We’ve passed the halfway point of the season, bringing us ever closer to the NFL Draft. Mock drafts are already hitting the internet with regularity, so we took the opportunity to ask the APC writing staff what position(s) or player(s) they hope the Packers will target in next spring’s draft.
Evan “Tex” Western: EDGE, WR, CB
I’ll do better than one position. The Packers will have four picks in the first three rounds (including an expected third-round compensatory pick), and I’ll give you three positions that I think the Packers absolutely should draft within those top four picks, in some order.
First, this team needs depth on the edge. Nick Perry showed on Sunday in Chicago that he’s still got it and Clay Matthews has had a nice resurgence this year, but behind them we have Ahmad Brooks (a free agent next spring), Kyler Fackrell (yikes), Vince Biegel (On Wisconsin, but he’s just two games into his career), Chris Odom (cut-down pickup from Atlanta who hasn’t done anything yet), and Reggie Gilbert (who I’d love to see on the 53 instead of the practice squad). That’s not much to go on going into next year, especially as Matthews gets another year older, and so an edge rusher should be a top priority for a pick on days one or two -- and, in my mind, preferably in round one.
The next spot is wide receiver. Davante Adams continues to progress, but as an impending free agent, he might still land elsewhere. If he does, this need rockets up even higher on the list, but the Packers need another legitimate boundary receiver to contribute as Jordy Nelson likely moves into the slot more and more as he gets older.
Then we have the cornerback position. Kevin King looks promising, and I still like that pick and think he will grow into a very good player. But Davon House might not stick around, and Damarious Randall is still an unknown. Behind them, there’s not much to get excited about. Another day-two corner seems like a good idea, and the group of likely entrants into the 2018 draft have plenty of size and speed. A first-round pick if a player like Minkah Fitzpatrick were available would be plenty justified as well.
I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about college football. In fact, the most I ever know about it happens between March and May every year when I watch film on who’s coming out and develop my own draft crushes. I also don’t take it as seriously as someone like Justis Mosqueda (who you should follow on twitter, by the way. The guy is inside Ted’s head when it comes to drafting).
I have, however, been following one player for the sheer fun of it. His name is Baker Mayfield. Baker is the QB for Oklahoma and has been a treat to watch this year. Not only does he play good football, but he’s outspoken and fun in the best way. He had a small slice of internet fame when he originally transferred to Oklahoma and was filmed showing off his dance moves in 2015.
“But Matub,” you are saying, “we already have future Hall of Famer and all around GOAT Aaron Rodgers. You are as crazy as you are handsome and funny.” Well thank you, internet commenter, but it’s not the craziest idea ever. In 2005 the Packers had future Hall of Famer and GOAT Gunslinger Brett Favre. They drafted a QB who fell to them due to his “arrogance” and “being propped up by the talent around him”. These qualifiers have also been used to describe Mayfield. I’m not saying it’s going to happen...but you never know.
Jordan Smith: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Quick-- who’s the last skill position player the Packers drafted in the first round? I’ll give you a minute…
If you guessed Jordy Nelson, you’re sort of correct. Technically, Jordy was a second-round pick, but he was the first pick for the Pack in the ‘08 draft. The correct answer is AARON RODGERS. IN 2005. That’s 12 years ago for the math majors out there.
The Packers should draft Calvin Ridley if they slide into the top half of the draft. Ridley has big play ability and is one of the top two receivers in the draft (along with SMU’s Cortland Sutton). Already a skilled route runner, the 6’1” Ridley can get behind the safeties and has great body positioning. The standout Alabama product has drawn comparisons to Amari Cooper and even though the Packers can find skill players deep in the draft, it would be nice for Rodgers to get a shiny blue chip player that could contribute instantly.
Jon Meerdink: EDGE
Quarterbacks can cover a lot of issues for an offense, as has been made abundantly clear for the Packers this year. The same thing is largely true for pass rushers, too. Unfortunately, that’s also been abundantly clear for the Packers.
Green Bay has not gotten a lot of return on its investment in its pass rush group this year. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have been largely just okay, and failing to retain Julius Peppers looks like a worse decision by the week. Even if he wanted to head to Carolina, the Packers didn’t seem to do much to want to try to bring him back.
Likewise, 2017 draft picks Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel haven’t had much of a chance to make a splash this season. Though they could down the road, there’s no reason to not load up with additional help.
I would love it if the Packers took a more volume based approach at bolstering their pass rush. Get as many capable pass rushers as you can, then put the most effective group on the field. If that starts with the draft next year, so much the better.
Shawn Wagner: Cornerback and Pass Rusher
If there are two positions Green Bay historically values in the first round, it is cornerback and defensive line/edge rusher. With the Packers needing reinforcements at those positions, I expect another first rounder to be spent there even if players like Davante Adams and Corey Linsley leave in free agency.
I touched on a possible draft pick a couple weeks ago at CB, but decided to leave one name off the list. Coincidentally, that player has had a notable two weeks since that article: Josh Jackson. The Iowa cornerback was coming off a five-pass deflection performance against Minnesota three weeks ago and looked impressive one-on-one in that game. The very next week, he intercepted three passes in an upset against Ohio State, including this one-handed beauty. Last week, he recorded two pick-sixes and a forced fumble versus Wisconsin. It’s one thing to have these kind of games against mediocre competition; it’s another to have them against top 10 opponents. Jackson is a playmaker with ball skills as a former wide receiver. If Green Bay has a chance to add him to a secondary that boasts Kevin King in the 2018 NFL Draft, they should pull the trigger.
I may be an outlier, but I think the Packers will reach at least eight wins this season. That should place them near the middle to latter half of the first round. In that case, I don’t think LSU’s edge rusher Arden Key or NC State’s Bradley Chubb will be available when Green Bay picks like I alluded to in the past article. However, a name I’m watching in the front seven is Florida’s Taven Bryan. Bryan was a devastating force against Texas A&M a few weeks ago, essentially wrecking a third quarter Aggies series on his own. Bryan is probably more of a 4-3 tackle than a 3-4 end, but has an impressive burst off the ball while powering through double teams. If Green Bay switches defensive coordinators and philosophies this offseason, Bryan is a name to watch. In Ted Thompson’s sense of the word, he’s a “football player” that knows how to make plays in the backfield.
Paul Noonan: Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson
Look, I’m not a college guy and I’m the last person you should have advising you on who to draft. I second any calls for additional pass rushers, but since I only watch the Badgers every week and you can never have too many corners, let’s take a moment to appreciate Wisconsin’s finest corner. Nick Nelson, a junior who transferred from Hawaii, is simply awesome. He is tied for 2nd in CFB with 1.8 passes defended per game, and his technique is off the charts good for a college player. I don’t think he gets as much love as he should simply because he lacks interceptions, but that’s partially a result of just how good he is at blanketing opponents. He’s even a decent punt returner.
Nelson is listed at 5-11, 208 pounds, and I have no idea if he actually possesses NFL speed, but if his measurables prove acceptable come combine time, he should be a highly coveted DB at the next level. The Wisconsin defense is a joy to watch and Nelson is a big part of the reason why.
Mike Vieth: CB and OL
I can see the Packers winning enough games this year to get put in the 15-20 range in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and that leaves them in a spot where they probably won’t get any dynamic playmakers but could find a good player to fill depth and get better results in a year or two. I’m not seeing any standout players, at this point, that will be available after the top ten picks or so.
We can look at the wide receiver or outside linebacker but the Packers will get to pick, probably, the fourth or fifth best receiver from the group at best. I’d love to have a Calvin Ridley, Auden Tate or Cortland Sutton on the team but no way those three make it the back half of the first round. The Packers seem to have so many OLBs that they will have to drop a few just to justify picking one early. Plus, I don’t see any outside guys that will be around in the mid first round as someone who would play extensively right away, except on special teams anyways.
That leaves the biggest holes on the team at corner and the offensive line. I think this season has proven that having depth at both positions is even more vital that before. At corner, the Packers have a nice stopgap with Davon House and Kevin King is still learning but the others just haven’t developed properly and are major liabilities. In the first round, they could look at a player like Ken Webster out of Ole Miss. While Webster doesn’t have the height a lot of teams look for, he does have the foot speed and quick twitch athleticism that the Packers need at corner. While he might not be well known because Ole Miss is struggling this year, I can see him coming in right away and taking over the slot corner spot and being groomed to take over for House at some point in the near future.
With all the injuries on the offensive line this year, I think the Packers have to address the position early in the draft. All the credit to Justin McCray for filling in pretty much everywhere but the Packers need more than just him. Jason Spriggs is still an iffy prospect at best and they still have to see what Lucas Patrick and Kyle Murphy can bring to the team. The one guy that could be a difference maker is Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame. Nelson might be the best overall lineman in the draft but he has one flaw that might make him available in the mid-first round. That flaw is that he’s an interior lineman. Early in the first round everyone wants to shore up their tackle positions and Nelson might get overlooked and fall to the Packers. He is a mean, nasty and physical blocker that could replace Jahri Evans at some point, if not right away. He is also, reportedly, an athletic pass blocker that can move his feet and keeps his base stout against the inside rush. He could be a perfect fit for a position that needs to be better in 2018 for the Packers to keep up with the rest of the league.