The Super Bowl champs in 2010 and the top seed in the NFC after the 2011 regular season, the Packers are built to contend once again in 2012. Led by a G.M. who has little appetite for veteran free agency, it’s important that they keep making good decisions in the draft, in order to ensure that the team will continue to contend on a year-in, year-out basis. Especially since the Packers have a few glaring holes that need to be filled in the short term.
Defensive end: The Packers let Cullen Jenkins walk away in free agency last year, and they were never able to properly replace him. They need a so-called “five technique” lineman to help tie up blockers, which will make the linebackers look a lot better. Without a strong defensive line in 2011, the linebackers looked a lot worse.
Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews regressed last season, due in large part to the dip in the performance of the defensive line. He needs to turn it around, and the Packers still need an effective bookend, who will be able to help harass the likes of Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Jay Cutler.
Defensive back: Safety Nick Collins (neck) may be done, and cornerback Charles Woodson is getting closer and closer to the end of the line. The lack of a push from the front seven puts extra pressure on the secondary, highlighting whatever flaws may reside there. Though better play from the defensive line and linebackers will make the defensive backs automatically look better, picks still need to be invested at the cornerback/safety position, given that the Packers are dealing in their division with prolific passing attacks in Detroit and, with the arrival of Brandon Marshall, Chicago.
Offensive line: Jeff Saturday will serve as a finger-in-the-dike at the center position; the Packers need a long-term solution. They also need to feel more confident about their left tackle situation, a fairly critical spot for an offense with a right-handed quarterback.
Running back: The Packers currently have three running backs on the roster. James Starks, Brandon Saine, and Alex Green. Need I say more? (Maybe not, but I will anyway.) A mid-round choice and a late-round flier will beef up the depth chart, provide some special-teams help, create competition, and perhaps produce a workhorse, sooner or later.
Quarterback: What? A team with the reigning league MVP at the quarterback position needs a quarterback? With Matt Flynn gone and no veteran signed in free agency, the Packers need a No. 2 quarterback who hopefully can be groomed to do what Flynn, a seventh-rounder in 2008, did when called upon to play. And then the Packers need to hope that he’ll be called upon to play rarely.
Having a true franchise quarterback makes a team a contender, regardless of the quality of the rest of the roster. But the Packers learned the hard way in 2011 that the things that happen when the franchise quarterback isn’t on the field could prevent the team from getting to the Super Bowl. Only modest improvement of the Packers’ defense in 2012 will put Titletown’s team back in the title game — if the MVP keeps playing like one.