Prior to a Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs (only loss of the regular season), the Green Bay Packers looked like they were on an unstoppable path to back-to-back Super Bowls.
That was until the league’s opposing teams figured out how to slow down the NFL’s premier offense just enough to out-shoot them as the eventual World Champion New York Giants did in a divisional playoff bout in front of a stunned crowd at Lambeau Field.
Even though the loss was shocking to some, it’s not hard to figure out where the Packers went wrong last season. Their defense allowed an NFL-record 4,796 passing yards despite being one of the league leaders in blitzes (a.k.a no pass-rush).
And that is why it’s almost a no-brainer that GM Ted Thompson should and will bolster a 3-4 defense which is badly in need of a pick-me-up after a disappointing season.
1st Round – 28th overall
2nd Round – 59th overall
3rd Round – 90th overall
4th Round – 123rd overall, 132nd overall*, 133rd overall*
5th Round – 163rd overall
6th Round – 197th overall
7th Round – 224th overall (from NY Jets), 235th overall, 241st overall*, 243rd overall*
* represents compensatory picks
Primary Needs (5)
Outside Linebacker, Defensive Lineman, Cornerback, Safety and Quarterback
As I alluded to in the introduction, the Packers are badly in need of some help in their pass-rushing department.
Clay Matthews was regularly double-teamed last season and was without a doubt the player most hurt by the departure of Cullen Jenkins to Philadelphia. The three-time Pro-Bowler Matthews recorded a total of six sacks, down from 13.5 and 10 in his first two seasons.
Thompson lives or dies by the motto of picking the best player available. Lucky for Green Bay, the draft is heavy with outside linebackers and defensive lineman who excel at putting pressure on the quarterback.
Two guys at the defensive end position that appear to be the most intriguing for the Packers are the Clemson’s Andre Branch and Illinois Whitney Mercilus.
Branch and Mercilus are both guys that thrive on getting to the quarterback and there’s no reason to believe that one if not both will be available when Green Bay picks at 28th overall. Branch would particularly fit in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense and projects to be a significant upgrade over Erik Walden who was almost non-existent opposite of Matthews in 2011.
Mercilus was a late-bloomer at Illinois (16 sacks last year), but has the size at 6-4 and 265 to be a potential beast on the end. Like Branch, Mercilus should easily transition to playing on the end and dropping back as an outside linebacker.
If Thompson wants to go the other direction and take a college linebacker, look for Boise State’s Shea McClellin. One of the hardest working players in the draft, McClellin is almost a sure tackler, but has shown some struggles versus the pass.
With the Packers among the league’s short-list of elite teams, expect the 2012 draft to be under a large microscope. Whether Thompson likes it or not, all eyes will be on improving the defense during what seems like a long off-season.
Who do you think the Packers will select in the first couple of rounds of the NFL Draft? Let me know by commenting below!
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Brewers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best.
Ted Thompson – ajstakeonthenfl.blogspot.com
Clay Matthews – packers.com
Andre Branch – tomahawknation.com