We are deep in the thralls of draft season, and if you have been paying attention at all you have become very familiar with every wide receiver, tight end, and defensive front player in this year’s class. APC’s own Justis Mosqueda and Tyler Brooke have an ongoing podcast series going through the prospects at positions that Green Bay has the largest needs for in 2023. Safety, tight end, defensive line, wide receiver, and edge rusher stick out as the biggest needs.
The problem with drafting for immediate need, though, is that rookies are rarely good. The adjustment into the NFL is a harsh one, particularly for those who aren’t premier prospects, and this draft class is considered by some to be the worst since 2013. With that in mind, would it be more fruitful to view the Packers’ potential draft class through a 2024 roster lens?
Some positional needs do not change. Safety is still a massive issue going forward. Tariq Carpenter, a 2022 pick, is the only safety under contract in 2024, and he profiles as a special teams player. Wide receiver is still thin with only Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Touré. Tight end has no players on the 2024 roster. The defensive line is actually in a better spot than other positions with Kenny Clark, TJ Slaton, Devonte Wyatt, and a player I am regularly reminded exists when I look at the roster, Jonathan Ford.
Edge rusher may actually be less of a need in 2024 with Rashan Gary likely returning at some point during the 2023 season and JJ Enagbare heading into his third season. Meanwhile, Green Bay will have a cap-related decision to make with veteran Preston Smith. It makes sense that 2023 needs would, for the most part, remain 2024 needs at this point. If you don’t have answers to the questions now, they’re not magically going to be answered next year. Looking ahead though, there are a few spots that could be considered roster strengths in 2023 that may need reinforcements in 2024.
The big 2024 decision is going to involve David Bakhtiari. The future Packers Hall of Famer (and I would argue Pro Football Hall of Famer) has an impossibly high cap hit in 2024 of $40.5 million. There is nowhere for Green Bay to kick that dead cap to since it will be the last year of the extension he signed (and restructured multiple times) right before tearing his ACL. This will leave Green Bay with two options: (1) cut Bakhtiari, take on a dead cap hit of $19 million, and clear up $21.5 million, or (2) extend Bakhtiari well into his thirties in an environment where Bakhtiari has a good amount of leverage.
Barring a surprising offer sheet heading his way, Yosh Nijman will also be an unrestricted free agent next year. The combination of these two things would leave Green Bay with only Zach Tom and Elgton Jenkins as players who have played tackle at the NFL level. While Jenkins has experience and some good tape at tackle, he returned to form once kicking back inside after a rough start to his 2022. Even if Jenkins does kick out to tackle long-term, that will only change where the need is located along the offensive line. Jon Runyan Jr will also be an unrestricted free agent following the season. All of this could lead to a situation where, despite the fact that the 2023 roster is basically full on the offensive line (Green Bay currently has ten guys from last year’s roster on the offensive line), Green Bay views it as a need, not for 2023, but to prepare for a 2024 offensive line that looks materially different than the 2023 version.
The other spot that seems taken care of in 2023 is cornerback. Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas will start the year as starters on the outside with Keisean Nixon in the slot. At some point, Eric Stokes is expected to return from the ankle surgery that ended his 2022 season. Green Bay is short on depth here, but so is every other team in the league. Despite feeling pretty good about the 2023 corner room, 2024 could look very different. Alexander is very likely to hang around, as is Stokes, who will be in the final year of his rookie contract.
Current starter Rasul Douglas is in a more complicated spot. While Douglas has had a solid year-and-a-half in Green Bay, it is important to note that he was picked up off a practice squad prior to that. His 2024 cap hit will be $11.6M, and nearly $6.5M of that can be saved with a standard release. Douglas will be treating 2023 as a contract year, since if he slips below CB2-quality play, it is unlikely he’ll be on the roster in 2024.
Keisean Nixon has a void year in 2024, so perhaps Green Bay will look to extend him, but if the past two off-seasons are any indication, Green Bay isn’t rushing to extend guys going into void years just for the sake of saving a bit of cap space in the short-term. That could leave the Packers in a situation where Jaire Alexander is the only reliable corner in the room. Eric Stokes may just have a solid rookie season, a poor second year cut short by injury, and then a third year where he largely ends up being a special teams player behind Alexander, Douglas, and Nixon. Given how high of a priority the Packers front office has put on the cornerback position in the draft over the past decade, it could be a spot they try and address a year early rather than a year late.
Drafting for 2024
I still would not expect the Packers to target corner early. The brass still likely wants to give Stokes a chance to prove they were right to draft him in the first round, and CB5 just does not offer many reps, barring disaster.
I could, however, see offensive line being a spot Green Bay targets in the first two rounds. The Packers have had a visit with Tennessee’s Darnell Wright, and there are ways to get that player on the field. Yosh Nijman can be traded on that second round tender, and many teams would be happy to have a quality starting tackle for just a hair over $4 million. Josh Myers has largely been a disappointment and Zach Tom was announced as a center on draft day, so Green Bay could still get their ‘best five’ on the field in 2023 with Bakhtiari/Jenkins/Tom/Runyan/Draft Pick or if the pick is an interior guy, have Tom play tackle. It would certainly be a bit of a surprise to most who are expecting a receiver, tight end, or defensive front player early, but if we zoom out beyond 2023, the pick makes a lot of sense.