The Super Bowl buzz remains stiff. The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl Champions! For me, the defense of this title begins Thursday with the beginning of the NFL Combine. While Ted Thompson & his staff have been preparing for the 2011 NFL Draft for quite some time, I have been unable to motivate. I've been stuck in Super Bowl savoring mode. Rightfully so. However, with that said, I'm further behind in my analysis of the NFL Draft than I've been in recent memory. Sure, I watched numerous college football games in the '10 campaign & I did write the occasional "Who Are You Watching Now?" during the season, but the majority of my notes did not travel across country with me as I moved from Miami Beach to Denver. Additionally, while I still have the Senior Bowl, a couple of Senior Bowl practices & the East/West Game on DVR, I've yet to watch them in their entirety.
Any way, for those that are new to the mock draft poriton of the blog, there's one rule that I follow: In my mock draft, I don't select OL. Only because I don't follow OL closely enough during the college season. Furthering my 2011 mock draft difficulty, I feel the Packers most pressing need going into the NFL Draft is the OL. Assuming the CBA gets worked out & players are forced to play 6 years on a team before becoming an UFA, the Packers rosted will be loaded at most positions - except for the OL. On the OL, I really like Sitton. I believe he has Pro Bowl ability. I feel Bulaga has a career in the league. Then come the question marks. Clifton is aging. Colledge's career in Green Bay might be coming to a close through FA. Wells is steady, but he's in the middle-tier of NFL Centers. With regards to depth, I want to like Lang, but I'm not sure where he fits. I thought Marshall Newhouse showed a ton of progress in the preseason, but at this stage, he's a developmental prospect. Is for players like Marshall Newhouse that I hope the NFL keeps a 4-game preseason schedule. Those games are imperative to the development of late round draft picks. Continuing with the depth chart, Jason Spitz has played his last down as a Packer, Tauscher has probably done the same unless he comes back at the league minimum as a back-up, and both Nick McDonald & Evan Diedrich-Smith fit into the developmental category. Clearly, to me, the Packers need to draft OL. It just won't happen in my mock draft.
Round 1: Ted Thompson has been aggressive with winning the perimeter on the offensive side of the ball. It has been a priority of his since he took over in 2005. 5 times in 6 drafts, Thompson has drafted a pass catcher in the 1st 3 rounds (Terrance Murphy, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley). While he hasn't invested an early round pick in a pass-catcher since 2008, it wouldn't surprise me if Thompson provided Aaron Rodgers with a weapon in Round 1. After all, Donald Driver isn't getting younger, James Jones has not only disappointed - at times - but he's potentially going to be a FA, and Jord Nelson has had issues with consistency. Two WR's that are presently listed as 2-3 rounders interest me as a potential selection at #32. Don't be surprised if the stock of Leonard Hankerson, WR, _, climbs significantly during the combine. He has scored more TD's than any WR in the history of the _. He had a great Senior Bowl. At times, in college, he was unguardable. Not afraid of traffic. He can run the deep route. He has the build that attracts Thompson's eye. For now, my 1st round pick is Hankerson. I realize that NO ONE has Hankerson as a 1st round pick. Still, it's early in the evaluation process. If, after the combine, he's still low on the totem pole, I'll reconsider.
The other WR that interests me is Titus Young, WR, Boise State. In some ways, he reminds me of DeSean Jackson. Electric with the ball. Undersized. He gets deep. He can return kicks. He, too, is listed as a 2-3 round prospect. Wouldn't shock me if he solidifies himself as a solid early round 2nd round prospect. Therefore, if we want him, we have to get him at #32.
Many consider the Packers #1 requirement to be OLB across from the Claymaker. For me, I believe that I saw enough out of Erik Walden to give him a chance to be the starting OLB across Clay. I thought Walden was a terrific addition to our defense. Still, I won't complain if the Packers #1 pick is an OLB. One of the strengths of the 1st round in the 2011 Draft might be the availability of 3-4 OLB's. Von Miller, Bruce Carter, Akeem Ayers & Justin Houston all are potential 1st round picks. I like all of them. At this stage, I see Miller, Carter & Ayers all being selected prior to #32. If Houston is available, he'd be a great pick at #32. For a while, this year, I thought Ayers was as good as any LB in the country at the college level. It'll also be interesting to track how Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue drops in coverage at the Combine. He didn't do much of it in college, but the guy could get to the QB.
If the Packers deem CB to be the pick, Aaron Williams, Texas, is the guy that interests me the most. Williams plays the run well. Also, he aggressive in coverage. To me, he fits in the Dom Capers scheme.
Round 2: Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple. Perfect for the Packers 3-4. He can rush the passer. He can stop the run. He'd be a solid fit in the 2-down lineman rotating with Raji. Though Jolly should be back in 2011, I expect the Packers to lose Cullen Jenkins due to FA. While Mike Neal looks to be a gem, he has to stay healthy. I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers added depth to the DL. For now, most have Wilkerson projected as a late 2nd, early 3rd. Don't be surprised if he climbs the charts post a solid combine. But, until I see his name climbing the ranks, he's my choice.
A couple of other 2nd round prospects to keep an eye on: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado; Jerrell Jernigan, WR/KR, Troy; Brandon Hughes, CB, WVU; Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia. Smith has shut-down capabilities. Jernigan is a threat every time he touches the ball. He'd solve our return woes. Hughes, though only 5-10, was a stand-out at WVU. He battled injuries at the end of the year, so I'd check his durability. The same can be said with Dowling who could not stay healthy this year. When healthy, Dowling was a better player than Chris Cook who was the Vikings 1st selection last year.
Ryan Williams, RB, Va Tech, is a big play gamer. He has a flair for running hard & making big plays in big games. Doubt the Packers look for a RB in the early portions of the draft though.
Round 3: Presently, I see ILB as the best 3rd round value. Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon, Greg Jones, ILB, Michigan State, and Colin McCarthy, ILB, _ have all grabbed my interest at this point. Naturally, I would like Matthews to be the selection as it'd be great to see the long-haired brothers manning the Packers defense. Therefore, my selection is Casey Matthews.
If Ted Thompson finally chooses a scat back who can return kicks, Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State could be the pick.
Round 4: I'm giving the Packers two 4th round picks. The bonus pick will be for Aaron Kampman. I project a 4th round compensatory pick. In the 4th round, the Packers grab Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford. At this point, Sherman is virtually off the board. No one is talking about Sherman. They will soon. From what I saw at the Senior Bowl, he has superstar potential. He reminded me a little of Al Harris. Big CB. Likes to put his hands on you. Then, he'll turn & run with you. He hasn't played a lot of CB. He's fairly raw. Thompson struck gold with Sammy Swagga, who had a similar background. Sherman learned under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh. He'll be NFL ready.
Others: I like CB value in this draft. Chris Rucker, CB, Michigan State, Marcus Gilchrist, CB, Clemson, Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado are all names that could be solid picks in this area.
With the other 4th round pick, the Packers grab Bruce Miller, OLB, Central Florida. A classic work-hard OLB. Endless motor. Gets to the QB. Closes out games. Every time I watched UCF play, Miller was making plays in workman-like fashion.
Others: Jordan Todman, RB, UConn. I like the way Todman runs & catches the ball. If he lands in the right spot, he'll have an NFL career. Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU. Kid can flat out make plays with the ball in his hands. He, too, can return kicks.
Round 5: Noel Devine, RB, WVU. I'm amazed that most have him as a 6-7 round prospect. Unbelieveable. He was lethat - at times - in college. Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat. He didn't return punts in college. I'd like to see if he can do it, but man, this guy is dangerous. He's undersized, but at this point, he seems like the classic mid-round Ted Thompson selection.
Others: At some point, Thompson will to draft a CB. Shareece Wright, CB, USC could be a solid 5th rounder. Also, at OLB, Mark Herzlich, BC would be a great value pick - if his health clears. Two years ago, he was an elite player. Now, he is a recovered cancer patient. At times, he returned to form in 2010. Will be interesting to track where he falls. WR, Terrance Tolliver, LSU, is a playmaker. He, too, can stretch the field. He'd be solid running the "go" routes that McCarthy designs down the outside of the field. He'd cause potential match-up issues on Rodgers' deep balls.
Round 6: Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama. McCarthy needs a new toy. McElroy is similar to Flynn. In college, he was a winner. Held onto the ball. Managed games. Created crucial third downs. Won a National Championship. Did a lot with his legs. Solid - at times - with his arm. When the game was on the line, he won. He has enough tools to be a weapon for McCarthy to sharpen.
Others: Mario Harvey, ILB, Marshall. Undersized, but always around the ball. Great effort guy. Classic special teams wizard. Jerrell Powe, DT, Mississippi. Big boy. Questionable effort, but you gotta like the size as a 6th rounder. Made some plays against top-notch competition.
Round 7: DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB, _. 4 year starter. Going to be reunited with Sammy Swagga. Van Dyke might end up as a better pro than college player. Wouldn't shock me. Good size. He can run. Sees the field well.
Others: Scott Tolzien, QB, WI. Another guy that McCarthy could play with. S, Zac Etheridge, Auburn. Playmaker in the secondary for the National Champions. DT, Brandon Bair, Oregon. A little undersized, but a high energy/high effort guy who produced for Oregon. Often, he was their best defender. Good value pick.
More to come post the combine.
Go Pack Go!