In the first of a two-part series, I'm going to analyze the 2014 NFL Draft Needs of the Packers. I'll take a position-by-position look at the team, revealing my predictions for where the team will look for help.
First up is the offense, which ranked third in yards per game this season. A top ten offense in rushing, passing and scoring, the Packers benefited significantly from the emergence of players stepping in for injured starters...at most positions anyway.
From 1993 to 2012, the Packers had three starting quarterbacks. In a five-week span this year, the Packers had four starting quarterbacks. While injuries played a part in this (Aaron Rodgers' collarbone and Seneca Wallace's groin), the fact that they brought back Matt Flynn (and went 2-4-1) showed just how ill-prepared they were for a Rodgers' injury. Scott Tolzien has a strong arm, but was clearly not ready for the spotlight, throwing only one TD and 5 INTs in his 2.5 games.
McCarthy is a solid QB coach, but has been given little talent behind Rodgers. It's obvious the team needs a competent backup, so investing the draft pick will rely squarely on the market demand for Flynn. The team found Flynn in the seventh round in 2008, so don't be surprised if they look for a replacement in the mid-to-late rounds as well.
Eddie Lacy was eighth in the league with 1,178 rushing yards in essentially 14 games . Clearly a stud when healthy, Lacy should retain uncontested starter duties. DuJuan Harris (who is under contract through 2014) and Jonathan Franklin will return from injuries, making James Starks expendable despite the best season of his career. John Kuhn should get an extension as the team's sole FB to round out the Packers' most talented backfield in recent memory.
After investing second a fourth round picks in RBs last year, the Packers should pass on any in 2014. If Kuhn ends up leaving, Thompson probably still won't pick a FB, which seems to be a dying position in today's NFL (for now). He'll have plenty of undrafted options if necessary.
The absence of Randall Cobb this year may have helped Ted Thompson make a tough decision regarding James Jones. Jones, who unsuccessfully tested free agency three years ago, will command a higher paycheck this time around after leading the league in TD catches in 2012. However, Jarrett Boykin stepped in nicely for Cobb, making Thompson less likely to overpay for Jones. Cobb will also demand a new contract after the season, so Thompson ultimately needs to decide which WR to pay.
With Jordy Nelson as the clear #1, Boykin could line up on the outside as well, thanks to his 6'2" frame, leaving the 5'10" Cobb in his natural slot position. Boykin's emergence will likely cause Jones to leave the Packers, allowing Thompson to use a mid-to-late round pick on another WR to provide depth.
Jermichael Finley's desire to play next season without taking a pay cut may be the straw that breaks Thompson's back. When healthy, Finley's potential is sky-high. However, combine his propensity for drops with the fact that he's coming back from spinal fusion surgery, and Finley's leverage may be at an all-time low.
In addition to Finley, Andrew Quarless is a free agent this year. Quarless filled in nicely for Finley, but lacked the big-play ability that made Finley a threat. The other TEs on the roster (Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner) are inexperienced and lackluster. Thompson needs to address this need so the offense can continue to deploy pass catchers (and play makers) at every position. I see an early round pick being used on a TE, especially if one makes a Lacy-esque fall.
While the offensive line played a key role in Lacy's great season, the unit did little to help the QBs stay upright, surrendering 45 sacks. The lineup was flipped from last season with Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton on the left side instead of the right, until Bulaga injured his hip and went on season-ending IR. David Bakhtiari, a rookie 4th-round pick, filled in sufficiently, starting every game. You could see his inexperience revealed against better pass rushers, but he played well enough to be thrown into the mix for next season. With Don Barclay continuing his solid play on the right side, the Packers have options for Tackle next year.
Not much needs to be said about Sitton and TJ Lang, two of the games most consistent Guards, so I'll move right to the Center position. After the failed Jeff Saturday experiment in 2012, Evan Dietrich-Smith started every game this year, just in time to become a free agent. 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter looks to rebound from a fibula injury, and could be given every chance to earn the starting job. However, the Packers can't leave themselves without depth. Depending on Dietrich-Smith coming back, Thompson could use a mid-to-late round pick on a Center / Guard to provide more depth to the interior positions.