The NFL Draft is this weekend, and after an inactive free agent signing period, Ted Thompson will once again employ his build-through-the-draft philosophy to help strengthen the Green Bay Packers. Said philosophy will likely make the Packers the youngest team in the NFL for the third consecutive season.
The Packers have a variety of needs, most notably – defensive end, offensive tackle and outside linebacker. Looking at the various mock drafts (and there are hundreds of them, mostly written by people with no scouting experience or inside knowledge) two players keep being mentioned in the No. 9 slot, where the Packers will select.
Most often – Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, a beast of a man at 6-2, 337 pounds, who is projected as the Packers selection by NFL.com’s Steve Wyche, SI.com’s Don Banks, and The Sporting News, among others. Raji wouldn’t necessarily fill a need for the Packers, who have the equally large Ryan Pickett slated to start at nose tackle. Pickett racked up 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks, which is solid for an interior lineman Pickett’s size.
Raji is high on potential, considered the top defensive tackle in the draft, if low on motivation. His natural size and the effort he put forth his senior season make Raji an intriguing prospect, but consider: Raji was suspended his junior season for academic reasons, he has never practiced hard or been a consistent presence in the weight room. To put it bluntly, Raji has shown that he can play hard and be effective, but he clearly has motivation issues. Anyone remember Cledius Hunt?
Raji was initially reported to have tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine by SI.com. However, they printed a correction on Tuesday, clearing Raji’s name. The Green Bay Press Gazette’s Mike Vandermause, who calls Raji’s selection a no-brainer if he’s on the board, thinks that Raji will go higher than No. 9.
But there’s one problem for the Packers. Questions about Raji’s character have been answered, which reduces the chance he will be available when they use the No. 9 overall pick in the first round, Vandermause writes. Raji is by far the best defensive tackle among a thin crop of college prospects and could get snatched in the first five picks.
While a physical specimen at a hard-to-find position, Raji is a risk, and I think Ted Thompson would be wise to steer clear of him.
Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith is the second player often speculated to appear at No. 9. The 6-4, 330 pound Smith landed on Scouts Inc. Todd McShay’s mock draft, and has been linked to the Packers by numerous other sources.
Smith, who would likely replace Mark Tauscher at right tackle, seems a natural selection if he’s available. Smith was once considered the clear No. 1 overall choice in the draft, but some questionable offseason behavior has caused his stock to drop.
A dominant college player who started at Alabama since his first game on campus, Smith was suspended for this year’s Sugar Bowl after improper contact with an agent. He later showed up at the scouting combine in not-so-great shape, didn’t participate in workouts and then left without telling anyone. Earlier this month, Smith fired agent Alvin Keels. All in all, some interesting behavior that raises questions about Smith’s maturity and intelligence.
However, as the Press Gazette’s Pete Dougherty, and just about everyone else who’s seen him in live action points out, Smith’s play has been dominant.
“When you put the uniform on and forget about all the outside stuff, I thought he was a heck of a player,” the national scout for an NFC team, told the Press Gazette. “Athletic, good quickness, good balance at the block point and beyond. It was just the (offseason) preparation that went bad on him.”
You could certainly make the Cledius Hunt argument about Smith as well, and some people have, but it’s hard to imagine Ted Thompson passing on someone that fills an immediate need who has the upside of Smith – that is, unless Smith’s quirks are considered major character issues by the Packers.
As Thompson told reporters on Monday:
“I think at the end of the day what we do is we try to make a decision, and maybe it is a judgment call, but at some point, it is my call, is this a good guy or a bad guy? I think everybody makes mistakes. I think there is going to be guys that you are going to read about coming through this draft, and you maybe already have, that have done things in their past and it doesn’t look great, but at the end of the day we think he is more of a good guy than a bad guy. There are other people that quite frankly if we think he is a bad guy then we are not going to mess with him.”
There are, of course, several wild cards in the mix for the Packers.
Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki likes Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is considered by many to be the most talented player in the draft, but he also plays the Packers most well-stocked position. I have a hard time seeing Crabtree last past the Cleveland Browns at No. 5, anyway.
CBS Sports’ Michael Lombardi and Rob Rang like Mississippi tackle Michael Oher. Oher is widely considered the fourth best tackle in the draft, behind Baylor’s Jason Smith, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe and Smith. These three are projected to go in the top 10. However, most scouts don’t see Oher as top-10 material, and the Packers might be reaching if they take him at No. 9. If it’s Oher at 9, I expect Thompson to trade back.
CBS Sports’ Chad Reuter and NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan like LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. Jackson has the size and speed to play the outside in the 3-4, at 6-4 and 296 pounds. The Packers are in dire need of a defensive end to play opposite Cullen Jenkins and Jackson may well be the first defensive lineman off the board, but he shouldn’t be expected to be a dominant presence. Jackson seems to be more of a Chris Canty-type player, in that he isn’t a great pass rusher. Although Canty signed for big money this offseason, I can’t see a player like him as top-10 material. The Packers would have to be drafting solely on need with this pick.
CBS Sports’ Clark Judge predicts Texas DE/OLB Brian Orakpo. Due to his size (6-3, 263), Orakpo would be looked at as an outside linebacker in Green Bay, where the Packers already have one defensive end converting to outside linebacker (Aaron Kampman). Despite missing time with knee problems, Orakpo racked up quite a bit of hardware in 2008, winning the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Lombardi Award (best lineman), Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player) and Hendricks Award (best defensive end). Like Oher, Orakpo is considered by many scouts to not be a top-10 talent. This may be another trade back scenario.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco likes Ohio State running back Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells. A powerful and often dominant runner in college, Wells and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno seem to be falling further back than No. 9 in the draft. Although Wells is an intriguing option, the presence of Ryan Grant, much greater areas of need and the fact that he can probably be obtained later in the first round, makes Wells an unlikely option for the Packers at No. 9.
NFL.com’s Jamie Dukes likes Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. Brown was often linked to the Packers early in the offseason, but he too seems to be slipping in the draft. Considered a strong pass rusher, like Orakpo, Brown (6-2, 256) would convert to outside linebacker in Green Bay. Unfortunately, some have compared Brown to former Packers first-round bust Jamal Reynolds. Realistically, Brown may be better than Reynolds and the 3-4 may showcase his talents better than the 4-3 worked out for the undersized Reynolds. Brown could be an interesting option, but No. 9 seems like a reach.
Another player that was linked to Green Bay early in the offseason, Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, was tabbed by NFL.com’s Charles Davis. Jenkins, who is considered the best cornerback prospect in the draft, would be viewed as the eventual replacement for Al Harris. He has been compared favorably to Charles Woodson, because of his physicality and the ability to make big plays. Jenkins is a very viable option for the Packers, but his selection would probably mean Ted Thompson’s first two options for the No. 9 pick were off the board.
Despite the attention on Raji, we’re going to predict that the Packers land Andre Smith. If both players are off the board, something tells me (history, perhaps?) that Ted Thompson will trade back with an eye towards selecting Jenkins.