GREEN BAY, Wis. — As the first round concluded and super-incredibly-premature draft grades were doled out, the Green Bay Packers had to be feeling great about what they already accomplished.
Not that general manager Ted Thompson is the type to celebrate one pick when he still has eight more to make, but addressing the team’s biggest positional need with the best safety in this year’s class at No. 21 allows the Packers to now turn their attention elsewhere. Because, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix solved one major issue, Thompson’s work is far from over.
Green Bay will be on the clock in the second round at No. 53 and will also get to make two third-round selections, Nos. 85 and 98. The 98th overall pick, like the Packers’ later pick at No. 176 in the fifth round, is compensatory and cannot be traded.
Inside linebacker is Green Bay’s second-biggest position of need in this draft, followed by wide receiver and tight end. There is decent depth at tight end in the draft this year, and the wide receiver group is stacked, but if the Packers want to upgrade at inside linebacker, they’ll have to make sure the name of Wisconsin’s Chris Borland isn’t called before Thompson can have a shot at him.
Borland has his drawbacks as a prospect (lack of height, short arms, injury history), but he’s a tremendously instinctive playmaker who could really help Green Bay’s defense right away as a rookie.
Making the situation at inside linebacker more challenging for the Packers is that, once Borland is gone, there’s not another player at the position who’s worthy of a pick anytime sooner than midway through the fourth round. That would be Louisville’s Preston Brown, a player not of Borland’s caliber, though he does have better size for an NFL inside linebacker and has been very healthy.
Borland could enter training camp and immediately challenge for a starting job, whereas Brown doesn’t have as good of a chance to unseat the incumbents in his rookie year. Borland could be considered a slight reach at No. 53, but he’s highly unlikely to last until No. 85. Brown might be a reach at No. 85, but he’s unlikely to still be on the board when the Packers are up in the fourth round at No. 121. These scenarios present a dilemma for Green Bay.
If the Packers wait on inside linebacker until a later round, keep an eye on a string of receivers who could really be a good value in the second. Five wide receivers have already been taken, but USC’s Marqise Lee, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Indiana’s Cody Latimer and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews could be worth not only taking at No. 53, but also possibly trading up 10-15 spots if Thompson has a particular one that he likes.
While some may question Green Bay’s need for a receiver early on, don’t forget Thompson’s track record with this position in the second round (Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson). Also, consider what Aaron Rodgers’ options would look like if either Cobb or Nelson suffer an injury this upcoming season. Suddenly, Jarrett Boykin would be the No. 2 target, moving Myles White up to third on the depth chart. Plus, Nelson will turn 30 years old next offseason and Thompson doesn’t often keep receivers around when they reach that age, as Jennings and James Jones can both attest to.
The tight end choices for the Packers at No. 53 could come down to Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. If Green Bay waits until one of its two third-round picks to add a tight end, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz could come into play.
Of course, knowing Thompson’s history, the Packers could very well go best player available, regardless of position. With that possibility in mind, maybe a defensive lineman slides, such as Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt or Louis Nix, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan or Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman. Or Green Bay could add some competition to its open spot at center by drafting USC’s Marcus Martin or Colorado State’s Weston Richburg. BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is another interesting potential option.
We won’t know for a few years whether Clinton-Dix turned out to be a great pick, but on paper, it sure looks like a smart move. That alone has the Packers off to a fantastic start to the 2014 draft, but there is a lot left for Thompson to figure out. And examining that lengthy list of players who are still available shows just how many variables exist for Green Bay on Day 2 of the draft.