The Green Bay Packers selected at their greatest need in the first round of the NFL draft. So now what?
With UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones in hand, the Packers’ biggest remaining needs are at running back, safety and tackle. Somewhere along the road they’ll also have to take a receiver, and they’ll surely want to add another outside linebacker to add to their pass-rush options.
So looking to tonight’s second and third rounds, the best guess is they’ll select a running back and safety. That’s not to rule out other positions, because there’s no knowing how the selections will fall. If a player they especially like at any position other than quarterback or kicking-game specialist is available, he’s in play.
But it’s hard to see them getting out of tonight’s two rounds without a running back. And at safety, if take one in round two he’d probably be the favorite to start, and in round three he at minimum would be legitimate competition for returnees M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian.
Running back, though, is the most pressing need, and no backs went in the first round Thursday night. That means Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, who probably will be the first back selected, is available. It’s hard to see him making it past the first 10 picks tonight, 15 at most.
The Packers hold the 23rd pick of the second round, No. 55 overall. In the third round their pick is No. 26, which is No. 88 overall.
After Lacy, the next back likely to go is Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. That’s not a given – some teams might prefer UCLA’s Jonathan Stewart, others North Carolina’s Giovanni Bernard. But several scouts interviewed in the last few weeks thought especially highly of Ball.
Though Ball ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds at the scouting combine – that’s a terrible time for a good prospect at that position – he ran faster on a fast track at his campus workout (nearly 4.50 seconds on the nose), and he appears to be a legitimate 4.60-second runner. That’s mediocre, but that’s his long speed. Several of the scouts spoke highly of his quickness to avoid tacklers in tight quarters and his complete skill set as a receiver and protector in the passing game.
If he’s the back the Packers the back like most after Lacy, then what are the chances he lasts to pick 23 tonight? Maybe 50-50, maybe worse. One of ESPN’s mock second rounds today, by Scouts Inc., had Ball going to the Packers. But another, by Mel Kiper Jr., had Ball going to Cincinnati two picks before the Packers, and a second-round mock today by SI.com’s Don Banks had Ball going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 48 overall.
So general manager Ted Thompson at some point in the middle of the round might have to decide whether he likes Ball enough to trade up, or to risk waiting because there are other backs he likes nearly as much if Ball doesn’t make to 55. Thompson also might think there’s a good enough back that he could land in the third round, if say, he wants to take a safety, or a player at another position unexpectedly is available at No. 55 that he has graded especially highly.
The options behind Ball include Franklin and Bernard, who are both at or just under 205 pounds, as opposed to Ball’s 214. There’s also Michigan State’s Je’veon Bell. At 6-1 3/8 and 230 pounds, Bell is a big back more in the mold of Lacy. Depending on whether there’s a run on running backs in the second round, Bell could be a viable pick at No. 55, though several scouts interviewed in recent weeks thought he’d more likely go in the third round.
If Thompson looks to safety in the second round, one of the top four prospects remain on the board: Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien. But he appears likely to go in the first 10 picks tonight, so there’s not much chance the Packers could get him without trading up. Possible safety prospects at No. 55 are Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas and South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger, though Thompson might have a dark horse prospect in mind also, like Nick Collins was late in the second round (No. 51 overall) of the 2005 draft.
Then there’s always the chance a player at that Thompson might have graded as borderline first rounder at a position of less acute need is still is on the board. Among the possibilities are defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State, Jesse Williams of Alabama, Margus Hunt of SMU, Johnathan Jenkins of Georgia and Kawann Short of Purdue. On offense, there’s Melenik Watson of Florida State and Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.