Green Bay Packers Offseason Outlook: 5 Players to Watch Leading Up to the Draft

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COMMENTARY | The offseason brings hope, fear, anxiety, and in some cases terror, to fans. Which combination you are depends on which team you back.

In Washington, for instance, there is usually a splashy deal that the fanbase inevitably knows won't work out, or a botched draft trade to get a player who didn't belong in the top 10. For them, though, Robert Griffin III has quelled those fears. They have a playoff team now and they won't rely on the deep pockets of Daniel Snyder to build a team.

Just as it is different for every team, the emotions also ebb and flow depending on recent history.

For Packers fans, the offseason is a time of serenity and peace. Ted Thompson isn't going to chase free agents and any player he does sign you likely won't have heard of unless you play way too much Madden and know every NFL roster backwards and forwards.

Particularly as we head toward April and the NFL Draft, the aura of Cheesehead Nation is calm. 'In Ted we trust,' has become a slogan of sorts given how successful Thompson has been at drafting players. It can't be understated either that the coaching staff he and Mike McCarthy have put together is also extremely adept at developing these young players.

Green Bay has one of the most talented young rosters in the league for a reason: Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy know what they're doing. It's understood that certain players are going to leave this offseason, key cogs like Greg Jennings. The futures of A.J. Hawk, Charles Woodson, and Donald Driver also all remain unclear.

Whether or not any of those players are back will change the dynamics of the team's needs from a personnel standpoint, but it won't change the way Ted Thompson drafts. He's a 'best player available' guy and he won't relent from that.

With that in mind, the offseason workouts and games have started for college players and the field of declared juniors has been set. Earlier in the season, we looked at some players potentially on Green Bay's radar for the upcoming draft. Now that the dust has settled in terms of order - Green Bay will have pick 26 - and in terms of the talent pool, it makes sense to look again as we move toward the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine.

This will be my seventh NFL Draft as a writer covering the process and rankings are based on an aggregation of opinions from scouts and player evaluators.

1.) Sam Montgomery DE LSU (Position Rank: 6, Overall Rank: 22)

In a draft so loaded with defensive linemen, it seems likely Green Bay will get to pick from a handful of high-quality front seven players. Montgomery was seen as a potential top-10 pick going into the season, but inconsistent play has him falling down draft boards. Also, if you look at the teams directly before Green Bay - Seattle, Indianapolis, Minnesota, and St. Louis - they all have pretty dynamic pass-rushers on their roster already.

The Packers are in more dire need of a defensive lineman to generate some inside pressure and don't have a true 5-technique defensive end for the team's 3-4 system. Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac said the team added what he called "juice" to the position with Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy, but neither is a prototypical end for the scheme. Trgovac recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , he believed the team needed to find one in order to get better defensively.

Montgomery was a 4-3 defensive end in college much like last year's first round pick Nick Perry and Montgomery certainly has the frame to add weight. But he already added weight heading into this season for LSU and wasn't as effective as a rusher. Would he be a fit if he added some weight? Perhaps. At 6 feet 5 inches, 260 pounds, Montgomery would be better suited to play outside at linebacker and give Green Bay another potential option to go with Perry and Clay Matthews. A startling combination of strength and speed, Montgomery is similar to Perry in that both rely heavily on their speed and use it to leverage power in bull rushes, but lack counter moves. Perry has a better burst off the line of scrimmage and Montgomery doesn't seem to have the same quick twitch ability at the snap to get a good jump. If he fell, it would be awfully tempting for Green Bay to snatch him up given his raw athletic talents.

2.) Kevin Minter ILB LSU (Position Rank: 2, Overall Rank: 26)

For a team in the Packers lacking an identity defensively, Kevin Minter would bring one. Pair him with Desmond Bishop and you have one of the toughest, strongest, and most rugged pair of inside linebackers in football. Minter brings the party to offensive players as an attacking middle linebacker who always plays downhill. He's not as athletic as Alec Ogletree or Manti Te'o, but he's a physical presence, an adept blitzer, and a magnet to the football. Minter is stronger, certainly, than both Ogletree or Te'o and is much better in run support filling the hole rather than catching running backs as they come through as Te'o often does.

Once he reads a play, he explodes to the football and is able to stay clean through the hole. Physically, he's stout at the point of attack and has a great spin move to disengage blockers. And if you want a player who will come through in big games, Minter is your guy. Against Florida, he had 20 tackles including 17 solo stops and 2 sacks. Two weeks later in a win over Texas A&M, Minter had 12 tackles, a sack and an interception. And in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, he had 19 tackles and a sack.

With Green Bay looking ready to cut ties with A.J. Hawk and needing some nasty in the middle to stop guys like Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson, Minter would be a perfect fit. There will be some questions about his coverage, as he rarely dropped deep for LSU, and those questions are valid. The Packers got good production out of Brad Jones in passing situations and Minter is certainly an immediate improvement in the run game over any interior linebacker on the active roster by season's end.

3.) Dallas Thomas G/T Tennessee (Position Rank: 6, Overall Rank: 56)

It might be hard for Green Bay fans to accept a player named Dallas, but the Tennessee prospect would be a huge boost to a thin offensive line group. Some scouts believe Thomas is more suited to play guard, while others see him as a tackle. That versatility should be appealing to a team like Green Bay that values T.J. Lang as a swing player who can play any spot on the line.

Thomas played guard as a senior for the Vols, but has experience at tackle, along with long arms and the athleticism to play outside in the NFL. NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang actually compared Thomas to Marshall Newhouse, which is a back-handed compliment as both are susceptible to speed rushers and lack elite foot speed. That being said, Newhouse has progressed nicely in the NFL as a pass-blocking tackle and played more consistently in 2012. Thomas, though, is already a better run-blocker than Newhouse and is more powerful when attacking defensive linemen.

Some personnel evaluators believe Thomas has first round potential and could be a first round pick. It seems more likely though he'll be chosen in the middle or end of the second round given his limitations with quickness. I don't think it's unreasonable to think Green Bay would consider moving Bryan Bulaga to left tackle and giving someone like Thomas a chance to win the right tackle spot. At the very least, they would get a player who can play multiple positions on a line lacking depth. The Packers wouldn't have drafted Derek Sherrod in the first round last year if they believed Newhouse to be the long-term solution.

4.) Travis Frederick C Wisconsin (Position Rank: 2, Overall Rank: 59)

This has been popular among mock drafters even in the first round for the Packers, although I don't think Thompson values interior linemen enough to take one that high. Green Bay benched Jeff Saturday to give Evan Dietrich-Smith a chance to play center and he performed admirably. That being said, it's certainly a position that could use an upgrade and Frederick, while not as highly-touted as Peter Konz last year, is one of the few elite center prospects out there.

Really good centers don't come around very often as they're often made by necessity; a guard moves to center because he has to. Frederick had played guard for the Badgers until Konz declared for the NFL. He isn't the athlete Konz is, but the Wisconsin native is bigger and stronger than his predecessor. That's good news for Green Bay, a team lacking bulk and strength at center. Frederick has the talent and acumen to quickly identify defensive alignments and be a leader in the trenches making calls. Konz had a borderline first round grade last year and wasn't selected until the end of the second round, but given Frederick's superior size and strength, I don't see him falling below his second round grade.

Much like with the aforementioned Thomas, Frederick can play either guard or center at 6 feet 4 inches, 338 pounds with decent mobility. Not a great athlete, Frederick can still get out on screens and mow down defenders thanks to long arms and his ability to see blocking angles in space. Even if Green Bay is satisfied with the development of Dietrich-Smith, don't count out Frederick based on his versatility.

5.) Michael Mauti LB Penn State (Position Rank: 6, Overall Rank 91)

If Green Bay doesn't look for an inside linebacker in the first two rounds, a player like Mauti could be a great value later in the draft. He will have to show he's fully healthy from a knee injury that prevented him from finishing the season and Mauti does have two ACL injuries in his past. That being said, he's as instinctive as they come inside and can diagnoses plays quickly to make up for his lack of elite athletic tools.

A decent straight line speed player, Mauti doesn't change directions exceptionally well, but plays with fire and showed an exceedingly high level of leadership during his senior year, despite the turmoil and controversy surrounding the Penn State program. Head Coach Bill O'Brien said Mauti was one of the most special players he'd ever been around and with a young defense, a leader must emerge, particularly if both Hawk and Woodson don't return next season.

At worst, you'd expect Mauti to give you what A.J. Hawk already does: nothing flashy, but a guy who will make plays when they are there and is always assignment sure. His fire and grit is infectious and he could also help bring identity to a defense without it. Offense in the modern NFL is about rhythm and continuity. Defense is, and always has been, about attitude. If Mauti can stay healthy, he brings a salty attitude and assignment-sure play on the field. From a third or fourth round player, that's all you really. At worst, he's a special teams stand-out, great practice player, and solid back-up.

Others to watch (In order of rank): Zach Ertz TE Stanford, Eric Reid S LSU, Quinton Patton WR Louisiana Tech, Kawann Short DT Purdue, Khaled Holmes C/G USC

Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime

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