A key part of Alabama's national championship run, Eddie Lacy offers a power-back presence to offset the Packers' pass-heavy offense. / File/Getty Images
Pete Dougherty's mock draft
1. Kansas City — Luke Joeckel, T, Texas A&M: Chiefs also might take T Eric Fisher.
2. Jacksonville — Eric Fisher, T, Central Michigan: Jaguars likely to take best tackle remaining.
3. Oakland — Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU: Raiders need playmakers, Ansah has huge upside.
4. Philadelphia — Star Lotulelei, DL, Utah: Oklahoma T Lane Johnson and Oregon OLB Dion Jordan possibilities.
5. Detroit —Lane Johnson, T, Oklahoma: Lions also could go for Jordan or CB Dee Milliner.
6. Cleveland — Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon: Browns might try to trade back and take a QB.
7. Arizona — Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina: Cardinals probably go for best offensive lineman remaining.
8. Buffalo — Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Bills also in market for QB.
9. New York Jets — Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: Jets rebuilding and need to replace Darrelle Revis.
10. Tennessee — Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Titans also might take G Chance Warmack.
11. San Diego — Chance Warmack, G, Alabama: Chargers also might take Alabama OL D.J. Fluker.
12. Miami — Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Fluker a possibility here as well.
13. New York Jets — Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU: Jets need help all over but might wait on QB.
14. Carolina — Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Panthers also might go offensive line.
15. New Orleans — Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Saints need outside rusher for their new 3-4.
16. St. Louis — Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: WR and S are Rams’ biggest needs.
17. Pittsburgh — Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Starting TE Heath Miller is 30 and coming off ACL tear.
18. Dallas — Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Cowboys hoping one of the top 2 guards falls.
19. New York Giants — D.J. Fluker, T, Alabama: Giants love offensive and defensive linemen in first round.
20. Chicago — Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o or a WR could be in play here.
21. Cincinnati — Eric Reid, S, LSU: Alabama RB Eddie Lacy a possibility also.
22. St. Louis — Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins could get look here.
23. Minnesota — D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston: Vikings need WRs, CBs and pass rushers.
24. Indianapolis — Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Colts are a wild card.
25. Minnesota — Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame: Patterson or Tennessee WR Justin Hunter possibilities.
26. Green Bay — Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: Packers among many teams that probably would love to move back.
27. Houston — Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Texans’ offense needs one more weapon.
28. Denver — Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: Broncos might look for a pass rusher here.
29. New England — Jesse Williams, DL, Alabama: Has position versatility Belichick loves.
30. Atlanta — Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State: Falcons need playmaker on defense.
31. San Francisco — Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International: 49ers need to replace departed FA Dashon Goldson.
32. Baltimore — Kevin Minter, LB, LSU: Retired Ray Lewis’ successor. Good luck.
Top specialist prospects
1. Caleb Sturgis, Florida, Round 6 or free agency
2. Dustin Hopkins, Florida State, 6-FA
3. Anthony Cantele, Kansas State, FA
4. Brett Maher, Nebraska, FA
5. Casey Barth, North Carolina, FA
1. Brad Wing, LSU, 6-FA
2. Jeff Locke, UCLA, FA
3. Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State, FA
4. Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech, FA
5. Josh Hubner, Arizona State, FA
Running back or defensive line. Sit and pick at No. 26 or trade back.
As Ted Thompson contemplates the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick in Thursday night’s NFL draft, those have to be two primary questions churning over and over in the mind of the team’s general manager as he readies for his first shot at meaningfully augmenting his roster this offseason.
This year, even more than most, is ripe for teams to trade back in the draft. As one high-ranking front-office executive Press-Gazette Media consulted this week put it, usually the players ranked from Nos. 15 to 35 are graded relatively closely, but this year it’s more like Nos. 5 to 50.
But it takes a partner to make a deal. Maybe a team looking for a quarterback for the future, unwilling to take one from this year’s unusually weak class in the first 20 picks, would be willing to trade up from the second round to late in the first. But maybe not.
So when pick No. 26 rolls around, if Thompson stays put, two prospects with late first-round grades who mesh with the Packers’ greatest needs could still be on the board: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones.
Thompson’s first-round history of preferring a big player (four offensive and defensive lineman in his eight first-round picks with the Packers) and stated “big-person” theory — that there are a limited number of big and athletic human beings on the planet, so you have to get them when you can — strongly suggest he’d go with Jones. So does his conservative temperament of being safer rather than riskier with high picks — the best example being A.J. Hawk over Vernon Davis at No. 5 overall in 2006.
Yet, the guess here is, if Thompson faces that choice and can’t trade back, he’ll break form and select Lacy, the 231-pound halfback who has a history of nagging injuries.
The Packers’ run game has been a weakness essentially throughout Thompson’s eight years as GM and Mike McCarthy’s seven years as coach, and talent at the position today is thinner than ever. Though McCarthy’s offense is heavily tilted to the passing game, which diminishes the value of running backs, there’s an argument that the threat of a good back can do more to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthy and productive than any lineman available to Thompson.
That’s how one high-ranking NFL scout sees it after studying his dossier on Thompson and the Packers, and asked to predict what Thompson would do if the choice came down to Jones and Lacy.
“They’re both excellent prospects,” the scout said. “At the end of the day, I think (Thompson) will protect his quarterback. (Lacy) opens the offense up. He’s fine on third down. Watch the film of this guy. He’ll help Aaron Rodgers be a better quarterback.”
Thompson very well might stay true to form and fill probably his most acute need, which is on the defensive line. Behind B.J. Raji, run-stopper Ryan Pickett’s career is winding down at age 33, and last year’s second-round pick, Jerel Worthy, is coming off knee-reconstruction that could sideline him for at least half the season and render him a bit player in 2013. The Packers need more playmaking up front.
The inherent uncertainty of the draft makes it impossible to know which defensive linemen will be there at No. 26, and any number of the group that figure to go in the mid-first round to early second could be available. The best guess is that players from that group the Packers might find most attractive, namely North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams and Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins, will be gone. Among others more likely to be available are Jones, Alabama’s Jesse Williams and SMU’s Margus Hunt.
Williams is a huge (6-3 3/8, 338), strong man who has the versatility to play nose tackle and end in a 3-4, but some scouts question his ability as an inside pass rusher, which is an important quality for defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ nickel defense. Hunt has otherworldly height and length (6-8 1/8, 277) for a 3-4 end and tested great at the scouting combine, but he’s raw and old (26 this summer), which could make him less attractive as a first-round prospect.
Jones has a ready-made build as a 3-4 defensive end at 6-feet-3 7/8 and 283 pounds and projects as a solid inside rusher in nickel and dime personnel. He had 6½ sacks last season and showed good athleticism at the scouting combine for a player his size (4.86-second 40, 31 ½-inch vertical and 29 bench reps). One scout described him as “ripped” and conscientious about taking care of his body.
“Wouldn’t be bad at all (at 26), he could be a (3-4) defensive end, absolutely,” a scout said. “Played left side defensive end (at UCLA), that’s where they run the ball, he was strong enough, he was fine. He’d be fine as an inside rusher.”
Several scouts said that most teams seem to be looking to trade back, and that the Packers could be in prime position to do so, especially if none or only one quarterback is selected before them. Several teams possibly looking for quarterbacks that pick early in the second round are Jacksonville at No. 33 overall, Philadelphia at No. 35, Arizona at No. 38, the New York Jets at No. 39 and Buffalo at No. 41.
If Thompson trades back, Hunt or Williams still might be on the board. Thompson also might be inclined to draft one of the next-best running backs, with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball most likely the second back off the board, though UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin and North Carolina’s Giovanni Bernard are possibilities also. And there probably would be a safety or two who might have a shot at starting immediately remaining from the late first-round to early second-round group of LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and Florida’s Matt Elam.
It’s also not a given that Lacy or Jones will be available at No. 26, depending on how this unpredictable first round falls. Cincinnati at No. 21 and St. Louis at No. 22, for instance, might covet Lacy, who is a heavy favorite to be the first back off the board.
“It’s going to be close,” one scout said of Lacy being available at No. 26. “He’s a 25 to 35 player.”
Lacy could be a good fit for the Packers because his power running style would go well with a team that plays in the cold the second half of the season. He’s entering the draft after his redshirt junior season and last year, splitting time with a highly talented freshman, T.J. Yeldon, averaged 6.5 yards on 204 carries (1,322 yards) and ran for 17 touchdowns. He was one of the key players in Alabama’s run to the national championship last year with big games against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Notre Dame in the title game. He had 321 yards on 40 carries (8.0-yard average) in those games combined.
“It wouldn’t be the perfect fit for (Lacy),” another scout said, “but it would be a good fit for Green Bay just because they make themselves one dimensional. Everybody knows when they play Green Bay they’re going to play a lot of nickel and defend Rodgers, and defending the run is secondary.
“Now you put a back in there who can close things out and run a four-minute offense, that’s what Green Bay’s been missing at the end of the year. They survive well passing it early in the year, but as the season progresses they need the ability to pound the ball. That’s why they were interested in Steven Jackson.”
The biggest concerns with Lacy are his health and speed. He had a turf-toe injury for the second half of the ’11 season that required surgery in the offseason. Last year he played in all 14 games but had knee and pectoral injuries that slowed him, plus a hamstring injury that nearly wiped out his offseason.
He was unable to work out at the scouting combine and only did so for scouts April 11, when he ran a pedestrian 40-yard dash, with reports of his time ranging from 4.57 seconds to 4.62 seconds. He also tired noticeably in the workout, though he said he’d only returned to full training from his hamstring injury two weeks before his workout.
But he was a true difference maker last season and his 26 runs of 15 yards or more tied for third-most of the running backs in this draft.
“Alabama guys, they’re all nicked up,” a scout said. “You get what you see, OK? Evaluate him on (videotape). What you have to ask yourself is, is he a real football player? I think he his.”