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2023 Packers Mock Draft: Green Bay targets pass-catchers early

It’s time to get Jordan Love some help

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the first wave of free agency now behind us, I figured now is as good of a time as any to write up a new mock draft. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Green Bay Packers receive a 2023 second-round pick from the New York Jets in a potential trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This falls in line with Yahoo! Sports’ reporting that the Jets are expecting to trade a 2023 second-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder in a potential trade for the four-time MVP.

For this mock, we used Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator. Alright, let’s get into it.

15th pick: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

When the Packers were on their four-game winning streak at the end of the season, it seemed like they had played themselves out of the Quentin Johnston race altogether. Despite having a quiet offseason without any major red flags, Johnston has tumbled a bit down public draft boards, though.

Johnston didn’t run at the combine (though he did post a 40.5” vertical jump), which might play a part in that. On Thursday, TCU will have its pro day — which Johnston is expected to participate in. That should swing his projection one way or another.

At nearly 6’3” and 208 pounds, Johnston is a prototypical “Packers receiver,” as the team often looks at size (maybe too much) as a near necessity in the play-action heavy offense. On base downs, Green Bay wants the opposing team to think they’re going to run the ball, even when they’re not, which then means you can’t have a 5’8”, 170-pounder come off the bench every time you want to take a shot downfield.

At TCU, Johnston was twice a First-Team All-Big 12 receiver, despite battling through an injury during the 2022 season. As a prep, he was a former state medalist high jumper and basketball athlete. Johnston is a long-strider who is best known for his yards-after-catch ability and taking broken tackles for touchdowns.

42: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

This is a boring pick, only because we’ve made it before in other mock drafts. It’s only been made before because Darnell Washington is such a good fit for Green Bay, though. Washington, a true in-line tight end, is my personal favorite tight end in the draft, despite not having the pass-catching production that others in the class may have.

Washington split time at Georgia with Brock Bowers, who himself is likely to be selected in the first round of the 2024 draft, the first year that he’s eligible to go pro. Because Bowers, a premier pass-catcher, was moved around all over the formation, that often left Washington to do the dirty work. He did it more than happily.

Washington is the best run-blocking tight end in the class. With Marcedes Lewis still out on the open market at the time of this mock, he leaves a void that the former Bulldog can fill perfectly. While Washington didn’t get many chances to show off his skills as a receiver, he made the most of him. In his three years at Georgia, he gained 774 yards on 45 receptions for a 17.2 average that can match up with anyone in the class. He also tested extremely well during the pre-draft process, which should give scouts more confidence that there’s room for growth or untapped talent in that aspect of his game.

Oh, yeah, Washington has already been on a visit to Lambeau Field, too.

45: Gervon Dexter, DL, Florida

The Packers only have three defensive linemen with NFL regular season experience under contract currently. They’re going to need at least two more functional bodies there just to make it through an NFL season. Enter Gervon Dexter, one of my favorite prospects in the class.

The 6’6” lineman ran a 4.88 at the combine, which makes him one of the rarest prospects in the class in terms of his body type. When you watch him play defensive end and tackle at Florida, he reminds you of the untapped potential that Arik Armstead — a top-20 selection — had at Oregon about a decade ago.

If Dexter isn’t the strongest defensive lineman in the class, he’s right behind Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Michigan’s Mazi Smith. He’s a little rough around the edges right now, but the Packers have plenty of room to give him reps leading up to Week 1 with how their depth chart looks right now.

78: Jordan Battle, SAF, Alabama

No safety has been graded higher by Pro Football Focus over the last two seasons than Alabama’s Jordan Battle. He played the position well enough that Brian Branch, a potential first-round pick, came off the bench in sub-packages in order for Battle to play split-high safety full-time.

He isn’t a super athlete, but he isn’t a poor athlete either. Maybe that’s one reason why he might be available in the third round. He’s a good football player, though, which is what Green Bay needs at safety more than anything. If the Packers continue to play split-safety coverages, they simply have to get better at fitting the run and being consistent tacklers. That’s exactly what Battle brings to the table, plus solid coverage skills. He has some ball skills issues, but the pluses certainly outweigh the negatives in his game.

116: Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan

There are six big names at tight end in this draft class and then right behind them is Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker is a 6’5”, 251-pound potential in-line tight end who also ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash and posted 418 receiving yards as a senior for the Wolverines.

In most draft classes, Schoonmaker is probably an early third-round selection or a late second-round selection. In a deep tight end class, he might be there in the fourth round. If he is, the Packers would be smart to double-dip at the position while it’s strong, securing their next four seasons of two-tight end looks — which they run frequently.

149: Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane

Everyone’s favorite prospect from Senior Bowl practices was Tulane’s Tyjae Spears, who has been drawing comparisons to Aaron Jones. The Packers are clearly unhappy about their third running back situation, as they frequently played games with only two backs on their 53-man roster in 2023.

Beyond just the question mark at the third running back spot, Jones is owed $12 million in 2024 — making him a potential cap casualty — and “backup” AJ Dillon is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. This move wouldn’t be one that would immediately help the 2023 squad, but a play for the future of the club.

170: Jay Ward, SAF/CB, LSU

Jay Ward is one of my favorite defensive back prospects in the class. With Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, Corey Ballentine and Shemar Jean-Charles on the squad, the Packers already have enough cornerback depth in the short-term, but Ward has experience at both the safety and cornerback positions — including the slot.

At the very least, he’s a lengthy special teams contributor in the immediate future. In a scenario where Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford walk in 2024, he would have a chance to start next to Jordan Battle.

232: Byron Young, DL, Alabama

If Byron Young was actually available at this point, I would be surprised. He’s a strong defensive lineman who would provide the Packers with depth at the 3-4 end position, where they need bodies. My assumption is that he comes off the board somewhere around the third or fourth rounds, but if he’s available with the 232nd pick, it’ll be as slam dunk of a selection as Kingsley Enagbare was on Day 3 last April.

235: Elijah Higgins, WR, Stanford

It’s hard to replace what Allen Lazard brings to the table as a player who does the dirty work, which is why the New York Jets paid him $11 million per season to sign with the team this free agency period. One player who could potentially develop into that type of a player is Stanford’s Elijah Higgins, who was measured in at 6’3” and 235 pounds at the combine. He’s a hybrid receiver who might be able to insert as a wing or in the backfield, as Lazard had been used in recent seasons. The Packers also desperately need depth at the receiver position, even if they take one in the first round of the draft.

242: Jake Moody, K, Michigan

Can you name the Packers’ kicker right now? Can you? It’s Parker White, who signed a reserve/futures contract with the team in January. He never signed with a club as an undrafted free agent heading into the 2023 season, but he did have a tryout with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Packers.

Meanwhile, Jake Moody — a two-time All-American — is on the board. Take a look at the 51-yard field goal he had in the East-West Shrine Bowl above. His leg looks like it had plenty more power to it than Mason Crosby possessed last season. That’s good enough for me.

256: Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia

Green Bay’s going to need to at least bring in someone to compete with Danny Etling as the team’s backup quarterback this year. With the veteran quarterback market costing cap space that the Packers simply don’t have to dish out, Georgia’s Stetson Bennett seems like a decent option. Bennett was plenty efficient with the ball with the Bulldogs, leading them to back-to-back national titles, but doesn’t have much arm strength.

He is more of a run threat than his 4.67-second 40-yard dash suggests, though, which should allow him to run the option and make plays on the move in boot action looks. Whenever Jordan Love gets on the field, head coach Matt LaFleur calls in more read option looks. If that’s going to be a decent part of the Packers’ run game moving forward, Bennett is a pretty good fit. Last year, Bennett was able to take 10 carries in for a score.