After making the playoffs for eight straight seasons, the Packers have fallen on hard times recently. It was easy to blame an injury to Aaron Rodgers for the 7-9 finish in 2017, but there was no such excuse for the 6-9-1 debacle of 2018. That record was well earned. Uninspired coaching and a series of poor drafts finally caught up with the team. And if things are to improve under new coach Matt LaFleur, GM Brian Gutekunst is going to have to come up big starting Thursday.
With free agency pretty much over, the Packers will go into this week’s draft with fewer holes on the roster than they had two months ago but plenty nonetheless. Here’s a position-by-position look at the needs – from biggest to smallest (the number at the end of each section represents the level of need (8-10 = top priority; 6-7.9 = mid-level priority; under 6.0 = lowest priority).
1. OFFENSIVE LINE – The Packers have drafted one offensive lineman prior to the fourth round since 2011, and that player was Jason Spriggs. It’s time to add more talent to this position. The signing of free agent Billy Turner and the return of Cole Madison should help, but neither is a legitimate tackle and that’s where the biggest need is heading into Thursday night. Bryan Bulaga, who’s undergone more surgeries than a Kardashian, simply can’t be counted on to start and finish 12 games let alone 16. He’s also in the final year of his contract. LaFleur might be the most creative offensive mind in the world, but no scheme will be successful if the five men up front can’t open holes for the run and protect the quarterback. (9.25)
2. CORNERBACK – The Packers have drafted five corners in the first two rounds since 2015, but this position is still a major question mark. After Jaire Alexander, who can defensive coordinator Mike Pettine really count on? Kevin King can’t stay healthy, Josh Jackson struggled as a rookie and Tramon Williams is 36 years old. It would be a shame to see the almost $120 million spent on free agent pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith go to waste because nobody behind them can cover. So while safety may be the more glaring need in the secondary, it’s not the biggest. A defense can survive with a below average starting safety, but a defense will crumble with a below average starting corner and/or nickel back. (8.50)
3. WIDE RECEIVER – This is another position that has been ignored for far too long. Only two wide receivers have been drafted prior to the fourth round since 2011, and one of them was Ty Montgomery. Remember when Rodgers was throwing to Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb? Now imagine him throwing to Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. That’s quite a difference. Sure a GM can always find an Antonio Brown on Day 3, but that doesn’t happen very often. Most of the best wide receivers are drafted on Days 1 and 2, which is not coincidentally exactly where Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Cobb and Adams were selected. (8.00)
ROUND 1 (#12)
It’s very hard to predict who the Packers will take at 12 without knowing exactly which players will be available, so this list of potential choices is predicated on the following non-QBs being unavailable: Ohio State edge Nick Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Kentucky edge Josh Allen, LSU inside linebacker Devin White and Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor.
1. CODY FORD (OL/Oklahoma)
Most people have Ford behind Taylor, Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Washington State’s Andre Dillard, but I think he’s the best offensive lineman in the draft. He moves surprisingly well for such a big man (6-4, 329) and that enables him to handle speed rushers with relative ease. He could start at guard as a rookie and then replace Bulaga at right tackle in 2020. At worst, he’ll be a Pro Bowl caliber guard. At best, he’ll be a Pro Bowl caliber right tackle. Either way, the team that drafts him will be adding a stalwart to its offensive line for the next decade.
2. T.J. HOCKENSON (TE/Iowa)
I normally wouldn’t even consider a tight end with average speed (4.7) this early, but there are two things that make Hockenson a viable option. The first is his blocking. It’s good enough to keep him in the NFL for 10 years even if he caught the ball like Kennard Backman (he doesn’t). The second is the lack of truly elite talent in this draft class. Unless White unexpectedly falls out of the top 10, the Packers figure to be looking at a bunch of very good but not great prospects. In that case, someone as solid and multi-faceted as Hockenson would make perfect sense.
ROUND 1 (#30)
If it’s very hard to predict who the Packers will take at 12, it’s almost impossible to predict who they’ll take at 30. But here’s an educated guess based on the players likely to be available late in the first round. Of course, some of these players may no longer be viable options depending on what the Packers did about two hours earlier.
1. A.J. BROWN (WR/Mississippi)
Regardless of what you may have read or heard, the Packers need a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver – preferably someone who can line up either outside or in the slot. That’s Brown. While he’s built more like a runner (6-0, 226), he sure plays like a receiver. He has the strength to bully cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage and the quickness to separate over the middle. He’s also hard to bring down after the catch and is a more than willing blocker. There are some other wide receivers worth considering at this point, but none of them possess Brown’s productivity and versatility.
2. IRV SMITH (TE/Alabama)
Iowa’s Noah Fant might go higher, but I like Smith better. While he lacks prototypical size (6-2, 244), everything else about him is ideal. He’s comfortable running any type of route, has soft hands and is hard to bring down after the catch. He’ll need to get stronger in order to become a top-flight pass protector, but he’s already very good in the run game. In fact, he’s probably more effective than any fullback who’s played in Green Bay since John Kuhn. And unlike many former Alabama players who max out in college, Smith should be even better in the pros.
ROUND 2 (#44)
If it’s almost impossible to predict who the Packers will take at 30, you can remove the word almost when it comes to predicting what they’ll do at 44. But here’s a guess based on the players likely to be available. Of course, some of these players may no longer be options depending on what the Packers did earlier.
1. NASIR ADDERLEY (S/Delaware)
Adding a true single-high safety to pair with Adrian Amos is imperative, and Adderley could be just the guy for the job. He’s raw – and that led to occasional lapses in coverage in college – but his potential is exciting. The former cornerback has the athleticism to cover running backs, tight ends and wide receivers all over the field. People would often say that about former Packers Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, but in the case of Adderley, it’s actually true.
2. D’ANDRE WALKER (OLB/Georgia)
I loved Yannick Ngakoue prior to the 2015 draft despite what the scouts were saying, and he’s gone on to post 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the Jaguars. I feel pretty much the same way about Walker. I get that he’s undersized (6-2, 250) and a bit stiff, but so was Ngakoue. Some players just have a knack for getting pressure on the quarterback and Walker’s one of those players. It might take a year or two in the weight room before he’s able to hold up against the run on a consistent basis, but he should be able to contribute right away as an edge rusher.
1. JOSH ALLEN (OLB/Kentucky)
2. QUINNEN WILLIAMS (DT/Alabama)
3. NICK BOSA (DE/Ohio State)
4. DEVIN WHITE (ILB/LSU)
5. CHRISTIAN WILKINS (DT/Clemson)
6. T.J. HOCKENSON (TE/Iowa)
7. ED OLIVER (DT/Houston)
8. DEVIN BUSH (LB/Michigan)
9. CODY FORD (OL/Oklahoma)
10. JONAH WILLIAMS (OL/Alabama)
This is just a small excerpt from the nearly 4,000-word draft preview. Gain access to the entire newsletter by making a $5 donation to the site. This donation will also get you access to the private twitter account. Click the button below to donate.