Lambeau Leap of Faith

April 23, 2010 2:37 AM

Packers Get Earth Day Gift in Form of Bryan Bulaga

4274856578_3da860f956.jpgBryan Bulaga, expected by many draft experts to go in the top half of the first round and as high as top ten by a few, fell all the way to 23rd.

Most experts and fans agree that the Packers greatest position of need was offensive tackle, even after they re-signed veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Last season, the Packers gave up a league-high 51 sacks, and while they only yielded 19 in the final eight weeks after Tauscher returned, no other playoff team yielded more than that pace of 2.2 sacks per game over the season.

Moreover, with Clifton having battled injuries for two consecutive seasons and Tauscher facing his first full season after a serious knee injury, their durability should be called into question. Even if the 32-year old bookends can remain healthy, they are not the lockdown pass blockers they were in 2007 when the team went to the NFC Championship Game. If their time has not passed yet, it will soon, and no one on the Packers roster is an heir apparent to their spots. T.J. Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009, showed promise, but even should he prove himself, his tackle partner needed to be found.

Bulaga was one of the few tackles in this draft deemed ready to step in and play as a rookie. He was voted All-Big Ten and started 28 games in his career with Iowa. At 6'5" and 315 pounds, he possesses the reach and bulk needed for the left tackle position in the NFL.

With Al Harris' rehabilitation ahead of schedule and two excellent starting cornerbacks already in place, barring injury no draftee at that position would be called upon to play higher than the dimeback position--one that sees about a dozen plays a game. Even with the likelihood of time lost from a suddenly injury-prone Harris and a nigh-mid-30s Charles Woodson, there are other Packers draft picks from the past two years to step up (Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee), as well as the return of Will Blackmon who played the dime position the two years previous to last season's injury.

Given those facts, drafting a cornerback in the first round would not have the impact drafting a tackle might.

There are also a lot of fans who wanted to see the Packers get an impact outside linebacker, and there were some available. But making a move there would simply add to the glut of Packers at the position, where the team has depth but not marquee talent.

There were players on the board that could have provided some upgrade over the likes of Brad Jones, Brady Poppinga, Desmond Bishop, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon Chillar, and Jeremy Thompson. All of these players were good enough to have started previously, been projected to start, or filled in once now-departed Aaron Kampman was hurt. No team carries eight outside linebackers, so drafting a guy who might start means releasing someone who you know can--in other words, it had better be for a sure thing.

The top candidates were Sergio Kindle and Jerry Hughes. But Kindle is still on the board because while he is the size of an OLB in a 3-4, he played DE in a 4-3, and is reportedly a bit stiff changing directions, something the Packers would have to work out in the transition. And while Hughes appeared to be a monster, he played in a soft conference, and projecting him as the starter opposite Matthews would be a crap-shoot: Jones is a safer projection, while Hughes has more potential for greatness.

Think about it: How many rookies have had the kind of impact Clay Matthews, III, had last season at that position in a 3-4? Considering Brad Jones played more than adequately at the position as a rookie last season and will only be better for the experience, what is the likelihood another player offers a significant upgrade there?

There are no other positions of need for this team--at least in the first round, where only Oakland drafts a kicker and only Miami drafts a kick returner. Left tackle was the only answer once a starting quality player feel into the Packers' lap, even without the consideration that you can get a young player to protect your franchise quarterback who is already one of the best in the league for his entire career.

It is going to be a fun partnership.

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