Packers could draft offensive line depth early
The Green Bay Packers’ draft board isn’t the only list of names hanging on the walls inside their war room at Lambeau Field this time of year.
Away from the war room, out of sight, there’s a board that serves as a guide for the Packers’ organization. It has each player’s contract details. Years. Expiration dates. Here is the brain for general manager Ted Thompson’s roster-building process.
“There’s a wall for all kinds of things,” Thompson said. “If you can think of it, we have a wall for it.”
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
2016 NFL draft: Top offensive linemen
So, yes, Thompson knows what’s looming after the 2016 season. He knows three of his starting offensive linemen — maybe his three most important players on the line — will become unrestricted free agents. He’s also surely aware left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton and right guard T.J. Lang could demand expensive contracts.
Thompson said next year’s free agency has little influence on his approach entering this year’s draft, but it’s not something he can ignore, either.
“Not a lot,” Thompson said. “Not a lot. We feel like it’s best to stay true to form and try to take the best player available. We’re not going to stray off that. Again, that could be temporary. You might have a quote-unquote expiring contract, but you also might be in a position where you’re hopeful to do a reconstruction.”
In a world with no cap restrictions, there’s no question the Packers would want to re-sign Bakhtiari, Sitton and Lang. The modern NFL does not live in that world. The cap is a thorn in every general manager’s side. It could make re-signing Bakhtiari, Sitton and Lang difficult.
While there are more pressing needs for the Packers to target with their 27th overall pick in the first round, offensive tackle can’t be excluded from the possible options. If he likes how the board falls, and there’s value at the end of the first round, Thompson could start preparing for life after 2017 for his offensive line.
Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs could be an enticing prospect at the end of the first round. Though raw, he might be the most athletic offensive tackle in his class. He led all tackles with a 4.94-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, including an impressive 1.76-second, 10-yard split. It’s a lot of speed and quickness for a man who measured 6-foot-5⅝ and 301 pounds with 34-inch arms.
Spriggs’ movement skills project him as a future left tackle, potentially a very good one. A former tight end, he’s a raw run blocker but has the quick feet needed to succeed in zone-blocking schemes. He has the potential to develop into a good — maybe elite — pass blocker.
“I describe myself as more of an athletic lineman than most,” Spriggs said. “I use that to my strength. Especially in a zone scheme and being able to get around edges and get back against pass rushers.”
While a first-round offensive tackle is one possibility, it’s an unlikely one. The Packers have enough needs on their defensive front they could draft the best front-seven player available at No. 27, whether that be a defensive lineman, inside linebacker or edge rusher.
That doesn’t mean the Packers will go seven rounds without drafting an offensive lineman. Even if their five starters remain intact for the 2017 season, the Packers’ lack of depth was exposed when Bakhtiari missed three games late last season. J.C. Tretter, their best backup offensive lineman, also will be a free agent after the upcoming season.
With Tretter and Don Barclay, the Packers are better suited for depth along their offensive line’s interior. Tackle depth is the immediate need for 2016. It may still be a little early for the Packers to draft an offensive tackle in the second or third round — one of their fourth-round picks could be the most likely spot — but there are some intriguing prospects on the draft’s second day.
None has a better story — or more promising future — than Auburn’s Shon Coleman. He was a five-star prospect out of Olive Branch (Miss.) High, a suburb of Memphis, Tenn. Shortly after signing with the Tigers, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Coleman missed two seasons, but he returned to the field in a practice-only capacity in 2012. He backed up future No. 2 overall selection Greg Robinson in 2013, then started all 25 games in his last two seasons.
There was plenty of rust for Coleman to knock off once he returned from beating cancer, and he remains a raw talent. He’ll need time to adjust in the NFL, but his potential is clear. At 6-foot-5 and 1/2, 307 pounds with 35⅛-inch arms and an 83½-inch wingspan, Coleman projects as a possible first-round talent at left tackle. In Green Bay, he could get a full year to develop before being thrust into a significant role.
Coleman never lost weight during chemotherapy, he said. It helped his transition back to football. After being away from the game, Coleman’s motivation to play is clear. He gutted through the final few games of his senior season with what he later learned was a partially torn MCL in his knee.
Coleman missed the Senior Bowl and on-field drills at the combine, unable to work out with teams until mid-April. It’s one reason a tackle with so many physical gifts could fall to the second, maybe third round.
“I really believe I’m one of the more athletic big men out here,” Coleman said, “and for me not to be able to show that, it’s very frustrating. But at the same time, I have a plan to come back and get everything ready.”
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Rising stock: Texas A&M tackle Germain Ifedi has been rising up draft boards and could slide into the first round because of his tremendous potential as an athletic, future left tackle.
Falling stock: Auburn tackle Shon Coleman gutted through the end of his senior season with a partially torn MCL that required surgery, forcing him to miss the Senior Bowl and on-field workouts at the NFL combine.
Sleeper: Texas Tech tackle Le’Raven Clark needs further development and will be a second-day pick, but he has the measurable to become a future starting left tackle.