The Packers sent scout Alonzo Highsmith to Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday to watch a strong possibility to be that player.
Two-time All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes rested on his sterling numbers from the Scouting Combine (top defensive lineman in 20-yard shuttle; No. 4 in three-cone drill and 40-yard dash) but excelled during linebacker drills at TCU's pro day, an observer told Packer Report on Saturday. Hughes (6-foot-2, 254 pounds) definitely is a possibility to be selected by the Packers with the 23rd pick in April's draft.
Despite facing double-team blocks on practically every pass play last season, Hughes tallied 11.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. That came on the heels of a preposterous junior season in which he led the nation with 15 sacks and six forced fumbles to go with 19.5 tackles for losses.
Not bad for an honorable mention all-Texas high school running back who weighed 200 pounds when he arrived on campus.
His combination of production, athleticism and potential make him one of the top pass-rushing prospects in this draft.
"I've only been on the defensive side of the ball for four years, so my knowledge of that side of the ball is still very minimal," he said at the Scouting Combine. "So, I have to open up and extend myself so I can learn more. I still have to learn things as far as defensive end, certain techniques, certain ways to do things. And now I also have to adapt and learn the outside linebacker position, which is what I think I'm capable of doing."
Another outside linebacker prospect, Thaddeus Gibson, was clocked as low as 4.51 in his 40-yard dash on Friday after running 4.71 at the Combine.
Gibson (6-2, 243) recorded four sacks and 13 tackles for losses to earn second-team all-Big Ten at defensive end as a junior this past season. Among the many outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids in this draft, scouts think Gibson has looked as good as any of them in linebacker drills. That was true again on Friday. If the Packers are shopping for an outside linebacker in the second round, he could be their guy.
"That was the biggest thing, could I play outside linebacker? There's no doubt in my mind. I'm sure there's no doubt in (NFL coaches') minds that I can do it," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Meanwhile, all-Big Ten safety Kurt Coleman said he was timed as fast the high 4.4s. He was unable to run at the Combine because of an abdominal injury. At 5-10 and 187 pounds, he's got questionable size, but he's got the coverage skills (five interceptions as a senior) to be a good combo player as a late-round pick.
Another late-round prospect for the Packers would be Doug Worthington, who at 6-foot-5 and 288 pounds has the build to play defensive end. He showed some explosion with a 35-inch vertical jump. A quality role player, Worthington was charged with drunken driving in July 2008.
Defensive end prospect Mike Neal (6-3, 294) was the top prospect for the Packers. Neal, who did 31 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the Combine, participated only in position drills. He had 5.5 sacks in each of his two seasons as a starter. He's probably better suited to be a defensive tackle in a 4-3, but the Packers have had success with 6-foot-3 ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins. He's a third-round prospect.
Purdue's other top player is corner David Pender (6-0, 180). He's a late-round prospect after breaking up 33 passes as a three-year starter. Pender, who's well-versed in press coverage, had one interception in each of the last three seasons.
The Packers interviewed cornerback Donovan Warren at the Scouting Combine and watched him at Friday's pro day. According to the Ann Arbor News, Warren had no intentions of running for scouts due to a sprained ankle suffered at the Combine last month.
Instead, "the competitor in me just came out," Warren told the newspaper. He borrowed the shoes of safety Stevie Brown and clocked a pair of 40s in the mid-4.5 range. That was an improvement over his hobbled 4.6 from the Combine.
Warren, a three-year starter with six interceptions who entered the draft following his junior season, will work out with stud defensive end/linebacker Brandon Graham on April 8. Graham, who dominated the Big Ten, Senior Bowl and Combine, has positioned himself as a top-10 prospect.
San Diego State The Packers were one of the team in attendance in Saturday's only pro day. The Aztecs don't have any top prospects. Roberto Wallace was a 6-foot-4 reserve receiver who caught 28 passes. Two-year starter Nick Sandford picked off two passes and finished third on the team in tackles while playing the linebacker-safety position that Brian Urlacher played at New Mexico. Matthew Kawulok (6-2, 245) is a strong blocker as a fullback and tight end.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.