Packers position rank by need
Second of 13.
State of the Packers
The Packers' need is obvious. Reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson will turn 34 at midseason. Al Harris will turn 36 in December and is coming off a serious knee injury. Tramon Williams' best role is as a third cornerback. Pat Lee can't stay healthy, Will Blackmon has played in 32 of a possible 64 games and Jarrett Bush is, well, Jarrett Bush.
Forget about ...
Florida's Joe Haden started all three seasons and is the only cornerback in school history to start as a true freshman. Scouts would prefer him to be taller than 5-foot-10 1/2 and faster than 4.44 in the 40, but his production in an elite conference speaks for itself. He picked off eight passes in his 40 starts.
— In a deep field of cornerbacks, Boise State's Kyle Wilson (5-10), Rutgers' Devin McCourty (5-10 1/2), Alabama's Kareem Jackson (5-foot-10 1/2), Florida State's Patrick Robinson (5-11) and Virginia's Chris Cook (6-2) all carry first-round grades on some teams' draft boards.
That group is listed in our order of preference, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
If there's anything close to a consensus among insiders, it's that Wilson is the No. 2 guy behind Haden. He's the best playmaker of this quintet, with 11 career interceptions and electric punt return skills. He's fast, strong, intelligent and fearless. He emerged as the No. 2 corner in the draft after separating himself from McCourty, Robinson, Cook and a few others at the Senior Bowl. There's a pretty good chance he is off the board at No. 23.
McCourty is solid, with high character and intelligence — exactly the kind of person the Packers like. He's not quite the playmaker that Wilson is, but McCourty picked off six passes as a three-year starter and is superb in run support. He provides extra value on special teams as a proven kickoff returner and a master blocker of kicks. Jackson will enter the NFL ready to go after playing for Nick Saban's NFL-style defense at Alabama. He picked off five passes in his three seasons and also is a capable run defender. Robinson looked like a superstar by intercepting six passes as a sophomore but had just one as a junior and none as a senior. He played more man coverage than the other top prospects and has explosive game speed but isn't as physical as McCourty and Jackson. The last possibility is Cook, who, to our knowledge, is the only top prospect at any position to have visited Green Bay. He's got the height the Packers crave for their corners and great athleticism, but all of that didn't add up to a great career. He picked off four passes as a senior and played better than Robinson at the Senior Bowl.
No. 13: Quarterbacks
No. 12: Specialists
No. 11: Wide receivers
No. 10: Tight ends
No. 9: Nose tackles
No. 8: Running backs
No. 7: Defensive ends
No. 6: Inside linebackers
No. 5: Interior offensive line
No. 4: Outside linebackers
No. 3: Safeties
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (6-0) starred at Indiana (Pa.). He's got the size the Packers like and is the fastest corner in this class (4.32 40 at his pro day). He picked off eight passes in 2008 and two in 2009, and was a brilliant returner of punts and kickoffs. His level of competition, of course, is the obvious question.
— Some talented guys the Packers might not consider despite third- or fourth-round grades are Iowa's Amari Spievey (5-11), Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox (6-0), Oregon's Walter Thurmond (5-11), USC's Kevin Thomas (6-0) and Alabama's Javier Arenas (5-9). Spievey, a physical run defender with six interceptions in his two seasons at the school, is seen as more of a zone corner. The electric Cox was booted off the team for Oklahoma State's bowl game because of curfew violations. The Packers, however, did watch his private pro day. He finished with 10 interceptions and six special teams touchdowns. Thomas missed most of 2006 and all of 2007 with shoulder and foot problems. He's got the size and speed (4.47) the Packers love but the injuries are an obvious concern. Thurmond picked off 11 passes and is a big play waiting to happen with the ball in his hands on defense and special teams (five return scores) but he missed most of 2009 with a knee injury. Arenas is a big-play machine on defense in terms of interceptions and sacks (five of each as a senior), as well as on special teams (seven career touchdowns), but the Packers haven't drafted a 5-foot-9 cornerback in eons.
— One rising prospect is UCLA's Alterraun Verner. The Packers have shown a ton of interest in Verner, a source told Packer Report. He's super-smart and productive, with 13 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns) and 56 passes defensed in a brilliant career. Even with defenses playing keepaway, he intercepted five passes as a senior. At 5-foot-10 and without elite speed, he'd generally be seen as too short for the Packers, but he might be an exception to their rule. Draft analysts say he's a fourth-rounder; insiders tell us that he could come off the board in the second.
— The Packers love big corners, so anyone 5-foot-10 or less probably wouldn't be on their radar in the fourth round and beyond. Kentucky's Trevard Lindley (5-11) would have been an early-round pick last year but he had a subpar senior season because of an ankle injury, and he's tested poorly and played poorly during Senior Bowl week. Still, his SEC-record 43 pass breakups must mean something. While Franks is the headliner in this draft, Oklahoma's Brian Jackson (6-1) is a guy the Packers like, perhaps in the fifth round. He picked off four passes as a senior. He's not a burner by any stretch but is a good athlete and excels at press coverage.
Some other names to consider in the fifth round and beyond: Fresno State's A.J. Jefferson, Maryland's Nolan Carroll, Purdue's David Pender and Clemson's Crezdon Butler are all 6-foot. Butler started 40 games with 11 interceptions in his career. He's sort of been lost in the shuffle with just one pick as a senior. Jefferson lit up the Scouting Combine with his athleticism. He never intercepted a pass in college but he's been one of the nation's top kick returners. A three-year starter, Pender intercepted three passes in that span. He's not physical enough at 180 pounds, though, but he's tall and runs well. Carroll is an intriguing prospect. He missed most of 2009 with a broken leg but, based on his pro day numbers, he's one of the top athletes in this draft. He started only six games in his career with no interceptions.
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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.