Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk took a pay cut of $7.25 million over the next three years to return. / File/PackersNews.com
Once again this year, Packers beat writer Rob Demovsky will provide a pre-draft breakdown of the Packers’ roster at each position heading into the April 25-27 NFL draft.
Here’s the position schedule:
April 10: Defensive line
April 12: Defensive backs
April 13: Offensive line
April 14: Running backs
April 15: Receivers
April 16: Tight ends
April 17: Quarterbacks
April 18: Special teams
What they have: A.J. Hawk (ILB), Desmond Bishop (ILB), D.J. Smith (ILB), Brad Jones (ILB), Robert Francois (ILB), Terrell Manning (ILB), Jamari Lattimore (ILB), Clay Matthews (OLB), Nick Perry (OLB), Dezman Moses (OLB), Micah Johnson (OLB).
Position analysis: Despite a wealth of depth at the inside positions, question marks remain. Hawk took a pay cut of $7.25 million over the next three years to return. He started in the base and nickel packages but didn’t play in the dime even after Bishop (hamstring) and Smith (knee) sustained season-ending injuries. That job fell to Jones, a former OLB who held up surprisingly well inside after taking over in Week 7. Still, re-signing him to a three-year, $11.75 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus might have been a stretch. Indications are Bishop is on track to return for the start of the season, but Smith may not be. Manning showed some flashes as a rookie on special teams. Francois also was a special teams contributor. Said coach Mike McCarthy recently: “Our board looks a lot better today than it has a lot of other times at this time of the year in terms of a lot of good football players on it. I think the inside linebacker is a group with a lot of depth.”
On the outside, questions remain about whether the Packers have someone to complement Matthews, who made his fourth straight Pro Bowl last season despite missing four games because of a hamstring injury. Perry, the first-round pick last year, lasted only six games before knee and wrist injuries ended his season. He showed a strong bull rush (two sacks, four QB knockdowns/hurries) but was a bit of a one-trick pony and still might be a hard fit at outside linebacker. A year ago, he didn’t know whether he’d be a defensive end or an OLB in the NFL. Said McCarthy: “So he’s in there at 272 (pounds) and the conditioning we knew was going to be a challenge for him, and I think if he was sitting here he’d say, ‘Hey that’s a lot more running at outside linebacker than defensive end,’ so all those things that you’re aware of, all those things you try to train and get him ready for, but it’s like anything, until you go through it, he’ll definitely be a better player and be better this year.” Moses, an undrafted rookie last year, was a pleasant surprise but also may not be a full-time player. Johnson was signed to the practice squad late last season.
The future: With all the depth on the inside, the Packers aren’t likely to do much there, but after opting not to re-sign Erik Walden, who got $16 million over four years from the Colts, and oft-injured Frank Zombo, who signed with the Chiefs, there could be some interest in another outside rusher. Perhaps a guy like Georgia’s Alec Ogletree would be intriguing.