Going into the 2017 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers have a number of positions that they need to address during the draft. The list includes cornerback, running back and outside linebacker.
You can also add the interior offensive line position to the group as well. Especially after starting right guard T.J. Lang and the sometimes starter at center, JC Tretter, as both exited the team via free agency.
The Packers still have a solid offensive line with David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Lane Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.
But who now fills the hole at right guard is a question, as is who will back up Linsley at center if he can’t play due to injury?
The Packers drafted two offensive tackles in the 2016 NFL draft, but both Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are not sure bets to successfully make the move inside to guard. When Spriggs did get playing time last year, at both tackle and guard, he showed good foot quickness, but also showed a lack of strength at times.
The Packers hope some time in the weight room will improve the latter situation for Spriggs. It certainly did for Bakhtiari. I believe the Packers see Spriggs as their swing tackle.
Murphy would have a better chance to move inside to play guard in my opinion, as he was able to effectively play both left and right tackle at Stanford. The Packers love versatility out of their offensive linemen. Murphy is also a better run-blocker than Spriggs.
Plus, the Packers did re-sign Don Barclay to a minimum contract to remain as a key backup. Barclay can play all the positions on the offensive line, including center, but would be best used as a backup only.
The Packers also really like guard Lucas Patrick who was on the practice squad last season.
All that being said, the Packers definitely need to address the interior offensive line position in the draft. They need to draft a guard and maybe a center as well. Or perhaps someone who can play both positions.
Speaking of the draft and interior offensive linemen prospects, I had another opportunity to speak with NFL scout Chris Landry the other day on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.
I talked with Landry last week on the same show about the running back class in this year’s draft.
Unlike the cornerback, running back and edge-rusher positions, the classes for interior offensive linemen (guards and centers) are not nearly as deep or talented.
That’s why I wanted to get a read on the top interior offensive linemen in this draft. Prospects who will most likely be selected in either the first round or the second round, if the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson decide to go that route.
I asked Landry about four prospects, Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky, Dan Feeney of Indiana, Pat Elflein of Ohio State and Ethan Pocic of LSU.
Landry talked about each of those linemen, as well as Dorian Johnson of Pittsburgh.
“Lamp is a Zack Martin-type player,” Landry said. “Very athletic. Very smart. Very instinctive. Takes good angles. Best in a zone-blocking scheme. And he is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft.”
Lamp was a four-year starter at Western Kentucky. He started three games at right guard in 2013, before moving to left tackle for the rest of his career with the Hilltoppers. All in all, had 51 career starts.
Lamp was named honorable mention All-Sun Belt as a freshman, honorable mention All- CUSA as a sophomore and then was named first-team All-CUSA as a junior and senior.
Lamp tested out well at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he excelled in a number of drills. Lamp also had 34 sets in the bench press, which tied him for second among all offensive linemen.
Landry has Lamp ranked at No. 18 on his horizontal draft board.
“Dan Feeney is more of a power guy,” Landry said. “He’s more of a pure-guard type.”
Feeney played in a program at Indiana which plays at a up-tempo style. Like his former teammate Jason Spriggs, now with the Packers, Feeney also was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior.
Feeney was also named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a freshman and sophomore, named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American as a junior.
Feeney led the way at Indiana for running backs like Tevin Coleman (now with the Atlanta Falcons) and Jordan Howard (now with the Chicago Bears).
Played some right tackle as a senior due to injuries, but playing inside at guard is where he operates best. Some scouts believe Feeney could also play center.
Landry has Feeney ranked at No. 49 on his horizontal draft board.
“Ethan Pocic played center at LSU,” Landry said. “I think he’s more of a guard and can play tackle. He’s played all positions. His strength is his versatility.”
Pocic started 37 games on the offensive line at LSU, 27 at center, nine at right guard and one at left tackle.
Pocic was second-team All-SEC in 2015 and first-team All-SEC in 2016, when he also received multiple second and third-team All-American honors.
I had the Packers selecting Pocic in the second round in my post-combine 7-round mock draft for the team recently.
Landry has Pocic ranked at No. 76 on his horizontal draft board.
“Dorian Johnson of Pitt is a very underrated player,” Landry said. “He can play right tackle in a pinch, but is primarily a guard.”
Johnson started three games his freshman year, two at left tackle and one at right guard. Since then, Johnson became a regular at left guard where he started 39 straight games.
Johnson was named second-team All-ACC as a junior and then was name first-team All-ACC as a senior,plus was named to a number of All-American teams.
Johnson excelled in the vertical jump and the broad jump drills at the combine.
Landry has Johnson ranked at No. 77 on his horizontal draft board.
“In terms of Pat Elflein, I think he’s a center,” Landry said. “That’s what he is best at. I think he can play guard, but he is the best center in this draft. I think he’s really effective.”
Elflein was first-team All-Big Ten three times in his career with the Buckeyes. In 2014, Elflein started three games at left guard and 12 at right guard. In 2015, played strictly right guard, when he was also a second-team Associated Press All-American.
In 2016, Elflein moved to center and was named first-team All-American.
Landry has Elflein ranked at No. 45 on his horizontal draft board.
“I think all those guys who I mentioned are all [up there],” Landry said. “Lamp is a first rounder and all the rest are second-round values.”
In terms of what Thompson might do about selecting an interior offensive lineman in this draft, we can look at his history of doing that since he started running the front office of the Packers in 2005.
In his first year as GM, Thompson faced a situation which closely mirrors what has happened to the team over the last year with his starting guards, when both Josh Sitton (released in 2016) and Lang (left via free agency in 2017) moved on from the team. Both Sitton and Lang had achieved Pro Bowl status as Packers before they found new homes in the NFL.
In the 2005 offseason, both Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle left the team via free agency. Rivera had been named to the Pro Bowl three times in his career with the Packers, while Wahle had been named first-team All-Pro by Sports Illustrated in 2003.
The loss of both Rivera and Wahle opened up a big hole in the middle of the offensive line that Thompson tried to correct that offseason.
Thompson selected two guards (Junius Coston and Will Whitaker) late in the 2005 draft, plus signed Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer via free agency.
The results were not good, as the offensive guard play was horrible. The Packers finished 4-12 in 2005 and Mike Sherman was fired and replaced by Mike McCarthy in 2006.
Thompson looked earlier in the draft in 2006 to add talent to the guard position. Unlike 2005, this time Thompson selected Daryn Colledge in the second round and Jason Spitz in the third round.
Those selections helped to solidify the guard position as both Colledge and Spitz became starters as rookies and remained starters for a numbers of seasons. Colledge started through the 2010 season, while Spitz started through the 2008 season.
The next changing of the guards occurred in the 2008 and 2009 NFL drafts. In 2008, the Packers selected Sitton in the fourth round and then in 2009 selected Lang in the same round.
Sitton became a starter at guard in 2009 and remained as a starter (both at RG and LG) until he released just before the 2016 regular season.
Lang became a starter in 2011 (both at LG and RG) and remained a starter through the 2016 season.
The replacement for Sitton in 2016 was Lane Taylor, who Thompson signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013. Taylor did a solid job as Sitton’s replacement last season.
The center position was manned by veteran Mike Flanagan in Thompson’s first year as GM in 2005, but he was replaced by Scott Wells in 2006. Wells was originally drafted in the seventh round by Sherman when he was both head coach and general manager back in 2004.
Wells remained a starter through the 2011 season, when he left the team via free agency. Thompson tried to solve that issue by signing veteran free agent Jeff Saturday, but towards the end of the 2012 season, it was apparent that the Packers needed to upgrade the position once again, as Evan Dietrich-Smith, who Thompson originally signed as an undrafted rookie in 2009, became the starter.
Dietrich remained the starter through the 2013 season, but then left the Packers in free agency the next offseason.
The Packers found his successor, Corey Linsley, in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Linsley had faced a spirited battle in training camp with JC Tretter, who the Packers had drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. But Tretter suffered a knee injury which took him out of the competition.
Both Linsley (38 starts) and Tretter (10 starts) were very solid in their play at center over the past three seasons. After Tretter was injured again in 2016, Linsley took over again at center and never looked back. Tretter then moved on via free agency to the Cleveland Browns.
So what does this all mean for Thompson regarding the 2017 NFL draft and selecting an interior offensive lineman? I’m sure he’ll look back on the 2005 draft and ponder if he waited too late in the draft to select a guard that year. Then again, Thompson couldn’t be too disappointed in that draft, as he selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Nick Collins in the second round.
My guess is that because the classes for the interior offensive linemen in this draft are not especially deep, that Thompson will select one fairly early in the draft.
Which means that one of the five players Landry discussed in this story could be a Green Bay Packer in 2017.