GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The ESPN.com NFL draft team has been hard at work assessing team-by-team needs and researching the players expected to be available for selection this May -- yes, it's hard to get used to saying the draft is in May.
On Thursday, those two exercises were married in the form of the team-by-team draft needs and possible ways those needs could be filled. Kevin Weidl handled the NFC North and in doing so gives readers another reason to subscribe the ESPN Insider content.
But until you get signed up, here's a look at what Weidl sees for the Packers, who select 21st overall:
Biggest needs: Tight end, safety, defensive tackle.
My take: Tight end depends largely on what the Packers do with Jermichael Finley. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March, but it might not be known by then if he will be cleared to return from his neck injury. As Weidl pointed out, top backup Andrew Quarless also will be a free agent. With a half a season to prove himself, Quarless was steady although he wasn't the impact player that Finley was, which is why I asked tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot this week if he needs a playmaking tight end next season, whether it's Finley or someone else. “I would say so, yeah,” Fontenot said. With the quarterback and running back that we have, yes.”
As for safety, that might be the Packers' greatest need. The Packers didn't have a single interception by a safety in 2013. While the Packers hope for improvement from Morgan Burnett, who signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension last July, they still need someone to play next to him.
Other possible areas of need, depending on what happens in free agency, include inside linebacker, outside linebacker, backup quarterback and center.
Possible picks: Weidl wrote that the tight end class is “strong at the top, which includes UNC's Eric Ebron, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who all could be in the mid-to-late first round mix.” ... At safety, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix “could be a viable option where the Packers are selecting if not Florida State's Terrence Brooks or Stanford's Ed Reynolds would be solid fits in the mid-rounds,” wrote Weidl. ... On the defensive line, Weidl wrote “Notre Dame DT Louis Nix III is an intriguing name and solid fit here. After an impressive 2012 season, Nix battled a knee injury for much of his senior season and his performance level dropped off a bit as a result. Coming into the season, Nix was heralded as a top-10 pick, but there is a chance he could still be on the board when the Packers are selecting. If the Packers elect to wait until later, Penn State DT Daquan Jones, Tennessee DT Dan McCullers and Connecticut's Shamar Stephen could all be in the mix in the Day 2 range.”