.

Kelly Poppinga (BYU)
Round most likely selected - 7th. Poppinga (6-2, 240) is a lot like his brother, Brady, as the motor is always running. Has good pash rush ability and plays well in coverage. Like his brother, Poppinga would be a natural on special teams.

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