Last night, I predicted
the Green Bay Packers would take linebacker Ryan Shazier
with their first-round pick, with one giant caveat:
With his outrageous athleticism and big-time production at Ohio State, Shazier might not be available for the Packers with the 21st selection.
There are four "obvious" candidates for the Packers, at least from a media perspective: Inside linebackers Shazier and C.J. Mosley of Alabama and safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville.
There's a chance none of the four will be available for Green Bay, with a lot of that dependent on when the quarterbacks and receivers start coming off the board.
Mosley, who won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2013, is a tremendous player, though it should be noted he's not a slam dunk.
First, there is the injury factor, and it can't be dismissed considering the Packers' run of injuries in recent seasons. He sustained a dislocated hip in the BCS national championship game to cap the 2011 season and needed surgery on his right shoulder after the 2012 season. He played every game in 2013, which should alleviate some of the concerns, but it's the elephant in the room.
Second, he played outside linebacker in the Tide's 3-4 scheme. With his instincts, intelligence and coach-on-the-field presence, moving off the line of scrimmage shouldn't be an issue but, again, it's something to consider.
Third, the recent history of Alabama defenders translating to the NFL has not been good, with coach Nick Saban's system being so good that there's little room for growth. That doesn't mean Mosley is bound for mediocrity, of course, because every player is different. Again, however, it's something to consider.
"He's a four-down player," said Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager who now runs the Senior Bowl and serves as an analyst on Alabama football games. "He can excel against the run, he's very good going laterally and chasing to the outside. He's excellent in pass coverage. Got very good instincts. And he played special teams his entire career at Alabama. C.J., if his medical exam is clear —he had a shoulder, had a hip during his time at Alabama — then I think that you'll see him go in the top 20 or so."
As would be the case with Shazier, Mosley would come in and immediately be the every-down inside linebacker. His athleticism and coverage skills would be a huge asset for a defense that got torched too often with Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk serving as the dime linebackers in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
"He simply excels at reacting and tracking down the ball," NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas wrote in Mosley's official league scouting report. "The thing you see on film that he is a patient type that plays under control and has no problems identifying what the offense throws at him. Simply put, he is the smartest draft-eligible linebacker in the collegiate ranks, with outstanding instincts, especially when reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make game-changing plays."
At safety, Micah Hyde is the wild card. As much as coach Mike McCarthy has talked him up this offseason, it points to the team being comfortable with him as the tandem with Morgan Burnett. If that's the case, would Green Bay use a first-round pick on either Clinton-Dix or Pryor, who appear to be flawed prospects?
While it was hardly the consensus opinion, Clinton-Dix was called a "looming bust" by one scout. Thomas called him the "most overrated" player at the position. Another scout told a not-fit-for-print joke about his intelligence. Those opinions aren't universally shared, obviously, but they shouldn't be dismissed, either. Other than Mark Barron, who's been merely OK, Alabama's recent defensive backs have busted upon reaching the NFL. At safety, 4.60 in the 40-yard dash is considered the lower limits of acceptable. Clinton-Dix ran in 4.58. Of the 15 safeties who might go in the first five rounds, Clinton-Dix's 33-inch vertical jump ranked 14th. In 2013, he intercepted two passes and didn't force a fumble. Is that resume worth using the 21st pick?
Pryor also ran in 4.58 and his 34.5-inch vertical isn't great, either. He's known for his big hits but he swung and missed too often for one scout's tastes, and he's known as a bit of a freelancer. He's not as good in coverage as Clinton-Dix, which poses a problem.
"It's a pass-first league. Can you play pass defense with Burnett and Pryor as your safeties? I don't know about that," a scout said. "Honestly, if you weigh risk/reward, I like the Day 3 guys better."
The feeling here is if Green Bay takes any safety in the first round, it will be Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward. Ward has his issues, too. At 5-foot-10 3/8, he's really testing the Packers' size parameters. With his lack of strength (nine reps on the 225-pound bench press), he's going to have problems against the run, though he doesn't shy away from contact and plays bigger than his size. He's infinitely more athletic than Clinton-Dix and Pryor (4.47 in the 40; 38-inch vertical) and would give defensive coordinator Dom Capers plenty of options.
"Jimmie's a multidimensional safety," Savage said. "He has a bit of a corner build. He's a little undersized. What he brings to the table is that ability to match up and cover third wide receivers or a tight end. He really showed up well at the Senior Bowl practices. He's a very productive player. He's got ball skills. I think he's a bit of a Swiss Army knife for a defensive coordinator in terms of him being able to play multiple roles. He can fill in where needed as a safety, as a dime, down-in-the-box or matching up on a back or a tight end. In a pinch, he might be able to get you some reps as a corner, as well.
At the conclusion of my Wednesday prediction, I told you I'd have something from out of left field. How about four?
One, there's obvious merit to trading back. And if the quarterbacks don't come off the board early, then the quarterback-hungry teams will be trying to hop back into the first round. So, perhaps Green Bay can swing a deal; then again, several other teams will be trying to make a deal, so it's not a given. Ward, hard-hitting Washington State safety Deone Bucannon or tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be had a bit later. Move back a bit further, and Louisville's Marcus Smith would be an impact outside linebacker and Oregon State's Scott Crichton would add another to the elephant group.
But what about trading up? Because the number of teams wanting to move back are greater than the number of teams wanting to move up, the price might not be too awful. One target, if he falls just a bit, would be Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. He's the best all-around cornerback in the draft and, while he wouldn't fill an immediate need, the Packers do have a long-term need with Tramon Williams and Davon House heading into their final season under contract. As a senior, Dennard allowed 0.88 yards per pass attempt. That's the best figure since the NFL Draft Report began charting that statistic in 1968.
And how about wide receiver? The Packers have stars in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and a promising role player in Jarrett Boykin but nothing else of significance. LSU's Odell Beckham, a big-play artist and the best kickoff/punt returner in the draft, and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, the most explosive receiver in the draft who could probably handle return duties, don't figure to be available. That would leave Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews as the prime target. At 6-foot-3, he's got great size. He obliterated the SEC receiving records, even while being saddled with a parade of inept passers before and after Jordan Rodgers.
"Like (Anquan) Boldin, Matthews is a physically imposing receiver who might not have world-class speed, but he gobbles up the cushion in a hurry," Thomas wrote in his scouting report. "He has a knack for winning open-field foot races, especially vs. second-level defenders, and few receivers have his power breaking tackles. Much like Boldin, he is a superb chain-mover and aggressive open-field blocker, ideal for a team that features a strong running game."
And two things that I'm not sure what to make of, so will mention them briefly.
One, the Packers appear to be interested in UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo, who is projected as a guard after starting games at left tackle and left guard as a senior. The Packers are set at guard with Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, but Lang has worked as an emergency center.
Two, Packer Report has been told that at least one team has inquired about the availability of Burnett. Lots of things are talked about this time of year, which is why we're burying this at the end of a story rather than making a big deal out of it. But considering how Burnett played after receiving a big contract, I suppose the Packers could start from scratch with Hyde and a rookie at safety.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.