Packers’ need at D-End must be addressed high in 2013 Draft

By Chris Havel

Defense dangerously thin at end; SMU’s Hunt would be perfect fit

GREEN BAY PACKERS NEWS – The Packers’ early pursuit of free agent defensive end Chris Canty ultimately fizzled into an offseason footnote.
The Packers brought Canty to Green Bay for a visit, team doctors reportedly had injury concerns, and GM Ted Thompson elected to pass. Canty later signed with Baltimore, and that was that.
Or was it?
A month later, the Packers’ need is just as great at defensive end. With free agency an unlikely solution, the NFL draft is up next.
Check out all of our great packages and get ready for the
2013 NFL Schedule release later this month!
[srp post_limit=’1′ widget_title=” category_include=15 thumbnail_width=’275′ thumbnail_height=’200′ post_content_mode=’thumbonly’]

When the Packers are on the clock Thursday, April 25, with the 28th pick, their fans should be praying for two things:
** 1) That SMU defensive end Margus Hunt is still on the board, and …
** 2) That the Packers do the smart thing and draft him.
My best guess is Hunt’s gone before the 28th pick, although stranger things have happened on draft day. And history has shown that Thompson is OK with packaging picks and moving up to get his guy.
Hunt is a 6-foot-8, 277-pound end who sets the edge against the run, chases down plays from the backside, and closes on the quarterback. He had 31 tackles, 11 ½ tackles for loss, eight sacks and an interception as a senior at SMU. He would be a blessing on a woefully thin unit.
The starting ends are Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson. The top reserves are Mike Neal, Mike Daniels and Worthy. Pickett isn’t a kid anymore, and Wilson was serviceable as he struggled with injury and inconsistency.
Neal flashed at times, but he didn’t show down-in, down-out durability. Daniels showed talent, but remains raw and largely untested.
In that light, the Packers drafting a running back (Alabama’s Eddie Lacy), tight end (Stanford’s Zach Ertz) or receiver (Cal’s Keenan Allen) in the first round seems like a luxury purchase.
Fans that love seeing Aaron Rodgers’ passes fill the sky, and the Lambeau Field scoreboard fairly explode, would be thrilled with any of those offensive weapons.
However, fans that hate seeing the Packers’ defense be embarrassed – especially in the postseason – would be relieved to see a tall, thick and explosive defensive end such as Hunt in a Packers uniform.
The Packers’ next greatest needs – a running back, followed by an interior offensive lineman, plus a tight end or a safety – could be covered by the end of Round 2.
Last year, Thompson held tight and selected Nick Perry at 28. Then, he watched the draft and worked his board. When Jerel Worthy slipped in the second round, Thompson traded up to get him with the 51st pick. Then, when Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward similarly dropped, Thompson pounced to get him at No. 62.
That was an amazing run for Thompson and the Packers. All three can play, and perhaps at an All-Pro level, with only inexperience and injury concerns (Perry’s wrist; Worthy’s knee) as a possible downside.
It wasn’t as a great a coupe as B.J. Raji-Clay Matthews, but one day it may prove to be close. With that as a backdrop, guessing what Thompson might do is almost as foolhardy as predicting how the draft will unfold.
At least recent history and events provide a measure of insight.
Thompson revealed his interest in a defensive end when he pursued Canty. That hasn’t changed. The defense still needs a starting-caliber defensive end. Also, The Packers haven’t changed that much since last season. Many of the needs (running back, pass rush, etc.) are the same.
Most of all, Thompson needs impact players and the draft remains his best, if not only, avenue to acquire them.
By holding tight until the Packers late in the first round, Thompson is allowing his board to work, which is to say, he is relying on his personnel staff’s hard work and judgment.
When players the Packers’ staff likes begin to fall, Green Bay doesn’t second-guess itself. It pounces.
Look for Thompson to trade up into the mid-second round, and again in late in that round, to find players with “impact” ability. The Packers could land a running back (Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor) and a tight end (San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar) they covet in the second round.
Depth in the interior offensive line and safety could come on Day 3.
In a perfect Packers world, Green Bay would add Hunt, Taylor and Escobar to upgrade their defensive line and offensive skill positions. That would be a tremendous weekend’s work, especially for a team that despite zero activity in free agency STILL ranks No. 6 in ESPN’s offseason NFL power rankings.
The draft only improves that position.
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 ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.