COMMENTARY | A historically putrid defensive season in 2011, despite a 15-1 record, caused Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson to trade up not once, but twice in the 2012 draft to snag defensive players. Thompson didn't stop there, loading up with six straight defenders.
Nick Perry was a starter on opening day. Jerel Worthy has started most of the season due to injuries along the defensive line. Casey Hayward leads the team in interceptions and is having a Pro Bowl season. Mike Daniels and Jerron McMillian have both been pivotal role players for Dom Capers and the Packers defense.
Considering how awful the Packers were defensively a season ago, the team's 15th ranked total defense and 13th ranked defense in points allowed is a wild improvement. Green Bay has given up just 233 yards passing per game, well down from an NFL record 300 yards per game average in 2011.
Still, an 8-4 team - that should rightfully be 9-3 if NFL officials had been working the whole season - has underperformed to varying degrees on both sides of the ball. Aaron Rodgers and the offense are hardly clicking like they were last year and the protection upfront has been a serious problem.
The 2013 draft class is deep, although lacking some of the elite talent at the top of the board that we have seen in years past. That doesn't truly affect Green Bay, who will likely be picking at the end of the first round. That being said, here are five players who could be available in the 20s, where the Packers would be picking, and could fill some of the holes on this team. Rankings are my own.
Jake Matthews OT Texas A&M (Position Rank: 4, Overall Rank: 30)This could be wishful thinking, but with a draft so heavy with defensive players, teams could be gushing over all of the rush ends and massive, athletic defensive tackles, leaving players like Matthews to fall. Matthews, the "other" tackle from Texas A&M, played opposite Luke Joeckel who is a top five talent. Both are adept pass blockers, but Matthews is more powerful in the running game. Ideally he's a right tackle in the NFL, which could open the door for Bryan Bulaga to slide to left tackle. On the other hand, the SEC is full of terrorizing edge rushers and Matthews held his own against the best in the country. For that reason, Matthews has been moving up draft boards and could eventually settle in the middle of the first round, putting him out of reach for the Packers.
Alec Olgletree LB Georgia (Position Rank: 2, Overall Rank 27)You can argue with how high Ogletree is on the rankings, but his talent is undeniable. An outstanding athlete going sideline to sideline, the Georgia junior lead the Bulldogs in tackles despite missing the first four games of the season. He had 15 tackles against Georgia Tech in the final regular season game and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game where Georgia nearly sprung the upset. Not a thumper, Ogletree is a finesse inside linebacker with tremendous quickness and solid instincts in the passing game from having played safety in high school. He'd rather run around a blocker than through him, but does like to make splash hits. Ogletree would be an ideal fit next to Packers' injured inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, who is a more physical player, allowing Olgetree to play the athletic roaming linebacker role A.J. Hawk has attempted with underwhelming results.
Justin Hunter WR Tennessee (Position Rank: 4, Overall Rank: 38)
Don't be surprised to see Ted Thompson go with a wide receiver in the first round given the age of Donald Driver and the impending free agency of Greg Jennings. Randall Cobb and James Jones have been excellent this season, but Jordy Nelson has been banged up and that has left the Packers thin at receiver. Hunter has been considered an elite prospect, although his stock has fallen since the season began. His size and speed ratio is ideal for the NFL at 6 feet 4 inches, 205 pounds with deep speed. He's not a prototypical West Coast offense wide receiver in that he isn't particularly elusive once he catches the ball, but with his speed deep he can certainly stretch the field and replace some of what the Packers could lose when Greg Jennings leaves. A solid showing in offseason work for Hunter could have him move up, but there will likely be a fringe first round receiver or two available here and Ted Thompson is capable of anything.
Barrett Jones G/C Alabama (Position Rank: 3, Overall Rank: 34)Sometimes there are perfect marriages between a player and a team. This is one of those times. Jones is an All-American lineman who has played every position for the Crimson Tide, most recently at center. Green Bay has been devastated by injuries along the offensive front and love linemen who can play multiple positions. Jones is an underrated athlete and is most often praised for being a technician with his hands and feet. He can slide and direct players well, which makes up for what he lacks in brute strength and bulk. For a Packers offense that runs no huddle and likes to be up-tempo, an experienced, smart center could be a building block moving forward as Green Bay transitions away from the aging Jeff Saturday.
Sylvester Williams DT North Carolina (Position Rank: 5, Overall Rank: 28)This is another pick that makes sense in a blue collar town. Williams is a 25-year-old former factory worker and community college player who transferred to North Carolina and played just two years of big-time college football. While the Packers spent two high draft picks on defensive ends last year, they'll play Sunday's game against Detroit with just four active defensive lineman thanks to injuries to Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson. Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji have played better this year than last, but Pickett is getting old and they could use another big body along the interior of the line. Williams has a more typical frame for a 3-4 defensive end than either Jerel Worthy or Mike Daniels and is used to playing gap control football which the defense under Dom Capers demands. A different defensive tackle turned end like Shariff Floyd or Jesse Williams could also make sense, but Williams is ranked above those two based on what scouts are saying at the moment.
Peter Bukowski is a Wisconsin transplant living in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter.