NFL DRAFT: Packers could get defensive again in first round

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Green Bay Packers rely on a tried-and-true recipe in building a roster.

Take the best available player in the draft. Develop homegrown talent. Add a pinch of free agency. Repeat the process each spring.

No sense in stopping now for general manager Ted Thompson.

''You can be in a position where this (player) solves Problem A on our roster, but he's also the best player available,'' Thompson said this week at Lambeau Field.

''You can be in a position and get lucky where you can address both, but if it comes to a point or the other, I would prefer to take the best player available.''

This year, taking a defensive lineman, inside linebacker or tight end would fill the Packers' most immediate needs. But other considerations could be weighing on Thompson, who rarely divulges clues into his thinking.

''What you think you might need is not necessarily what you're really going to need next week because things are going to change between now and next week,'' Thompson said.

The Packers don't often dip into free agency, so the team must, for the most part, hit the marks on their draft picks. Something's working, because Green Bay typically picks late in the first round each year following a playoff run.

The Packers have the 27th overall spot in the first round. Here are some areas the Packers could target with their nine selections, and a few other notes:

DEFENSIVE LINE: Letroy Guion is back, but veteran B.J. Raji is gone for a least a year after saying in the offseason he was taking a hiatus from the game. Raji had a good 2015 season, and his locker room presence will be missed. In the first round, the Packers could buttress the middle of the line with prospects such as Alabama's Jarran Reed or Baylor's Andrew Billings. Complicating roster decisions this fall will be emerging backup Mike Pennel's four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

LINEBACKER: Clay Matthews is taking his long blond hair and pass-rushing prowess back to the outside, which means the Packers could be in the market for an inside linebacker. In the first round, the first name that comes to mind is Alabama's Reggie Ragland.

Raji's departure and the impending move of Matthews means Green Bay would be without two of its top run stoppers up the middle from last season. Still, coordinator Dom Capers has tended to use less of a standard 3-4 scheme in recent seasons with the league trending away from the run. For now, Sam Barrington would top the Packers' inside linebackers depth chart, along with Jake Ryan, a 2015 rookie who took over the starting job down the stretch. Barrington emerged in the second half of 2014, but missed most of 2015 with a foot injury.

TIGHT END: The Packers signed free agent Jared Cook from St. Louis to help shore up a position that hasn't had a consistent threat since Jermichael Finley suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2013. Richard Rodgers, a third-round pick in 2014, had eight touchdown catches last year. But if Thompson wants to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers another target to soften the middle, Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry would fit. An scouting report compared Henry to the Cowboys' Jason Witten.

PEEKING AHEAD: The Packers' draft room typically has several boards of players, sometimes with names of current players and the season in which their contracts expire. A number of those tags belong to key players whose contracts expire after the 2016 campaign. Running back Eddie Lacy and left tackle David Bakhtiari are entering the fourth and final years of their rookie contracts. The deals of veteran guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang also expire after this season. The Packers could use picks later in the draft to develop depth that could be used to fill holes in the future.

TIDBITS: The Packers have had recent success with Crimson Tide products in Lacy (second round, 2013) and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (first round, 2014). ... Mike Neal remains unsigned, while fellow outside LB Nick Perry returned this offseason on a one-year deal. Veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers is also entering the last year of a three-year deal. ... The team hasn't selected an offensive player in the first round since tackle Derek Sherrod in 2011.



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