With the NFL's ultimate reality show just about to begin, it's anyone's guess what direction the Packers will go with their first pick of the draft — and that's actually a good thing.
That uncertainty means that despite last year's 6-10 record, they have no glaring needs — not that Green Bay ever drafts for need, mind you. It also indicates they have plenty of options to choose from, ranging from nose tackle to outside linebacker to defensive end to offensive tackle. And if they're equally happy with a handful of players, trading back and acquiring extra picks — something GM Ted Thompson is always willing to do — becomes a distinct possibility.
Trading back, of course, requires a willing trade partner. And this year, no one seems too eager to move into the Top 10, where every Superman has his kryptonite and concerns about overpaying for talent are legitimate.
Should Green Bay stay where it's at, get out your pens and write down Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji for the ninth overall pick. He'd be a perfect fit for a team that needs a young, athletic anchor in the middle of Dom Capers' new 3-4 defense.
Though Raji wouldn't be an every-down starter next season, he'd split time with incumbent Ryan Pickett and eventually take over. In a draft class that's thin — ironically enough — at the position, Raji is head-and-shoulders above Peria Jerry and Evander Hood, two players who will likely get tabbed in the bottom third of the first round, and BC teammate Ron Brace, who should go in the top half of the second.
Tarping Raji in Green and Gold allows Thompson and Co. to go after a pass rusher to play opposite Aaron Kampman in Round 2. Unlike nose tackle, quality pass rushers are abundant, with players like Cincinnati's Connor Barwin and Virginia's Clint Sintim likely to be on the board when the Pack is up again. Texas' Brian Orakpo, Florida State's Everette Brown and Penn State's Aaron Maybin will have been long gone. But with no consensus on which of those three is the best player, there's reason to believe the drop-off to Barwin and Sintim isn't that great. If Northern Illinois' Larry English somehow lasted into the second round, they'd be ecstatic.
In the draft preview issue of Packer Report, I campaigned for Brown, a defensive end who, like Orakpo, Maybin and English, projects to an outside linebacker at the pro level. I still love Brown and think he's got the speed and pass-rush moves to be a great pro, but I made that pick thinking Raji wouldn't be around at No. 9. As you'll see below, my thinking has changed.
Aside from nose tackle and outside linebacker, the Packers have a potential hole to fill on the offensive line with the status of right tackle Mark Tauscher up in the air.
Would the team take a gamble on Alabama tackle Andre Smith in the first round if Raji were gone and Smith were available? On film, Smith dominated against the SEC's best. Until he showed up at the Combine ridiculously out of shape, left without telling anyone and went for the trifecta with the ill-fated decision to run his 40-yard dash at his pro day with his shirt off, he was talked about as a possible No. 1 overall pick. And this was after letting a family member contact an agent, which made Smith ineligible for the Sugar Bowl. But if Green Bay thinks it could tough-love Smith back into the player it saw last fall, he could be a steal. Smith isn't a bad kid; he's just made some really dumb decisions over the past few months.
Defensive end also will get some love on draft weekend. Whether it happens on Saturday or Sunday remains to be seen. Johnny Jolly's legal troubles and a lack of depth at the position could make LSU's Tyson Jackson a possibility in the first round.
The ninth pick once was thought to be too high for Jackson, a prototypical 3-4 end who plays well against the run but offers limited pass rush, but in the week leading up to the draft, his stock has been soaring. Kansas City has been rumored to be interested in him with the third overall pick.
But so much of the draft is smoke (like Raji's bogus failed marijuana test) and mirrors, it's hard to know fact from fiction. Assuming they don't take Jackson at nine, a player like San Jose State defensive end Jarron Gilbert, the YouTube phenom who jumped out of the shallow end of a pool, could be a great pick up at No. 41 overall, if he's there.
But again, everything depends on what position Green Bay fills first. And because no self-respecting predraft commentary is complete without a mock draft, I offer you the following 32 predictions. Mock these along with the picks of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, who will be all over your TV this weekend. And don't be surprised if things blow up at the No. 3 spot, with Washington and the Jets trying to trade up for USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. If there's one player in this draft teams are willing to roll the dice on, it's him.
1.) Detroit Lions — QB Matt Stafford, Georgia
2.) St. Louis Rams — OT Jason Smith, Baylor
3.) Washington Redskins – QB Mark Sanchez
4.) Seattle Seahawks – WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
5.) Cleveland Browns – LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
6.) Cincinnati Bengals — OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia
7.) Oakland Raiders — WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
8.) Jacksonville Jaguars — OT Andre Smith, Alabama
9.) Green Bay Packers — DT B.J. Raji, Boston College
10.) San Francisco 49ers — OT Michael Oher, Ole Miss
11.) Buffalo Bills — DE/LB Everette Brown, Florida State
12.) Denver Broncos — DE Tyson Jackson, LSU
13.) Kansas City Chiefs – TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
14.) New Orleans — RB Chris ‘Beanie' Wells, Ohio State
15.) Houston — CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
16.) San Diego — LB Brian Cushing, USC
17.) New York Jets — QB Josh Freeman, Kansas State
18.) Denver — DT Peria Jerry, Mississippi
19.) Tampa Bay — DE/LB Brian Orakpo, Texas
20.) Detroit — DE/LB Robert Ayers, Tennessee
21.) Philadelphia – DE/LB Aaron Maybin, Penn State
22.) Minnesota — WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
23.) New England — CB Darius Butler, Connecticut
24.) Atlanta — DT Evander Hood, Missouri
25.) Miami — DE/LB Larry English, Northern Illinois
26.) Baltimore — LB Rey Maualuga, USC
27.) Indianapolis — RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
28.) Buffalo — OT Eben Britton, Arizona
29.) New York Giants — WR Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
30.) Tennessee — LB Clay Matthews, USC
31.) Arizona — RB Donald Brown, Connecticut
32.) Pittsburgh — C Eric Wood, Louisville
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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