Heading into draft weekend of 2018, the Green Bay Packers are armed with 12 draft picks to bolster the team’s depth. Of those 12 selections, nine will take place in day three with the Packers having the advantage of picking first in both the fourth and fifth rounds. Green Bay has plenty of ammunition to use that hefty number of picks to move up on days one and two or to accumulate potential role players and projects for the future by staying put.
Some of those players will come from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), commonly referred to as Division I-AA. The Packers have historically sought out FCS talent in the latter rounds with players such as Nate Palmer and Jeff Janis, as well as in the undrafted market. As always, this year presents an opportunity for many more small-school products to showcase their abilities to not only play their primary positions at the highest level, but to contribute early on special teams.
With the NFL Scouting Combine and a number of college Pro Days complete, here are several current FCS possibilities under watch from the Packers organization.
Skyler Phillips, OL - Idaho State
The Packers drafted a project in Kofi Amichia in the sixth round last year, but are still in need of depth along the interior of the offensive line. Green Bay has not announced its starting right guard as of yet, but all indications point to Justin McCray earning that nod. That leaves Lucas Patrick as one of very few backup options at guard and center.
A player like Phillips, who has started at both guard and tackle in the college ranks and may even be able to slide over to center, gives the Packers the flexibility they love. He’s got excellent strength and the feet to get to the second level as a blocker despite shorter arms and hand-placement technique that needs attention. But with three fifth round picks, Green Bay could not only add depth to its offensive line, but a potential starter down the road.
Matt Oplinger, EDGE - Yale
Green Bay selected an Ivy League player in 2013 when it chose offensive lineman J.C. Tretter from Cornell. The Packers could dip back into the academically prestigious conference with an edge rusher in Yale’s Oplinger, who put on a show at his Pro Day last Friday. The Packers were one of seven teams with personnel in attendance.
Oplinger measured in at just over six feet and 250 pounds after lining up along the edge as well as inside with the Bulldogs. After a senior campaign in which he registered 11.5 sacks and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Oplinger registered 25 reps in the bench press to go along with a 10-foot-5 broad jump, 4.75-second 40-yard dash, 4.49-second short shuttle, and a 7.38-second three-cone drill time. A late round prospect, Oplinger is a high-effort player and could play a rotational role in several defensive schemes. He doesn’t have elite burst or strength, but in Ted Thompson’s truest terms Oplinger is “a football player” that could immediately be a special teams contributor.
Daurice Fountain, WR - Northern Iowa
Green Bay also sent a representative to Northern Iowa’s Pro Day, where Fountain was the main attraction. It’s no secret that the Packers are on the hunt for receiving weapons after releasing Jordy Nelson, letting Jeff Janis walk in free agency, and approaching the end of Randall Cobb’s contract. A Combine snub that’s received plenty of pre-draft attention, Fountain could fill a role for the Packers on the outside.
Fountain is well-within Green Bay’s height-weight thresholds at six-foot-one and 203 pounds, but his Pro Day testing was off the charts. He not only ran in the mid-4.4 second range of the 40-yard dash, but posted an incredible 42.5-inch vertical that shows up on film. An 11-foot-2 broad jump also displays plenty of explosion for a receiver that totaled nearly 1,000 receiving yards to go with 12 touchdowns for the FCS Panthers. I would like to see more separation in his tape with the excellent speed numbers, but Fountain high-points balls consistently and wins 50-50 battles. Between his Pro Day performance and an impressive showing at the Shrine Game early in the process, the Madison-native Fountain is a legitimate option for the Packers in round four.
Trey Johnson, CB - Villanova
The need at the cornerback position for Green Bay needs little reminding. Green Bay is in line to grab multiple corners via the draft and several may receive snaps in 2018. Developmental players that could become starters in the near future are as critical to the Packers in this year’s draft as any other in recent memory.
Although the Green and Gold is expected to take a corner in the first two days of the draft, it would be well-served to add a player like Trey Johnson on day three. Johnson had a strong showing in front of Packer staff at his Pro Day and met with them after workouts. Posting a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash, a 4.20 in the shuttle, and a 36-inch vertical leap, Johnson has the measurables that scouts drool over. His speed stands out on video in terms of being able to recover when beaten and he makes a number of plays on the ball with his vertical that offsets his 5-foot-11 frame. Johnson looked smooth in drills, according to Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst, and I personally enjoy his willingness as a tackler and ability to break on the ball when it’s in the air. Fellow corner Malik Reaves was overshadowed by Johnson, who could draw interest from the Packers late in the draft or on the priority free agent market.
Siran Neal, S - Jacksonville State
The Packers appear to be headed into the 2018 season with young players Kentrell Brice and Josh Jones entrenched in high-snap count roles at Morgan Burnett’s old safety spot. The future of the “Nitro” position in new coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme remains to be seen. But a player that can fill roles in the slot, at linebacker, and as an in-the-box safety still appears to be a valued prospect.
Neal, who starred at a formidable Jacksonville State program, appears to fit that mold with experience at safety as well as corner in his time with the Gamecocks. At the Combine, Neal rated at the top of his position with a 40.5-inch vertical and would seemingly meet all of Green Bay’s typical testing thresholds outside of the three-cone drill (0.13 seconds slow). He can make plays on the ball, has more-than-adequate lateral quickness, and will lower the boom. In several ways, Siran draws similar traits to another safety in the NFL that shares his last name - Atlanta’s Keanu Neal - and posted better times in several Combine drills. He’s a fourth or fifth round prospect for the Packers who would, at the very least, add versatility to the secondary.