The Green Bay Packers are a great team that’s close to being a Super Bowl-caliber team. But a few questions remain. Will GM Ted Thompson finally make a free agency splash? Will they re-sign running back Eddie Lacy or offensive lineman T.J. Lang?
But one question reigns supreme for me: Will Ted Thompson finally stop ignoring ex-Wisconsin Badger players in the draft?
Short of drafting Jared Abbrederis in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, Thompson has passed up former Badger stars in the draft. But this year, this needs to change if Thompson knows what is good for him. The best pool of talent, at positions of desperate need on the Packer roster, actually comes from in-state.
T.J. Watt is, in my opinion, going to end up being one of the best players from this draft. He’s only slated as a late first-rounder at best, but it wouldn’t be a long shot to see the Packers nab him with their first round pick. He could easily slide into the second round and could fall to the Packers there as well.
At Wisconsin in 2016, Watt broke through as one of the best defensive players, not just in the Big Ten, but in all of college football. Leading the conference in sacks at 11.5 to go along with his 15.5 tackles for loss, Watt could bring immediate impact. Perhaps the best asset, if the Packers do draft Watt, would be the ability then to shift Clay Matthews back to the middle linebacker position, where he excelled in 2015.
Bringing in Watt would not only increase the talent at the linebacker position, but bring some depth to a position the Packers desperately need it. If Nick Perry and Julius Peppers are no longer wearing Packers jerseys next season, this pick makes even more sense for the Green and Gold.
The position the Packers need to improve in most though would be in the defensive backfield, specifically at cornerback. While they should focus on higher-round corners, the Packers shouldn’t overlook Sojourn Shelton in a later round. Currently projected as a 6th or 7th round pick, Shelton is often overlooked due to his short stature. Sitting at 5’9”, Shelton has been a stud over his four years in the Wisconsin defensive backfield.
He was second on the team last season for interceptions with four and also lead the team in pass breakups with 12. His numbers are not eye-popping, but he has been a model of consistency at the cornerback position throughout his college career. The main reason his numbers are not so eye-popping is due to the fact opposing teams quarterbacks rarely dared to throw his way.
Shelton also has *knock on wood* avoided injury problems, something Packer cornerbacks clearly struggled with in 2016.
Now, on the offensive side of the ball, it seems the Packers may be in for a change on the line. T.J. Lang seems like he could very well be on his way out, and J.C. Tretter is also testing free agency. Back to the draft, Thompson has always been known to try and always draft for value and not by need. Badger offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk is the highest rated tackle in the draft and arguably the best lineman in the draft.
He is coming off of a hip surgery that will hold him out for three more months and has limited experience playing, only one year at the FBS level – albeit a very dominant year for Ramczyk. With those lingering questions, teams like the Broncos or Seahawks, who are looking for lineman, may pass on him for others, leaving him open for the Packers in the late first round. And with two linemen possibly on the way out, this pick could make a lot of sense for Thompson.
Another burning question is the running back position. All signs point to Ty Montgomery being the lead back next season, but who will back up the speedy, receiving running back is still a question.
Eddie Lacy is a free agent, and while both sides seem to want Lacy back in the green and gold, a team may try and over pay Lacy, leading to Thompson shying away from a reunion. That leaves Christine Michael, who is also a free agent, but could be brought back on a much cheaper salary. And while I am actually high on Michael’s abilities as a downhill runner to complement Montgomery, depth is always needed.
Look no further than 4th-5th round projected running back Corey Clement. At one point in his college career, it was assumed Clement would be a Heisman contender. While that never panned out, Clement had a great bounce back year with the Badgers in 2016.
Averaging 4.4 yards a carry and tallying over 1300 yards on his way to 15 touchdowns, Clement proved he still had powerback upside. At about 220 lbs., Clement could prove a long term backfield partner for Montgomery.
The Packers are a great team on the cusp of getting back to the Super Bowl. Offseasons are where teams improve through either drafts of free agency. This year, the Packers shouldn’t have to look far. And while they obviously won’t choose all four of the Badgers mentioned, or even three or two of them, there’s a lot of talent in state that fits the mold.