GM Ted Thompson recently said that the Green Bay Packers draft for long-term investment, and not immediate need. That's a luxury they could afford after winning a Super Bowl, and the selection of OL Derek Sherrod in the 1st round last year was one example. Sherrod helped little in 2011, but he's being counted on as a long-term player on the offensive line.
However this draft can't be treated the same as last year. Thompson isn't known to tip his hand, so while he's said one thing, he could be thinking something else. And I hope that's true because the Packers have a couple major needs.
One part of Thompson's draft strategy is that he doesn't focus heavily on one position. With a dozen draft picks in hand, it should be expected that he'll be adding new players up-and-down the roster. Without focusing on any particular player, and I'll count down the Top 10 most important draft needs. That doesn't necessarily mean he should draft in this particular order, the players won't be available in just the right order, but all of these positions should gain at least one additional prospect in the draft.
10. Offensive tackle. The last time Mike McCarthy spoke about Chad Clifton, it sounded like he was recovering pretty well from the injuries that limited him in 2011. But if he's unable (or too expensive) to return, and Derek Sherrod is slow to recover from his severely broken leg, this could be a position that lacks depth. A late round pick might be a necessity, and he would be a candidate for the practice squad if Clifton and Sherrod return.
9. Wide receiver. This isn't a position that needs depth, but the Packers offense is powered by its wide receivers, and they can never have enough prospects around.
8. Inside linebacker. If A.J. Hawk isn't worried about his starting job (and his roster spot; he won't be paid like a starter to sit on the bench), then he should be. D.J. Smith has a promising future, but the position could use more competition and an inside linebacker could help on special teams too.
7. Cornerback. It's more likely that Sam Shields will bounce back next season than they'll need a rookie to replace him. But with the departure of Pat Lee to Oakland, they have a spot open on the roster, and they should fill it with someone better than the average practice squad player.
6. Quarterback. With Matt Flynn in Seattle, they need another quarterback for the roster. Maybe Graham Harrell is good enough to move into the backup role, but they need a Plan B. A late round pick might be the best option because they could stash him on the practice squad if needed. But I wouldn't be upset if they used an earlier pick on the quarterback they really want.
5. Running back. The Packers have shown no interest in re-signing Ryan Grant. With Alex Green recovering from a season ending knee injury, and James Starks showing no sign that he can stay healthy for an entire 16 game season, they'll need another back.
4. Interior offensive line. Jeff Saturday's been signed, so this center not an immediate need after the free agent departure of Scott Wells. This is a long-term investment, as Ted Thompson would say. A lineman who could play either center or guard would be a valuable backup, and maybe a future starter.
3. Outside linebacker. Some people certainly would put this position higher, but some combination of Brad Jones and Frank Zombo might be just as productive as any rookie they'll draft. But the main point here is that the top two positions are even more important.
2. Safety. Maybe Nick Collins returns and then this need falls down towards the middle of the list. But no one knows that for sure. It's better to play it safe and find a talented prospect who could become the next Morgan Burnett. Without addressing this position, it could be either Charlie Peprah or M.D. Jennings starting. And that's not good enough.
1. Defensive tackle. Sometimes a young Cullen Jenkins goes undrafted and he can be discovered by a good scouting department. But usually the best interior pass rushers are selected early in the draft. And the Packers need a good interior pass rusher. While the Packers base defense is a 3-4, what they need is a 4-3 DT like Jenkins who can play as a 5-technique DE on rushing downs, and line up over the guard (like a 4-3 DT) when the Packers play their nickel defense. Improving the run defense would be a nice bonus, but this is about finding a pass rusher.