Packers likely to stand pat at linebacker
Today is the 10th 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
Today: 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
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 6
On the roster
At outside linebacker, the Packers have one of the league’s best pass rushers in Clay Matthews. In Matthews’ four NFL seasons, he’s been to the Pro Bowl each year, and he just missed out on being named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Opposite Matthews at outside linebacker is 2012 first-round pick, Nick Perry. As a rookie, Perry played only six games and picked up two sacks before a season-ending wrist injury. With Erik Walden now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, 2012 undrafted player Dezman Moses — who had four sacks last season — will be asked to play a bigger role.
On the inside, Desmond Bishop — the Packers’ leading tackler in 2011 — returns after missing all of last season with a torn hamstring. A.J. Hawk, who was Green Bay’s leading tackler in 2012, will be back after restructuring his contract this offseason. D.J. Smith is on the road to full health after a season-ending knee injury. Smith had a promising rookie year in 2011 and started six games in Bishop’s spot last season before the injury.
The wild-card at inside linebacker is Brad Jones. He was seldom-used at outside linebacker in his first three years, but after Smith’s injury, Jones stepped in and played very well on the inside. Now, Jones is being paid starter-type money after signing a three-year deal with the Packers this offseason.
Green Bay also has Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore and Terrell Manning as backups at inside linebacker, but all three were used mostly on special teams last season.
Last five linebackers drafted
2012 — Terrell Manning, North Carolina State: fifth round (163rd overall) — still with the Packers
2012 — Nick Perry, USC: first round (28th overall) — still with the Packers
2011 — D.J. Smith, Appalachian State: sixth round (186th overall) — still with the Packers
2011 — Ricky Elmore, Arizona: sixth round (197th overall) — released in 2012, now with Redskins
2009 — Clay Matthews, USC: first round (26th overall) — still with the Packers
Philosophy at the position
Even prior to the 2013 draft, general manager Ted Thompson already has 10 linebackers who project to make the active roster next season. That’s nearly 20 percent of the players on the team. The problem is that some of the starting spots are still unresolved.
Thompson had the ultimate success when he traded up to select Matthews in 2009, but he’s yet to find a complementary player on the opposite side. In Green Bay’s 3-4 defense, generating consistent pass rush from more than one player is critical.
Perry is still a question mark. He publicly stated his preference to play as a 4-3 defensive end leading up to last year’s draft, and his transition to 3-4 outside linebacker was a bit rocky. Perry has the talent to figure it out, but it will be a huge gamble on Thompson’s part if he doesn’t have another player ready.
So, while the Packers could spend a top pick on a linebacker, it would just add to the clutter if it’s an inside linebacker. The most likely scenario at the outside spot is that Thompson gives Perry and Dezman Moses another full year to prove themselves before searching for possible starting replacements.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Manti Te’o, senior, Notre Dame (6-1, 241). Where have we heard this name before? Though his off-field drama is well documented, Te’o has question marks on the field, as well. He had a horrible performance in the National Championship Game against Alabama. He’s not all that fast or quick, but he has fairly good size for the position and often made solid — albeit not highlight-reel spectacular — plays in his college career. Teams also have to brace for the fact that bringing in Te’o will create a unique, potentially challenging situation in the locker room, especially with the media attention that will follow him.
Despite his shortcomings, Te’o will be a late first-round pick and is the best inside linebacker in this class. He could be available when the Packers are on the clock at No. 26. However, adding Te’o would just seem to complicate an already crowded inside linebacker position in Green Bay. If he was an absolute game-changer, it would make more sense. But it’s uncertain that Te’o can be that type of player.
Te’o says: “I think I’ve learned the difference between the things I can control and the things I can’t control. And hopefully by doing the things I can control well, I’ll have more favor in the other category. Whatever team I go to, I’m just going to be me, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to do my best to help the team win. And whatever happens, happens.”
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Arthur Brown, senior, Kansas State (6-0, 241). If Brown is available when the Packers are up at No. 55, it would be a great value pick. Brown, who began his college career at the University of Miami, could be a first-round selection but will likely fall into the second round. He’s projected most often as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which is a position that Green Bay needs some depth at, but other draft experts worry that he’s too undersized. Brown has good speed and is pretty much the complete opposite of Nick Perry as a pass rusher. Brown wants to use his feet to get around blockers, whereas Perry wants to use his strength.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Trevardo Williams, senior, UCONN (6-1, 241). Is Williams a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker? Williams’ size suggests he may do better in a 3-4 system like Green Bay’s. He has very good speed to get around the edge in pass-rush situations, which would be his specialty, at least early in his NFL career. Williams will have to improve in coverage and against the run to see the field on more than just third-and-long situations.
FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says: “An interesting player (in the first round) based on health concerns of spinal stenosis is (Georgia’s) Jarvis Jones. If people are scared off because of the medical on him, if he drops to 26, that’d be a steal for the Packers. And it’s possible, too, because of his medical. If he falls, he’d be hard to pass up. Jones is a clear 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s obviously got the skill set of a top-10 player without the medical.
“I like Te’o in the first round. That might not be the popular opinion, but he improved at his Pro Day. I think he’s more athletic than the Combine showed. He can cover well for a middle linebacker and he moves well. I think he’s a better athlete than people give him credit for.”
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