Packers may need some help at center
Today is the sixth day of two weeks of Green Bay Packers coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL draft.
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Ted Thompson’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick
TODAY’S POSITION: INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 7
On the roster
At the starting guard positions, the Packers have Josh Sitton on the right and T.J. Lang on the left. Sitton is one of the best in the league and is locked into a long-term contract. Lang also isn’t going anywhere with a contract that runs through 2016.
The center spot is a bit uncertain at the moment. Jeff Saturday was brought in a year ago but underperformed and is now retired. That opened the door for Evan Dietrich-Smith, who coach Mike McCarthy believes is more natural at center than at guard. Aaron Rodgers has publicly stated his support for Dietrich-Smith, but center could be an area for the Packers to address with an early pick in the draft.
Green Bay lacks depth on its interior line, with 2012 undrafted rookie Greg Van Roten as the only backup who saw any time on the Packers’ active roster last season.
Last five interior linemen drafted
2011 — Caleb Schlauderaff, Utah: sixth round (179th overall) — traded to the Jets in September 2011, currently with the Jets
2009 — T.J. Lang, Eastern Michigan: fourth round (109th overall) — still with the Packers2008 — Josh Sitton, Central Florida: fourth round (135th overall) — still with the Packers
2007 — Allen Barbre, Missouri Southern State: fourth round (119th overall) — signed with Seahawks in 2010, currently with the Eagles
2006 — Daryn Colledge, Boise State: second round (47th overall) — signed with Cardinals in 2011, currently with the Cardinals
Philosophy at the position
General manager Ted Thompson connected nicely with a mid-round pick in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009, drafting Sitton and then Lang. The youth and talent of those two has allowed the Packers’ front office to address other areas rather than having to continually target starting-caliber guards. Only one pick (Schlauderaff) has been used on an interior lineman in the past three drafts.
Thompson chose not to re-sign veteran Scott Wells a year ago, hoping instead that Saturday could step up at a cheaper price in the short term. That didn’t go so well. Not having another starting-caliber center on the roster next season could prove costly if Dietrich-Smith gets hurt or doesn’t perform well enough. Based on Green Bay’s predraft roster, only the raw and inexperienced Van Roten would be available to step in if that did happen. Thompson will need to fix that in this year’s draft.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Travis Frederick, junior, Wisconsin (6-4, 330). Frederick is the latest in a recent string of Badgers offensive linemen to be highly touted NFL draft prospects. He is the top-rated center by nearly every draft expert and should be a first-round pick. Frederick has experience at guard from his redshirt sophomore season at Wisconsin but will play center in the NFL — though his versatility will be an added bonus for the team that picks him. He’s a big guy and is very strong, but that has kept from showing a ton of quickness for the position.
Frederick is a Day 1 NFL starter at center and could be the perfect fit for the Packers. He won’t be available when Green Bay is up late in the second round, but if Thompson goes a different direction in the first round, Frederick could possibly be available somewhere around pick No. 40.
Frederick says: “I think one of my best qualities is that I can play both center and guard. In today’s age, with smaller rosters, it’s really valuable for teams to be able to have somebody who can play both, especially in a backup position or if they can slide somebody over midgame, they don’t have to back up all three inside positions. They can do something like that a little bit easier. So I think something like that that I have is going to help me out a lot.”
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Barrett Jones, senior, Alabama (6-4, 306). A four-year college starter, Jones played every position along the offensive line. He began as a right guard before switching to left tackle in 2011 while also playing center, left guard and right tackle at different times. He’s a smart player who graduated with a degree in accounting in just three years. Jones has good size for an NFL interior lineman and can pass protect well, though he isn’t a great athlete. He will most likely perform best at the center position in the NFL but could slide to either guard spot, as well.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Khaled Holmes, senior, USC (6-3, 302). Holmes will be either a fourth- or fifth-round pick and could be a good center pickup for the Packers if they missed out on Frederick and Jones. Holmes has an injury history but was a three-year starter at USC. He’s a fairly average, well-rounded player who won’t do any one thing on an elite level but also won’t fail in any area. Therefore, Holmes is a pretty safe mid-round pick.
FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says:
“The simple fact is that Frederick needs to be picked there by the Packers. I think Barrett Jones is a good fit, but to me, it’s clear that Frederick is the best center. Jones is serviceable but not sure if he wins the job from Day 1 like Frederick would.”
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