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Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking Ahead: 2014 Draft Prospects

There's only a few weeks left of regular season college football. That means that the athletes who intend to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft have only a few more in-game opportunities to make a statement to scouts and general managers.

While the Packers' draft position could vary wildly depending on the length of Aaron Rodgers' absence, it's reasonable to assume the Packers will be drafting in the later half of the first round. With that assumption, here are a handful of prospects (and games) who might just be wearing green and gold next year.

TE Eric Ebron, UNC
6'4, 245 pounds, Junior

By far the most popular mock draft prediction among bloggers and analysts, the Tarheel tight end isn't as tall or big as his fellow elite TE prospects like Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He is, however, the best receiver of the group, and the best man to replace Jermichael Finley, who is unlikely to return to Green Bay.

Ebron is very fast and has the rare ability to make big plays down the field, much like Jimmy Graham. He's a solid blocker too, although perhaps not as effective in the NFL as some of his larger peers would be. Ebron has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise struggling UNC team, as the favorite receiver of QB Bryn Renner.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia @ UNC, November 9th, 11:30am (ESPN3)

Credit: Minneapolis Star Tribune
DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
6'6, 311 pounds, RS Senior

The defensive line is probably the biggest question mark heading into the 2014 season. As a unit, it's performed brilliantly this season, but several key players (BJ Raji, Johnny Jolly, and Ryan Pickett) will be heading to free agency. It's possible that Ted Thompson may draft a defensive lineman two years in a row.

Hageman will probably be the best option unless the Packers have a draft spot earlier than expected (Notre Dame's Louis Nix would be the best bet at replacing BJ Raji). He'd play defensive end in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense. Hageman's height and quickness make for a potent combination. He's made his presence known by swatting down passes and getting to the quarterback. He has the potential to be a J.J. Watt-type player for the Packers.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin @ Minnesota, November 23rd.

Credit: USAToday
S HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama
6'1, 208 pounds, Junior

Clinton-Dix hasn't had a very good season. He was suspended for a couple of games for taking a loan from an Alabama assistant, which might lower his draft stock. Nonetheless, he's the surefire top safety prospect of the class and just might be available in the middle of the first round. It's become increasingly obvious that the biggest gap on the Packers' roster is at safety opposite Morgan Burnett. Clinton-Dix would give the Packers a formidable pair of safeties and might help rescue their secondary from mediocrity.

WHAT TO WATCH: Alabama @ LSU, November 9th, 7:00pm (CBS)

Credit: FOX Sports
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
6'3, 205 pounds, Senior

He's never done it, but there's a first time for everyone. With some drastic roster shifts being threatened in the future due to the big extensions of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the Packers' wide receiver group will be unable to keep all of its talent in the coming years. Rodgers might be able to turn nobodies into stars, but it's downright foolish to pay a quarterback $20 million a year and then limit his options at receivers. This could be the first time Ted Thompson drafts a first round wide receiver.

Jordan Matthews might just be the best receiver in this class, but he doesn't have the hype of Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins because he doesn't have Johnny Manziel or Tajh Boyd throwing to him. That's just fine for the Packers, as he'll likely be available even if they make the playoffs this year. If the Packers can't retain Jordy Nelson and/or James Jones, Matthews would be a fine replacement at WR1 or WR2 and could allow Randall Cobb to remain in the slot where his strengths lie.

WHAT TO WATCH: Vanderbilt @ Florida, November 9th, 11:00am (ESPN3)

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