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Christmas Day Musings: Packers’ 2019 draft targets have shone for Titans

In hindsight, AJ Brown and Jeffery Simmons would have made for a stellar duo of early-round picks last year.

NFL: DEC 29 Titans at Texans Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Green Bay Packers will try to cement their status as the top seed in the playoffs as they face their final foe from the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans.

There is plenty riding on this game for Tennessee as well, as the team is tied atop the division with the Indianapolis Colts with a 10-4 record. The Titans are led by a dangerous offensive attack that shares similarities to Green Bay not just in style, but the rankings as well. Today’s holiday musings will eyeball those stats, while also looking back at the 2019 draft and how the Titans’ top draft choices could have made an impact in Green Bay. If the Packers could do it over, would they have made the same choices?

But first, a look at one of the Packers’ top rookies and a pre-draft prediction that materialized exactly as one media source anticipated.

Krys Barnes has been a hidden gem, just as one outlet predicted

There have been plenty of articles written about the emerging rookie inside linebacker this season, especially after forcing a game-changing fumble at the goal line last week. A film review against Carolina from Packers Wire further displayed some of the unique attributes Barnes brings to the position for Green Bay after years of very limited athleticism and players whose skill sets fit for stopping the run but not necessarily the pass. For the undrafted Barnes, it has been refreshing to see a young, cheap player with upside for years to come that has been able to diagnose plays, make stops from sideline to sideline, and also drop back into coverage.

Stumbling across articles this week, Cream City Central was ahead of the game with the fit for Barnes in Green Bay, writing such an article in February. In that piece, Barnes’ draft position was noted as difficult to predict with him being somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. Still, his athleticism, instincts, and pedigree coming from a UCLA program that has produced a number of starting NFL inside ‘backers was tough to overlook. Perhaps the most notable part of the article was the final few sentences, which ultimately proved to be spot on.

If Barnes is drafted by the Packers, they will be getting an experienced inside linebacker with the potential to be similar to the [UCLA] players listed above. If Blake Martinez isn’t re-signed, Barnes would be an excellent low-risk replacement who is just as good in the run but far better in coverage. Krys Barnes would be a guy Green Bay can start day one and feel good about.

One has to give credit where it’s due for a bold prediction.

The Titans are reaping the benefits of two prospects included in the Packers’ 2019 mock drafts

Green Bay has seen a solid and steady level of impact this season from its early picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, especially from second-round pick Elgton Jenkins who recently earned his first Pro Bowl nod. Darnell Savage has started every game he has appeared in since being drafted late in the first round last year, and Rashan Gary has continued to slowly develop as a sophomore with five sacks. Gary has been particularly singled out as a player that helps create plays for those around him even if he is not the one being credited with the takedowns.

But if one was to think about a re-draft of the Packers’ 2019 class, they would need to look no further than Tennessee.

Prior to the draft, defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons was widely regarded as a top-15, if not top-10, draft pick. With the Packers owning the 12th overall pick, Simmons seemed like a potential option for a team seeking an improved pass rush and interior presence. However, an ACL tear in the pre-draft process, along with an off-field situation, destroyed some of the buzz around Simmons. Still, the Titans saw enough in the Mississippi State product to draft him 19th overall after the Packers took Gary seven picks earlier. Once thought to be destined for a redshirt rookie season with the injury, Simmons was able to come back and play in nine games last season while starting all 13 contests this season for Tennessee. Simmons, who has posted three sacks in 2020 to go along with 12 quarterback hits, regularly draws double teams as one of the Titans’ best players up front and has a high ceiling as a stout man in the middle. It is easy to imagine the fit Simmons would have had in Green Bay, where he could have teamed up with Kenny Clark to help generate both pass rush and increased support against opposing rushing attacks.

Similarly, wide receiver AJ Brown was a routinely mocked pick for the Packers with their second pick late in the first round. Ultimately, the Packers passed on both Brown and his Ole Miss receiving teammate DK Metcalf in favor of Savage and Jenkins at picks 21 and 44, respectively. The Titans landed Brown at 51st overall and have not regretted it. Like Jenkins, Brown earned his first Pro Bowl selection this year and is on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight year while reaching the end zone 18 times in two seasons. The Packers certainly have benefited from Jenkins and Savage, but it is hard to dismiss the talent of Brown and the impact he could have made instantly for the receiving corps each of the past two seasons.

Neither team is upset with their first- and second-round selections in 2019 and all should be on the field this weekend. But it is easy to dream on the difference the Titans’ draft choices could have made in Green Bay.

Sunday night will feature two of the top offenses in the league

The offense has been the strength of the Packers all season long with Aaron Rodgers garnering MVP buzz. The stats reflect that success with the most touchdown passes in the league, along with top-four marks in yards (3), net yards per passing attempt (4), and points (4). As good as Green Bay’s offense has been, their output has been matched in many regards by Tennessee.

Derrick Henry might be the first person to come to mind when thinking about the Titans’ offense and rightfully so. Tennessee ranks second in the league in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns, while stacking up third in yards per attempt. But the running game is not the Titans’ only dynamic needing to be accounted for. Ryan Tannehill’s emergence in Tennessee has placed the Titans sixth in passing touchdowns and right ahead of the Packers (third) in net passing yards per attempt.

Not surprisingly with Matt LaFleur coming to Green Bay from Tennessee, both teams want to at least establish the running game as a threat to open up the playaction passing game. The end result is maximum efficiency through the air. As much as both teams have had success throwing the ball, both rank in the bottom third of the league in total passing attempts.

Just as good is that neither team turns the ball over much - they are tied for the league lead with just nine turnovers this season. As susceptible as they can be against the pass, the Titans’ defense has been much better at forcing turnovers than the Packers this season by league standards. Whichever team can protect the ball probably will win on Sunday night, but the offensive firepower between two very similar offenses should make for a high-scoring affair.