2013 Packers draft needs: Is this the year Green Bay invests in the running back position?

John Harris
Special to Yahoo! Sports

LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 106.4 ypg (20th)
Pass Offense - 253.1 ypg (9th)
Total Offense - 359.4 ypg (13th)
Scoring Offense - 27.1 ppg (5th)
Rush Defense - 118.5 ypg (17th)
Pass Defense - 218.2 ypg (11th)
Total Defense - 336.8 ypg (11th)
Scoring Defense - 21.0 ppg (11th)

MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Running back and solving the tackle dilemma

Defense: Defensive line and an athletic edge player


That Aaron Rodgers character is good and he'll be around for a while. The team drafted a project in B.J. Coleman last year in the seventh round. Don't expect that philosophy for the second straight year. Moving on to more important issues … like running back.

RUNNING BACK The Draft Board

1st round Eddie Lacy, Alabama (5-11, 231) 2nd round Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-10, 205)
Joe Randle, Oklahoma State (6-0, 204) 3rd round Andre Ellington, Clemson (5-9, 199)
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (5-9, 214) 4th round Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State (6-1, 230)

If you need to understand what it means to lack an alpha dog No. 1 running back, keep the number 703 in mind. That's the highest rushing total for a Green Bay running back over the past three seasons. Furthermore, the Packers' leading rusher has seen his total decline over the past three years as well, from 703 in 2010 to 578 in 2011 to 464 yards last season. Four hundred and sixty-four yards? That was three weeks of work for Vikings RB Adrian Peterson in 2012. 

It's time for the Packers to find a Ryan Grant or an Ahman Green – a true, unquestioned No. 1 running back that can help take some pressure of Rodgers and the passing game. Running back-by-committee can work, as long as there's a true standout on the roster. It's about time GM Ted Thompson found that guy.

Eddie Lacy is unlike any back the Packers have had in recent memory as he's the most powerful back in this class. Can he be a receiver out of the backfield for Rodgers? Good question. Johnathan Franklin has the full complement of skills and he's got the juice to get to the edge as well. Joe Randle is a better receiver out of the backfield, but he doesn't have the long speed that Franklin does. The Packers should also keep an eye on Stepfan Taylor in the third; he's a wonderful interior back that is also effective in the screen game.


4th round Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (6-1, 194) 5th round Rodney Smith, Florida St. (6-4, 225)
Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-2, 204)
Lanear Sampson, Baylor (5-11, 204) 6th round Kenbrell Thompkins, Cincinnati (6-1, 193)
Aaron Mellette, Elon (6-2, 216) 7th round Chad Bumphis, Mississippi St. (5-10, 202)

One of the reasons for the Packers' rushing inadequacies is the brilliance of the Packers passing game and its stellar receiving corps. The group that has been together for a while may get broken up if Greg Jennings demands $12M per year or more, as reported. The Packers have decided to not place the franchise tag on the veteran receiver as they're confident that Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb can make up for Jennings' absence. The team likes Jarrett Boykin as a fourth perimeter receiving option, but they may take a late-round flyer on another young project.

Kenny Stills is California cool and that's not always a good thing. He had a bundle of issues at Oklahoma, but when he's on, he's a second-round talent. Rodney Smith underachieved at Florida State, but is a height-weight-speed receiver who could develop that physical ability under the Packers' excellent coaching staff.  

TIGHT END The Draft Board

3rd round Jordan Reed, Florida (6-2, 236) 4th round Chris Gragg, Arkansas (6-3, 244) 5th round Matt Furstenburg, Maryland (6-3, 242) 6th round Ryan Otten, SJSU (6-5, 230)

Circle March 27 as a key date for the Packers' tight'end situation. That's the date Jermichael Finley is due a roster bonus of $3 million. Prior to that date, Finley and the Packers must come to another agreement as to his financial and playing future in Green Bay. His cap number is just over $8 million for 2013 and he's not willing to take a pay cut. Restructure? Sure. Pay cut? Not happening. Finley will take a hard line and may not be back as a Packer in 2013. However, if there's one thing the Packers have in abundance, it's tight ends. Even though Tom Crabtree is a restricted free agent, the team still has Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor in reserve.  If Finley ends up being a cap casualty, the team may look for athletic options in the middle rounds to complement the crew already on the roster.

Jordan Reed is more receiver than he is tight end, but the same can be said for Finley in some respects. Chris Gragg is similar to Reed, but ran 4.5 in the 40 – faster than 40 percent of the receivers at the combine. Matt Furstenburg is a combination Y/H-Back option that is fairly dynamic with the ball in his hands. 


2nd round C Brian Schwenke, Cal (6-3, 314)
C Barrett Jones, Alabama (6-3, 305) 3rd round C/G Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 312) 4th round T Jordan Mills, La. Tech (6-5, 316) 5th round C Matt Stankiewitch, Penn St. (6-3, 302) 6th round T Brennan Williams, UNC (6-6, 318) 7th round T John Wetzel, Boston College (6-7, 315)

The left tackle position remains a question, but the team may already possess the answer. Also, solid left tackle options in this draft will be off the board well before the Packers make their first selection. The Packers took Derek Sherrod in the first round two years ago to start at one of the tackle positions, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If he is healthy, could he be the answer at left tackle? Could he move over to the right side and bump Bryan Bulaga to the left side? The team's current roster options won't keep the Packers from looking for depth at tackle and/or a center to push Evan Dietrich-Smith, a restricted free agent.

Brian Schwenke is one of the best interior blockers in this class. He did mix in some time at guard at the Senior Bowl, but he's the best center in this group. He has the agility and quickness to get up to the second level in the run game and anchor against heavy defensive tackles on solo blocks. Highly decorated Barrett Jones played all three positions at Alabama and will know the offense as well as his quarterbacks do. However, he's not as agile as Schwenke and wins more by position blocking than driving DTs off the ball.


1st round DE Datone Jones, UCLA (6-4, 283) 2nd round DE Margus Hunt, SMU (6-8, 277) 3rd round NT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern St. (6-1, 335)
NT Sylvester Williams, UNC (6-3, 313)
DE Malliciah Goodman, Clemson (6-3, 277) 5th round NT Montori Hughes, Tenn.-Martin (6-4, 329)

Dom Capers' front has bodies, but does it have any impact players? NT BJ Raji is the closest thing to a game-changer, but he didn't finish the season playing his best football. Last year's second-round selection Jerel Worthy flashed early, but tore his ACL late in the season. The team is back to square one, essentially in need of assistance at each defensive line position.

Datone Jones is perhaps the best overall athlete in this defensive line class, possessing the versatility to play any position up front and the burst to be an effective pass-rusher from different areas along the line. Margus Hunt is football's version of Ivan Drago, but it's still difficult to get past the fact that he underachieved greatly during the first part of this season against high-level competition. Brandon Williams would be a great complement to Raji, but he has the ability to also push him for playing time.

LINEBACKER The Draft Board

2nd round OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (6-4, 250) 3rd round OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-1, 229) 4th round OLB DeVonte Holloman, S. Car. (6-1, 243)
OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford (6-3, 244) 5th round OLB Lerentee McCray, Florida (6-2, 250)

The linebackers may have looked lost against San Francisco in the playoff loss, but it's still a strong group if they all can stay healthy. OLB Nick Perry showed promise early, but an injury knocked him out midway through the season. Pro Bowler Clay Matthews continues to dominate on the opposite side. Inside, the team has two experienced veterans in A.J Hawk and Desmond Bishop, and an unrestricted free agent in Brad Jones who filled in admirably for Bishop last season. If the team can bring Jones back at a team-friendly rate, the Packers may have to decide whether Hawk is too expensive to retain on the roster. Regardless, drafting an inside linebacker shouldn't be a priority on draft weekend, but selecting an athletically aware edge player should be on the to-do list.

Jamie Collins has gained a ton of traction after a great combine performance. Sean Porter played all year as a WLB in Texas A&M's 4-3, but he spent the two years before that playing 3-4 OLB. DeVonte Holloman is a converted safety that is still adapting to taking on blockers and playing off blocks. Chase Thomas may not blow away anyone with his physical attributes, but he's a complete football player who can do everything well.

SECONDARY The Draft Board

3rd round S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse (5-9, 213) 4th round S JJ Wilcox, Georgia Southern (6-0, 213) 5th round S Keelan Johnson, Arizona St. (6-0, 209)
S Robert Lester, Alabama (6-1, 220)

The Charles Woodson era ended in February, but don't weep for the Packers' secondary. This is a young, deep group that returns nearly everyone sans Woodson. The only question is if/when restricted free agent Sam Shields re-signs. If that happens, the Packers secondary draft needs should focus solely on the safety position. M.D. Jennings started 10 games last year and will be penciled in as this year's starter, but the Packers have never shied away from adding competition at key spots. Expect Green Bay to target safety perhaps as early as Day 2.

Shamarko Thomas is reminiscent of a poor man's Bob Sanders, but with speed. Sanders was gifted and threw his body around, and Thomas plays the game the same way. The former Syracuse star ran extremely well at the combine and his tape was solid, so he's attractive late on day two. The Packers should also eep an eye on Keelan Johnson. He's a wiry and physical player who needs to work on wrapping up, but he definitely knows how to hit.

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