I still expect the Packers to take a defensive end or outside linebacker in the first round, but if GM Ted Thompson truly wants to adhere to his best player available philosophy, he might find Kevin Zeitler difficult to pass up at 28. While watching a few Wisconsin games recently, I came away extremely impressed with the massive guard who played in the shadow of All-American center Peter Konz for the past few seasons.
There’s no sure thing in the draft, but Zeitler is pretty darn close. While he may never be the best player at his position, at the very least, he should be a solid starter for the next 10 years. And considering that Thompson seems more than OK with getting a solid starter with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft (linebacker A.J. Hawk), I’m guessing he’d be absolutely thrilled with getting a similar type player 23 picks later.
How much do I like Zeitler? Enough to take him over Konz if the two players were both still on the board at 28. The big reason is Zeitler’s versatility. He’ll be drafted into the NFL as a guard, but he shouldn’t have any trouble moving to center. He plays wide-based with solid anchor strength and can stop a charge. He also shows awareness in pass protection. Mix in ideal size (6’4, 315) and above-average athleticism and you’ve got the recipe for a terrific interior offensive lineman. Konz might be able to play multiple positions at the next level, but I have my doubts. His height (6’5) could be an issue at center and it would almost certainly be an issue at guard. It’s really tough for players that tall – even fairly flexible ones like Konz – to keep defenders from getting under their pad level at times.
Picking Zeitler at 28 wouldn’t help Green Bay’s 32nd-ranked defense, but it would protect the team at a pair of vulnerable positions on offense. Left guard T. J. Lang is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2013 and newly signed center Jeff Saturday will turn 37 in June. That means the Packers could need two new starters on the offensive line a year from now. Zeitler would be able to fill either hole. In the meantime – assuming he doesn’t beat out Lang in training camp – he would provide outstanding depth. And while improving the defense has to be a priority for Thompson, it’s no more important than making sure Aaron Rodgers will be adequately protected in the future.