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Wednesday Walkthroughs: Early Packers Draft Crushes

The APC Staff reveals their January draft crushes.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Admit it: you’ve been reading mock drafts.

It’s ok! With the Packers (sadly) on the outside looking in as Championship Weekend rolls around, the draft and free agency is about all we’ve got.

Even though the 2019 NFL Draft is months away, it’s never too early to start perusing draft rankings and projecting your favorites. We’re no different, and this week the APC staff is prepared to reveal who we’re crushing on as our attention turns to the offseason in earnest.

What names are you watching?

Peter Bukowski — Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida

The RetireMoms movement comes to Titletown. With the Packers in desperate need of an athletic playmaker to rush the passer, enter the twitched up Florida underclassman who exploded onto the scene in 2018 with 11 sacks and 19.5 TFLs. He won’t be for every team because of his size at 6’2 242, but his explosiveness, length, and bend shouldn’t hamper his ability to get after the quarterback in the Mike Pettine’s defense. Here’s a great example of why he’s not “small,” as he can use his length and technique to discard blockers.

If Polite can translate some of his playmaking — he had six forced fumbles along with all those tackles behind the line — I just don’t care if he’s a little light to play against the run. Run it all day if you want to, because on third down Polite is coming off the edge and chances are you can’t block him.

He’ll likely be available right in the range of the Green Bay’s first pick, and at 20 years old, has plenty of room to get stronger and more advanced with his technique. Harold Landry was a draft crush for a lot of Packers fans last season and Polite compares favorably with the ex-Boston College star who played for Matt LaFleur’s Titans last season. Younger, and without the injury concerns, Polite could turn out to be an even better prospect and would be a great fit at the 12th pick.

Kris Burke — Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford

The Packers still have Jimmy Graham for at least another year but he is getting older and they still need to develop a receiving threat at the position.

Smith brings size, strength and physicality and is not afraid to attack the middle of the field, something that the Packers’ offense has been lacking at tight end since the days of Jermichael Finley.

He’s not projected as the top tight end in the draft and frankly I really don’t care. Smith’s tape to me looks like a perfect blend of Finley and Rob Gronkowski with a little bit of Graham sprinkled in. The Green Bay offense hasn’t gone at its normal clip since Finley was lost with a neck injury and a young talent like this could be just what the offense needs to regain its edge under LaFleur.

Paul Noonan — David Edwards, OT, Wisconsin

I’m not the best person to ask, because I only watch one college team, but I love Edwards. The knock would be he’s a bit light and may conjure memories of Jason Spriggs, but his dominance in run-blocking, a sign of power and tenacity, should put some of that to rest. Edwards stock suffered a bit due to an injury-plagued junior season, but I would advocate ignoring that season entirely. Injuries happen and when he was healthy, he was among the best tackles in college football. The fact that you may be able to get him with a draft discount is just the icing on the cake. The Packers need offensive line depth, and an eventual replacement for Bulaga. Wisconsin linemen usually work, out, and Edwards would be a nice pickup.

Jon Meerdink — The Large Tight Ends

I’m not far enough into my draft prep (read: I haven’t looked at that many mock drafts) to form much of a substantive opinion on this year’s class, but fairly predictably, I find myself drawn to the tight end group.

I haven’t gravitated to one in particular yet, but as with Adam Shaheen in 2017, the larger a the tight end, the better. Maybe it’s because I was once a tall, gangly tight end, but I sympathize with guys who look like they’d be more comfortable on the basketball court. They so often just seem annoyed by the (comparatively) tiny defensive backs swarming around their ankles and knees, and I find that very amusing. This is my draft crush. It doesn’t have to make sense.

Whether it’s 6-8 Zach Gentry, 6-6 Foster Moreau, or 6-5 Noah Fant, I don’t particularly care. I’m just hoping the Packers draft a giant pass catcher so that I may adopt him as my large adult son and defend him at all costs.

Evan “Tex” Western — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, WR, Oklahoma

Of the two Iowa tight ends declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, Noah Fant will probably make the most noise at the Scouting Combine. He’ll test off the charts, probably with a 40-plus vertical and a 40 time under 4.60. That’s great, and he’d probably fit in Green Bay well as a move tight end. However, in Hockenson the Packers would get the true all-around tight end that they haven’t had — or haven’t used properly — in all of Mike McCarthy’s tenure. He’s a punishing blocker, but also a reliable receiver who has a knack for making big plays.

Watch the film of his three catches against Wisconsin early in 2018 for a glimpse of his receiving ability. He went for 125 yards on those three receptions, giving the Badgers’ secondary fits. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he’s right in the ideal size range for tight ends, and probably could bulk up even a bit more. Iowa’s very much a tight end factory, with George Kittle, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Tony Moeaki, Dallas Clark, and more all coming out of Iowa City in the past decade-and-a-half.

But again, Hockenson’s all around ability appeals to me, particularly because of the ways that the Shanahan offense uses those true in-line players. LaFleur was setting up to do so in Tennessee last season as well, before Delanie Walker was injured in week one and missed the rest of the season.

My other crush right now is Hollywood Brown from Oklahoma. A small wideout at 5-foot-10 and around 170 pounds, Brown would seem to project as a slot receiver in the NFL. The Packers could certainly use help in that area, with Randall Cobb assumed to be gone in 2019. However, after some further thought, I see him as an inside-outside weapon, with his blazing speed making me think about another NFL comparison: DeSean Jackson. Brown and Jackson are almost the same size. If he runs in the 4.3 range — entirely possible based on his play speed — that could put him in the conversation for a late first-round pick, and he’d finally provide the blazing-fast deep threat that the Packers have lacked for the past several years.