Once again this April, Press-Gazette Packers beat writer Rob Demovsky will provide a pre-draft breakdown of the Packers’ roster at each position heading into the April 26-28 NFL draft.
Here’s the position schedule:
Monday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Defensive backs
Thursday: Offensive line
Friday: Running backs
Sunday: Tight ends
Tuesday: Special teams
What they have: A.J. Hawk (ILB), Desmond Bishop (ILB), D.J. Smith (ILB), Robert Francois (ILB), Clay Matthews (OLB), Brad Jones (OLB), Frank Zombo (OLB), Jamari Lattimore (OLB), Vic So’oto (OLB).
Position analysis: Last season, the Packers tried three different starting right outside linebackers — Erik Walden, Zombo and finally Jones — and got a combined six sacks in 17 games (including playoffs) from that position. By himself, Matthews got six sacks — a career low — while facing a high percentage of double teams and chip blocks. Lattimore and So’oto got few opportunities but perhaps could be developed into capable pass rushers, although both have coverage limitations. Bishop had a strong season in his first as a full-time starter, but Hawk did not. Smith played well in three starts for Bishop late in the season and could push Hawk for snaps, perhaps in the nickel and other sub packages. Francois held up fine in spot duty late in the year but isn’t a full-time starter.
The future: Much like on the defensive line, another starter is badly needed here on the outside. GM Ted Thompson virtually ignored the position in the last draft, taking only a flier in the sixth round on Ricky Elmore, who wasn’t even worth keeping on the practice squad. Walden has not been re-signed but is still a possibility. One player who figures to be on the Packers’ radar when they pick at 28th in the first round is Boise State’s Shea McClellin, a natural 3-4 outside linebacker. Among other outside linebackers who may be worth considering if they’re available at 28 include Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, Southern Cal’s Nick Perry, Marshall’s Vinny Curry, Syracuse’s Chandler Jones and West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin. Several of those played defensive end in college but have been projected as 3-4 outside linebackers.
-- Rob Demovsky, firstname.lastname@example.org