Tis’ the season where everyone and their brother decides to throw their two sense into the pool and tell everyone why their draft outlook qualifies them to be the next Mike Mayock. I have no right to believe my outlook is more likely to be accurate or that what I am projecting is what the team needs to follow otherwise their draft will be a complete shit-show. What I am going to do is offer my side of what the Packers should do on April 28-30 in Chicago. Feel free to bash as much as you please, as we all will be wrong.
Green Bay holds nine selections in this draft. Included is three fourth round picks, with two of them being compensatory picks. Per usual, they select towards the back half of the first round at 27th overall. GM Ted Thompson and his staff are renowned for basing their selections on best overall, not team need. This outlook has given them a lot of shade from analysts and fans for their unpopular drafting approach, but I personally endorse this. Thompson has always been confident in his draft, improve, and reap the rewards strategy, having 37 players since the 2005 draft that brought ARod to Titletown be drafted and still be on the team. Ted believes in what he does, and the combination of him, his scouts, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy has gelled well ever since all being brought on.
Regardless of strategy, this team needs improvements. The retirement of B.J. Raji leaves the defensive line without an anchor, the linebacking core has been without a consistent contributor for many years, and the offensive line depth behind the starting unit is in nice words, a mess. Tight end could use a young up-and-coming prospect, and safety, cornerback, wide receiver, and running back all could use a sprinkle of talent in their respective units. This draft does not have the normal amount of consistency throughout its entirety as it has held in the past, and that makes picking at the end of rounds that much more difficult. The Packers are obviously no strangers to picking in the final 10-15 of the first round, so their outlook remains the same as always. Since 2000, Green Bay has taken a defensive player with their first round pick 10 out of 16 times, including taking both Raji and Clay in the first round in 2009. They will go defensive with their selection; I have a 100 percent feeling that will happen. Who they will pick is more of a secret.
The Packers do not normally take risks on players that have character issues or a health history that draws red flags. Coly Lyerla, a tight end from Oregon who has plenty of promise in the league until the law caught up with him, was the most recent risk that the team took. He only was an undrafted, unsigned free agent who they brought into camp, tried out, and signed to a small contract in 2014, only to get release in late August on injury settlement. He then got involved in legal issues again and has not been in the league since. The health issue is what I believe the Packers will test in this year’s draft and here is why. Jaylon Smith, a sure-fire top five selection and linebacker in the ’16 draft, tore both his ACL and MCL in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss, leaving his rookie season and possibly his entire career in doubt. Recent testing has been conducted, and there still is no succinct answer on how the recovery is going. Will he even be drafted is a slightly addressed topic, but I feel like his biggest worry is which day, not if, he will be drafted. His talent alone speaks for his playing level, and his future can be so bright, provided this injury does not hold him back. This is not necessarily the direction the Packers will go first round, or first day for that matter, barring any new medical reports clearing the cloudiness about Smith’s potential. Look for a possible day two pick by the Pack, providing them with a possibility to eventually bolster their linebacking core.
Reggie Ragland, Vernon Butler, Jonathan Bullard, A’Shawn Robinson, Kenny Clark, and Andrew Billings are all names being thrown around that the Packers could possibly land to bolster the defending eleven. The likes of Ragland, Clark, and Robinson have the likeliest chance to be gone before 27, but they still could fall into the waiting lap of Green Bay. Butler is a very raw prospect, having faced opponents from Conference USA for the majority of his career at Louisiana Tech. He has a knack for shed blockers easily and make a play on the ball, and has a great motor. His top-heavy frame and lack of counter-move usage in the trenches offers some downfalls, but is overall a solid prospect that should go in the first round. Billings, specifically a Nose Tackle, comes from Big 12 play at Baylor. He uses his leverage as a crafty tool to explode through the gaps, and is a solid tackler. His motor only has one stage and is very raw, especially with being only 21. Butler has a bit more promise than Billings, and I believe he will have already been picked when the Packers are on the clock. This paves the way for Green Bay to bring Billings to the cold cheesy climate in the first round.
In the second round, the Packers hold the 57th selection. This again is towards the bottom of the round, but with a solid pool of defensive talent still available, the team will still be able to fill holes. This is where I pick the Packers to position themselves with a linebacker that will fill the gap on the inside. Joshua Perry, inside ‘backer from Ohio St., was first team All-Big Ten by racking in three sacks and 105 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss. He is a sure tackler that has great instincts and a non-stop motor, but does not have the best coverage skills. His coverage skills can easily be overshadowed, as the linebackers hold many roles in Dom Caper’s scheme. His overall leadership skills and performance leads me to think that this is the pick that Thompson needs to make if still available. Then, defensive line and linebacking depth can both be covered. Outside ‘backer Kamalei Correa from Boise State is also a pick that would fill a need, as his pass-rushing ability can keep Matthews inside to bolster the ranks and keep Clay from consistently not having a set spot on the field. Jaylon Smith could fall here as well.
The 88th overall pick is what Green Bay has next, and defense still is hearing its name called. Deion Jones, Kentrell Brothers, Sheldon Day, Javon Hargrave, and Su’a Cravens are all options for Thompson to explore taking, but the likes of Cravens and Hargrave I believe will be off the board due to potential and skill sets. LSU linebacker Deion Jones seems the likeliest of choices here, as his impressive acceleration, strength, and coverage skills support the usage of this third-round selection. He only has one year of starting experience, but overall this is the guy to add to the linebacker core along with Perry.
The fourth round brings about a bit of an offensive taste for Green Bay. Tight end is an area that needs improvement, and Nick Vannett of Ohio St. fits the bill. The Zack Ertz-comparisons he has garnered are fitting, due to his NFL body type, precise route running, and blocking abilities. The first of three fourth-round picks for the Pack will be used on Vannett, using him as a developmental tool with Jared Cook joining through free agency (that sounds odd, saying ‘Thompson and active free agency). The second pick for Green Bay brings offensive line help in the form of Willie Beavers, who has one of the best names in the draft. The Western Michigan offensive tackle brings a high ceiling, good footwork, and quick, technical movements to the table. He was a 2015 first-team All-MAC selection, solidifying his promise and his draft stock. He comes to Green Bay to help JC Tretter back up the starting men in the trenches. An offensive weapon is what the Packers crave in every draft, and even with their earlier selection of Vannett, they go out and get another gifted skill player. Kolby Listenbee, a senior from TCU, brings great speed and good hands to the receiving core for the Pack, who are aiming to avoid the health topic again this year for their receivers. He would bring a deep threat to the squad while being a sure-handed option with a high ceiling.
Thompson is known for his defensive tone in the draft, and as uncommon as him picking offensively is, I had a slight feeling that he will take the offensive talent and run with it. That is also why I think he will use his final fourth round pick on Josh Ferguson, a senior from the Fighting Illini. Ferguson was the feature back in Champaign, but he embodies more of a scat back in the NFL. His receiving abilities (junior year had 427 yards on 50 catches), uncanny ability to make cuts on a dime, and his slot receiving ability makes him stand out as that third option for Green Bay to use in certain situations. Ferguson would never truly be asked to take on a lion’s share of carries, but he could excel in giving the screen game as well as giving either Lacy or Starks a breather or two during the game.
When the fifth round comes around, the Packers pick 163rd overall. So far, they addressed defensive tackle, linebacker (twice), tight end, offensive tackle, wide receiver, and running back in rounds one through four. There still are holes that need to be addressed, and this pick will again be used on the offensive side of the ball. They drafted offensive line help already, but they need more than just a tackle. Here is where I see them taking an offensive guard, in the hope that he turns out to be a Mark Tauscher-find late in the draft and not a Derek Sherrod-bust. Guards Connor McGovern and Landon Turner both fit the potential aspect for the Packers as far as ‘boom’ potential. Both have huge frames and good techniques to be able to play either guard position, with McGovern having spent more time at tackle but projects to move inside due to movement and hand usage. McGovern, out of Missouri, is one of the strongest players in the draft, grading out with 33 reps, which was top at the combine. His best attributes, besides his strength, are his feet quickness, balance in pass sets, and ability to diagnose the game quickly. Turner comes out of Tar Heel country, and his 6’4″, 330 lb. frame profile him as being a brute blocking force. He grades out a bit lower than McGovern due to his lack of fluidity with his hands and lower athleticism, but his size and accolades (first-team AP All-American and first-team all-conference) make him stand out over McGovern, and that is why the Pack should choose to go with the UNC product in this round.
The sixth round brings around the time for depth chart fillers and taking chances on players due to their potential. Green Bay lost Davon House last year in free agency, and Casey Hayward walked to San Diego this past offseason. Micah Hyde is their only true cornerback-safety combination player on the team, and with his inclusion in certain defensive back packages, the depth can get a bit sparse. Demetri Goodson is coming off his rookie season, and he is yet to get into enough game situations to show who he really is. Ladarius Gunter was thrown into the fire towards the end of the slate last year, yet the results were none too positive or negative to truly get a read on him. Morgan Burnett had one of his most solid seasons to date, and Chris Banjo helps Hyde back up the safeties, but Banjo is more of a special teams contributor than anything. Thus, the need for another defensive back is another need that should be addressed towards the end of the draft. Deiondre’ Hall from Northern Iowa ran a fast 4.55 40-yard dash, had a 127.0″ broad jump, and had a 37″ vertical jump. In his senior year, he amassed 82 tackles, with three forced fumbles and six interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He projects to be more of a nickel or dime back, but the Packers have enough depth towards the top of the charts that Hall would only be asked to fulfill those roles in the beginning. The speed factor and jumping abilities that he brings to the table make him standout, as he is a physical specimen that has tools the team can convert into becoming a successful defender.
The seventh round brings about the Packers final pick, and one that will go any direction imaginable. This round is the round where teams normally do not find the diamonds in the rough or the stud players that will generate a lot of fanfare going into training camp. They seem to enjoy bringing in talent that has some ties to Wisconsin, while still having the possibility to help the team. Michael Caputo is the name that comes to mind for them this year. His abilities to diagnose plays early and use his toughness to blow up plays are qualities that the Packers could minimally use for special teams, if not for certain defensive sub packages. He is more of a run-stuffer safety, a Deone Bucannon-esque prospect without the size, physicality, and coverage skills. His determination and workmanship would work well with this team. They can go any way here, as I also feel like they could take up a project at quarterback like Nate Sudfeld, Joel Stave (another Wisco connection), or Jeff Driskel, among others.
This draft has so many different paths for each team to take, as it is that much harder to predict where they will go. Every year people will offer their takes on what they believe the team will do when draft time comes around on the calendar, yet the odds are always stacked against the projections. Green Bay always drafts with a “best player available” approach, and that has led to both success and failure. More often than not, the contributions that the draftees have brought to the team have paid off, and I believe that trend will continue this season with the players that the team will bring in. Undrafted signees always generate training camp buzz throughout the league, as there always are a select few unheralded players making a name for themselves and earning bigger roles than thought possible. The Packers will almost certainly go defensively minded in this draft, and their offensive gaps will be plugged with a few selections as well as signees. This draft will be a wild one, as it is every year. Here is to hoping that even if I do not get one pick right, the team does.