The 2012 NFL Draft is almost upon us as the first round kicks off Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.
This is the round where many close teams are able to acquire that final piece to the puzzle to get them over the hump and into the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers proved last season they were still a Super Bowl contender and if they were able to muster any kind of pass rush late in the season they probably would have been playing for their second-consecutive Lombardi Trophy.
Green Bay will have a chance to acquire Clay Matthews version 2.0 Thursday night when they take a pass rusher in the first round. There are some people that say the Packers need to draft a center while others say a cornerback, both of which would be good options, however, neither of those positions would make an immediate impact. Obviously, if injuries occurred then that is a different story. Basically, the facts do not lie: Green Bay was third to last in the NFL last year with a dismal 29.0 sacks after their incredible 47.0 sack season in 2010.
A pass rusher who can complement Matthews on the opposite side of the defensive line has the potential to devastate opposing offenses. Imagine a player such as Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus or Shea McClellin lining up opposite of Matthews. Offenses would no longer be able to double or triple team Matthews because they have another dynamic pass rusher they must account for.
An outside rusher would be ideal but not a necessity in the first round. The major problem Green Bay had last season was not just a pass rush, but more specifically the ability to get any kind of pressure in the middle of the line. Matthews, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo could get around blockers on the outside, but because there was no push up the middle the opposing quarterback could step right up into the pocket and throw a 20-yard completion.
The Packers desperately need a defensive end that is capable of applying interior pressure so Matthews and whoever else can rack up the sacks. Former Packer Cullen Jenkins was phenomenal at doing this, which is why Matthews was able to record 23.5 sacks in his first two seasons in Green Bay. What happens when Green Bay is unable to get any pressure out of their defensive lineman? Matthews gets 6.0 sacks and has to drop back into coverage for a majority of the downs.
A solid first-round selection that is capable of doing this is Jerel Worthy out of Michigan State. Worthy could be available when the Packers are on the clock with the 28th pick. He played defensive tackle in college and racked up 11.5 career sacks. He is an outstanding run-stopper similar to Ryan Pickett but can bulldoze his way into the middle forcing the quarterback outside of the pocket.
Green Bay has efficiently upgraded their line already this offseason with defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who has 19.5 career sacks, and former Packer Daniel Muir. Now general manager Ted Thompson must take it a step further and hit on several pass rushing prospects throughout the draft.