Let’s break up the monotony of wall-to-wall Aaron Rodgers coverage for a split second and talk about the 2023 NFL Draft. With the NFL Scouting Combine now in the rearview, we played the role of Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst on Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to give you a semi-realistic look at what Packers fans can expect in April.
For the sake or realism, we traded Rodgers to the New York Jets for a 2023 first-round pick (the Jets’ original #13 pick) and a 2024 third-round selection. Let us know how did with our choices in the comments.
First round, pick #13 (via New York Jets): Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt
I know I’m usually the one banging the table that the Packers have almost exclusively drafted and played 195-plus-pound receivers during the Matt LaFleur era, but Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt is an important name for Green Bay fans to keep track of this offseason. Last draft cycle, multiple sources told me that Ohio State’s Chris Olave (187 pounds) was of particular interest to the team. Down in Indianapolis last week, multiple people told me that Hyatt is held in the same regard by the Packers’ scouts. Hopefully, a team won’t trade three top-120 picks to move up for Hyatt like the New Orleans Saints did for Olave last year.
At just 176 pounds, the former Volunteer isn’t LaFleur’s “type” in his run- and play-action-heavy offense, but it’s hard to argue with Hyatt’s 4.41-second 40-yard dash speed. Hyatt’s explosiveness also showed up in both the vertical (40”) and broad (11’3”) jumps, where he scored in the top five percent among wide receivers, historically.
Hyatt comes from a college offense that doesn’t have much one-to-one translation to the NFL. Essentially, Tennessee runs the Art Briles system that turned Baylor into a nationally relevant program about a decade ago. It’s similar to the old school run and shoot in that receivers read the leverage of defenders and basically run away from it, which is very different from running precise routes at specific depths and developing a rhythm with the quarterback. The Volunteers' offense also does all this with “max” splits where slot receivers can be found nearly on the sideline, only further stretched out from the ball with college football’s wider hashes.
One benefit to this system, though, is that so much is put on a receiver’s plate in terms of both his deep speed and his release off of the line of scrimmage. That’s Hyatt’s calling card and what should lead to him hearing his name called out in the middle of the first round, despite how little Tennessee’s offense translates to the pro game.
First round, pick #15: Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer
Two pass-catchers in the first round? Crazy! Not really.
The position that is the strongest in this upcoming draft class, at least relative to its averages, is tight end. The top prospect at that position in the 2023 draft is Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, simply based on the fact that he’s close to a finished product and he’s above average across the board — meaning that he should be able to stick on the field very quickly.
If you haven’t heard of him yet, here’s the gist: He’s a consensus All-American who outplayed multiple future NFL tight ends as a true freshman and recorded 2,099 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns in three years with the Fighting Irish. Despite declaring as a true junior (he’s only 21 years old), he is Notre Dame’s all-time leader in tight end receptions. Oh, yeah, he was one of the Irish’s run blockers, too.
The hope isn’t that he becomes a Travis Kelce or Darren Waller, tight ends only in name who line up as an isolated outside receiver just as much as they line up in a three-point stance, but that he’s something along the lines of a Jason Witten or Antonio Gates: The guy who is always on the field and is seemingly always open because you can’t gather any information based on where he lines up.
Michael Mayer is a TE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 8.08 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 197 out of 1020 TE from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/G8uJ8wK0lK #RAS pic.twitter.com/y3uDhXaevG— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2023
Mayer was listed at 265 pounds by Notre Dame last season and, per sources, played around that weight for them. For whatever reason, Mayers dropped around 15 pounds between the season and the combine — likely to run a quicker 40-yard dash time — but he should be able to get back up to his “playing weight” before the 2023 regular season kicks off.
When asked about positional needs at the combine, general manager Brian Gutekunst singled out the tight end and safety positions in a scrum of local writers, in part due to the expiring contracts at the position and in part due to their poor performances in 2022. As it stands today, Josiah Deguara is the team’s only tight end under contract for the 2023 season who has actually played any regular season snaps for the Packers. The addition of a do-it-all tight end like Mayer would go a long way for Green Bay in both the short and long term.
Second round, pick #45: Alabama S Jordan Battle
Speaking of safeties: They had a terrible showing at the combine. Only two players who are expected to be drafted in the top 150 picks of the 2023 draft ran in the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash and one of them (LSU’s Jay Ward) actually worked out as a cornerback. The only “full-time” safeties projected to go in the top 150 who ran better than a 4.55 were Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson (4.52) and Illinois’ Sydney Brown (4.47.) Both are closer to true dropdown safety prospects than the top-down safety role that defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s defense utilizes.
If there’s any positive news to one of Green Bay’s biggest positional needs not having a great day in Indianapolis, it’s that there will likely be options for them to pick through on Day 2 of the draft. Personally, my favorite three options are Georgia’s Chris Smith (4.62), Alabama’s Jordan Battle (4.55) and Notre Dame’s Brandon Joseph (4.62) who can all do a little of everything and fit the Packers’ scheme well.
Battle was graded by Pro Football Focus as the highest-graded coverage safety under Nick Saban’s watch for his effort as a sophomore in 2021. Beyond that, the 6’1”, 209-pound South Florida product is a hammer in run fits. He doesn’t have the best ball skills, which might be explained by his 8.5” hands, but he’s a solid all-around safety who would get Green Bay on base at the position.
The Packers played three safeties significantly in 2022 on defense: Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford. Amos and Ford are set to be unrestricted free agents in a week and Savage is set to play on his fifth-year option after a disappointing campaign. Dallin Leavitt, a core special teamer, is also heading into free agency, leaving the team with few starting options at the position and little depth.
Third round, pick #78: Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton
The Green Bay Packers have been fans of longer 3-4 defensive ends who can play multiple spots recently. You won’t find a Mike Daniels type of three-technique on their team over the past few seasons. One player who can apparently get in the backfield while also being a bigger body type is Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton, who has been “rising” on public boards since the end of the 2022 regular season.
Down at the Senior Bowl, Benton was thought to be your run-of-the-mill nose tackle prospect but flashed his ability to win one-on-one when put in that position against some of the draft’s best offensive linemen. His rise continued at the combine when he scored an overall athleticism score that ranked him in the top 13 percent of defensive tackles, historically, despite weighing in at 309 pounds and standing at 6’4”.
With Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed set to hit free agency, the Packers have only three defensive linemen under contract who have ever played significant snaps for them: starting nose tackle Kenny Clark, backup nose tackle T.J. Slaton and 2022 first-round pick Devonte Wyatt. Their 2022 seventh-round pick, nose tackle Jonathan Ford of Miami, was unable to suit up for a single game as a rookie.
Benton’s flexibility and length would give Green Bay options at nose tackle and defensive end in their 3-4 defense and his explosiveness would allow him to play in sub-packages, too. Along with tight end and safety, the defensive line is the third position that the Packers simply cannot afford to overlook for another offseason if they plan to be competitive this upcoming year.