A close look at the top prospects in the NFL draft

Packer Plus - - Front Page - BOB MCGINN

Green Bay — You won’t find many per­son­nel peo­ple prais­ing the quar­ter­backs, tack­les, guards, cen­ters, nose tack­les and 3-tech­nique de­fen­sive tack­les avail­able in the Na­tional Foot­ball League draft next month.

On the other hand, scouts are high on the crop of cor­ner­backs, 3-4 out­side lineback­ers, in­side lineback­ers, run­ning backs, safeties, 5-tech­nique de­fen­sive ends and tight ends.

As for wide re­ceivers, it ap­pears to be an or­di­nary group.

Now con­trast the strong and weak po­si­tions in the 2017 draft with the strong and weak po­si­tions for the Green Bay Pack­ers. The Pack­ers’ pri­mary needs would ap­pear to be cor­ner­back, in­side line­backer and out­side line­backer. Their sec­ondary needs seem to be run­ning back, de­fen­sive end and in­te­rior of­fen­sive line.

This draft looks like a per­fect match for the Pack­ers.

If the draft class still looks like this when the se­lec­tions are made April 27-29, gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son should be able to pick a top-flight player at an area of need in the first round even though the Pack­ers won’t choose un­til No. 29.

That hasn’t al­ways been the case in the last seven years when Thomp­son elected to stay put and ex­er­cise the 23rd (Bryan Bu­laga), 32nd (Derek Sher­rod), 28th (Nick Perry), 26th (Da­tone Jones), 21st (Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix), 30th (Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall) and 27th (Kenny Clark) se­lec­tions.

Based on pre-com­bine in­ter­views with six per­son­nel men, an es­ti­mate would be 37 play­ers on de­fense in the first two rounds com­pared with 27 on of­fense. Ob­vi­ously, the de­fen­sive slant fa­vors a team such as the Pack­ers that failed de­fen­sively last sea­son.

As Thomp­son gazes upon his draft board for the next 7 1⁄ 2 weeks he should find com­fort de- spite hav­ing one of the lat­est choices in each of the seven rounds plus a com­pen­satory pick near the end of the fifth.

He still must make the proper se­lec­tions among tightly graded play­ers. That will never change. It’s what sep­a­rates the men from the boys among NFL de­ci­sion­mak­ers.

Thomp­son, how­ever, need not stress about the well run­ning dry in his team’s po­si­tions of need. Un­com­mon depth at cor­ner­back as well as both in­side and out­side line­backer might en­able the Pack­ers to se­cure a player from those po­si­tions at No. 29 they have graded as highly as one that is se­lected 10 to 15 picks higher.

Look at cor­ner­back, where the in­jury-re­lated re­lease of Sam Shields and the sec­ond-sea­son col­lapses by Quin­ten Rollins and Ran­dall leave Green Bay in an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion.

“Get rid of all their cor­ners,” an NFC North per­son­nel man said after the sea­son. “They’ve got too many slow guys. They don’t have one le­git­i­mate NFL start­ing cor­ner. They should draft three cor­ners if they don’t sign one in free agency.”

For­tu­nately for the Pack­ers, this could be an all-time draft at cor­ner­back, where the record of six first-round se­lec­tions in 1997 might be threat­ened.

“This is prob­a­bly the best group of cor­ners that I’ve done in years and years,” said an ex­ec­u­tive in per­son­nel for an NFL team with more than 20 years of scout­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “I see seven (first-rounders) for sure, and then there will al­ways be a sur­prise in there.”

An even more sea­soned scout said he had never seen such an abun­dance of de­fen­sive backs. Two scouts found it easy to reel off 12 cor­ner­backs des­tined for the first two rounds.

“I think there’s in­cred­i­ble depth to be had,” an­other per­son­nel di­rec­tor said. “And that’s a pre­mium po­si­tion. You’ve got to have them. That’s the way foot­ball’s go­ing.”

There’s lit­tle agree­ment among scouts on who might be the first cor­ner­back off the board com­pared with the fifth. Ma­jor im­por­tance will be at­tached to their 40-yard dash times.

“I’ve got all these guys to­gether,” said one per­son­nel man. “So the speed is go­ing to break the thing down. Then they’ll break out of the pack.”

At this point I have 13 de­fen­sive line­men, eight with edgerush abil­ity, and three out­side lineback­ers tick­eted for the first two rounds. Ben­gals de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther, a 16year NFL as­sis­tant coach, told the team’s web­site that this loomed as the best “pass rusher draft” in his mem­ory.

“The de­fen­sive line over­all is strong,” said one ex­ec­u­tive. “There are lot of play­ers that can play 5-tech­nique.

“There’s some re­ally strong play­ers at the top at 3-4 out­side line­backer. Elite-type play­ers. Then there’s good depth.”

As for in­side lineback­ers, the scout said: “There’s no elite-level play­ers. There is a good mix of both mid­dle back­ers and cov­er­age back­ers.”

Al­though safety isn’t a need for the Pack­ers, it’s an­other loaded area in this draft.

“That safety po­si­tion is re­ally good,” said one ex­ec­u­tive. “Strong safety is the best in 10 years.”

Run­ning back surely is the most stacked po­si­tion on of­fense. It’s so deep that teams prob­a­bly will select what’s avail­able in the of­fen­sive line first and let bet­ter play­ers at run­ning back slide.

“You can get a real qual­ity back through­out the draft, even as a free agent,” said one per­son­nel di­rec­tor. “There’s a ton of guys. Fourth, fifth, sixth round, you can get a very sim­i­lar guy.”

An av­er­age of seven of­fen­sive line­men have gone in the first round over the last four drafts. Teams are cry­ing for tack­les, guards and cen­ters but their needs prob­a­bly won’t be met this year.

“It’s maybe the weak­est I’ve seen in a long time,” said one per­son­nel di­rec­tor with more than 20 years of NFL ex­pe­ri­ence. “Very weak over­all. There’s some devel­op­men­tal play­ers that will be taken higher than nor­mal just be­cause of the need at the po­si­tion. There’s go­ing to be a lot of back­ups that are ex­pected to start.

“It’s re­ally gone down. This year is re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.”

Three ju­niors and a red­shirt sopho­more are ex­pected to go off the board first at quar­ter­back.

“It’s all pro­jec­tions,” said one scout. “You’ve got a lot of play­ers that are ei­ther first-year starters in col­lege foot­ball or up-side type play­ers. Noth­ing that is just guar­an­teed to be a top-15 NFL quar­ter­back.

“I see some starters that will go in the first round that will be back-end-of-the-league starters. But, if you don’t have one, they’re bet­ter than what you got.”

Not since 1992 have the Pack­ers known the hope­less­ness as­so­ci­ated with not hav­ing a quar­ter­back. They have more than their fair share of needs, to be sure, but the play­ers in this draft class mesh beau­ti­fully with where they’re short-handed.

GETTY IM­AGES

Pack­ers nose tackle Kenny Clark was the 27th over­all pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Green Bay could turn its fo­cus to cor­ner­back in next month’s draft, which is ex­pected to have one of the deep­est groups at the po­si­tion in decades.

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