Or will they?
General Manager Ted Thompson has never traded up. But trading down? He's all about that. Especially if he thinks the best player available might still be there a few spots later and he can bank an extra selection. Over the past two months, I've predicted the Packers to take Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus -- a player no longer expected to last to the end of the first round -- and Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, a player who could go a few spots earlier to the San Diego Chargers or Dallas Cowboys or perhaps be there at the top of Round Two. While cornerback is one of the deeper positions in this year's draft, beauty seems to be in the eye of the beholder after the top two or three.
Three small school standouts figure to come off the board first: Troy's Leodis McKelvin, Tennessee State's one-kidney wonder, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie (cousin of NFL 2007 INT leader Antonio Cromartie) and South Florida's Mike Jenkins. After that, Cason, Kansas' Aqib Talib, and Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers seem to be the next three in no specific order.
Cason is a four-year starter who was a Jim Thorpe Award winner as a senior, a finalist as a junior, has 15 career picks and has a knack for the big play. In fact, oppsoing quarterbacks often paid him the ultimate compliment by staying away from him. At 6-feet, 191 pounds he's got ideal size for bump-and-run coverage and while his 4.45 40-yard dash isn't in the range of McKelvin, Jenkins, or DRC (who's run as fast as 4.24), it's not like he's running in quicksand.
Talib is an explosive player with great skills, but mental lapses and character issues will push him down some draft boards. Flowers has the potential to be a starting NFL corner, but he's a little shorter (5-foot-9.5) and a little slower (4.58 40) than you'd like, especially for a first round pick.
Given the age of starters Al Harris (33) and Charles Woodson (31) and the uncertainty at the nickel back position, Cason's a natural fit. Aside from being a smart, instinctive defender who also returns punts, Cason is an alter boy off the field. Literally -- he's been an alter boy. Thompson always talks about taking 'Packer kind of players.' Well, Cason is just that. If you could trade back with a team like the Chiefs (No. 35), Jets (No. 36), Falcons (No. 37) or Ravens (No. 38) -- who might be looking to leap frog the other and get their quarterback of the future -- Brian Brohm, Chad Henne or Joe Flacco -- and still get Cason plus another third-round pick, then all the better.
But there's other possibilities with the 30th selection or a spot at the top of the second. The Packers need to bolster the tackle and tight end position, along with finding another pass rusher. If a defensive end like USC's Lawrence Jackson somehow slipped to the end of the first round due to some trickle down effect of the Vikings aquiring Chiefs' pass rusher Jared Allen, he'd be hard to pass up. The Trojans' defensive captain is 6-4, 271 pounds, runs a 4.82 40 and had 10.5 sacks last season.
While Cullen Jenkins and KGB share snaps opposite Aaron Kampman, an end of Jackson's caliber would give Green Bay increased flexibility on the line. Besides, you can never have enough good pass rushers.
Arguably none of the top tight ends are worth a first-round grade. Purdue's Dustin Keller was a workout wonder at the scouting combine and could be the first off the board at his position. But Green Bay could have their pick of USC's Fred Davis or even Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett in the second round, while Texas' Jermichael Finley could be had in the third.
A trade down to the top of the second round could net USC left tackle Sam Baker, once thought to be a can't miss first-round pick. All Baker did was start for four years for the best program in college football. And when injuries forced him to miss time his senior year, their offense didn't look the same. Less than stellar combine and pro day performances need to be taken with a grain of salt when compared to the body of work Baker put together as a collegian. As for the rumors of a first-round quarterback -- don't buy it.
Gun to my head, I'll stick with the Packers taking Cason with their first pick of the day -- whether that be No. 30 or somewhere at the top of Round Two -- provided Jackson doesn't drop. With their two second-round picks, I like running back Ray Rice out of Rutgers -- a compact (5-foot-8), but powerful (200 pounds) package -- to back up Ryan Grant and Davis, a terrific pass-catching tight end who could be sitting there. In the third round, Green Bay could pull the trigger on Miami inside linebacker Tavares Gooden. Hip and hamstring injuries dropped him down the board, but he looks like another in a long line of athletic Hurricane backers and was the highest-rated player that Green Bay had in for a pre-draft visit.
The fourth round could be the place the Packers find a quarterback. While San Diego State's Kevin O'Connell had a meet-and-greet at Lambeau Field, San Diego's Josh Johnson could be the better pick. As a senior for the Toreros, the 6--foot-3, 200 pounder threw 43 touchdowns to just one interception and his passer rating was 198.3. Those aren't typos. Forty-three scores, one pick, nearly a 200 QB rating. Now I realize he was throwing for six TDs against the likes of Northern Colorado, Butler and Davidson, but as one scout said, throwing 43 touchdowns against air is pretty impressive. Best yet, a fourth-rounder from a small conference isn't going to create controversy if Aaron Rodgers has a bad game or rough stretch during his first season as Green Bay's starting signal caller.
With the extra fourth round pick, a center like Rutgers' Jeremy Zuttah would give the Packers another big body on the offensive line and a solid back-up to Scott Wells. Still in need of some additional pass rush (probably), Georgia Tech's Darrell Robertson would be an absolute steal in the fifth round. Though a bit light for defensive end at 255, he has a knack for getting in the opponents backfield and like Gooden, an injury (torn pectoral muscle in this case) allows him to slide a bit. Robertson was also stout against the run, despite a lack of heft. If they're really high on Robertson, they may need to grab him with their second fourth round pick and gamble that Zuttah makes it to the fifth round. With no sixth round pick, the Packers could close out the weekend with a safety, possession receiver or another edge rusher. Though he might be had as a free agent, Wisconsin wide receiver Luke Swan is a home-state product who could come in and compete for the final receiver spot. An intriguing pick could be small-school prospect Andy Studebacker out of Wheaton. As a junior, the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder had 24.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks. Though injured as a senior, he still had 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in just five games.
And because there's never enough mock drafts to mock out there, here's how I see Round One breaking down ...
1. MIA Jake Long, OT, Michigan
2. STL Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
3. ATL Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
4. OAK Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
5. KC Chris Long, DE, Virginia
6. NYJ Vernon Gholston, DE/OLB, Ohio State
7. NE Keith Rivers, OLB, USC
8. BAL Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy State
9. CIN Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
10. NO Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State
11. BUF Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State
12. DEN Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
13. CAR Branden Albert, G, Virginia
14. CHI Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
15. DET Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
16. ARI Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
17. KC Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt
18. HOU Chris Williams, OT, Vandy
19. PHI DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal
20. TB Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
21. WAS Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson
22. DAL James Hardy, WR, Indiana
23. PIT Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
24. TEN Kentwan Balmer, DT, NC
25. SEA Dustin Keller, TE, Purdue
26. JAC Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC
27. SD Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
28. DAL Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina
29. SF Jerrod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
30. GB Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona
31. NE Forfiet
32. NYG Kenny Phillips, S, Miami