Despite defensive needs, Packers could eye offense in first round

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) rushes against San Francisco 49ers defense during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay.
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) rushes against San Francisco 49ers defense during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Five times last season the Packers scored 20 or more points and lost, including in the playoffs against the 49ers. Throw in a tie against the Vikings where the Packers managed 26 points, and it’s easy for fans to expect defensive players to don brand new Packers hats early and often in the 2014 NFL Draft. Not so fast.

This year’s class of incoming NFL players is being widely regarded as one of the more talented and deep groups in recent years, including plenty of talent on offense. While fans may pine for a hard-hitting safety in the mold of Nick Collins, an inside linebacker that would make the 49ers jealous or another big-bodied defensive lineman Dom Capers can utilize, here are three reasons the Packers may take an offensive player in the first round of this year’s Draft.

1. It’s Still Ted
If there’s one maxim a Ted Thompson-led front office lives by, it’s that they should take the best player, regardless of position. This, of course, led to a team with a franchise quarterback taking Aaron Rodgers and a squad loaded with wide receivers adding Randall Cobb. We will, of course, never know if Thompson deviated even slightly from this model in the last two years, drafting two guys in positions of need, linebacker Nick Perry and defensive lineman Datone Jones. With James Jones departing at wide receiver, Jermichael Finley a free agent with medical questions and still questions on the offensive line at center and with depth, should the “best player available” play offense, Thompson and company may not flinch.

2. Defensive Reinforcements are on the Way
Provided they stay healthy through the preseason, which is far from a given in the NFL, Green Bay stands to make some not-so-subtle veteran additions on defense. The anomalistic free agent signing of Julius Peppers grabbed headlines, but the Packers also get a healthy linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Casey Hayward on the field. The two most recent first round picks, Nick Perry and Datone Jones both battled injuries throughout the year. That’s four players who, perhaps in large part because of injuries, did not meet expectations last year plus a free agent in Peppers, all of whom could trend upward and only help the defense, allowing the front office to eye an offensive player early.

3. The Draft Isn’t the Only Answer
During the 2012 regular season, Green Bay’s defense ranked 11th in both yards allowed and points against. Those ranks dropped to 25th in the league in yards allowed and 24th in points in 2013. This happened despite picking defensive players in the first round in 2011 and 2012. Returning players can change their level of performance, sometimes significantly, from one year to another – either positively or negatively. To show substantial improvement on defense, the Packers will need to count on big improvement from veterans, not just an influx of rookies.

This all isn’t to say the Packers will or won’t take an offensive player with their first round pick. They also have the always popular option of trading down, perhaps even more tantalizing with a deep draft and other teams looking to move up. Still, many Lambeau loyalists seem to think it’s a foregone conclusion that the first pick of the draft will be on the defensive side of the ball, but there are plenty of reasons Ted Thompson and company could decide to bolster their offense instead.

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