PACKER DRAFT 2011 Jerry Gilbert
THE GREEN BAY PACKERS WISH LIST
This is fun. Year after year I have looked at the then current version of the Green Bay Packers, and I have, to the best of my ability, analyzed the needs they would have to fill in free agency and the draft in order to have a team that could compete for the Super Bowl. This year is different because the Packers already won the Super Bowl, and the players coming back are ready to play at a high level at every position. There are no glaring needs, except perhaps a dynamic return man, but there remains a desire to improve. They have, not a needs list, but a wish list.
From a general point of view, the Green Bay Packers want players to fill their basic approach to offense defense and special teams. The offense need to be able to run the ball particularly in the fourth quarter and the passing game must have enough playmakers to be effective against the best defenses in the league. On defense, the goal of having players who can defend the run is largely met, but the second half of playoff games showed that there is room to grow in defending the pass. The greatest area of emphasis should be special teams. If the team does not re-sign kicker Mason Crosby, there will be a need for a kicker. There is definitely a need for a dynamic punt and kickoff return man. These wishes and few needs may be filled by a combination of veteran free agents and rookies.
Since his first two years as General Manager, Ted Thompson has been a non-player in the free agent market. That could change. Even a strong team could benefit from the addition of a proven veteran playmaker, and players who fit that description now have a reason to consider Green Bay. First they would be joining the team that is the favorite to represent the NFC in the Championship Game next year. Second, they have seen the character of the players currently on the roster. These players overcome adversity and support each other, the type of players that most people would want as teammates. Moreover, the stigma of playing in a small venue is now balanced by the factors of a superior coaching staff, great facilities and the opportunity to succeed. With the media opportunities available for the super Bowl champs, other players will hear convincing testimonials extolling the advantages of playing in Green Bay.
Assuming Ted Thompson could sign a player or two, the team would be better. The biggest danger facing a reigning champ is a tendency to not be as hungry as they were the year before. Adding a respected veteran seeking his first ring would be very valuable in the locker room. In 1996, the Packers added Keith Jackson and Andre Rison. A year later, with no significant additions, they were upset by Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. We should not underestimate the impact that wanting to win for Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and others had on team psychology. There is little doubt that a wounded Driver and Woodson helped inspire the team to play just well enough in the second half to win the Super Bowl. A similar veteran could provide a similar motivating factor along with the plays he could make on the field. The Packers wish list is broad enough to give the Packers a choice of players at several positions.
The Green Bay Packers would presumably like to add talent on offense at tackle and guard, and possibly at wide receiver and running back. A back or receiver with return skills could be a priority. On defense, the wish list priorities are defensive end, linebacker and cornerback. Obviously, should a veteran be traded or released, his position could become an area of need.
Chad Clifton had a good year at left tackle, but his most likely backup is Brian Bulaga who will play right tackle, not only because Mark Tauscher is unlikely to return, but also because Bulaga is today a better option than Tauscher would be. Other candidates for both tackle positions are T. J Lang and untested rookie Marshall Newhouse. Lang is also in the mix at left guard. Left tackle is a priority because Clifton could become unavailable or start playing at a lower level at any time. There are many examples of a competent offensive lineman who suddenly is no longer good enough. Even if the need to replace Clifton is only for a game or two, it would be nice to have an heir apparent to fill in rather than shuffling the starters. Lang can play the position and maybe Newhouse can fill in, but neither of them is a full time left tackle in the NFL. A high round talented option should be added in the draft. Scott Wells is set at center and Josh Sitton is an emerging star at right guard. However, left guard Daryn Colledge has not consistently played at the same level and he is a free agent. At the same time, Colledge is at least average at his position and he almost never misses a snap. Should he get a better offer and leave the team, the coaches may in the future miss that durability. T. J Lang, Jason Spitz and Nick McDonald are candidates to replace Colledge, but there would be an opening for another offensive guard.
Wide receiver Donald Driver will lose his starting position sometime, and both Jordy Nelson and James Jones are too inconsistent to be sure bets to replace him. Jones is also a free agent who might leave for an opportunity to start for another team. Nelson alone, or both of them, could benefit from competition provided by a sure handed rookie wide out. The type of wide receiver they would like to add is open to debate. While tight end Jermichael Finley fills the role of a big receiver, a big talented wide receiver can be a great weapon. Remember how 6-5 Charger receiver Vincent \Jackson teamed with tight end Antonio Gates to create a dynamic passing attack. It is probably more likely that the Packers would add a speedy deep threat who is also a punt or kick returner. The Packers do not currently have a scary fast receiver and every team could use such a weapon. As suggested above, the team does not need any type of receiver with a history of inconsistent hands.
Assuming that Ryan Grant Brandon Jackson and James Starks all return, there is very little room except for the possibility of a punt and kickoff return man who could also line up at halfback. If Jackson should leave in free agency, a big back would become a possibility. The full\back position has too many contenders already, and quarterback only becomes an issue in the unlikely event that they trade Matt Flynn.
On defense, the most talked about issue is the desirability of having a dynamic compliment to Clay Mathews at the other outside linebacker position. It is not a need because Brad Jones seemed to be developing in that direction before he was injured last season. Assuming they will improve with an off season and training camp, both Frank Zombo and Eric Walden have shown enough to offer hope that one of them might become a quality starter. On the other hand, Jones has not proven he can stay healthy, and none of these candidates was valued highly coming out of college. Attempting to add talented outside linebacker appears to be a good idea. At inside linebacker, a player will likely be added in the mid to late rounds, assuming that either Nick Barnett or A.J Hawk will be playing elsewhere next season,
Defensive end is an issue because the very talented Cullen Jenkins is a free agent who is likely to be worth more money to another team. Jenkins will be missed because he is the most dynamic pass rushing lineman on the squad. Johnny Jolly can replace him for most purposes, and his ability to bat down passes is a weapon as well. Mike Neal is also a promising 3-4 defensive end, and we cannot discount the potential of O. J Wilson. However, Ryan Picket is at an age when skills may start to deteriorate and his primary replacements, Mike Neal and Johnny Jolly cannot play both ends at once. Nose tackle is fine with B>J> Raji, Pickett and Howard Green, but a pass rushing defensive end is another priority in the draft.
The Safety position is in pretty good shape with Nick Collins Morgan Burnett Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush and Derrick Martin for spot duty. Corner back also has plenty of bodies, but Charles Woodson is not getting any younger and the depth behind Tramon Williams and Sam Shields is not reliable. We saw the problem in the second half of the Super Bowl. With one more solid cornerback, the Packers would be able to withstand two injures at the position without a significant loss of quality.
The wish list will include an offensive tackle, a linebacker and a defensive end in the early rounds. Lower rounds can be used for a running back, an offensive guard, a corner back and a receiver. At least one of those skill position selections will also return kicks. Naturally, should a blue-chip prospect at virtually any position become available early, Ted Thompson may grab him. For a team that is already loaded with talent, a General Manager can truly select the best player available.