Since the end of the NFL season, an immense amount of studying, evaluating, and mocking (a couple thousands versions of mocking, that is) has taken place leading up to the three-day extravaganza that is the NFL Draft. Who will rise to stardom like JJ Watt? Who will permanently falter beyond measure like JaMarcus Russell? Who will have teams face-palming themselves for not taking the next Tom Brady?
Everybody wants to know. Some people think they know. Few, truly, do know.
Fortunately, for Packers fans, Ted Thompson often knows his way around a draft board. I have written about the polarizing effect created by Thompson’s approach to the offseason among fans but, rest assured, come April 28th-30th there are few teams as confident in their ability to embrace the uncertainty of the draft with exuberant optimism like Green Bay.
Thompson’s judgment day is near and there is work to be done. Green Bay has had an unexpected offseason, to say the least, ranging from Mike Pennel and Demetri Goodson’s four-game suspensions to B.J. Raji’s spontaneous hiatus to Damarious Randall’s involvement with a former teammate being cited for marijuana possession. Not quite the adversity Thompson wanted to face from his own players but, hey, at least Eddie Lacy seems to be doing well. Other than signing tight end Jared Cook, it was another quiet showing in free agency for Thompson meaning his margin for error is very small considering the unfilled holes on the roster.
Here are the nine picks Thompson will be working with in the draft.
Round 1, Pick 27
Round 2, Pick 55
Round 3, Pick 88
Round 4, Pick 125
Round 4, Pick 131
Round 4, Pick 137
Round 5, Pick 163
Round 6, Pick 200
Round 7, Pick 248
Thompson lives and dies by the draft, so the additional compensatory picks in the fourth round (131 and 137) could pay off dividends in the long-run. Now, let’s see what the Packers are in need of heading into the draft:
Green Bay comes into the draft with the biggest need at inside linebacker. Mike McCarthy emphasized moving Clay Matthews back to his outside linebacker position after a year-and-a-half on the inside. To do so, that would require more depth at the position especially since ex-backup Nate Palmer recently signed with Tennessee. Since Thompson did nothing to address the position in free agency, he is either a) confident in the current guys he has, b) wanted to address the need strictly in the draft, c) delusional, or d) all of the above.
Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan will presumably enter training camp as the two starters at the position in Dom Capers base 3-4 defense, given Matthews’ move back outside. Green Bay’s biggest issue is finding a linebacker that excels in coverage. A consistent dime and nickel cover linebacker is the ideal pick for Thompson.
Names to know
- Reggie Ragland – You’ve probably heard this name bounced around with Green Bay’s first round pick. Outside of Myles Jack, Ragland is probably the best all-around linebacker in the draft. He can play the run, is solid in coverage, and has all the makings to be a three-down player. Thompson will be licking his chops if he falls to 27th.
- Nick Kwiatkoski – A projected late-round pick, Kwiatkoski is solid in all phases of run, pass, and pass rushing. Even if Thompson takes a linebacker in the early rounds, this could be a solid pick that adds depth to a position that is lacking it at the moment.
- Kentrell Brothers – Brothers was as solid as they come during his career at Missouri. His athleticism isn’t something to write home about, but he is a well-conditioned linebacker who led the nation in tackles per game in 2015 (12.7). The best part of his game is stopping the run so there is room to grow for him in coverage. Below you can see his quick recognition, close-out speed, and pristine tackling that makes him so valuable.
Jared Cook’s contract is just one-year long setting him up for a make-or-break type year with Green Bay. Richard Rodgers sure-handedness keeps him on the field but he has not shown any signs of being the game-changing athlete that creates havoc for defenses. McCarthy has said, on record, that having a guy to stretch the middle of the field is extremely important to offensive success. Cook may be the guy in the short-term, but his signing does not solve the issue entirely. Rookie tight ends very rarely have an immediate impact in the NFL their first year and this field of prospects is not very deep so the pickings are slim.
Names to know
- Hunter Henry – The clear-cut frontrunner in this crop of tight ends, Henry recorded zero drops last season at Arkansas and is the most well-rounded route runner with the ability to create separation. In a class of prospects riddled with inconsistency and uncertainty, Henry is the most consistent prospect who steadily produced in a pro-style offense.
- Nick Vannett – Just one of Ohio State’s many prospects in this draft, Vannett didn’t put up gaudy numbers due to the amount of talent on the offense. He has a big frame (6’6″, 257 lbs.), blocks well in the run game, and catches the ball at an efficient rate (only two drops). The problem is he fits the description of Richard Rodgers, something the Packers don’t need two of on their offense.
- Thomas Duarte – A wide receiver/tight end combo, the UCLA prospect is a potential mismatch over the middle of the field with his fluidity and large catch radius. He has very little experience playing a traditional tight end role, lacking strength and development as a blocker. As a late-round projected pick or undrafted signee, Thompson may grab him to let McCarthy experiment with his versatility. More weapons for Rodgers never hurts, right?
The Denver Broncos showed just how lethal a disruptive pass rush can be, winning a Super Bowl with the most imposing front line in recent memory. Green Bay took notice and ensured their front. Mike Daniels extended his contract during the year and Letroy Guion re-signed on a two-year deal. In one swift turn of events, however, Mike Pennel’s four-game suspension and B.J. Raji’s departure from football left the defensive front extremely vulnerable. Thankfully, this is the ideal draft for adding pieces along the defensive line. The first round alone boasts a projected 5-7 players being taken in the first 31 picks. With the 27th pick in the draft, Green Bay should have the option of taking high-end talent at the end of the round and bring in a big body that can start from day one. Most of the mock drafts endorsed the Packers filling Raji’s vacancy and there should be options available.
Names to know
- Jarran Reed – Essentially a young B.J. Raji, Reed is an immovable force at nose tackle. He graded second in the nation against the run by ProFootballFocus and controls the line of scrimmage with might. Like Raji, he won’t be a great pass rusher but he will be sturdy two-down run stuffer that can command the gaps.
- Vernon Butler – Butler is quick at the point of attack with an arsenal of moves that gets him to the quarterback at a productive rate. He can shed blockers well, making him usable in both run and pass situations. In the 3-4 defense, he can bounce between tackle and end making him versatile along the line.
- Andrew Billings – Billings is a powerful, brute force in the interior. If you want to make a vicious front line, pair him with Mike Daniels and let them have a field day. Billings broke the Texas Powerlifting School record with an 805 squat, 500 bench, and 705 deadlift. Oh, and here’s him running down a running back from 40 yards away.
Julius Peppers is 36 years old. Last year, Peppers led the team in sacks. Not to take credit away from Peppers ,who is playing at a high level this late in his career, but the inconsistent production on the edge from Nick Perry and Datone Jones is concerning and Jayrone Elliott was efficient in his time allotted but didn’t see the field much after the early part of the season. Clay Matthews’ inevitable move back outside will be a stronghold at the position while Thompson searches for an additional successor to Peppers’ soon-to-be retirement. Capers’ defense relies heavily on rushing the passer so look for Thompson to stock more edge rushers.
Names to know
- Kamalei Correa – The name just sounds like he was meant to be a great player. I can see it already, Kamalei “The Hot Tamale” Correa. His 6’3″, 245 lb frame looks NFL ready and he is well-versed in coverage, run defense, and rushing the passer, making him an ideal outside linebacker.
- Joe Schobert – Familiar with the name? The home-grown, walk-on linebacker at the state university getting drafted by none other than…his home-state team. It’s a perfect script. Concerns surrounding Schobert regard his size and strength but he was immensely productive in his time at Wisconsin and he has a knack for making plays and being around the ball. Just keep proving ’em wrong, Joe the Show.
- Jordan Jenkins – He’s no Leonard Floyd, but the other Georgia edge rusher has a large frame and long arms that make him valuable against the run and difficult to block when rushing.
Other Packers draft tidbits
- Do not be surprised if Thompson grabs two offensive linemen in this draft, especially in the middle rounds where he will likely utilize the added compensatory picks in the fourth round. With contracts expiring all across the offensive line in 2017, Thompson will beat the rush and add more depth to shore up both tackle and guard spots. That starts with this draft.
- Do not be surprised if Thompson trades the 27th pick. This isn’t the biggest of reaches, but adding another pick in the second and fourth rounds is just as valuable, if not more, than that first-round pick. Especially considering how much Thompson loves piling draft picks.
- Expect Thompson to take a safety/outside linebacker hybrid. The NFL is trending towards these fluid defensive athletes who can toggle between two positions. Football is all about matchups and these hybrid players are causing problems for offenses. Names to know for this position include Miles Killebrew, Su’a Cravens, and Darron Lee.
- One guy I would love to see the Packers draft: Kenneth Dixon. A Dion Lewis-esque running back who can run routes, pass protect, and elude defenders or run right through them. An ideal fit for the Packers offense and give them the flexibility they are lacking from Lacy and Starks. He finishes every play with his helmet down fighting for every inch he can get. Small and shifty who can pack a punch. I want you to remember this name and see why he’s so special so I’m including three gifs to depict his elusiveness, power, and catching ability. *In his last two years of college, he had 66 receptions, 844 yards receiving, and 13 touchdowns.
- Even if Green Bay doesn’t choose Dixon, I still expect them to bring in a dual-threat back for security behind Lacy and Starks. A few names that fit this bill are C.J. Prosise, D.J. Foster, and Tyler Ervin.