Why would the Packers go there with so many pressing needs?
Green Bay’s secondary needs a lift and this draft is replete with young, talented safeties. The Minnesota Vikings hit on Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith with the 29th pick a year ago. Smith finished with 104 tackles, one sack and three interceptions. He had 11tackles and an interception in Minnesota’s 23-14 loss at Green Bay.
Next month, highly regarded safeties such as Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, Florida’s Matt Elam and LSU’s Eric Reid likely will be available when the Packers are on the clock.
Then there is the offensive line. The stopgap free-agent signing of veteran center Jeff Saturday was a miscalculation. Saturday couldn’t cut it and eventually lost his starting job to Evan Dietrich-Smith. He retired a few weeks ago.
A strong argument could be made for selecting a center to build around. Alabama’s Barrett Jones is one possibility to stabilize a line that allowed a league-worst 51 sacks and generated minimal success in the run game.
Of course, there might be another solution to the Packers’ problems in the run game: Selecting a top-flight back in the first round.
They have explored every other avenue except the obvious.
They drafted Hawaii’s Alex Green in the third round in 2010. Injuries and inconsistency have thwarted him, however, and limited his production. He isn’t going to become a three-down back, something Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers are seeking this offseason.
Last offseason, they signed street free agent Cedric Benson, the No. 5 pick in the 2006 draft. Benson showed promise until a foot injury derailed him early on. Then, they lined up Randall Cobb in the backfield and used him as a receiver and runner with good results. However, the increased injury risk – coupled with an expanded role in the passing game – makes it untenable as a real solution.
Finally, they promoted undrafted rookie DuJuan Harris with decent results. Harris played well, but to believe he can carry the load is probably wishful thinking.
In fact, the Packers have done everything short of channeling the spirit of the Grey Ghost of Gonzaga, the great Tony Canadeo, and asking if he’d like to come back and give the running game a much-needed boost.
There has been talk about the Packers making a play for former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson in free agency. The trouble there is the financial commitment such a deal would entail.
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That leaves the draft.
Based upon the NFL’s most recent collective bargaining agreement the cost of drafting a first-round running back is reasonable. Rookies can’t restructure their deals for three seasons, and the re-slotting under the salary cap ensures that rookies remain the NFL’s best bargain.
One scenario has the Packers selecting a running back with the 26th pick and riding his talents for three seasons. If he becomes a top back who can make an offensive line look better than it is (see Aaron Rodgers) the Packers would be thrilled. They can deal with the extension/franchise tag issues in 2016. Theoretically, they could re-sign him (if they love him), tag him or let him walk and draft his replacement.
The Packers could have a first-round talent at running back for the reasonable cost of a high draft pick once every three years. Backs seldom get better with age, which is why the best of the best always look to break the bank in free agency.
Furthermore, running backs tend to contribute much faster than receivers. Benson and Harris are proof that a back can get up to speed pretty quickly.
Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (5-11, 231) would be difficult to pass on. Lacy is a powerful runner with nice burst and a willing blocker who catches it well enough out of the backfield. The Eddie Lacy-DuJuan Harris duo has terrific potential as a one-two punch with their contrasting styles.
Lacy’s arrival also would answer the age-old question: Who makes the run game click? Is it the running back or the offensive line that makes it work?
In Green Bay’s case the problem has been threefold: A line whose run blocking is dubious at best; a running back with limitations; and a coach whose words suggest he’s a proponent of a balanced attack, but whose actions say otherwise.
By investing in a first-round running back the Packers would be making a solid commitment to the run game at a fairly reasonable cost. If Lacy is still on the board at 26, GM Ted Thompson should jump at it.
Here’s hoping he gets the opportunity.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.