When Green Bay Packers fans are asked what was the biggest difference between the 2010 and ’11 seasons, the most common answer is the free agent departure of Cullen Jenkins. The loss of the former starting defensive end is a hole that still needs to be filled and the 2012 draft would be the perfect time for Ted Thompson to address it.
The strength of the 2011 defensive line was starting tackles Ryan Pickett and B.J Raji, but after those two, the Packers didn’t get consistent play from any of the other defensive linemen on the roster.
Mike Neal was supposed to be the heir to Jenkins. He looked impressive in the two games he played as a rookie but to call his second season a sophomore slump would be an understatement. He was a colossal disappointment. It started with his training camp injury before last season and has continued into the offseason by getting suspended for the first four games in 2012.
Thompson can ill afford to go into next season with this same group of guys after the Packers were among the worst in the NFL in pressuring the quarterback. The inside presence of Jenkins was a big reason why the 2010 team ripped off wins in the final six games en route to the Super Bowl title.
With needs all over the defense Thompson might have to work his magic to get the defensive line addressed early along with an outside linebacker and a defensive back.
This year’s draft is strong at the top for defensive linemen. There are six guys who could go in round 1 with five of them being projected to play End in a 3-4 defense.
Quinton Coples of North Carolina is the least likely to be around late in round 1 at pick No. 28 and combine workout wonder Dontari Poe is one the nose tackle in the group. The other four have been linked to anywhere from the first round to early second.
Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State has been rising up boards and could go as early as pick No. 15. He has the prototype size (6-4, 298) to play both End and Tackle in the Packers’ defensive system. Jerel Worthy of Michigan State (6-2, 308) might be the most likely to be Thompson’s pick at 28 should he grab a lineman.
The other two first round prospects are Devon Still of Penn State and Michael Brockers of LSU. Brockers was thought of as a lock top 15 pick but he doesn’t provide the pass-rush ability as Coples, Cox or Worthy.
In round 2, some names to keep an eye on are Kendall Reyes of UConn, Jared Crick of Nebraska, Brandon Thompson of Clemson and Billy Winn of Boise State. Crick was the most productive as a pass rusher but he’s coming off a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season at Nebraska early.
A sleeper that I would like for round 3 or 4 (remember the Packers have three 4th rounders) is Derek Wolfe of Cincinnati.