Keep An Eye On Outside Linebackers
The Green Bay Packers have several needs – probably more than a legitimate Super Bowl contender should have – entering this year’s NFL Draft.
We’ve been harping on tackle and cornerback as the two biggest areas the Packers need to improve. At tackle, the Packers are relying on veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Both are injury-prone and past their prime. The Packers need for another top-flight cornerback was evident in the team’s 2009 losses to Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Arizona.
However, outside linebacker remains a real possibility for the Packers with the No. 23 pick in this year’s draft. Although I would disagree, the Press Gazette’s Mike Vandermause calls outside linebacker the Packers’ biggest need.
The best way to improve the pass defense is to sack, hit and pressure opposing quarterbacks. The Packers have one bona fide rusher at right outside linebacker in Clay Matthews. They desperately need another one on the left side to complement him.
That overlooks the fact that not addressing the left tackle position could well get the team’s best player, Aaron Rodgers, beheaded, but it’s realistic the Packers could end up choosing an outside linebacker in round one.
Packers’ linebacker Nick Barnett agrees, saying he feels the team will go with offensive line or outside linebacker in the first round.
The reason the Packers may end up with an outside linebacker at 23 could be more a function of the draft than what Ted Thompson determines is the team’s biggest need.
It’s very realistic the top four offensive tackles – Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams, Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga and Rutgers’ Anthony Davis – could be off the board by the time the Packers pick in the first round. The next group of tackles, which includes Maryland’s Bruce Campbell and Indiana’s Rodger Saffold, don’t seem to merit that high of a selection.
Mel Kiper lists the top five outside linebacker prospects as follows.
1. Texas’ Sergio Kindle
2. Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon
3. TCU’s Jerry Hughes
4. South Carolina’s Eric Norwood
5. Penn State’s Sean Lee
You also have to throw Michigan’s Brandon Graham – who is the ranked as the No. 1 outside linebacker by several scouts – in the mix, but both he and Kindle will likely be gone by No. 23. That would leave Weatherspoon and Hughes – who are ranked between 20th and 30th best overall draft prospects by several experts – for the Packers to look at.
Weatherspoon piled up 14.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in his senior season at Missouri, but some scouts feel he runs around too many blocks rather than taking them on. Hughes tallied 16.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks his senior season at TCU and is perhaps a bit rawer than Weatherspoon. One thing is for sure, though – both players are fast and could boost the Packers’ pass rush.
My guess is either Rutgers’ Davis falls to the Packers at No. 23 or Thompson takes Weatherspoon.