After making the playoffs for eight straight seasons, Green Bay has 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 on Thursday night.
After free agency, 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 positional analysis represents the level of need (8.0-10 is a top priority; 6.0-7.9 is a mid-level priority; under 6.0 is the 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. 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 Aaron 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 in round 6, but that doesn’t happen very often. Most of the best wide receivers are drafted on days 1 and 2, which not coincidentally is when Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Cobb, and Adams were selected. (8.00)
4. TIGHT END – There’s very little talent at this position, but wide receiver is still the bigger need. Why? Because Rodgers will always look for his wide receivers first – even when he has a Jermichael Finley or a Jared Cook at tight end. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gutekunst draft a tight end before a wide receiver. With 32-year-old Jimmy Graham likely gone after this season, there’s no young player ready to replace him. Fortunately, this looks to be a pretty good year for tight ends, with as many as a half-dozen viewed as potential future starters. (7.75)
5. EDGE RUSHER – Even after spending a fortune on outside linebackers in free agency, the defense could still use an explosive player to bring off the edge on passing downs. The Smiths are capable of getting pressure when lined up across from a tackle, but neither has the explosiveness to do it consistently. Ditto Kyler Fackrell. The thought of adding a young Clay Matthews-type to the Smiths and Kenny Clark is exciting. Throw in Fackrell and Mike Daniels and you can be sure that opposing quarterbacks won’t be eager to face the Packers for the first time in years. (7.50)
6. SAFETY – The Packers need someone to pair with Adrian Amos, and that player doesn’t appear to be on the current roster. Right now, the top candidates would be Williams, who moved from cornerback in the middle of last season and the perennially disappointing Josh Jones. Neither option is appealing. So why isn’t this even more of a need? Because unlike cornerback, finding a capable safety shouldn’t be that difficult. Nearly half the starters in the league were either drafted on day 3 or not drafted at all. Plus, capable veteran Tre Boston is still out there. (7.25)
7. INSIDE LINEBACKER – The Packers haven’t had a Pro Bowl caliber inside linebacker this decade, and it’s hardly a coincidence they also haven’t had a top-10 defense this decade. That’s what happens when Oren Burks, who is coming off a terrible rookie season, is the only player drafted at this position in the first three rounds since Abdul Hodge in 2006. Yes, 2006! This is a big need. That it’s down at No. 7 tells you just how many holes there are on the current roster. (7.00)
8. DEFENSIVE LINE – The Packers showed interest in free agent Rodney Gunter, so this is clearly a position Gutekunst feels the need to address. And that makes sense when you consider Daniels and Dean Lowry are set to become free agents next March. But at least for 2019, the defense would probably be OK without any reinforcements. The starters are good and young backups Tyler Lancaster and Montravius Adams showed potential late last season.That said, I’m guessing a defensive lineman will be drafted before a number of the positions higher on this list. That’s because GMs and coaches love big guys, and this draft is loaded with big guys. (6.25)
9. RUNNING BACK – This wouldn’t be much of a need if Aaron Jones were more durable, but because he can’t stay healthy, the No. 2 running back will likely have to start multiple games in 2019. That’s why the Packers need to do better than Jamaal Williams, whose career yards per carry average is a paltry 3.7. This is even more vital when you consider that LaFleur has spent much of the offseason talking about the importance of running the ball. (5.75)
10. QUARTERBACK – There is a need here, but it’s probably too late to fill it. Gutekunst should’ve signed a veteran free agent to replace DeShon Kizer as Rodgers’ backup. Despite visiting with Missouri’s Drew Lock, it’s hard to imagine the Packers using a high pick on a quarterback. The timing just isn’t right. Instead, look for a QB to be drafted in the middle rounds to compete with Kizer and Tim Boyle. (5.50)
11. KICKER – Gutekunst used a fifth-round pick on punter JK Scott last year even though Justin Vogel was coming off a good season. By that logic, he should without question select a kicker this year. Mason Crosby missed seven field goals in 2018, including two that would’ve either tied or won a game at the end. But there seems to be no logic when it comes to Crosby, who never seems to be held accountable. (5.25)
It’s 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 Bryan 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.
3. JONAH WILLIAMS (OL/Alabama)
Fair or not, one of my biggest concerns about Williams is the relative lack of success of former Alabama offensive linemen in the NFL. But that wouldn’t be enough to dissuade me from taking him at 12. A natural right tackle, he’s versatile enough to play any position along the line. I know he’s not the biggest (6-4, 303) or the most athletic tackle in the world, but he just knows how to get the job done. And while he might never be named to an All-Pro team, he’ll be a quality starter for years.
4. CHRISTIAN WILKINS (DL/Clemson)
He’d be a better fit as a 3-technique in a 4-3, but he might be too good of a football player to pass up. A savvy coordinator – and Mike Pettine is a savvy coordinator – can always figure out a way to maximize talent. After the big four of Bosa, Williams, Allen, and White, Wilkins is quite possibly the most impressive defensive player in the draft. He’s a terrific athlete who comes off the ball low with natural leverage. He’ll be disruptive wherever he lines up. He’s also a superb leader – which is something the Packers’ defense has been missing in recent seasons.
5. DEVIN BUSH (ILB/Michigan)
He might wind up being better than every player on this list, but I’m just not sure if Gutekunst would draft an inside linebacker this high, especially one who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs barely 230 pounds. Bush could probably survive inside if paired with more of a thumper than Blake Martinez, but WILL linebacker figures to be his best position in the NFL. The one thing Bush would definitely bring to the Packers’ defense is the ability to cover the middle of the field. And that’s no (pardon the pun) small thing considering just how much of a problem that’s been for many years.
6. MONTEZ SWEAT (OLB/Mississippi State)
Julius Peppers was a much better college player, but I see some of the future Hall of Famer when I watch Sweat. His run defense is shaky, but with the Smiths around to handle the early downs at outside linebacker, he’d be able to focus on one thing in Green Bay – getting to the quarterback. And that’s something he can do. A 6-foot-6, 260-pounder with 4.41 speed will be hard for offensive tackles to handle. Of course, picking Sweat could only happen if the Packers are OK with the heart condition that came to light at the combine in February.
7. ANDRE DILLARD (OT/Washington State)
Ford and Williams are better players, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Dillard get picked before both of them. He sure looks the part of a left tackle. Blessed with size (6-5, 315), speed (4.96) and quick feet, he’s a scout’s wet dream. And while he often played like a top-15 pick, there were too many times when he struggled to block edge rushers who won’t be drafted until Saturday. He’d have to switch sides in Green Bay, and while that’s not a big deal, it’s not as easy a transition as it seems.
8. RASHAN GARY (DE/Michigan)
His production didn’t match his talent in college and that always concerns the heck out of me. Still, he’s a freakish athlete who gives good effort. He has the potential – a scary word when attached to prospects – to be borderline unblockable once he learns to use his hands better and develops a few more moves. He’s big enough to play end and athletic enough to play standing up. I considered Gary a longshot to be drafted by the Packers at 12 – and that was before reports surfaced about a torn labrum that could require surgery at some point.
ROUND 1 (#30)
If it’s 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 a 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 a few 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.
3. GREEDY WILLIAMS (CB/Georgia)
He entered last season as a potential top-10 pick, but now there’s at least a chance he’ll be available late in round 1. While he’s arguably the most talented corner in this draft, his lack of physicality will turn off a lot of teams. ESPN’s Todd McShay calls him a “pile inspector.” That’s a colorful way of saying he’s always around the pile but never a part of it. Williams tackles like Deion Sanders, but that’s only OK if you also cover like Deion. He doesn’t. It’ll be very interesting to see how much he’s penalized for avoiding contact the way a vampire avoids sunlight.
4. DALTON RISNER (OL/Kansas State)
He reminds me of Bulaga, although his college tape isn’t quite as impressive. That said, Risner has the look of a 10-year starter at right tackle in the NFL. While not a great athlete, he figures out a way to handle edge speed and block moving targets on the second level. And like two of the tackles I mentioned as possibilities at 12 (Ford and Williams), Risner also has the ability to play inside right away. I’d be more comfortable taking him at 44, but I have my doubts about whether he’d still be available.
5. ROCK YA-SIN (CB/Temple)
He’s raw due to playing only one season at the FBS level, but the skill set is undeniable and there’s a pretty good chance he could wind up being the best cornerback in this draft. Ya-Sin doesn’t have blazing speed (4.51), but unlike Josh Jackson, his hips are fluid enough to stay with quick receivers over the middle. He’s also a willing tackler. If Gutekunst is confident in the ability of his defensive coaches to develop talent, he would have to consider Ya-Sin at this point in the draft. Based on his tape, he’s a better prospect than Kevin King, who went 33rd overall in 2017.
6. JOSH JACOBS (RB/Alabama)
He’s going to be picked between 25 and 35, so if Gutekunst wants him, he’ll have to get him here. Jacobs carried the ball only 251 times in three seasons at Alabama – a total some college backs reach in seven games. That light workload is a positive, and so is his physicality as a runner and soft hands as a receiver. The knock on Jacobs is a lack of explosiveness. He had only one run of over 20 yards in 2018. Still, he’s far and away the best back in the draft, and he’d be a terrific compliment to Aaron Jones.
7. KALEB MCGARY (OT/Washington)
McGary’s lack of versatility could push him to day 2, but he’s a plug and play right tackle who’ll start for a decade in the NFL. And while he doesn’t have the quickest feet or the longest arms, I didn’t notice too many edge rushers having success against him in the Pac-12. He’s a better athlete than often given credit for, but whether he moves well enough to function effectively in Matt LaFleur’s outside zone running scheme is certainly a fair question. My answer would be yes, but I’m sure there are those who will disagree.
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 Adderley’s case, 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.
3. PARRIS CAMPBELL (WR/Ohio State)
The Packers need more playmakers on offense, and Campbell is a playmaker. Blessed with good size (6-0. 205) and great speed (4.31), he’s a legit threat to score every time the ball is in his hands. And while he may take a year or two to develop into a polished receiver, in the meantime he’ll make an impact on bubble screens, slants, jet sweeps, returns, etc. The Packers hired LaFleur because of his creative offensive mind. Now it’s up to Gutekunst to get him players.
4. TAYLOR RAPP (S/Washington)
I thought he would’ve been a great pick at 30 a few weeks ago, and now I’m not even sure about picking him here. That’s what happens when you run 4.78 at your pro day. And while Rapp plays much faster, how many quality NFL safeties posted a time that slow coming out of college? Off the top of my head, I’m guessing very few. Still, I don’t remember him struggling to stay with wide receivers in the Pac-12. That’s because he’s an intelligent player whose instincts and technique are top-notch.
5. JERRY TILLERY (DL/Notre Dame)
I loved Stephon Tuitt when he came out of Notre Dame in 2014 and was surprised when he lasted until the middle of the second round. He’s since become a quality starter for the Steelers. Are teams about to make the same mistake again with another Fightin’ Irish D-lineman? There’s no question Tillery is going to be a good pro. The only question is how good? He’s athletic enough to play outside and strong enough to line up inside. And while he wasn’t as consistently dominant as he should’ve been in college, that’s the only reason he might still be available at 44.
6. GREG LITTLE (OT/Mississippi)
Early talk of him being a top-20 pick was always ridiculous, but it’s equally ridiculous to think he’s not worth taking on Day 2. While he was inconsistent at times in college, he has the size, length, and quickness that can’t be taught. What can be taught, however, is technique. Little’s footwork and hand use have to be coached up. He looks clumsy at times. But with better fundamentals and added strength, he has a chance to be a solid starter in the NFL.
7. TRAYVON MULLEN (CB/Clemson)
He’s a very good player who was overshadowed by all the other defensive stars at Clemson. Similar physically to Josh Jackson, whom the Packers took with the 45th overall pick a year ago, but Mullen is faster and a bit more fluid in the hips. He’s a prototypical press corner who gets a powerful jam at the line of scrimmage and should match up well with bigger receivers on the outside. He didn’t make many plays on the ball in college, but to be fair, he wasn’t challenged all that often.