tom oates

Tom Oates: Packers should draft best offensive lineman available in 1st round

2013-04-24T05:15:00Z Tom Oates: Packers should draft best offensive lineman available in 1st roundTOM OATES | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

By his admission, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has planned for next season with one number in mind: 579.

As every Packers fan knows, that is the eye-popping yardage total rung up by San Francisco as it ushered Green Bay out of the playoffs in January. Averaging 7.7 yards per play, the 49ers dropped a 45-31 wake-up call on the Packers.

But as McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson begin to assemble their next roster, starting with this week’s NFL draft, they would be wise to consider another number: 51.

As every Packers fan should know, that is the number of times quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked last season. Although Rodgers is the face of the franchise and, probably very soon, its wealthiest employee, he suffered more abuse from opposing defenses than any quarterback in the NFL last season.

The Packers’ playoff disappointments the last two seasons revealed more weaknesses than anyone suspected, but as Thompson and McCarthy contemplate using their first-round draft pick — No. 26 overall — Thursday night, their top priority should be to give Rodgers better protection.

Though the line isn’t entirely at fault, the protection for Rodgers has fallen far short of the protection Brett Favre received late in his Packers career. During his five seasons as the starter, Rodgers has played in 86 games (regular-season and playoffs) and been sacked 223 times. In his final five seasons in Green Bay, Favre played 85 games and was sacked only 95 times.

At 29 and in his prime, Rodgers’ importance to the Packers is immeasurable. And when he signs a contract extension that will make him the highest-paid player in the game, the Packers will need to do more than protect their quarterback. They’ll need to protect their investment.

For that reason alone, the Packers should lean toward taking the best offensive lineman that falls to them at 26. Green Bay needs to rev up its running game and upgrade its pass protection to take the pressure off of Rodgers, and using one or two premium draft picks on linemen would be the quickest, safest way to get that done.

It won’t be easy for Thompson, whose draft-and-develop philosophy is predicated on taking the best available player. Plus, there are other needs to address. San Francisco’s offensive explosion showed the defense could still use work and the Packers’ long-standing need for a franchise running back remains an issue.

However, it all starts up front, and the Packers must get bigger and more physical to match up with NFC powers San Francisco, Seattle and the New York Giants. McCarthy said recently the line needs to improve on the left side, from the center on out.

In the playoffs, the Packers lined up with two undrafted players — right tackle Don Barclay and center Evan Dietrich-Smith — and three mid-round picks in left tackle Marshall Newhouse and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.

In fairness, the line would have looked different had right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the first-round pick in 2010, not been lost during the season with a hip injury. Nor did it help that tackle Derek Sherrod, the first-round pick a year later, didn’t play all season after severely breaking his leg late in 2011.

Bulaga is expected back and the Packers might consider moving him to left tackle. But unless they are convinced that Sherrod will make a full recovery, they will need players to challenge Newhouse and Dietrich-Smith.

History tells us that left tackles aren’t developed, they’re drafted, usually in the first round. That means the Packers need to look at the deep class of tackles and find a potential starter. The top four will almost certainly be gone at 26, but Menelik Watson of Florida State is next on the board and he should be there.

Should the Packers be looking for help inside, it will probably have to be at center. The top two guards will also be gone when they pick, but the top center, Travis Frederick of the University of Wisconsin, should be available. Then again, maybe the Packers think they can get Frederick in the second round.

Of course, there are other ways to reduce the heat on Rodgers. Thompson could give him a better running game by snapping up a premier back such as Alabama’s Eddie Lacy or UW’s Montee Ball, both of whom should be available at 26. Similar to center, the Packers might think they can get a quality running back in the second or third round.

Thompson also could be tempted to add a safety such as Florida’s Matt Elam or Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien to replace Charles Woodson. And in a draft flush with defensive linemen, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, Florida State’s Tank Carradine, UCLA’s Datone Jones or Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore might appeal to him.

The only thing we know for sure is that something must be done about the pass protection or Rodgers, durable as he is, won’t make it to the end of his new contract in one piece.

Contact Tom Oates at

toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - April 24, 2013 1:11 pm
    What was that ridiculous movie from last century — Any Given Sunday? — in which a frustrated running back finally makes it to the end zone carrying the ball with the aid of a snub-nosed .38? Maybe Coach McCarthy can get the same kind of deal for A-Rod.
  2. 3cats
    Report Abuse
    3cats - April 24, 2013 11:57 am
    I hope whoever the pick is can help right away and stay healthy for the whole season.
  3. Milt6969
    Report Abuse
    Milt6969 - April 24, 2013 9:04 am
    BAP. If it's an o-lineman fine, otherwise somebody that can chase down read option QBs.
  4. Steelers6SuperBowls
    Report Abuse
    Steelers6SuperBowls - April 24, 2013 8:26 am
    Get some secondary help first, then the O line.

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