With Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit all off this week, NFL action wasn't much fun for me this week. The marquee matchup of the week was between two teams who have no bearing on our playoff picture (and who I don't particularly like), and while matchups such as Seattle-Oakland provided a bit of unexpected drama, the lack of the presence of a team to root for (or against) was very much apparent. I filled the void, naturally, by looking through early big boards and watching prospect highlights. As a result of that (and watching Green Bay through 8 weeks), I've formulated a new set of picks. I've slotted us at 27, because I believe that we're the sixth-best team in the league right now. Without further ado, the Green Bay Packers are on the clock.
Caveat: My picks are generally based upon DraftTek's preliminary prospect rankings (since picking four first-round prospects with four picks isn't much fun.) Feel free to tell me which picks you don't think are plausible in the comments section!
R1 (27): Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
Well, I've probably told you everything you ever needed (or, for that matter, wanted) to know about McKinney. I've moved him up from the second round to the first since my last mock because I've taken the time to watch some tape on him, and I've realized how valuable a commodity McKinney will be on draft day. The other middle linebackers in this draft leave something to be desired. Denzel Perryman and Eric Kendricks seem like slightly quicker versions of Chris Borland to me - prolific players and big hitters whose impact plays don't translate into the NFL (Editor's note: That 18-tackle performance by Borland for the 49ers was sweet. As was this suplex.)
I wanted to love Perryman's play, I really did, but I woke up from a nightmare in which Julius Thomas victimized him in coverage during the Super Bowl. Like pretty much every top inside linebacker in this year's crop, McKinney has work to do with his coverage technique, and he won't be locking down the Jimmy Grahams of the league coming out of the gate, but his physical tools, stats and clear instincts give me faith that he can become an elite all-around inside linebacker in time. Off the bat, he's a better run stuffer than anyone the team has. Put him next to a downhill linebacker like Jamari Lattimore, and perhaps Green Bay's problem in the middle is solved.
R2 (59): Shilique Calhoun, OLB, Michigan State
Julius Peppers has been a very pleasant surprise this year, but it might be financially astute for Ted Thompson to cut him after this season and wipe his accelerating salary off the books. Nick Perry has been very good from a situational role this year, but perhaps that's his long-term niche; the same goes for Mike Neal. Calhoun was excellent last year, but had a bit of a slow start to his 2014 campaign before heating up. Yes, he would have to shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (cue groans), but he is more than athletic enough to make the transition. While he does, he'll split reps with Perry and Neal, both of whom are capable of applying heat. When he does develop, though, Calhoun stands as good a chance as anyone of providing a long-term solution to the spot opposite of Clay Matthews.
R3 (91): Jordan Phillips, NT, Oklahoma
Yes, Phillips came off a major back injury in 2013. But he has looked fantastic thus far this year, a dominant force in the middle of the Sooners' 3-4 front. While Green Bay can probably bring B.J. Raji back at a discounted rate for the 2015 campaign, the team could definitely use some fresh blood up front. Letroy Guion has had some surprisingly good games, but should not be relied upon as a long-term starter, while Mike Pennel is still very raw and Raji hasn't put together a particularly good season since 2011. Phillips can split reps with Raji off the bat and eventually grow into the team's long-term man in the middle. A blend of run-stuffing and pass-rushing, Phillips is an excellent athlete who should endear himself to Packers fans.
R4 (123): Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina
When the Packers waived Derek Sherrod, they made the inevitable official: Green Bay needs to add another tackle to the mix. JC Tretter could potentially kick out in a pinch, but he doesn't have the body type to comfortably entrench himself on the edge for an extended period of time. Enter Robinson, a mauling right tackle who is rough around the edges but provides a lot of upside. Even if the Packers re-sign Bryan Bulaga and keep David Bakhtiari at left tackle, the South Carolina product provides much-needed depth and excellent value.
R5 (155): Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon
Though he plays for a school which often basks in the national spotlight, Brown is far from a household name, best known for an ill-advised snowball fight last winter that led to an Alamo Bowl suspension. "Oregon", "tight end" and "Green Bay" are still heavily associated with Colt Lyerla, who may or may not be back in training camp next year (although his later arrest makes a second shot with the Packers far less likely.) While I was looking through the list of potential draft declarants at the position, though, Brown stood out as possibly the most balanced player in the class. On top, Devin Funchess and Nick O'Leary offer virtually nothing as blockers, and players like Ben Koyack are probably never going to be difference-makers as receiving targets. Brown is the rare case of a receiver-type skill profile (gains separation, 6'6", runs crisp routes) within a tight end whose main responsibility in college has been to block. With the wealth of weapons at his disposal, Mark Helfrich has left Brown to do the dirty work in-line while occasionally splitting him out wide. Despite his limited opportunities to catch the football, he is fourth on the team in receptions and yards, and third in touchdowns. He's also a former basketball player, and fits into the mold of Julius Thomas, a hair slower but also a bit taller. Since neither Andrew Quarless nor Richard Rodgers has shown much as a blocker or as a pass-catcher, a high-upside option like Brown could be the type of player to immediately work himself into goal-line packages and progress from there.
R6 (187): Eric Rowe, CB, Utah
Green Bay has two of its top four cornerbacks facing expiring contracts this year (Tramon Williams and Davon House), and chances are good that only one returns. While the Packers have very good depth in the secondary, Rowe is a good value here. His speed (4.39 forty) and length (6'1") make him an intriguing prospect. Initially a safety, he converted to cornerback this past season to fill the void left by the NFL-bound Keith McGill. He hasn't been a ballhawk thus far in his career, but his versatility, athleticism and solid tackling skills are major selling points at this point in the draft. Best of all, Rowe can refine his technique under the tutelage of Joe Whitt and a set of very talented defensive backs.
R7 (209): Terrance Smith, ILB, Florida State
Beginning and ending the draft with middle linebackers is somewhat poetic. Smith is another nice size-speed combination who could play situationally for the Packers as they potentially phase out players like Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk.
What do you think? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below!