Tight end and linebacker are two of Green Bay's noted position needs. And with Ted Thompson's history in free agency, we can expect both areas to be addressed in the draft. Will Thompson use the Packer's first-round pick (27th overall) on one of these two positions or another? And what "impact" players will still be available for Green Bay's first pick?
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently released his top-5 position-by-position rankings. Which of Mayock's top-rated players will be available come Green Bay's first pick?
Starting with the tight ends, only Arkansas' Hunter Henry projects as a possible first round pick in a thin class at the position. Henry is the class of this position, though. He has solid straight-line speed, can separate on routes, has great hands, is a solid blocker, and can lineup inline, wing, or slot. While a solid pick, Thompson's value-based approach to the draft makes it highly unlikely Hunter is the Packers' first-round pick, especially since some say there is an outside chance he is available in the mid-second round. Of course, Thompson is not opposed to making draft-day trades to shift draft position and acquire more picks.
Another reason a first-round tight end pick is unlikely is because Thompson tends to use his first-round picks on defense - 8 of 11 to be exact. Dereck Sherrod (OT, 2011), Bryan Bulaga (OT, 2010), and Aaron Rodgers (QB, 2005) are the only three offensive players taken first-round under Thompson.
Where he has done it twice when not choosing defense, Offensive line is a possibility with the first pick. And Mayock's top-rated OG, Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), is a possibility. Projected to go late first, early second-round, Whitehair is the versatile type of offensive lineman Thompson and the Packers like. Whitehhair played significantly at both tackle and guard in college, and can be productive at all five line positions. With Don Barclay a free agent, and JC Tretter, TJ Lang, Josh Sitton, and David Bakhtiari all slated to be free-agents in a year, Whitehair is a great first-round option to provide depth.
Another possibility on the OL is Mayock's No.3 OT Jack Conklin out of Michigan State. Conklin does not provide the athleticism or position flexibility that Whitehair would. Mayock's No.1 Center, Ryan Kelly of Alabama may also be available, but not a likely Packer pick with Corey Linsley and JC Tretter already in-house.
At linebacker, the Packers' are primed to move Clay Mathews back to his natural spot outside as an edge-rusher. While the expected move addresses a need for an edge rusher, it leaves only Sam Barrington (missed 2015 with injury) and the promising Jake Ryan on the inside.
Of Mayock's top-5 linebackers, only Alabama's Reggie Ragland plays inside. Ragland is 6-1, 259 lbs, and in all probability will be long gone by the time the Packers 27th pick. But, the run-stuffing SEC Defensive Player of the Year would probably be a no-brainer for the Packers if he somehow slides to 27. If Ragland does find himself on the Packers, he would immediately challenge to start.
If Thompson chooses to address the outside instead, Mayock's No.4 (Leonard Floyd, Georgia) and No.5 (Kevin Dodd, Clemson) edge-rushing defensive ends could be first-round options. That could also depend on what the Packers do with free-agents Mike Neal and Nick Perry. With so much "impact" draft depth on the defensive line, Thompson may choose to swap one or two larger cap hits in for rookie contracts. Dodd in particular has been a popular pick for Green Bay in early mock drafts. He is a relentless, sideline-to-sideline player that could be the heir apparent to Julius Peppers.
On the interior of the defensive line, Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Jarran Reed (Alabama) are Mayock's No.3 and No.4 rated defensive tackles. Both could be available come Green Bay's first pick and both provide the position flexibility Thompson and Dom Capers like in their down lineman for Caper's 3-4 scheme. Either player would be in rotation immediately, though of the two, Reed may have more upside with his longer frame.
Of Mayock's rated cornerbacks and safeties, only Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) seems to be a first-round possibility for Green Bay. And although a solid NFL prospect, he would be an very unlikely selection for the Packers considering the emerging depth at corner for the Pack.
If Thompson has his eyes on providing another target for Aaron Rodgers, particularly one that can stretch the field, Corey Coleman (Baylor) and Michael Thomas (Ohio State) are Mayock's No.2 and No.3 ranked wideouts. Though unlikely with Green Bay's current needs, Coleman would be an ideal addition to the Packer receiving corps. He is described as a "blur" off the line, and is compared to John Brown of the Cardinals, an excellent deep threat with great speed.
Ultimately, my order of concern for the Packers goes inside linebacker, edge rusher, offensive line, running back, and tight end. I would be elated if Alabama ILB Reggie Ragland fell to the Packers. Unfortunately, I don't believe he will still be on the board at No.27.
I do believe that the best defenses can apply consistent pressure in base defense and without blitzing to do so (think of the Broncos). For this reason I understand why many are projecting Dodd as the Packers' first selection. Dodd's speed would be welcome beyond his pass-rushing abilities. I do not see Thompson taking an outside linebacker at No.1 unless he believes that player can move inside. However, those that fit this mold are more likely to be selected in second round or later.
At tight end, Hunter Henry is a logical pick, but I don't like him in first round and I don't believe Thompson will either. So, all things considered, and considering only Mayock's rankings, my selection for the Packer's first-round pick would be Cody Whitehair. Yes, I made it clear that Thompson picks defense in first round. But, twice he has went offensive line. And considering Thompson's value-based approach, Whitehair could be the man. He provides depth now and security for the future.
On a final note, with James Starks a free agent, how about Utah's DeVontae Booker in the second round?