GREEN BAY—The strength of this year's draft class doesn't appear to dovetail with the Packers' needs, but packers.com draft contributor Tony Pauline says the Packers can find value in the middle rounds at positions of concern.
Pauline is specifically referring to the safety and cornerback positions, thought to be areas of distinct need for the Packers.
"They're kind of in no-man's land," Pauline said of the Packers' position at No. 21 overall. "If there's a player they like, they might have to trade up. If there's nobody they like, they might have to move down a few spots. There's nothing wrong with working the draft. (Ted Thompson has) had success doing it in the past. If you want a safety, you can get value in the middle rounds. If you want a cornerback, you can get value in the middle rounds."
Cornerback Sam Shields could leave the Packers in free agency, which could create a distinct need at that position heading into the May 8-10 draft. What the Packers do at cornerback could directly impact the safety position, as cornerback Micah Hyde could be a candidate to move there.
Pauline referred to the safety talent in the draft as "marginal at best." It will have a chance to improve its stock this weekend at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, which kicks off on Thursday.
"You may be able to get a good (safety) in the third-round area. That's the history of safety. You don't have to get one in round one; you can get one later on," Pauline said.
Who does he like at safety?
"Keith McGill of Utah; he's an imposing looking figure. He's a great athlete and he's going to put up some big numbers at the combine. Will he stay at cornerback or be moved to safety?" Pauline said.
"Jimmy Ward of Northern Illinois is sort of the opposite of McGill. Not really big, not really fast, just a smart, instinctive, tough football player. He doesn't make mental mistakes. You know what you're getting with him.
"Ahmad Dixon of Baylor in the fourth-round area. Good against the run, good against the pass, very aggressive. He plays lights out football, but he has average size/speed numbers," Pauline said.
"The only guy would be Calvin Pryor. I still think 21 is a bit early for him. I have him as a second-rounder," Pauline said.
Alabama's Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix?
"He's solid, not great. The history of safeties coming out of Alabama has not been that great. I would not take him in the first round," Pauline said.
Want a linebacker? Alabama's C.J. Mosley would seem to be on the No. 21 bubble.
"He could be there at 21. If he has a great workout, probably not. How many people thought Lacy would be there for them in round two?" Pauline said.
Value picks at linebacker?
"You've got Chris Borland of Wisconsin, but he's under six foot. Yawin Smallwood of UConn is a thinking man's inside linebacker, but not a great athlete. He's going to go in the third-round area, Borland in the second, third-round area, if he passes the medical," Pauline said, referring to concerns about a 2010 shoulder injury Borland sustained.
"You've got a lot of small college defensive ends that project to 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level," Pauline added.
Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix is a player Pauline continues to favor as a potential value prospect for the Packers at pick 21. Pauline says Nix would've been a top 12 pick had he declared eligibility for the 2013 draft. Instead, he remained in college and his stock has fallen following a disappointing season in which Nix's weight ballooned.
Overall, Pauline considers this to be a draft class of average talent and depth.
"It's not bad. It's good at offensive tackle, good at pass rusher, a pretty good quarterback class. I think it's really lacking in the secondary. There are no elite cornerbacks," he said.
Prospects that could surprise with lights-out workouts this weekend?
"I'll give you three names. We already talked about McGill; I hear he's going to knock it out of the park. A sleeper is a receiver from Clemson named Martavis Bryant. He's tall and I'm hearing he's going to run in the low 4.3's. (Defensive lineman) Brent Urban from Virginia has been struggling with an ankle injury. If he's ready to go, he'll put up some huge numbers. Jadeveon Clowney's not going to surprise anybody," Pauline said.
How much will the events of this weekend change opinions of this draft class? That's the major question heading into an event that has dramatically risen in importance in recent years.