Headed into the 2023 season, the Green Bay Packers are expected to be in the running for the most capital in the 2024 NFL Draft, along with the Arizona Cardinals (who own the Houston Texans’ first-round pick) and the Chicago Bears (who own the Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick) due to the compensation that the Packers received for quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the New York Jets.
As long as Rodgers plays a total of 65 percent of the Jets’ offensive snaps in 2023, Green Bay will end up owning New York’s first-round draft choice. If Rodgers doesn’t stay on the field long enough to hit that mark, the Packers will have two second-round picks in the upcoming draft. In all likelihood, though, general manager Brian Gutekunst will have two selections on the first day of the draft next year.
Projected draft capital for 2024 pic.twitter.com/cwpRwuWsxV— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) April 30, 2023
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the upcoming draft class and some names to keep highlighted as we gear up for both the NFL and college football seasons. In total, there are 20 players who are currently projected to be first-round picks on the consensus draft board at the Packers’ potential biggest needs in 2024: quarterback, receiver, offensive tackle, defensive lineman and safety.
You could argue — and I would — that defensive lineman and safety are the 2023 team’s biggest needs. Those needs are only going to increase when projected 2023 starting safeties, Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford, have their contracts expire after this season.
Quarterback, receiver and tackle are all dependent on how the 2023 plays out for key players. The Packers hedged their bets on Jordan Love with his one-year contract extension, which leaves the door open for the team to poke around the quarterback market if they’re in a position to strike for one of the two big names. Remember, they should have multiple first-round picks next season if they need to trade up for a signal-caller.
Receiver is dependent on if Green Bay thinks Romeo Doubs is playing good enough ball to handle the WR2 or WR3 role for the team after losing steam down the stretch of his rookie season. Tackle hinges on David Bakhtiari and Yosh Nijman, the team’s returning bookends who the Packers could move on from next offseason depending on their contractual demands.
Let’s take a look at the 2024 rookies who could fill those holes for Green Bay.
Caleb Williams, USC (#2 on the consensus draft board)
- Stats: 711 pass attempts, 6,449 yards, 63 touchdowns, nine interceptions (10.3 AY/A)
- Projected height, weight and 40-yard dash (via NFLDraftScout.com): 6005, 220, 4.48
USC’s Caleb Williams is drawing Patrick Mahomes comparisons after a successful first year under center for the Trojans in 2022. After following head coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, Williams was able to earn Heisman Trophy and unanimous All-AMerican honors last season. After being named a five-star recruit in his high school class, Williams split playing time with Spencer Rattler (now at South Carolina) in Oklahoma as a true freshman. The Mahomes comparisons stick as far as Williams’ creative arm angles and throwing power, but there’s a clear difference between their speed (in favor of Williams) and size (in favor of Mahomes.)
Drake Maye, North Carolina (#3)
- 527 pass attempts, 4,410 yards, 39 touchdowns, seven interceptions (9.3 AY/A)
- 6043, 220, 4.58
Drake Maye’s father (Mark) and three brothers (Luke, Cole and Beau) have participated in athletics at North Carolina, which led to the quarterback de-committing from Alabama and flipping to the Tar Heels as a recruit. As a true freshman, Maye sat behind the Washington Commanders’ Sam Howell but hit the ground running in 2022, when he was named the ACC Player of the Year as a redshirt freshman. Maye and Williams are the two prizes of the 2024 NFL Draft, as it stands in May 2023.
Quinn Ewers, Texas (#18)
- 296 pass attempts, 2,177 yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions (7.5 AY/A)
- 6021, 207, 4.76
While Williams was the top quarterback prospect in 2021, Quinn Ewers was expected to be the quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class. Ewers, though, reclassified and enrolled at Ohio State after his junior season. There, he lost a quarterback battle to C.J. Stroud — the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft — and decided to transfer back home to Texas in 2022. As a redshirt freshman last year, Ewers earned starting snaps for the Longhorns until an SC sprain in his shoulder kept him off the field. Currently, he’s fending off another super recruit — Arch Manning, Peyton and Eli’s nephew — for the starting job. Ewers might be best known as the first player to fully utilize the power of name, image and likeness (NIL), reportedly earning over a million dollars in sponsorship money before taking a snap for the Buckeyes.
Michael Penix Jr., Washington (#20)
- 1,130 pass attempts, 8,838 yards, 60 touchdowns, 23 interceptions (8.0 AY/A)
- 6021, 213, 4.64
Michael Penix has had an up-and-down career as a college quarterback, but he’s one of the best passers returning to college football in 2023 after recording a Second-Team All-Pac 12 season last year (behind Heisman winner Caleb Williams of USC.) Originally enrolled at Indiana, Penix started a total of 17 games over his first four seasons in college due to injury (including multiple ACL tears) and the pandemic. In 2022, his former Hoosiers offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer took over as Washington’s head coach, which led to Penix’s transfer to the program after Jake Haener — who DeBoer coached the year prior— elected to stay at Fresno State. Haener was a fourth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2023 draft. Penix will be a 24-year-old before he plays in an NFL game and is also left-handed.
Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State (#1)
88 receptions, 1,402 yards, 17 touchdowns
6032, 205, 4.46
Outside of the top quarterbacks (Caleb Williams and Drake Maye), the biggest name in this upcoming draft is going to be Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. Yes, he is the son of the Hall of Fame pass-catcher. Ohio State is a receiver factory, producing three top-20 selections at the position over the last two seasons with the potential of adding two more in 2024. Harrison’s breakout game was in the Rose Bowl two seasons ago when future first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave opted out, leading to a three-touchdown performance from the true freshman. Last year, his first season as a full-time starter, Harrison earned unanimous All-American honors. Expect to hear him being called the cleanest receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones for the next year or so.
Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State (#11)
- 83 receptions, 1,342 yards, 10 touchdowns
- 6006, 205, 4.42
Remember when I said that there might be two top-20 receivers from Ohio State in this class? The other is Emeka Egbuka, who was Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and enrolled early at Ohio State instead of playing in a pandemic-delayed senior season in 2021. As a true freshman, Egbuka — buried in a deep receiver depth chart — returned 20 kicks for 580 yards (a 29.0-yard average.) Last year, Egbuka stepped up for the outgoing Wilson and Olave (and injured Jaxon Smith-Njigba) and earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors as a true sophomore.
Rome Odunze, Washington (#15)
- 122 receptions, 1,632 yards, 11 touchdowns
- 6026, 201, 4.50
Michael Penix’s favorite target, Rome Odunze, hails from Las Vegas powerhouse program Bishop Gorman, which has produced NFL players like Pro Bowlers DeMarco Murray and Ronnie Stanley, as well as three former Packers in Alize Mack, Ramiz Ahmed and Grey Ruegamer, who now works as Green Bay’s director of player engagement. As a junior in high school, Odunze won the Nevada state titles in both the 200-meter dash and the 4x100 relay.
Xavier Worthy, Texas (#19)
- 6006, 164, 4.29
- 122 receptions, 1,741 yards, 21 touchdowns
Xavier Worth was one of the most talked about recruits in the 2021 graduating class, in part because of his talent and in part due to the drama around his recruitment. Worthy originally signed his letter of intent to play for Michigan but spent weeks fighting the Wolverines to let him out of his commitment so he could sign with Texas. As a true freshman, he earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors with the Longhorns. The small, but very fast, receiver isn’t going to be for every offense — and he might not be a fit for Green Bay. As a sophomore in high school, he was able to post a 10.55-second 100-meter dash.
Olumuyiwa (Olu) Fashanu, Penn State (#8)
- 6061, 323, 5.14
One of the biggest surprises in the most recent NFL draft declaration cycle was that Olumuyiwa Fashanu didn’t declare in January, as he was projected to be selected in the first half of the first round. Fashanu was current-Packer Rasheed Walker’s backup for the Nittany Lions up until this season, when Fashanu was able to earn Second-Team All-Big Ten honors as a first-year starting left tackle. He also blocked for Caleb Williams in high school and Green Bay draft pick Sean Clifford in college.
Joe Alt, Notre Dame (#9)
- 6071, 317, 5.27
Joe Alt is the son of John Alt, a former All-Pro and first-round pick tackle who is in the Kansas Chiefs’ Hall of Fame. Early on in his college career and in high school, Alt was a hybrid tight end, offensive lineman and defensive lineman. Last season, his first full year focusing on the offensive tackle position, Alt was named a First-Team All-American.
J.C. Latham, Alabama (#14)
- 6055, 335, 5.21
J.C. Lathan is actually a Waukesha, Wisconsin native who started his career at Catholic Memorial before transferring to powerhouse IMG Academy in Florida as a junior. The super recruit was a first-year starter in 2022 for Alabama and has been receiving playing time as a right tackle.
Kingsley Suamataia, BYU (#25)
- 6045, 325, 5.08
Originally a blue-chip signing for the Oregon Ducks, Kingsley Suamataia transferred to BYU as a redshirt freshman in 2022. He returned to the state where he had won four-straight titles as a high school player. Maybe the most athletic and highest upside tackle of the bunch, Suamataia started at right tackle for the Cougars last season.
Maason Smith, LSU (#12)
- 19 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks
- 6036, 300, 4.84
Maason Smith has the potential to be the highest-drafted defensive lineman from outside of the state of Georgia in some time, but he needs to prove that he can stay on the field in 2023. In 2021, as a true freshman, his Freshman All-American campaign ended early due to a leg injury. He would go on to miss most of the 2022 season when he tore his ACL in the season-opener during a third-down celebration. With only five starts under his belt, but incredible athletic ability, Smith is one player that scouts will be monitoring early next season.
Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State (#13)
- 21 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
- 6021, 290, 4.96
Michael Hall Jr. is a northeast Ohio product that the Buckeyes have been able to develop over the years. With legit NFL size and athleticism, he was able to earn Third-Team All-Big Ten honors in 2022 as a first-year starter. The hope is that his progression continues this year.
Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois (#16)
- 134 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks
- 6021, 295, 5.02
The most experienced defender on this list is Jer’Zhan Newton of Illinois, who has been an instant impact player since enrolling with the Fighting Illini in 2020. The Florida product was actually a high school running back and has a strong football background, as three of his four brothers have also played college football. His cousin, Pro Wells, is currently a tight end in the USFL. Last year, Newton earned a place on the First-Team All-Big Ten team. While Illinois is losing virtually its entire secondary (and defensive coordinator), Newton should be an anchor on their defense.
Calen Bullock, USC (#27)
- 88 tackles, eight pass breakups, seven interceptions
- 6016, 190, 4.49
As a true freshman, Calen Bullock was an off-and-on starter (the first at safety since second-round pick Sua Cravens) at multiple positions for the Trojans. At USC, he’s seen playing time at safety, cornerback and in the nickel spot, but spent most of 2022 as a true safety. As a sophomore, he was named a Second-Team All-Pac 12 defender.
Javon Bullard, Georgia (#28)
- 58 tackles, three pass breakups, two interceptions
- 5111, 180, 4.45
Javon Bullard, a former three-star recruit, has been one of the more surprising stars that Georgia has developed during their back-to-back title run. Bullard earned significant playing time — starting most of the Bulldogs’ games — as a sophomore after backing up first-round pick Lewis Cine as a true freshman. Bullard was named the MVP of last season’s national championship game after bringing in three turnovers against TCU. In September, Bullard was arrested for a DUI.
Andrew Mukuba, Clemson (#30)
- 101 tackles, 10 pass breakups, one interception
- 5115, 185, 4.52
Born in Zimbabwe to refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Andrew Mukuba moved to Austin, Texas as a child when his parents were granted asylum. In 2021, Mukuba was the first Clemson player to ever be named a Week 1 starter in the secondary as a true freshman. That year, he was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Cooper DeJean, Iowa (#31)
- 79 tackles, eight pass breakups, five interceptions
- 6010, 209, 4.49
At the high school level, Cooper DeJean not only played defensive back but was also his team’s starting quarterback, ran track and played basketball and baseball. In his final two seasons of high school football, he recorded a 25-0 record as a starting quarterback — earning his school back-to-back state titles. He also won state in the long jump and 100-meter dash as a senior, coming in second in two other track events. As a true freshman, DeJean sat behind Dane Belton (2022 fourth-round pick) before playing cornerback, safety and in the slot last season. He is also on Iowa’s player council.