- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
The Green Bay Packers' dream 2011 season came to an abrupt halt with a disappointing home playoff loss to the New York Giants, and you can be sure they are itching to get back to work on another Super Bowl run.
The Packers have signed free-agent C Jeff Saturday and appear to be in pursuit of some other available players, but a good portion of that work will be done through the 2012 draft.
What holes will Green Bay be looking to fill when it comes on the clock? Here's a look at the possibilities for each of the Packers' top six picks, including two compensatory selections at the end of the fourth round.
The Packers are clearly in need of pass-rush help. They finished second in the league with 47 total sacks in 2010 -- including 13.5 from OLB Clay Matthews -- but ranked 29th last season with Matthews contributing only six of Green Bay's 29 total sacks.
With Matthews needing help on the opposite side, Clemson DE/OLB Andre Branch (Scouts Inc. Grade: 92) makes a lot of sense at No. 29 overall. Branch has the initial quickness and athletic ability to get to the quarterback, which would make it tougher for offenses to double-team Matthews, and Branch's experience dropping into coverage and ability to hold up there make him a good fit for the Packers' 3-4 scheme.
Packers FS Nick Collins suffered what could be a career-ending neck injury last season, and even if he does return Collins likely won't be the same player. That makes safety help a pressing need, and Green Bay would do well to land LSU's Brandon Taylor (Scouts Inc. Grade: 84) in the second round. Taylor has the range to play a center fielder-type role in coverage, and the toughness and tenacity to hold up well in run support.
The Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack is one of the most potent in the league and will remain the focal point of the offense, but improving an inconsistent ground game should be a priority. This is especially true considering the weather in Green Bay late in the season.
Brandon Jackson (second round, 2007) is the only back the Packers have drafted earlier than the third round since 1990 and he didn't exactly pan out, so don't expect that trend to change unless Boise State's Doug Martin (87) somehow slides to them in the late second round. However, Washington's Chris Polk (71) is a name to remember. He isn't much of a big-play threat, but Polk is a tough and instinctive runner who doesn't leave many yards on the field. He's also a reliable receiver and, perhaps more importantly, an effective pass-blocker.
The Packers now have three picks in the fourth with which they could address offensive tackle, cornerback and center. Let's start with tackle, which may not seem like a need at first glance. However, Chad Clifton is on the downside of his career, 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod is coming off a season-ending leg injury and Marshall Newhouse might be better suited to play guard.
With all that in mind, keep an eye on Boise State's Nate Potter (64), who has the arm length and agility to emerge as a quality No. 3 tackle who can provide depth on both sides and potentially develop into a starter in this scheme.
As for cornerback, today's defenses can never have enough quality corners and age has to start catching up with 35-year-old Charles Woodson. That means a player like West Virginia's Keith Tandy (53) is a possibility. Tandy may not have the natural ability to become an above-average man-to-man corner, but he's a tough player who closes and tackles well.
Green Bay signed Saturday after Scott Wells departed for the St. Louis Rams, but Saturday, who will turn 37 in June, clearly isn't the long-term answer. Georgia's Ben Jones (56) is the No. 2 center on our board at this point and could very well be available to the Packers late in the fourth. Jones would benefit from playing behind Saturday for a year, and he has the frame (6-foot-25, 303 pounds) and skill set to develop into a starter.
416dTodd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl