NFL mock drafts have one common theme: Defense
By CHRIS HAVEL
Whether it is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman or Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III is a matter of opinion. What most NFL draft experts do agree on is this: With the 21st pick in the 2014 draft the Green Bay Packers will select defense. In fact, they may draft defense in the second, third and fourth rounds, too.
Whether this is a repeat of the 2012 draft when Packers GM Ted Thompson went defense with the first six picks remains to be seen. Rest assured, however, that the Packers will attempt to revamp all three levels of their defense through the draft.
A majority of Packers fans who suffered through humiliating defeats to non-playoff teams such as the Giants last season will reply: No kidding! The key is to select the best defensive player who is also a great fit. Translation: Draft a player in the first round who will start immediately. That should be the goal for the Packers each offseason, especially since they are so reluctant to play in free agency. If they are to add difference makers and big-time playmakers it’s going to come through the draft.
So who do the Packers select?
The closest to a consensus is that the Packers will choose one of two safeties: Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville’s Pryor. Perhaps lining up opposite a high-end safety will enable Packers safety Morgan Burnett to regain his form. Surely it can’t hurt a secondary that lacks big hitters, playmakers and effective communicators.
As a No. 2 safety Burnett might be good enough to win with. In 2010, Burnett became only the second safety to start as a rookie since Chuck Cecil in 1988. He helped the Packers win Super Bowl 46 when teamed with Nick Collins. Four seasons later, the Packers may be looking at starting another rookie safety to open the season.
Clinton-Dix is a 6-foot-1, 208 pound hitter who also hauled in seven interceptions the past two seasons for the Crimson Tide.
Pryor, at 6-2, 208, is a strong tackler who possesses better ball skills and greater range than Clinton-Dix. If the Packers were fortunate enough to land either of these safeties it would be considered a significant upgrade.
The other possibility, aside from a nose tackle, is cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. Gilbert, who doubles as an explosive return specialist, is probably going to be taken in the top 15. But if he is available it’s unlikely the Packers would pass on him with the 21st pick.
Notre Dame’s Nix III is a massive man (6-2, 342) who would be a tremendous replacement for B.J. Raji if he leaves via free agency. Nix can play nose in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3.
The Golden Gophers’ RaShede Hageman is another interesting prospect. Hageman, at 6-feet-6, 318 pounds, is powerful and athletic. He also is versatile and can play defensive end in either a 3-4 or 4-3. He also has a nasty streak that the Packers’ defense could really use.
One possibility is a repeat of 2009 when Thompson selected Raji with the ninth overall pick, and then traded back into the first round to select Clay Matthews with the 26th pick. If the Packers’ defensive depth is OK, and the need for playmakers is at a premium, trading into the first round may be the only way to secure enough impact players on that side of the ball.
Several mock drafts have the Packers selecting a tight end. The best bets are North Carolina’s Eric Ebron or Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Packers do have a need at tight end with Jermichael Finley coming off major neck surgery. Still, it would be difficult to justify a tight end in the first round. The Packers found Finley in the third round.
Ultimately, the needs on defense supersede everything else. My best guess is that the Packers select the best defensive player available at 21 and then strongly consider moving up into the late-first or early second-round to get another potential playmaker on defense.
While it is true that draft picks are considered gold by Thompson, so are playmakers, and if you don’t shell out the cash in free agency the only other currency available is draft picks. The Packers will have Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward returning to help in the line and the secondary. If Nick Perry develops at outside linebacker, and DaTone Jones steps up at end, the Packers’ defense could look – and more importantly play – vastly different in 2014.