COMMENTARY | By now, most scouting departments have created an initial big board for April's NFL Draft. Player interviews, pro days, and the 2013 NFL Combine next week will insert a level of flux into those rankings as we get closer and closer to Roger Goodell actually calling out names on draft day.
Fee agency will alter the needs of different teams, but any packers fan will tell you it won't change Green Bay's approach given Ted Thompson's apparent allergy to the process.
I continue to hear that Thompson's interest in Darrelle Revis is real, but the bigger hurdle will be the price tag, both in trading for Revis and locking down him down - pun intended - to a long-term deal.
Green Bay's scouting staff likes to take a hands-on approach to scouting and Thompson is one of the more visible general managers throughout the offseason workouts and activities. He likes to be there and shake hands in person.
He'll no doubt be in Indianapolis next week as more than 300 college players converge for the NFL's biggest offseason spectacle - truly, that is what the combine has become.
It's important to remember not to get too excited or too disappointed with a player based on his showing here. What you want to see is an extension of what the tape already shows. Much like advanced metrics, you want the workouts to underscore what you can see on the field.
Nick Perry, for instance, showed incredible athleticism at last year's combine and it gave Green Bay the confidence that he was gifted enough to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. His tape shows an explosiveness and power as a down linemen and his workouts re-affirmed that tape.
On the other hand, a player like Dontari Poe, who was the talk of Indy after his incredible performance, was an aberration. At Memphis, he didn't dominate even average talent and as a result, his disappointing season for Kansas City should be somewhat expected.
With that in mind, I wanted to examine five players who are worth watching for Packers fans, both for the potential positives and negatives of their impending showcase.
1.) Matt Elam S FloridaThe biggest concern here is his range in the back end. There's no questioning Elam's toughness, aggressiveness and hitting ability, but can he hold up in coverage? What he'll have to show is his deep speed in the 40-yard dash and agility in the position drills. He'll be asked to cover in the slot as the safety position in the NFL has become an amorphous, interchangeable spot. Elam has the game to play downhill in the box, but may be limited in coverage by his instincts and range. For that reason, he has a mid-second round grade at this point. If he can show some explosiveness and agility at the combine, he could suddenly be looking at a late first round grade, which could make him an ideal fit for a Packers team lacking intensity and big-play ability. When it comes to splash plays, no secondary player has made more than Elam. If he can put to bed some of the questions about his speed and quickness, he's a first round pick.
2.) Zach Ertz TE Stanford
Ted Thompson has a history with tight ends in the middle rounds of the draft and with so much depth at that position this year, it's hard to imagine him going with a tight end in the first round. That being said, the future of Jermichael Finley is unclear and D.J. Williams hasn't developed as the team had hoped. Ertz isn't the ultra-elite athlete that has become so trendy as part of the NFL's tight end evolution, but compares favorably to Jason Witten or Heath Miller as a player who can be relied upon to get the job done, no matter what you ask him to do. Ertz and Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert are considered the best at the position and both carry first round grades. Whomever can show superior athleticism, may be able to sneak into the top 20, while the other should be available at 26 where Green Bay may consider snatching him up to replace Finley.
3.) Montee Ball RB WisconsinSentimentality isn't part of the scouting process, but there are plenty of Packers fans who would love to see Ball in Green Bay. The all-time great Wisconsin Badger running back has been as popular a college player as Wisconsin has seen since Ron Dayne. Ball was a borderline first round pick after last year and despite a slow start, finished the 2012 campaign strong. The big concern with Ball is that his offensive line does most of the work. When you watch him on tape, he does show an elusiveness in the hole and can make people miss in the open field. What scouts will want to see at the combine is whether or not he has the speed to be a game-breaker. If he can run sub 4.6 in the 40 and show some quickness in position drills, he should move solidly into the second round range. Ball has shown the ability to read his blocking, make good decisions and always pick up yardage, plus his nose for the end zone cannot be understated. He could be a great compliment to DuJuan Harris, particularly in passing situations.
4.) Robert Woods WR USC
The combine will be important for Woods because his stock slipped as the year went on and Marquise Lee grabbed so much of the attention. Woods doesn't have that same sort of explosive talent and his speed is certainly a question. Once considered a first round pick, perhaps even a top 20 selection, Woods is now fighting for his first round life and may fall deep into the second round with even a mediocre showing in Indianapolis. The former-Trojan produced at an extremely high level for USC, but dropped too many passes and doesn't get open consistently, mostly because he's not an elite athlete. Where he is elite is as a route-runner, which makes him ideal for Green Bay's rhythm offense. While teams will gush over the physical tools of guys like DeAndre Hopkins and Justin Hunter at the combine - and rightfully so - Woods may get lost in the shuffle and could end up falling to the Packers in the second round, their sweet spot for drafting wide receivers.
5.) William Gholston DE Michigan StateGreen Bay wants and needs a 5-technique defense end for their 3-4 system and Gholston has the potential to be that guy. Gholston has been underwhelming as a college player, but in terms of physical tools, few players have what Gholston has, so much so that he's considered a first round talent by many. That's why his performance at the combine will be so important, to remind teams of his absurd athletic ability. Gholston is long, powerful, and tenacious when he wants to be, able to occupy and defeat blockers. Questions about his work ethic and attitude are valid, but a player with his kind of ceiling tends to get the benefit of the doubt, and with rookie contracts less expensive under the new CBA, teams may be willing to take a risk. A strong showing at the combine could put Gholston squarely in the mix as a top 50 player, perhaps even once again in the first round mix. On the other hand, a poor showing could end up dropping the former-Spartan into the third round where Green Bay would see tremendous value.
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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