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Free agency shored up holes in Packers’ roster, but Draft will answer long-term questions

Brian Gutekunst locked down nearly every starting spot for 2019 after his free agent splurge, but Green Bay has long-term questions at a handful of key spots. The draft could bring answers.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson
Irv Smith Jr’s diverse skillset should make him an appealing prospect for the Packers to replace Jimmy Graham.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Just call Brian Gutekunst “Radio Shack.” Packers fans had questions. He had answers. Outside linebacker loomed as a gaping need on the roster; Gutekunst got not one, but two big-money players. Safety doomed the Packers over and over last season; Gutey snagged the best value on the market. He also found a legitimate option at guard with swing tackle capabilities. Maybe he overpaid, but the Green Bay GM found a competent player to fill in a spot that was among the worst in football. And although each are close to earning their NFL AARP card, two legitimate starting caliber tight ends return to stopgap the tight end position.

It’s hard to find a spot on the roster where the Packers don’t have a reasonable plan in 2019. Kick returner, maybe? That’s not to say there aren’t places where Green Bay can’t improve. Dean Lowry showed he can handle a starting role on the defensive line, but the Packers tried to upgrade from him last offseason. Mo Wilkerson may be back, but there’s no guarantee he’s healthy. Furthermore, Mike Daniels will be a free agent in 2020.

Blake Martinez joins Daniels looking for a deal a year from now and it’s not at all clear Oren Burks can assume his role as the linchpin inside. Even if he can, they’re an ILB short at least in terms of playing in base or having any kind of depth.

Tramon Williams, if he’s still on the team, likely won’t be the team’s starting safety beyond 2019 and Adrian Amos can’t play both safety spots simultaneously, even if he can play either safety spot. Josh Jones struggles playing deep and has only been slightly better close to the line of scrimmage, marking safety as perhaps the most pressing need on the roster.

If No. 1 on the list is not safety, it’s right tackle, where Bryan Bulaga doesn’t have a contract beyond this season. He could wind up getting an extension if he can stay healthy. If Billy Turner tuns out to be (no pun intended) the right tackle of the future, the hole at guard re-forms in earnest.

Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis form a solid duo with complementary skillsets for this season, but neither should be part of the plan in 2020 or beyond, which means the Packers probably need not one, but at least two more tight ends. Big Bob Tonyan’s development would be gravy and even if he does take a step forward, Matt LaFleur’s offense requires multiple tight ends. They don’t have a starter for 2020.

Suddenly, a team without obvious roster gaps in its starting lineup in 2019 looks awfully thin in 2020. With bigger cap hits coming for Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith (henceforth known as the Acme Sackers), the Packers have to nail this draft to fill needs moving forward. Providing those players with the opportunity to learn behind quality veterans should only aid in their development.

With that in mind, here are several appealing options for the Packers at these long-term gaps on the depth chart, keeping in mind the athletic profiles Green Bay generally prefers.


30. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

Oddly, while there aren’t any players at the position worth taking at 12, there could be as many as ten worth taking in the top 100 picks. Gardner-Johnson is my S1 and could still be available at 30. His speed, coverage ability in the slot, and improved tackling making him an ideal fit next to Amos. Johnathan Abram would be another name to watch here and either could be targets if they traded down from 12 into the teens or early 20s.

44. Juan Thornhill, Virginia

Athletically he has every tool the Packers could want plus experience in coverage (having played cornerback in addition to safety), and he showed playmaking instincts with 13 interceptions in three years at UVA. Darnell Savage from Maryland also fits into this range with a similar athletic profile and playmaking ability.

75. Amani Hooker, Iowa

The Packers love Iowa players, particularly defensive backs and Hooker maybe be able to go from yellow and back to yellow and green like his former running mate Josh Jackson.

Defensive Line

12. Ed Oliver, Houston

Perhaps the new favorite in the clubhouse for the 12th pick at Acme Packing Company HQ, Oliver brings a more athletic, higher upside version of Mike Daniels and could be a sub-package maven next to Za’Darius Smith inside. If he falls to them, run the card to the commissioner.

30. Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame

Not exactly a Packers “type.” but an impressive athlete with length and strength who profiles ideally as a five technique in a 3-4 defense. He can use his length to control blockers, but has pass rush to get a push on early downs as well.

114. Rennell Wren, Arizona State

This draft is slim pickings for players likely to appeal to Green Bay and also be available where they’re picking. Wren is an intriguing prospect who seems to be gaining steam through the pre-draft process and fits the kind of athletic profile this front office prizes.

Tight End

17* Noah Fant, Iowa

I’m cheating here, because I don’t believe any tight end is truly in play at 12 for the Packers. Between Hock and Fant, though Hockenson is the more well-rounded player, Fant’s supreme physical gifts could make him more appealing long-term. Tight ends with his movement skills just don’t come around very often. In this scenario, it’s a trade-down with the Giants who move up for a quarterback.

44. Irv Smith Jr., Alabama

My favorite scenario on this list. Despite some underwhelming agility numbers in Indy, Smith Jr. ran 4.6 and showed off his fluidity in drills to underscore what he puts on tape. As a 20-year-old who can block, catch, and make plays after he hauls it in, ISJ offers the ideal draft-and-develop blueprint for a tight end who may only play 30% of snaps in 2019, but may need to play 90% in 2020.

185. Foster Moreau, LSU

Don’t be surprised to see BG double-dip at the position and target Moreau in the late rounds. While at LSU, he caught just 52 passes in his career, but showed off impressive athleticism at the combine. We’ve seen relatively unproductive college tight ends blossom in the NFL simply by virtue of athletic gifts. Moreau has the upside.

Right Tackle

12. Andre Dillard, Washington State

Don’t scoff. Dillard offers the best pass blocking in the class and could easily slide inside to guard if necessary. More likely, he would be the right tackle of the post-Bulaga era. In a few years, when Bakhtiari ages out of dominance, he can slide back to his more natural left tackle, where he has a chance to be among the best in football.

30. Chris Lindstrom, Boston College

Few players in recent vintage at the position are more Packers-y than Lindstrom, an ultra-athletic college tackle who can play guard. In fact, BC would slide him inside in certain situations and he handled Clemson’s tough interior defenders with aplomb.

58.* Kaleb McGary, Washington

Another cheat. Green Bay could package their third-round pick with their fourths to move back in the second round and snag a player like McGary. At 6’7 317 pounds and with outstanding athleticism, he could be tackle or guard for the Packers.