The 2013 Packers had a championship-caliber offense, at least when Aaron Rodgers was healthy, but one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Unsurprisingly, our look at Green Bay’s draft needs focuses on the defense before turning our attention to the support the Packers will need to give Rodgers.
Safety: Green Bay had a glaring need at safety from Week One, when the secondary was abused by 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, and that glaring need was apparent all season. The biggest disappointment was starting strong safety Morgan Burnett, who got a big new contract last season and responded with a bad year. With bad play from the starters and not much depth, the Packers have to find at least one safety in this year’s draft. Maybe more than one.
The best safeties in this year’s draft, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville, probably won’t be available when the Packers are on the clock at Pick 21. If one of them falls out of the Top 20, that would be great news in Green Bay. And the need at safety might even be great enough for the Packers to trade up and draft one of them. Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois is another option in the first round, although he might be a bit of a reach at 21.
If safety isn’t addressed in the first round, it must be addressed on the second day of the draft. Deone Bucannon of Washington State and Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State could be options in the second round.
Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are the current starters on the inside, but a good rookie could push Jones out of the base defense. The best inside linebacker in the draft, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, may not be available at No. 21, but if he is he could immediately contribute to the Packers’ defense.
An interesting second-day selection could be Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough. He had a pre-draft visit with the Packers and looks like he’d be a good fit as an inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. Other possibilities include Chris Borland of Wisconsin and Preston Brown of Louisville.
Outside linebacker is less of a need for the Packers after they signed Julius Peppers to line up opposite Clay Matthews, but if they do address their needs on the outside, Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo is an option. He also had a pre-draft visit to Green Bay.
Center: Last year’s starting center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, left for Tampa Bay in free agency. The Packers used a fourth-round pick on center JC Tretter last year, and at the moment he’s first on the depth chart. But Tretter suffered a broken ankle in training camp last year and never got on the field, and the Packers will be going out on a limb if they go into the season with only the unproven Tretter (who played his college football in the Ivy League at Cornell) as the man snapping to Rodgers.
There probably won’t be a center selected on the first day of the draft, but on the second day there are a few options, including Marcus Martin of USC and Travis Swanson of Arkansas. Virginia’s Luke Bowanko, who played both guard and center, visited Green Bay and could be an option on Day Three of the draft.
Tight end: Green Bay could use an upgrade here: Jermichael Finley opened last season as the starter and played well, but he suffered a season-ending neck injury and is now a free agent. Andrew Quarless, who replaced Finley in the starting lineup, finished the season with 32 catches for 312 yards and wasn’t the same threat in the passing game that Finley has been.
The best tight end in the draft, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, probably won’t be available at No. 21. So it would be a surprise if the Packers used a first-round pick on a tight end. But Jace Amaro of Texas Tech is at least a conceivable pick in the first round, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington could be a Day Two option.
Quarterback: Maybe the Packers will be satisfied going into the season with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien as the backups to Rodgers. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Green Bay draft a late-round quarterback who could make the roster as a third-stringer as a rookie, while being groomed to be the No. 2 quarterback a year from now.
San Jose State quarterback David Fales is an interesting option on the third day of the draft, and so is North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen. Both of them had visits to Green Bay, and both of them could be options for the Packers — options the Packers hope they won’t need for many years to come.