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Green Bay Packers' draft needs: Jimmie Ward's versatility a plus

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

Brooks: Potential Round 1 surprises

While some names pop up in every mock draft, Bucky Brooks identifies 10 underrated guys who could be first-rounders. **READ**

The Green Bay Packers have been fairly quiet during free agency since Ted Thompson became the general manager in 2005. They broke from that routine this year, making a splash with Julius Peppers, whom they signed to a three-year contract worth up to $30 million. With the All-Pro defender lining up opposite Clay Matthews, Green Bay now boasts one of the NFC's best pass-rushing duos.

Green Bay tends to be overshadowed by the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, but let's not forget that Aaron Rodgers is lining up under center for the reigning NFC North champions. The Packers have the talent to compete with the two powerhouses, but the team will need to see development from its young linemen and plug a few holes on both sides of the ball if it wants make waves this season.

Fortunately for the Packers, they should be able to upgrade the weak spots on their roster with the nine picks they hold in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Here are four positions of need for Green Bay -- and four prospects who could fill them.

1) Safety

Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward round out a talented cornerback group. But if the Packers want to improve upon their 24th-ranked pass defense from one season ago, they need an upgrade at safety. It's doubtful that either of the two top players at the position -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- will be available with the No. 21 overall pick. If one of them does fall that far, Green Bay is unlikely to pass on him.

The Packers should be able to land Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois or Deone Bucannon from Washington State in the second round (No. 53 overall). Ward has the versatility to cover both perimeter and slot receivers, while Bucannon is a more physical player. Green bay also could use one of its two fifth-round picks on Georgia Tech's Jemea Thomas, who's one of the best tackling safeties in the 2014 class. The 5-foot-9 corner plays with good overall awareness but doesn't have the size or length to wow NFL decision-makers.

2) Tight end

Andrew Quarless has some big shoes to fill. The fifth-year player is solid, but he's not going to affect defensive game plans the way Jermichael Finley did when he was healthy. Eric Ebron, the draft's top tight end, will be long gone by the 21st overall selection, but the Packers could use their extra picks to move up the board and take the North Carolina product. If they hold on to the pick, they might consider Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has the most receptions (146), receiving yards (1,840) and touchdown catches (21) of any tight end in Washington's history. He has outstanding size and high-point skills, and would be an inviting target for Rodgers in the red zone. He's never fully lived up to his potential, which excites some teams and concerns others.

Crockett Gilmore from Colorado State, who is projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, could be a reliable option in Green Bay's passing attack. He's not a field-stretcher (ran a 4.89-second 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine), but he's a surprisingly good blocker who played well at the Senior Bowl.

3) Inside linebacker

The Packers are set at outside linebacker after signing Peppers to team with Matthews. Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk are still solid interior backers, but the latter is entering his ninth NFL season. I think Green Bay has an opportunity to add some depth at the position and find Hawk's eventual replacement.

The only inside linebacker worthy of the 21st overall pick is Alabama's C.J. Mosley, and I believe he'll be off the board before then. Green Bay could opt to trade down and grab either Chris Borland from Wisconsin or Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. The former Badger is a more physical and instinctive player, who will contribute more in run support than his Big 10 counterpart. However, Shazier is much more athletic and explosive, and offers more versus the pass.

4) Wide receiver

Green Bay has lost two talented receivers in the past two offseasons, with Greg Jennings going to Minnesota last year and James Jones signing with Oakland last month. That said, the Packers still have Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom are in the prime of their careers. Although receiver isn't a pressing need, I expect the Packers to take advantage of the talent in this year's group and select a pass catcher in the middle rounds.

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington is undersized (5-foot-9), but he's extremely athletic and fits the Packers mold. As a freshman, Ellington started at point guard for the Gamecocks, and you can see his court quickness translate onto the field. He's a second-round talent who will likely fall to the third round because of the depth at the position in the draft.

Brooks: Best fits for top prospects

In advance of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bucky Brooks is examining potential landing spots for high-profile players in this class. **READ**


So what will the Packers do with their first-round pick (No. 21 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening, according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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