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05/25/2020

Preview: 2020 NFL Draft


After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, the Packers bounced back in a big way under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur. But getting from the NFC championship game to the Super Bowl will take more than another four months of fortuitous calls, close wins, and incredible health. It’ll take a really strong draft – something general manager Brian Gutekunst will get to provide starting tonight.

 

 

ROSTER ANALYSIS

After a rather uneventful free agency, the Packers will go into the draft with pretty much the same holes on the roster that they had a couple of months ago. Here’s a position-by-position look at the needs – from the biggest to the 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 – Surprised this position is at the top of the list? Hey, you can’t play offense without tackles, and the Packers have no legitimate backup on the current roster. Alex Light proved he couldn’t handle NFL pass rushers last season, and Billy Turner was barely adequate at guard.  Plus, there’s no guarantee newcomer Rick Wagner will be able to hold up at right tackle. The 31-year-old has struggled in recent years with both injuries and consistency. 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. (9.25)

2. 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? Last season, he was throwing to Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jake Kumerow. That’s quite a difference. Sure, a GM can always find a Donald Driver in the seventh round, 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. (8.50)

3. 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 and to a lesser extent Kevin King, who can defensive coordinator Mike Pettine really count on? Josh Jackson is looking more and more like a bust, and Tramon Williams is 37 years old and unsigned. Chandon Sullivan, signed off the street last spring, did a nice job in limited snaps, but it would be a huge roll of the dice to count on him holding up for 40 snaps a game. (7.75)

4. DEFENSIVE LINE – This didn’t look like a big need just eight months ago when Mike Daniels was expected to return from injury, Dean Lowry was on the verge of signing a $20 million extension, and Montravious Adams was coming off a strong offseason. Well, a lot can happen in eight months. Daniels was released right before the start of training camp, Lowry regressed, and Adams struggled as soon as the games counted. Tyler Lancaster was a lifesaver, but he shouldn’t be asked to play more than 25 snaps a game. And while Kinglsey Keke showed potential as a rookie, he probably lacks the size to hold up as a starter. (7.50)

5. INSIDE LINEBACKER – The Packers didn’t have a Pro Bowl-caliber inside linebacker last decade, and it’s hardly a coincidence they also didn’t have a top-10 defense last decade. That’s what happens when Oren Burks, who is coming off another forgettable season, is the only player drafted at this position in the first three rounds since Abdul Hodge way back in 2006. That’s hard to believe. It’s also why this is once again a big need. That it’s down at No. 5 tells you just how many other holes there are on the current roster. (7.25)

6. TIGHT END – There’s no Davante Adams at this position, so why is wide receiver the much bigger need? Because young Jace Sternberger has legit potential, and more importantly, Rodgers will always look for his wide receivers first – even when he has a Jermichael Finley or a Jared Cook at tight end. Still, it would make sense for Gutekunst to add a player in the middle rounds. Backup Marcedes Lewis has been around forever, and Robert Tonyan goes from Ozzie Newsome to Justin Perillo as soon as August turns to September. (7.00)

7. RUNNING BACK – This wouldn’t be much of a need if Aaron Jones were more durable and not entering the final year of his contract. The coaches love backup Jamaal Williams, but the offense was noticeably less effective when he was on the field last season. Dexter Williams barely played as a rookie after getting into LaFleur’s doghouse during camp. It’s probably wishful thinking to expect him to contribute much in 2020. (6.25)

8. EDGE RUSHER – Even after spending $120 million and a first-round draft pick at this position a year ago, the defense could still use an explosive player to bring pressure off the edge on passing downs. Za’Darius Smith is most effective when lined up over a guard, Preston Smith tailed off after Halloween and Rashan Gary showed little as a rookie. Reliable Kyler Fackrell left in free agency and needs to be replaced. (6.00)

9. QUARTERBACK – There is a need here, but it’s probably too late to fill it. Gutekunst should’ve signed a veteran free agent last month. Despite reportedly showing interest in Jordan Love, 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 unproven No. 2 Tim Boyle and even more unproven No. 3 Manny Wilkins. (5.75)

10. SAFETY – This shouldn’t be a high priority after signing free agent Adrian Amos to a $37 million contract and drafting Darnell Savage in the first round a year ago, and it isn’t. Depth is a bit suspect, although the return from injury of Raven Greene will be helpful. Special teams star Will Redmond is also around. (5.00)

11. SPECIAL TEAMS – Punter JK Scott has been somewhat of a disappointment, but overall, the Packers are OK here. Kicker Mason Crosby is coming off a strong season, long-snapper Hunter Bradley is solid and journeyman returner Tyler Ervin was a revelation after being claimed off waivers last December. (4.75)


AND THE GREEN BAY PACKERS SELECT…

Predicting which player the Packers will take in the first round is never easy, and it’s that much harder when they’re not scheduled to pick until after the late local news.

The following are the 48 players I consider either definite, likely or potential first-round picks. I put a line through the 26 players I don’t expect to be available at 30.

 

QUARTERBACKS (4)

Joe Burrow (LSU)
Justin Herbert (Oregon)
Jordan Love (Utah State)
Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)

RUNNING BACKS (3)

J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
D’Andre Swift (Georgia)
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

TIGHT ENDS (1)

Cole Kmet (Notre Dame)

WIDE RECEIVERS (8)

Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State)
Justin Jefferson (LSU)
Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
Denzel Mims (Baylor)
Michael Pittman (USC)
Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Henry Ruggs (Alabama)

TACKLES (8)

Mekhi Becton (Louisville)
Ezra Cleveland (Boise State)
Austin Jackson (USC)
Josh Jones (Houston)
Andrew Thomas (Georgia)
Jedrick Wills (Alabama)
Isaiah Wilson (Georgia)
Tristan Wirfs (Iowa)

GUARDS (1)

Robert Hunt (Louisiana)

CENTERS (1)

Cesar Ruiz (Michigan)

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (4)

Ross Blacklock (TCU)
Derrick Brown (Auburn)
Marlon Davidson (Auburn)
Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)

EDGE RUSHERS (5)

K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)
A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)
Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
Chase Young (Ohio State)

LINEBACKERS (5)

Zack Baun (Wisconsin)
Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech)
Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
Patrick Queen (LSU)
Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)

CORNERBACKS (7)

Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
Kristian Fulton (LSU)
Jeff Gladney (TCU)
C.J. Henderson (Florida)
Jaylon Johnson (Utah)
Jeff Okudah (Ohio State)
A.J. Terrell (Clemson)

SAFETIES (1)

Xavier McKinney (Alabama)

 

This leaves 22 players. I’d be shocked if Gutekunst drafts a quarterback, a tight end, a guard, a center, or an edge rusher at 30, so that brings the number of possibilities down to 17. And while I really like the running backs, again, I’d be surprised if he goes in that direction this early in the process. And then there were 14.

WIDE RECEIVERS (4)

Brandon Aiyuk
Denzel Mims
Michael Pittman
Jaelon Reagor

TACKLES (3)

Ezra Cleveland
Josh Jones
Isaiah Wilson

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (2)

Ross Blacklock
Marlon Davidson

LINEBACKERS (2)

Zack Baun
Jordyn Brooks

CORNERBACKS (3)

Kristian Fulton
Jeff Gladney
Jaylon Johnson

 

This is where it gets trickier. While wide receiver and inside linebacker are major needs, Green Bay hasn’t used a first-round pick at either position since George W. Bush was in the White House. This doesn’t mean I think Gutekunst would pass on Jefferson, Murray or Queen should they be available at 30, but they almost certainly won’t be, and I just don’t think he’d be willing to take Aiyuk, Mims, Pittman, Reagor, Baun or Brooks quite that high. As for corner, would Gutekunst use a No. 1 pick at the position after drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first two rounds only 24 months ago? I doubt it. And then there were five.

TACKLES

Ezra Cleveland
Josh Jones
Isaiah Wilson

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Ross Blacklock
Marlon Davidson

As much as I would love to see an explosive weapon added on offense, I’ve thought for months that this pick would be used on a big guy. As I wrote yesterday, Cleveland is the type of player Gutekunst likes to take in the first round. That said, he also played in the Mountain West Conference, and the Packers haven’t drafted a player in the first round from outside the ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC in a long time. Jones is plenty talented, but his tape isn’t all that good – and like Cleveland – he projects more as a left tackle. Wilson, on the other hand, is a pure right tackle, and while he should probably be picked early on day 2, his potential is as big as his body (6’5, 350). Of these three players, he would make the most sense for the Packers.

Both Blacklock and Davidson would fill a major need at defensive end, so who’s the better player? Most scouts seem to prefer Blacklock, but my eyes disagree. Davidson was far more impressive on tape than Blacklock. He’s stronger at the point of attack, and he’s a more versatile pass rusher. And then there were two.

Let me start by saying I don’t expect Gutekunst to stay at 30. I think the chances are good that he’ll move either up or down – with up being the more likely of the two directions. That could put players like Epenesa, Jackson, Murray, and Queen very much in play. But for the sake of this exercise, I’ll assume the Packers are picking at 30. If it comes down to Wilson or Davidson, I’m going to ride yet another draft-related streak. The Packers haven’t selected an offensive player in the first round since 2011. So, the pick is…

MARLON DAVIDSON

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2 Responses “Preview: 2020 NFL Draft”

  1. corey schultz
    04/23/2020 at 1:22 pm

    I love how your broke down your selection here. Looking for the lamestream media to copy this format in the future, lol

  2. Tom Moshier
    04/23/2020 at 6:50 pm

    Well done Micheal. Thoughtful and logical. I wouldn’t think either Josh Jones or Ezra Cleveland get to 30. At 6’5” and 350lbs, is Isaiah Wilson a fit for a zone blocking scheme? Or did LaFleur scrap the more athletic OT type? As far a Blacklock vs Davidson I defer to your judgment. Your far more knowledgeable than me. It’s interesting to note, I just read an article by a former scout titled potential 2020 offensive draft busts. The list included Jordan Love, Ezra Cleveland, and Denzel Mims. All three players you’ve warned us about. I hear we want to draft a OT or WR at 30 so there’s still a chance Rodgers gets his playmaker. However, it would be hard to argue with either Blacklock or Davidson at 30 and either Baun or Brooks in round two even if we had to move up in the second.

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About Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for close to 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2006. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.