Thursday, April 30, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 First Round NFL Mock Draft

Welcome to my 6th annual NFL Mock Draft.  I tried to do the traditional "guess what other reams will do" in my first NFL Mock Draft in 2010 but that is futile since I have no real inside information besides ESPN Insider so for the fifth year in a row (2011, 2012, 2013, & 2014) I decided to serve as every team's general manager for their pick (or picks) in the first round.

This draft is particularly interesting on a personal level because it is being held in Chicago, which is where Cheesehead Chick, Lil' Cheesehead Sports Nut, and I live.  Although 2015 marks the eight time that Chicago will host the NFL Draft, it is the first time since 1964 breaking a 50 year streak of having it in New York.  Cheesehead Chick's cousin is getting married this weekend so we will NOT be in Chicago for rounds two through seven since we will be attending the festivities in Columbus, OH.  That means NOT only will I be missing the draft but I will miss a mega-Packerpalooza at Will's Northwoods too.

Quarterbacks always drive the conversation about how the first round will play out.  This year there are two quarterbacks that look like they are worthy of going with the first two picks but there is some debate as to whether they actually will because there are some other defensive lineman/pass rushers as well as wide outs that look Top 5 worthy too.  Without further ado, here is what I would do if I was in charge of each team when they pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft along with some Twitter length thoughts about each pick:

#1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
- Clearly I favor Mariota over Winston, only time will tell whether I am correct.

#2) Tennessee Titans: Jameis Winston (QB, FSU)
- Not sure you can win with a journeyman quarterback in the NFL anymore so it is still worth the risk even though Winston's off-the-field issues submarine his career.

#3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams (DT/DE, USC)
- Some think Williams is the best player in the draft so getting him with the 3rd pick feels like a steal.  The question is whether Williams is a poor man's Haloti Ngata or Haloti Ngata 2.0.

#4) Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
- If Al Davis were still alive this pick would be Kevin White instead of Cooper for speed alone but Cooper is a much better all-around wide receiver than White.

#5) Washington Redskins: Dante Fowler Jr. (DE, Florida)
- Every year there is a pass rusher that gets a little over-hyped.  There is a chance that Fowler is that guy but his physical gifts are so impressive, I can't pass up this boom-or-bust edge rusher.

#6) New York Jets: Brandon Scherff (OT, Iowa)
- The Big Ten, check that, Iowa and Wisconsin continue to churn out impressive offensive tackles.  I see Scherff as Bryan Bulaga 2.0 even if he plays a year or two at guard before moving to right tackle for the next decade.

#7) Chicago Bears: Cameron Erving (C, FSU)
- Given that this is a Cheesehead sports blog, you might think this pick is a joke but I actually think Erving has the chance to be one of the best players in the entire draft given that he could conceivably play all five positions along the offensive line. A very rich man's Don Barclay, if you will.

#8) Atlanta Falcons: Randy Gregory (OLB, Nebraska)
- Off-the-field issues will most likely push Gregory further down in the draft but if a team like the Falcons can surround Gregory with the right support system, I see him as a double-digit sack guy by his second or third year in the NFL.

#9) New York Giants: Andrus Peat (OT, Stanford)
- Really hard to tell whether Schereff, Erving, or Peat will be best offensive lineman from this draft because I have high hopes for all three.  Given that Peat is the only one left, the decision to take him is easy for a team that needs to rebuild their offensive line.

#10) St. Louis Rams: Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
- I am a little worried about taking White this high because he only had one productive season in college, which makes it hard to project how productive White will be in the NFL.

#11) Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State) - You are welcome Queens given that Waynes is NOT only the best available player but it actually matches up to a need.  Not sure that Waynes can single-handedly help the Vikings tame all the quarterbacks in the NFC North but at least it is a start.
#12) Cleveland Browns: Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
- Despite the fact that Shelton ran a comically slow 40-yard dash in 5.64, I still see enough burst in him that he will be more than just a big bodied gap filler.

#13) New Orleans Saints: Arik Armstead (DE/OLB, Oregon)
- Feels a few spots too high for Armstead but the Saints desperately need a guy that can get after the quarterback.  Worst case scenario if Armstead totally flames out as a pass rusher, I could see him moving to tight end and becoming Jimmy Graham 2.0.

#14) Miami Dolphins
: DeVante Parker (WR, Louisville)
- Much like White, I am not as big on Parker either but tall, fast wide receivers are developing quarterback's best friends so I see this pick as a courtesy to Ryan Tannehill.  Now Tannehill needs to create the proper chemistry with Parker to make sure that they both have long NFL careers.

#15) San Francisco 49ers: La'el Collins (OG, LSU)
- After losing Mike Iupati to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency, the 49ers replace Iupati with Collins at a much cheaper price.

#16) Houston Texans: Vic Beasley (OLB, Clemson)
- At one point Beasley was talked about being a potential Top 5 pick but the "draft process" hurt his stock. The phrase "draft process" is overused but it is an (un)official Internet rule that if you write a sports blog, you are required to write "draft process" at least once in your first round mock draft. Sometimes going to the right team is better than getting picked higher, which I think is exactly what happened here.  Even if Jadeveon Clowney turns out to be a bust, the mere presence of J.J. Watt along the defensive line should give Beasley a good chance to register double-digit sacks as a rookie.

#17) San Diego Chargers: Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
- Really hard to tell whether Shelton or Brown will be a better pro.  Either way both seem like perfect spacer eaters that will open up lanes for teammates to get after the quarterback.

#18) Kansas City Chiefs: Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
- I know I sound like a broken record talking about off-the-field issues but there is no denying that Peters has the talent to be a starter in the NFL, the question is whether that baggage will undermine his NFL career.
#19) Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo Bills): Breshad Perriman (WR, UCF)
- I went practical with their first pick so that is why I am swing for the fences with this pick for the Browns.  Sure there is chance that Perriman's production in the lowly American Athletic conference does NOT translate to the NFL but that is a risk worth taking to get a guy with such impressive physical skills.

#20) Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Johnson (CB, Wake Forest)
- I look at Johnson as the safe version of Peters, which means his ceiling is NOT as high as Peters but his floor is much higher too.

#21) Cincinnati Bengals: Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Missouri) - Could be the next Calvin Johnson or the next Charles Rodgers.  I know that is a pretty wide range but given DGB's physical gifts and off-the-field issues, I really could see his career going almost any direction.
#22) Pittsburgh Steelers
: Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
- This is the perfect ode to Troy Polamalu following his recent retirement because Collins plays a similar style to Polamalu.  Obviously there is a small chance that Collins turns into the next Polamalu but even if Collins turns out to be 75% of Polamalu, this will be a great pick.

#23) Detroit Lions: Ereck Flowers (OT, Miami)
- If the Lions want to continue to keep the artist formerly know as The Porcelain China Doll aka Matthew Stafford healthy, they will need to continue to add talent along the offensive line to protect him and Flowers is the best one left.

#24) Arizona Cardinals: Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
- As long as Gurley is fully healthy by the start of the 2015 NFL season, this is the perfect match of need and value.  In fact, if Gurley was healthy going into the 2015 NFL Draft I would have taken him much higher since he looks like an in-shape, rich man's Eddie Lacy.

#25) Carolina Panthers: Cedric Ogbuehi (OT, Texas A&M)
- Speaking of injuries, if Ogbuehi was healthy he would have been a Top 10 pick so the Panthers get a ton of value for the best pure left tackle prospect in the draft.

#26) Baltimore Ravens: Shane Ray (DE/OLB, Missouri) - Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Off the field issues have really hurt Ray's draft stock.  If there is one NFL team that is fine drafting players with checkers pasts, its the Ravens.  The real question is whether too many bad apples spoils the bunch.  Ray will test those limits.
#27) Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Gordon III (RB, Wisconsin)
- Much like Gurley to the Cardinals, Gordon to the Cowboys is another perfect match of need and value.  Too bad for Gordon that he is NOT 10 years younger because his combination of speed and production would make him a surefire Top 5 pick in 2005 but given how short NFL running back's careers have become, it has changed when teams draft those players.  Mark my words, Gordon will run for 1,000 in at least five NFL season, which makes him a steal at the end of the first round.
#28) Denver Broncos: D.J. Humphries (OT, Florida)
- Center is a huge need for the Broncos but Erving went in the Top 10 in my mock because of how talented he is and there is a not another center worth taking in the 1st round.  Although tackle might NOT be the biggest need on their roster, it is still worth adding depth in hopes of keeping Captain Forehead upright so he can continue to throw his patented wounded ducks.
#29) Indianapolis Colts: Bud DuPree (OLB, Kentucky)
- I bet DuPree goes at least 15 spots higher but I am just not as enamored with DuPree as others are because I am not sure that I see DuPree's straight-line speed transnating into sacks as much as others do.
#30) Green Bay Packers: Eric Kendricks (ILB, UCLA)
- I had a hard time deciding whether to go with Kendricks, Denzel Perryman, or Benardrick McKinney given the lack of the depth the Packers have at middle linebacker.  Although Kendricks does NOT have ideal size, he is the best pure cover linebacker in the entire draft, which is reason enough to draft Kendricks because frankly I am sick of watching running backs slip out of the backfield to catch a three yard pass that turns into a 20-yard gain.  Kendricks is the antidote to that with Perryman as a close second.  On the other end of the spectrum is McKinney because although he is less mobile than Kendricks or Perryman, he is an absolute thumper, which the Packers could also use at middle linebacker.

#31) New Orleans Saints (from Seattle Seahawks): Denzel Perryman (ILB, Miami) - Since the Packers went with Kendricks that opens the door for the Saints to draft Perryman.  It will be really interesting to see how each of their careers pan out because I have them as essentially equal talent at this point.

#32) New England Patriots: Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
- The Patriots have whiffed on a number of defensive back picks over the last half dozen years but their defense thrives on the fact that versatile guys, which is exactly what Collins brings to the table.

I was going to write more pre-2015 NFL Draft thoughts for Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson but Lil' Cheesehead Sports Nut was sick this week so besides this post I was only able to take a look at The 53 and give Thompson a general blueprint for how to approach the 2015 NFL Draft.  Absent a trade, Thompson is on the clock with the 30th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft this evening.  Make sure to check for my thoughts on Twitter tonight and my in-depth thoughts on Sunday when we get back to Chicago just as the draft ends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Building The 53 - Ideal 2015 NFL Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Yesterday I took a look at The 53 for the Green Bay Packers, which helped highlight positions where the Green Bay Packers have adequate depth as well as some positions that the Packers could use some additional guys.  Thanks to Thompson and his scouting staff, the Packers have 33 players on The 53 that they drafted, which is one of the highest totals in the NFL behind the Bengals (35), 49ers (35), Ravens (34), and Falcons (34). The Packers also have a ton of undrafted free agents that have never played for another NFL franchise, which means almost 2/3rds of the 64 guys on their current roster were either drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent by Thompson.

If you were to rank the Top 20 players on The 53 on talent alone, only one of them was signed as unrestricted free agents from another NFL franchise: veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers.  The other 19 guys were added to The 53 via the draft by Thompson.  You have the first round picks that actually worked out (Aaron Rodgers, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Bryan Bulaga, Datone Jones, and
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), second round skill position guys (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, and Davante Adams), second or third round members of the secondary (Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward), fourth or fifth round offensive line steals (Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari, and Corey Linsley), late round Iowa overachievers (Mike Daniels and Micah Hyde), and an undrafted free agent (Sam Shields).  As a result, I tread lightly giving Packers general manager Ted Thompson advice on specific players to take with specific picks in the NFL Draft given his impressive track record of drafting and developing The 53 but here are my general thoughts.

Let me be the 10,000th person to state the obvious that the Packers could really use an athletic tight end, a couple versatile defensive lineman, at least one middle linebacker, and a couple cornerbacks.  The flip advice for how to have a perfect draft is to take the best player available in the first round, a skill guy in the second round, a defensive back with the next pick, an offensive lineman in the 4th round, an Iowa guy in the 5th or 6th round, and sign a speedster as an undrafted free agent.  I would actually be fine with that approach even though it would not address certain needs on The 53 but I still think it makes sense to expand slightly on that general advice.

An edge rusher or a cornerback with off-the-field issues like Randy Gregeory (OLB, Nebraska), Shane Ray (Missouri), Marcus Peters (CB, Washington), or Jalen Collins (CB, LSU) could conceivably fall to the Packers at the end of the first round (currently picking 30th).  Whether the organization wants to take that risk is another matter.  If you know that one of your defensive veterans will commit to being a mentor to one of those guys, I say make the pick because all of those guys mentioned are very talented but if you think a player with those off-the-field issues will pollute the locker room then pass on these guys even if they are available.

Unless Sam Barrington and Carl Bradford dramatically improve, the Packers will need to keep Clay Matthews inside or add a quality guy.  For how much I like the physicality that Matthews brings to the position, he is not on The 53 to cover tight ends or running backs, which is why I am totally fine with the Packers taking
Eric Kendricks (UCLA) or Denzel Perryman (Miami) at the end of the first round.  If Plan A or Plan B for the first round just described does not work out for Thompson, I say trade out of the first round to pick up an extra second round pick along with some late picks or possibly even a player.  Unfortunately that might not be possible because there is not a quarterback that is worthy of going at that point so the trade market will most likely be soft.

If tight ends Maxx Williams (Minnesota) or Clive Walford (Miami) somehow last till the end of the second round, Thompson should swoop.  If both are gone, I would wait till the end of the draft to take an athletic tight end.  Given that the Packers are set at the other skill positions, I would turn to the defensive side of the ball and take the best player available at the end of the second round.  I could give you a laundry list of names but I am not sure that really helps given that Thompson has already set his board.  The point is that the Packers need to continue to add as much defensive talent to The 53 as possible if the specific tight ends discused above are no longer available.

In the third and fourth rounds I am all about adding depth at positions of need, which seems like the no shit line of this postI value talent over need and did not have enough time to study the mid-round guys so I defer to Thompson on the specifics of the guys he drafts at that point but again the key is that if there are a couple guys with roughly the same grade in the mid-rounds I hope that Thompson gives a little more credence to positions of need as opposed to adding the best player available irrespective of positional need.

Finally in terms of late picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, I would love to see Thompson add three types of players: a developmental quarterback, a versatile versatile return man/running back/slot wide out, and a tall cornerback.

For the quarterback, I don't even need the guy to have a rocket arm, I just need him to be coachable.  I know that sounds cliche but Rodgers is going to be the starter in Green Bay a long time so having a good sounding board for Rodgers is more important than having a cannon for an arm. Unless the Packers use a day two pick, I assume that Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) will be gone. If either of those guys fall in the draft, I would favor adding one of them.  If not, Thompson should focus on adding a different coachable.

Next, let's go over how Thompson can add a versatile return man/running back/slot wide out later in the draftIt would be easy to say Tyler Lockett (WR, Kansas State) or Jeremy Langford (RB, Michigan State) but those guys will be long gone by the last few rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.  Here are three guys that I have my eye on for the versatile return man/running back/slot wide out: Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State), Trey Williams (RB, Texas A&M), and Cameron Artis-Payne (RB, Auburn).  There are always durability issues with guys like this because their small stature is what makes them so versatile but it is also what leaves them one hit ways from being out of the NFL.

Finally in terms of the tall cornerbacks, three guys late in the draft that I have my eye on are: Ladarius Gunter (Miami, 6'1-1/2" and 202 lbs), Julian Wilson (Oklahoma, 6'2" and 205 lbs), and Nick Marshall (Auburn, 6'1-1/2" and 207 lbs).  The only safety that fits that criteria is Durell Eskridge (Syracuse, 6'2-7/8" and 208 lbs) but Eskridge's injury issues worry me.  I know the NFL is a copycat league and the odds that drafting a tall cornerback late in the draft will net you the next Richard Sherman are slim but given all the tall wide receivers that the Packers face in the NFC North, they are going to need to get taller at the cornerback and safety position at some point or they will continue to get torched on jump-balls.

Well with my thoughts on how Thompson should approach the 2015 NFL Draft in the books, make sure to check back tomorrow for my first round mock draft, which I believe is an unofficial Internet requirement if you have a sport blog.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Building The 53 - A Look at The 53 Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft

As usual, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made very few splashy moves this off-season.  Don't get me wrong, Thompson did hand out some hefty contracts to guys that were on The 53 last year (Bryan Bulaga and Randall Cobb) but as usual, he did not add any big names from other organizations.  Leaving aside the large in-house extensions that Thompson handed out, he probably made more headlines for the players he either cut (A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones) or did not re-sign (DuJuan Harris, Davon House and Tramon Williams) than for the guys he actually signed to cheaper, short-term deals (Matt Blanchard, Josh Francis, John Kuhn, Cody Mandell, Sean Richardson, and Scott Tolzien).

As the 2015 NFL Draft approaches, I thought I would take a look at the current roster.  Although Thompson usually drafts the "best player available", as you will see in my look at the current roster, he might be forced to focus on certain positions.  Here is how the roster currently looks with the players listed by position, ordered how I would order them on the depth chart, along with my analysis of the positional turnover from the end of the 2014 season till today:

Quarterback (3): Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Blanchard
Lost: Matt Flynn (free agent)
Added: Matt Blanchard
Analysis: The hope is that Rodgers starts at quarterback for the Packers for the better part of the next decade but as the 2013 season showed, when the Packers are without Rodgers, they really struggle.  There is a chance that Tolzien continues to improve but I have a hard time seeing him morph into an NFL starter.  Sure the Packers could bring back Flynn again but I honestly think they need to get younger at the position in hopes that Tolzien, Blanchard, or some other young guy in his mid-20's can become a quality back-up quarterback that can actually help the Packers win a couple games if Rodgers gets hurt.

Running Back (3): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and Rajion Neal
Lost: DuJuan Harris (signed w/Minnesota Vikings)
Added: None
Analysis: A couple years ago the Packers viewed Harris as a potential starter.  With Lacy and Starks in the fold, Thompson decided that he was NOT even worth an exclusive rights free agent tender, which would have cost the Packers less than $1 million.  All things being equal, I guess Neal is a fine replacement but if the Packers can find a versatile return man/running back/slot wide out later in the draft, it would be the perfect compliment to Lacy and Starks.

Fullback (1): John Kuhn
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: Every year I count out Kuhn and every year he continues to perform at a high level both as a blocker on offense and jack of all trades on special teams.  I know the fullback position is a dying breed in the NFL but given Kuhn's unique skill set and locker room presence, he has a spot on The 53 as long as he is healthy for the next couple seasons.  That doesn't mean I would sign Kuhn to a long-term deal.  Instead, I would continue to sign Kuhn to one-year deals for the veteran minimum, which will only cost the Packers $920,000 in 2015.

Wide Receiver (6): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Myles White, and Jeff Janis
Lost: Jarrett Boykin (signed w/Carolina Panthers)
Added: None
Analysis: The Packers have $80 million invested in Cobb and Nelson over the next four seasons.  You could argue they are the most dynamic wide receiver tandem in the NFL but that is still expensive, which means Thompson needs to be frugal at the rest of the wide receiver spots.  A couple seasons ago it looked like Boykin could be a quality 3rd option but much like Harris, Thompson didn't even think Boykin was worth a restricted free agent tender.  Unfortunately for Boykin, the Packers have four young wide receivers that look to have a higher upside than Boykin.  I might add an undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver if I were Thompson but would NOT draft one unless a versatile one fell to the Packers on day 2 or 3 of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Tight End (3): Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, and Justin Perillo
Lost:Brandon Bostick (waived & claimed by Minnesota Vikings)
Added: None
Analysis: The ghost of Jermichael Finley continues to hang over the tight end position for the Packers.  Last season rookie tight end Richard Rodgers showed flashes of being a potential poor man's Finley.  Their frames are similar but the real differences are their athletic talent and hands with a healthy Finley being much more athletic than Rodgers while Rodgers has much better hands than Finley.  Rodgers has such good hands that his brother from another mother Aaron said that Richard (probably) has the best hands on the team.  Lofty praise for a rookie tight end on a team that is stacked with quality pass catchers.  Quarless continues to improve and Perillo is an unknown commodity.  Even though Thompson invested a third round pick in Rodgers last year, I could still see him adding another athletic tight end in the draft to give the offense even more versatility.

Offensive Tackle (4): Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, and Jeremy Vujnovich
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: Thompson struck gold when he added Bakhtiari in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.  At the time I questioned whether Bakhtiari could actually be a quality left tackle.  So far it looks like Bakhtiari can be that guy but given how much the Packers have invested in their offensive line over the last couple off-season, I question whether they can also pay afford Bakhtiari's second NFL contract after his rookie contract runs out following the 2017 NFL season.  Luckily the salary cap is set to make a big jump right around then.  If Bakhtiari does leave via free agency, Bulaga could slide over to left tackle, which would open up a spot for Barclay at right tackle. I see Barclay as the first one off the bench at any of the five offensive line positions if the Packers suffer an injury to one of their starters.  Given that Barclay is coming off a serious knee injury that cost him the entire 2014 NFL season, I hope that doesn't mean Barclay has to play meaningful snaps in Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season.  Hopefully if Barclay stays healthy for all of 2015, the Packers can sign him to a couple year extension that averages between $2 and $3 million a season with less than a third of the entire deal guaranteed. Absent injury, these moves are a couple years down the road but they are still something worth thinking about now because continuity along the offensive line is very important so Thompson needs to be working on his one, three, and five-year plan at tackle.

Offensive Guard (4): Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor, and Josh Walker
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: It always seems like the Packers have an interesting backup at guard (think Greg Van Roten from a couple years ago) that will hopefully NOT get on the field since the Packers have arguably the best tandem at guard in the NFL.  There is no doubt that Taylor is ahead of Walker on the depth chart but Walker's size is much more intriguing to me than Taylor's.  Either way, I do NOT see this as a need position for the Packers in the draft.

Center (4): Corey Linsley, JC Tretter, Garth Gerhart, and Joe Madsen
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: Thompson finally has the center of the future, in Linsley that he drafted him in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  the real question is whether Tretter can show that he is healthy enough to merit a spot on The 53.  If there is any question whether Tretter will be healthy in 2015, it makes sense for the Packers to draft another versatile interior offensive lineman.

Defensive End (5): Mike Daniels, Josh Boyd, Datone Jones, Bruce Gaston, and Luther Robinson
Lost: None 
Added: None 
Analysis: Although Mike Daniels does NOT have ideal size for any position along the defensive line in a 3-4, there is no question that he has become the best defensive lineman on The 53 and is a strong, positive locker room presence too.  I had high expectations for Datone Jones when Thompson took him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft but so far his production has NOT been anywhere close to fellow draft classmate Josh Boyd despite the fact that Boyd was a 5th round pick.  The key is first for Jones to stay healthy, which has been a pretty tall order so far in his NFL career.  Hopefully if Jones can stay healthy, he will actually fulfill some of the lofty expectations I've had for him.  Finally Gaston and Robinson look like replacement level players so I could see Thompson drafting a defensive end in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Defensive Tackle (4): Letroy Guion, B.J. Raji, Mike Pennel, and Khyri Thornton
Lost: None 
Added: None 
Analysis: The way thie position is currently constituted, it simultaneously has the highest ceiling and lowest floor of any position on The 53. A year and a half ago it looked like Raji was going to sign a long-term deal worth $8 million a season.  Instead of taking that deal, Raji wanted to test the free agent market for his services, which turned out to be non-existent.  Ultimately Raji returned to the Packers in 2014 on a one-year, $4 million "prove it" deal.  Unfortunately Raji was lost for the season before it ever started in 2014 with a torn bicep.  Raji took an even bigger discount for this season when he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with only $500,000 guaranteed for 2015.  When it comes to leaving money on the table, Raji has company in Guion.  Thompson signed Guion to a one-year, $1 million deal after he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last off-season.  Guion was great along the defensive line in 2014 for the Packers and even drew praise from Rodgers as one of his all-time favorite locker room guys despite only being on the team for one season.  It looks like that was going to lead to a multi-year deal with at least $5 million in guaranteed money until Guion was pulled over with 360 grams of weed, $190K in cash, and an unloaded gun in his car.  Although Guion reached a plea agreement, the arrest hurt his market value so Thompson signed him to a one-year, $2.75 million contract.  Hopefully Guion and Raji not only stay healthy but play so well that they potentially prices themselves out of Green Bay for 2016.  After all the unrest with both guys that would be a nice problem to have.  That leaves the unknown Pennel and Thornton.  Clearly Thornton has a bigger upside given that he was a 3rd round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft while Pennel went undrafted in 2014.  Basically the Packers have Daniels and question marks along the defensive line so again I am totally fine with Thompson using an early pick on a defensive lineman.

Middle Linebacker (4): Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford, Joe Thomas, and Josh Francis
Lost: A.J. Hawk (cut & signed w/Cincinnati Bengals), Brad Jones (cut & signed w/Philadelphia Eagles), and Jamari Lattimore (NOT tendered as RFA & signed w/New York Jets)
Added: Josh Francis
Analysis: The middle linebacker position is the position most in flux from 2014 to 2015 given that the three guys that started at the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker in 2014 are no longer with the organization.  Although Barrington was only a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft, I have high hopes for him as a long-term solution up the middle.  That is fine if the Packers want to move Clay Matthews inside occasionally but that is NOT a long-term solution given that Matthews is most effective when he rushes the quarterback.  Secretly I think the Packers are playing Matthews at middle linebacker just to mix-up where he rushes from because even if Matthews plays a bunch of middle linebacker in 2015, I have a hard time seeing him drop into coverage often.  I am higher on Bradford than most even though some thought he was lucky to even make The 53 to open 2014 despite being a 4th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  The Packers might have thrown too much at Bradford last year trying to get him to move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker during the season.  Thompson clearly needs to add at least one more middle linebacker in the draft.  I am fine if that comes as early as the first round if Thompson drafts Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Denzel Perryman (Miami) or Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi St.) for different reasons.  Kendricks is arguably the best cover linebacker in the draft, which is something the Packers have NOT been able to do in a long-time with Hawk and Jones.  Although Perryman is undersized, he looks like the best all around middle linebacker in the draft.  Finally, McKinney reminds be of a thumper in the mold of Desmond Bishop.  I know middle linebackers are about as valued as running backs at this point in the NFL but if the Packers could actually add a young, athletic guy at that position it would dramatically improve their defense.  If Thompson misses out on the top-end guys, he should still add an athletic guy somewhere in the 2015 NFL Draft to compete for one of the middle linebacker spots.

Outside Linebacker (8): Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Jayrone Elliott, and Adrian Hubbard
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: Holy cows do the Packers have depth at outside linebacker on paper.  Sure Matthews and Peppers headline the group but Neal and Perry are pretty impressive as long as they can stay healthy (Perry) and off PED's (Neal). After those four, the Packers essentially have four lottery tickets.  There is a better chance that all four never have a relevant moment in the NFL again than one becomes an NFL starter but given the fact that they all are making the NFL minimum, the Packers might as well bring them all back to see if one or two can stay healthy and show enough ability to get to the quarterback to make them worthy of a spot on The 53.  Despite having all this depth for 2015, Matthews is really the only guy that is guaranteed to be on The 53 in two years, which is why I said their depth at outside linebacker is only "on paper", so I actually think it makes sense to draft a pass rusher early in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Cornerback (6): Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Demetri Goodson, Tay Glover-Wright, and Kyle Sebetic
Lost: Jarrett Bush (unsigned), Davon House (signed w/Jacksonville Jaguars), and Tramon Williams (signed w/Cleveland Browns)
Added: Kyle Sebetic
Analysis: The cornerback position is going to look drastically different next year with the loss of House, Williams, and possibly Bush.  The fact that House (four-year, $24.5 million with $10 million guaranteed) and Williams (three-year, $21 million with $10 million guaranteed) are playing elsewhere is NOT an indictment on their play but just another example of Thompson being comfortable paying players a certain amount of money and if they ask for more, Thompson let's them sign elsewhere. Williams still had a couple more seasons left as a starter and will no doubt be a great locker room presence for a team that needs just that but the contract that the Browns gave him still feels a little rich.  House looks like a starter if he can actually stay healthy but that is a huge if, which makes his contract a little rich for my taste too.  Shields is paid to and so far has performed like a #1 cornerback, the question is whether Hayward, Hyde, or a draft pick can step into that #2 spot.  I immediately felt that Hyde would perform better at safety after Thompson drafted Hyde in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.  Long-term I see Hyde as a poor man's Charles Woodson roving all over the field but with the depth the Packers have at safety right now, I actually think they need to give Hyde another shot at cornerback.  If Hayward can move outside, it sets up perfectly for Hyde to serve as the nickel cornerback.  Goodson, Glover-Wright, and Sebetic are unknown commodities so I could see Thompson using at least one if not two day 1 or day 2 draft picks on a cornerback if the right guy is available when the Packers are on the clock.

Safety (5): Morgan Burnett, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo, and Jean Fanor
Lost: None
Added: None
Analysis: Even with Hyde as a cornerback the Packers are deeper at safety than they've been in almost a decade given that they have a borderline starter that they are paying like a starter in Richardson (matched the one-year, $2.55 million with $1.35 million guaranteed offer-sheet that Richardson signed with the Oakland Raiders) behind Burnett and Ha Ha.  Another season with a clean bill of health and positive contributions on special teams could earn Richardson a lucrative extension in the three year, $10 million range with $4 million guaranteed.  That leaves Banjo and Fanor.  Both just seem like replacement level guys.  Sure Banjo has some special teams upside but his small frame makes it unlikely that he will hold-up long term in the NFL.  Depending on how the Packers use Hyde, they could still draft a bigger safety late to help add to their safety depth since Burnett and Ha Ha are the only guys locked up long-term.

Specialist (4): Tim Masthay (P), Brett Goode (LS), Mason Crosby (K), and Cody Mandell (P)
Lost: None
Added: Cody Mandell
Analysis: Sometimes competition leads to positive results.  A couple years ago the Packers brought in some competition for Crosby at place kicker and there is a school of thought that it really pushed Crosby to perform better because he was finally under pressure to actually perform well enough to merit a spot on The 53.  After a subpar 2014, Thompson did the same thing with Masthay when he signed Mandell in hopes that Mandell will push the Ginger Wolverine to perform better in 2015.  Crosby is scheduled to earn $3.5 million in the last year of his five-year, $15 million contract that got renegotiated halfway through.  I could see the Packers turning to another strong-legged place kicker in 2016 to save some money.  I am not even sure there is a kicker worth drafting in the 2015 NFL Draft so the Packers should dangle a $5,000 bonus in front of the best place kicker NOT drafted to see if they can come up with a more cost-effective option at place kicker for 2016 and beyond.

All told the Packers currently have 64 players under contract heading into the 2015 NFL Draft.  Armed with nine picks, which I am sure will increase because Thompson loves to trade down, by the end of April the Packers have a ton of quality players on their 90-man off-season roster.  It will be interesting to see how Thompson's draft board stacks up because right now the positions of need in no particular order are: backup quarterback, athletic tight end, versatile defensive lineman, middle linebacker, and cornerback.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for my ideal draft strategy for Thompson and Thursday for my annual first round mock draft.