Here's another NFL Draft post, this time giving Green Bay fans some idea of which positions are a need and which prospects the Pack will be looking at come draft time. Look for my 4-round Green Bay Mock Draft coming within the next few days, where I'll let you know which players I think the Packers will be selecting with their picks in rounds 1-4.
Defensive end - After losing Cullen Jenkins last year to Philadelphia, the Packers had high hopes for 2010 2nd round pick Mike Neal out of Purdue. Neal can't seem to stay healthy, however, and is now suspended for the first four games of this season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Jarius Wynn filled in decently for most of the year, but he's clearly not the long term answer. The Packers could definitely use an upgrade at the DE position, preferrably someone who can rush the passer.
Outside linebacker - Packer fans have been clamoring for a rush linebacker opposite All-Pro Clay Matthews, and maybe this is the year GM Ted Thompson finally pulls the trigger on that position in the first round. The Packers pass rush was clearly a huge problem throughout last season, and they'll have to upgrade it somewhere in the defense. Whitney Mercilus from Illinois, Nick Perry from USC, and Andre Branch from Clemson all fit the mold of a college defensive end who can make the move to OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Erik Walden may not be back this season and the combination of Vic So'oto, Brad Jones, and Frank Zombo aren't good enough to get the job done.
Secondary - Charles Woodson has been a beast for Green Bay since he arrived, but he'll turn 36 during the season. Sam Shields is young and still improving, but is he really ready to fill in as a starter if Woodson or fellow starter Tramon Williams go down? Pat Lee has signed with the Raiders and Jarrett Bush is completely worthless as a cover man. We saw nothing from Davon House last year, though that was mostly due to injuries. On top of the questions at CB, no one knows whether or not All-Pro safety Nick Collins will return to football after the neck injury he sustained last year. The Packers are going to need depth in the secondary and possibly a starter at safety.
These are players I think may be available when the Packers pick at No. 28, but not necessarily players they will take in the first round. Some of these guys may be available in later rounds.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (6'4" 261): Mercilus would be my first choice at a rush OLB spot if I were a GM, although he may already be gone by the time the Packers pick comes around. He led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles last season, finishing with 22.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. He performed well at the Combine and at his pro day, showcasing a quick burst to get up field as well as the strength to bull rush bigger tackles.
Nick Perry, USC (6'3" 271): Judging by Perry's bench press totals and 40 yard dash times at the Combine, he should be productive at the next level. It's too bad NFL Football doesn't consist of walking out onto the field and throwing up a few plates on a bench or sprinting for 40 yards. Perry broke onto the scene with 8 sacks as a freshman for the Trojans, but his production dipped after that until the final few games of his junior season. If he were put into the OLB spot in a 3-4, he would have to drop some weight but does possess a plethora of moves and the speed to rush the passer.
Vinny Curry, Marshall (6'3" 266): Although one of the lesser known prospects, Curry could do the most damage as a pass rusher as a rookie. He possesses the ideal size and speed to translate from college DE to OLB in the NFL. Last season, Curry finished with 77 tackles including 22 for loss to go along with 11 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and 3 blocked kicks. While he plays well in space and can definitely get after the quarterback, his deficiency may come in stopping the run even though he performed well in that aspect at the Senior Bowl. Curry reminds me a little of Aldon Smith, a first round pick last year who had an excellent rookie season for the 49ers.
Andre Branch, Clemson (6'4" 269): Brach has always looked like an excellent athlete with good speed at Clemson. Last year as a senior, he finished with 77 tackles with 17 for loss and 10.5 sacks. He has excellent closing speed as well as straight-line speed, and is also quick and agile. The knock on Branch seems to be his consistency.
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6'2" 253): Lewis is a physical beast, but has had some off-field issues in the past. He is said to have interviewed well with teams at the combine, however, apparently explaining some of those issues. Lewis is a very versatile linebacker with the ability to play both inside and outside in a 3-4 scheme, and does so with a mean streak which both defensive coordinator Dom Capers and OLB coach Kevin Greene would love. It would be somewhat of a reach to grab Lewis with a first round pick, but if he's still available in the second the Packers would have to give the former Sooner some serious thought.
Devon Still, Penn State (6'5" 303): Like Mercilus at the OLB spot, Still may be gone by the time the Packers pick at No. 28, but he's in the mid-to-late first round group. At 6 foot 5 and over 300 lbs, Still ran an excellent 40 yard dash at 5 seconds flat at the Combine. He has a good combination of size, strength, speed, and athleticism and was the best player and leader of the Penn State defense last season.
Kendall Reyes, Connectiut (6'4" 299): Reyes had an excellent Senior Bowl where he was nearly unblockable at times and followed it up by a good showing at the combine. He has the size, strength, and quickness off the ball to fit well as an end in a 3-4 scheme and should be able to put some pressure on the quarterback.
Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati (6'5" 295): Wolfe had a great senior year with 70 tackles, 21.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks. He put up numbers every season he got consistent playing time at Cincinnati. He possesses great technique to go with an excellent, non-stop motor and good strength and speed. If Wolfe were still available in the 3rd round for the Packers, he'd be a huge steal.
Mike Martin, Michigan (6'1" 306): Martin's size and athletic ability outshine his peformance at Michigan, and that's coming from a die-hard Wolverine fan. He has incredible strength, something he showed at the Senior Bowl overpowering numerous offensive lineman, but also has a decent repertoire of finesse moves to get to the passer. His numbers didn't show it at Michigan, but Martin definitely has the physical abilities to make plays in the NFL.
Jared Crick, Nebraska (6'4" 279): Crick was having an up and down senior season even before a torn pectoral muscle shut him down early. Since he hasn't done a whole lot in workouts leading up to the draft due to the injury, his stock is in question. He put up big numbers playing next to Ndamakong Suh in 2009 and finished strong in 2010 without Suh with 7 sacks in his last 8 games. If he's available in the middle rounds, Crick would be a solid pickup.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (6'0" 190): Gilmore is better suited to zone coverage in the NFL, which is exactly what Dom Capers likes to run in Green Bay. He has a good combination of size and speed, running a 4.44 40 and looking quick and fluid at the Combine. The major knock in Gilmore is that he gives up a lot of big plays, but he likes to be aggressive and makes big plays as well, not unlike a current Packer cornerback.
Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (6'2" 213): Smith is probably the best free safety prospect in the 2012 draft. He had an up and down senior season but performed well at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. He finished the season with 90 tackles and 10 passes broken up, but 0 interceptions. Smith has the strength to be a force against the run but the speed and agility to defend the pass as well.
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State (6'1" 207): Martin had a minor knee injury and didn't run at the Combine, which makes most unsure of his draft status. He had a productive senior season and Senior Bowl, showing good physicality against receivers but also the ability to play center field with the speed to make good breaks on the ball. He's not afraid to make the big hit, either. If Collins isn't able to come back, Martin would be a good value pick to replace him in the third or fourth rounds.
Trumaine Johnson, S/CB, Montana (6'2" 204): Johnson played both safety and cornerback for the Grizzlies and was a playmaker, albeit against weaker competition. During his four-year college career, he had 15 interceptions and was a consistent tackler as well. His size and ability to play some coverage should make him a versatile secondary player in the NFL, but he's probably better suited at safety.