General Manager Ted Thompson said he has no idea who will be available to the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.
Thompson has given up trying to guess what’s going to take place in front of the Packers.
“Probably when I first came back here in 2005, I was a little cockier that ‘Yeah, I know what’s going to happen,’ and all that,” said Thompson. “But as you get older, you start to lose that edge a little bit. Or you fool yourself into so much that you realize you’re making mistakes and you didn’t know. So I try not to predict.”
When it comes to predicting the Packers’ first-round selection, the so-called experts are all over the map.
In a survey of 20 mock drafts, the forecasts showed the Packers selecting no fewer than eight different positions with their first-round pick: safety, cornerback, defensive lineman, tight end, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, wide receiver and running back.
It’s an indication the Packers’ needs are wide-ranging, but also that this draft has quality and depth at a multitude of positions.
Thompson maintains he will select the best available player, regardless of position. In theory that may be true, but if several players of relatively equal value are on the board, need will become the deciding factor for the Packers in the first round.
And what the Packers need more than anything else in this draft is a defensive lineman.
The tank is nearing empty for 33-year-old Ryan Pickett, who likely has one productive year left. A torn-up knee will stunt the progress of Jerel Worthy, who probably won’t be ready for training camp. Mike Neal has yet to prove he can become consistently productive, and Johnny Jolly hasn’t played in 3½ years.
A lackluster defensive performance led to an early Packers’ playoff exit for the second straight year, and the best way to address that problem is to use a first-round draft choice to strengthen the line.
Between seven and 10 defensive linemen are deemed first-round worthy this year, so chances are good the Packers will have options.
North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams and UCLA’s Datone Jones are prime candidates that could be available at No. 26. Other possibilities include Alabama’s Jesse Williams, SMU’s Margus Hunt, Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins and Purdue’s Kawann Short.
If the defensive linemen the Packers covet are gone by late in the first round, their next-best option based on need would be to draft a safety, where LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and Florida’s Matt Elam could be available.
The Packers have one decent starting safety in Morgan Burnett but haven’t adequately replaced Nick Collins, who suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2011. If Thompson thinks 2012 fourth-rounder Jerron McMillian will emerge, then he will look elsewhere in the first round.
Here is an assessment of other positions, in order of likelihood, the Packers might consider in the first round:
Outside linebacker: Nick Perry’s rookie season was short-circuited by an injury and it’s not known if he’s the answer opposite Clay Matthews. But the Packers wouldn’t have taken Perry in the first round last year if they weren’t high on his potential. Still, a 3-4 defense can’t have enough pass rushers and run-stoppers.
Tight end: The Packers don’t need to address this position, just like they didn’t need a quarterback in 2005 when they selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round. If Thompson believes a player stands head and shoulders above the rest at No. 26 — Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert might fall into that category — he wouldn’t hesitate to draft Jermichael Finley’s eventual replacement.
Tackle: Marshall Newhouse isn’t the long-term solution at left tackle, but the Packers have other options. They could shift Bryan Bulaga to the left side if Don Barclay continues to develop at right tackle. Or they could hope 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod bounces back from his broken leg.
Running back: The Packers won the Super Bowl two years ago with James Starks as their starting halfback. That tells me a pass-oriented team doesn’t need to spend such a high draft choice on this position.
Don’t expect the Packers to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver, cornerback or inside linebacker, based on their quality and depth at those positions.
Then again, it might be a mistake to predict what Thompson will do. Even he doesn’t seem to know.
“When you’re picking as late as we are … you don’t know how it’s going to go,” said Thompson. “So you don’t want to gnash your teeth over that first pick too much. You just do what you do.”
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