The Green Bay Packers have needs at cornerback and edge rusher, arguably the two most critical positions on defense. That certainly appears to be the case from the team’s drafting history and public comments, as getting to the quarterback and keeping opposing receivers in check are fundamental in today’s NFL.
With that in mind, APC went on the clock this week with the 29th pick in the SB Nation Writers’ Mock Draft, and had several intriguing options at both positions. A few hours ago, we asked for your input on who our pick should be. Ultimately, we ended up selecting the player who we believe has the greatest physical tools and highest ceiling as he continues to grow into the position he will play as a pro.
Without further ado, here is our selection and our explanation:
T.J. Watt, outside linebacker, Wisconsin
Let's get this out of the way immediately - Ted Thompson has drafted a grand total of one Wisconsin Badger in his 12 drafts as Packers GM, so this pick is not entered with the expectation that he values Watt just because he's a local guy.
Rather, Watt followed up a strong junior season with an extremely impressive showing at the combine (even better than Clay Matthews' numbers). The former Badgers pass-rusher has a tremendous ceiling, and that's exactly what the Packers value in their outside linebackers. Remember that he has only played defense for two seasons after moving from tight end, so he still has plenty of built-in development. To make things even better, he played standing up in the Badgers' 3-4, so he can avoid the tougher transition of moving from 4-3 defensive end that so many players go through.
Sure, the Packers have questions at running back and right guard, but those aren't "premier" positions in the eyes of Thompson. The other option here was cornerback, given the Packers' mighty struggles at that position in 2016, and we thought strongly about Ohio State's Gareon Conley. However, the Packers are planning to use Clay Matthews as an inside/outside "rover" linebacker this season, and behind Nick Perry is a bunch of unproven players, making the edge a priority as well. Watt would immediately earn playing time as a pass-rusher in a rotation, but would be given time to develop his run support and coverage skills.
(And we even made it through that whole thing without mentioning his big brother once!)