Packers may target FIU safety with first-round pick
Today is the 14th day of two weeks of Green Bay Packers coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL draft.
April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
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
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With 25 picks to be made prior to the Green Bay Packers being on the clock Thursday night for the first round of the NFL Draft, many scenarios could play out.
Regardless of what happens in picks 1-25, one aspect of the Packers' draft board that won't change is where their biggest needs lie. That opens the door for general manager Ted Thompson to select between several good options at No. 26.
The five most likely outcomes for Green Bay in the first round are drafting the best safety available (likely to be Jonathan Cyprien), defensive end Datone Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert, center Travis Frederick or running back Eddie Lacy.
With a glaring need at safety next to Morgan Burnett, Thompson is fortunate that this draft class has multiple talented prospects at that position. A year ago, that was not the case. If Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) is available at No. 26, the Packers will be able to land themselves the top overall safety. The chances that Vaccaro slides that far, however, are slim. But, there are three other safeties who would warrant a first-round pick: Cyprien (Florida International), Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU). All three have the potential to be NFL starters from their first day in training camp.
On the defensive line, the Packers clearly need some additional help. Ryan Pickett is the oldest player on the roster at age 33 and will be entering the final year of his contract. Selecting Jerel Worthy (second round) and Mike Daniels (fourth round) in 2012 didn't fix everything; C.J. Wilson is only a run stopper and Mike Neal is only a pass rusher. That leaves nose tackle B.J. Raji needing more help upfront. Thompson must target players who can fit defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, and the best option is Jones (UCLA), who is good against the pass and the run. He could be the every-down defensive end next to Raji that Capers sorely needs.
On offense, how good will DuJuan Harris be in his first full NFL season at running back? That is one of the biggest questions Thompson and his staff need to answer prior to the draft. At the moment, it appears the Packers have several average running backs on their roster but lack the type of player who is an every-down threat to opposing defenses. If that is the case, quarterback Aaron Rodgers once again won't get the downfield passing looks that led to his being the league's Most Valuable Player in 2011. Green Bay needs a running back who forces defenses to commit more players close to the line of scrimmage. Lacy (Alabama) could be that player. Though he's not a top-10 talent in this draft, he is the best running back. If Lacy is anything in the NFL like he was in college, choosing him could give the Packers the dual-threat offense the team very much needs. Montee Ball (Wisconsin) and Giovani Bernard (North Carolina) are good second-round prospects, but Lacy -- while perhaps being a boom-or-bust pick -- would give the rest of the league someone else to worry about on Green Bay's offense other than Rodgers.
Evan Dietrich-Smith played fairly well late in the season as the starting center once coach Mike McCarthy decided to bench veteran Jeff Saturday. But is Dietrich-Smith the long-term answer? If Thompson and McCarthy have any doubts about that, Frederick (Wisconsin) is the best center in this draft and seems like a great fit for the Packers. Frederick isn't a great athlete by NFL offensive lineman standards, but he can pass protect and run block very well. If Cyprien, Jones or Lacy are available at No. 26 along with Frederick, it's Frederick who would be the most likely to last until early in the second round if Thompson is able to trade up on Day 2 of the draft.
Green Bay does not have an immediate need at tight end. Jermichael Finley will be the starter next season and will play the vast majority of the snaps, but he's in the last year of a contract that pays him big money. Behind Finley, the Packers need to find out how much Andrew Quarless' career was set back after his significant 2011 knee injury. Quarless was a rising player on Green Bay's roster prior to that. Also, the Packers have D.J. Williams, who only two years ago was college football's most outstanding tight end. So, yes, Green Bay has talent and depth at tight end. But, if Eifert (Notre Dame) is still around at No. 26, the value would likely be too much for Thompson to pass up. Eifert, who is by far this draft's best tight end, could be long gone by the time the Packers are up, though.
For those wondering why an offensive tackle isn't on the list of candidates, this is a complicated area for Green Bay. It's possible that 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod returns from his broken leg this season and plays up to his high draft billing. Drafting another offensive tackle in the first round (which would be the third time in four years for Thompson) would block Sherrod's path to a starting job, assuming he's recovered and healthy. Plus, there are three outstanding offensive tackles in this draft, Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma), and none of them will make it out of the top 10. D.J. Fluker is the next best player at that position, but he, too, will likely be gone. Beyond that, there is not another offensive tackle worthy of the 26th overall pick. A second-round pick, perhaps, such as on a player like Menelik Watson (Florida State), but not late first round.
Cyprien. Jones. Lacy. Frederick. Eifert. All very good choices for Thompson who would help Green Bay in 2013 and for years to come.
If the Packers have their pick between those five, the need at safety is too big to pass up on Cyprien. Vaccaro would be even better, but he's a top-20 talent. Elam, too, could be an option, but Cyprien's skills are superior. Though Cyprien is from a small college, the safety that Green Bay is still looking to replace, Nick Collins, certainly didn't let that stop him from having great success in the NFL.
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