The Green Bay Packers changed to a 3-4 defense in 2009, and since then general manager Ted Thompson has not made drafting the outside linebacker position a top priority. Three-time pro bowler Clay Matthews is the lone early-round selection by Thompson at the crucial position in the defense, but after the anemic production in 2011, there is urgency for an OLB to taken high in this year’s draft.
Matthews was the 26th pick in 2009 after the Packers traded two third-round picks to move up from the second round to nab him and this year would be the perfect time for Thompson to use that aggressiveness once again.
Intuitively, the selection of back-to-back first round tackles over the past two drafts makes one think that Ted Thompson will lay off the position in 2012. However, Ted has never been one to shy away from elite talent that’s available in bargain territory. At the same time, the late first round selections of Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod were unique in that they satisfied both BPA and need criteria.
Now that need is not as much of a concern, it would seem less likely that the Packers GM would pounce on a tackle in the first round unless it was an clear cut steal. To add to that, this year’s tackle class isn’t as front-loaded as the previous two drafts. With USC’s Matt Kahlil and Iowa’s Riley Reiff looking like top-15 locks, the only other hands-down first round tackle would be Stanford’s Jonathan Martin.
The protection in front of Aaron Rodgers has been a rollercoaster ride since the 2011 MVP took over as starter four years ago. Rodgers found the turf often in 2008 and was lucky to play a full season in 2009. With two respectable seasons now under their belt, it’s time for the offensive line to take it to the next level. The barrier to becoming a consistently elite front five? The uncertain picture at tackle.
Let’s put the Scott Wells and Chad Clifton talk to the side here. For a quarterback to have sustainable production in this league, he must receive consistent protection from his tackles – namely the blindside blocker. Rodgers needs exactly that from Clifton’s heir at left tackle. Green Bay has four potential paths to take, starting with the most obvious: Derek Sherrod.
In a year where Aaron Rodgers’ arm fueled most of the offensive production, the Green Bay backfield was left in the shadows. James Starks picked up where he left off in the prior postseason, leaving many to believe he would become the feature back by December. Instead, a late-season resurgence by Ryan Grant kept the backfield split through the final match in January.
Kudos to Mike McCarthy for calling plays around each of his backs’ strengths rather than inserting any back into running plays. Grant, a known liability inside the tackles, used his speed to turn standard sweeps into sizable gains. Starks resumed his role as the “slasher”, picking up the dirty yards inside. John Kuhn saw increased goal line work and remained a fan favorite, picking up a pro bowl nomination in the process.