The Green Bay Packers had a rollercoaster season in 2013.
At one point, the team was 5-2 and seemed primed to cruise to another NFC North title, but then franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone against the Chicago Bears in Week 9. Without their best player at the most important position in sports, the Packers went 0-4-1 in the next five games. At 5-6-1, their playoff chances appeared slim. Two straight wins over the Falcons and Cowboys (in spectacular comeback fashion) preceded a loss to the Steelers, and the Packers entered Week 17 at 7-7-1 for a winner-takes-NFC-North showdown against the rival Bears. Rodgers returned from his broken collarbone and led the Packers to victory, thanks to a touchdown bomb to wide receiver Randall Cobb on fourth down in the final minutes of the game. Though the Packers could not continue the magic and lost to the 49ers in the Wild Card playoff game, they are primed to ascend back to the top of the NFL in 2014.
The Packers are rarely an active team in free agency and much prefer to draft, develop and retain their own players. General manager Ted Thompson did just that in the offseason, re-signing cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman B.J. Raji, linebacker Mike Neal, running back James Starks, tight end Andrew Quarless, fullback John Kuhn and backup quarterback Matt Flynn. Thompson did, however, stray a bit from his modus operandi and signed defensive end Julius Peppers, after the 12-year veteran was released by the rival Bears. The Packers lost wide receiver James Jones and defensive end C.J. Wilson to Oakland, safety M.D. Jennings to Chicago, center Evan Dietrich-Smith to Tampa Bay and offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse to Cincinnati. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett and tight end Jermichael Finley remain unsigned.
The Packers are in good position at the 21st overall pick in the first round. They are set on offense at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, but could add a tight end, such as Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, or offensive lineman, such as Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo or USC center Marcus Martin.
On defense, it stands to reason that the Packers could add a player at any position. Nose tackle Louis Nix III of Notre Dame is still on the board and presents a natural solution to the void left by Pickett. So is Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, who would immediately displace Brad Jones and/or be an eventual replacement for A.J. Hawk inside. The same goes for Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is also seen as a potential fit at 3-4 inside linebacker.
Clay Matthews is still one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers, but he missed five games due to injury in 2013 and four due to injury in 2012. Andy Mulumba and Neal are the other outside linebackers, but the Packers could certainly use depth and another explosive pass rusher at the position. Perhaps Auburn’s Dee Ford or Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu would be a fit? If the Packers want to address the safety position to find a partner for Morgan Burnett, Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward is available, as is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, whose versatility and physicality could make him an option for the rover position for defensive coordinator Dom Capers (just like Charles Woodson).
This is the last pick before the Eagles step to the podium. Who will the Packers select?
1. Houston Texans -- LB Jadeveon Clowney
2. St. Louis Rams -- T Greg Robinson
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- QB Johnny Manziel
4. Cleveland Browns -- WR Sammy Watkins
5. Oakland Raiders -- LB Khalil Mack
6. Atlanta Falcons -- OT Jake Matthews
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- WR Mike Evans
8. Minnesota Vikings -- QB Blake Bortles
9. Buffalo Bills -- TE Eric Ebron
10. Detroit Lions -- CB Justin Gilbert
11. Tennessee Titans -- DE/OLB Anthony Barr
12. New York Giants -- OT Taylor Lewan
13. St. Louis Rams -- S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
14. Chicago Bears -- DT Aaron Donald
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- CB Darqueze Dennard
16. Dallas Cowboys -- DE Kony Ealy
17. Baltimore Ravens -- S Calvin Pryor
18. New York Jets -- WR Odell Beckham
19. Miami Dolphins -- T Zack Martin
20. Arizona Cardinals -- QB Derek Carr