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Wednesday Walkthroughs: Early 2020 Packers Draft crushes

APC writers share their early crushes in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tulane v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The NFL Draft is a big ball of weirdness. Franchise fortunes rise and fall based on decisions made during one jam-packed weekend. To assume that all those decisions are made for the best possible reasons would be to give the people making those decisions far too much credit.

We say that in defense of our draft crushes, the players we love for good (in our minds) reasons. Will they all turn out to be good NFL players? Probably not. But this is who we love now, and we’re going to love them forever, or until a different prospect appears in a slightly more compelling highlight video.

Ken McKain – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Solid in pass coverage and excellent against the run. Has unparalleled play diagnostics coupled with great athleticism and aggressiveness to read and blow up plays before they develop. Murray is physical and has good technique shedding blockers allowing him to operate effectively even with sub par defensive line play in front of him. He also functions as a high level pass rusher from inside or outside and that would add an additional layer of unpredictability to Mike Pettine’s defense. He could take Green Bay’s defense from good to great.

Shawn Wagner – Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

I’ll admit that I had not paid a lot of attention to Reagor until recently, but he’s quickly become one of the more intriguing prospects to me in a solid first-round receiving group this year. To me, Reagor is a bit underrated and can offer Green Bay a little bit of everything. He’s not the biggest receiver nor is he the fastest, but he can still stretch the field and win contested jump-balls. His hands and route-running particularly stand out to me and it doesn’t hurt that Reagor is a proven and valuable college return man coming out of TCU. Tyler Ervin helped the Packers in that regard late in the season, but Reagor’s presence would almost instantly pencil him into a contributing role for Green Bay. I will be interested in how Reagor times at the Combine in terms of his explosiveness compared to other receivers in the class, but I see a lot of traits that would help the Packers offense in ways it lacked last season. He could be lined up in the slot or on the outside and quickly emerge as a viable option alongside Davante Adams.

Paul Noonan – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

I’m probably going to write a more detailed post on this, but I’ve been working on some statistical identifiers and they love Tua. Since Tua has medical concerns around his hip, I think he may fall, and if he falls to Green Bay at some point, they should grab him.

The short, walkthrough version is as follows. I’ve been adapting my QBOPS stat to college football. I did this because according to stat nerds like Josh Hermsmeyer, the best predictor of NFL success for QBs is Completion Percentage over Expected (CPOE), but CPOE is not publicly available for college players and is therefore useless. Fortunately, even though it’s simpler and not quite as accurate, QBOPS is a decent proxy, especially if you weigh completion percentage higher than I do for pros. CPOE rightly identified Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray as potentially good to great NFL QBs, and so does QBOPS.

This year QBOPS loves Joe Burrow, but that’s not surprising as everyone loves Joe Burrow. Burrow’s .450 QBOBP is the highest I’ve seen and unprecedented for a QB with a .600+ QBSLG. It loves Tua almost as much.

Since the 2016 season he has the 2nd highest QBOPS+ of any QB outside of Baker Mayfield’s 2017 campaign, and almost every major conference QB with at least a .420 OBP and a .600 SLG was a decent NFL QB. Tua is .421/.773, which puts him on par or better than Mayfield and Murray recently, and RG3 and Andrew Luck in the past.

Tua isn’t a secret any more than Burrow is and he may not get past the Dolphins at 5, but there are enough questions around him to make a Rodgers-esque draft plunge possible. If it happens, the Packers should do what they did last time.

Peter Bukowski – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

Before I studied this receiver class, I was with Shawn, and Reagor still has my heart. It’s just that I love someone else more. I’m sorry Jalen, it’s not you. It’s me. My favorite potential move this offseason for the Packers would be to trade for Robert Woods. At least until I studied Jefferson, who profiles as 21-year-old Woods with reliability underneath, route running, and run-after-the-catch ability. He turned into Joe Burrow’s go-to receiver in LSU’s biggest games and shows enough juice to give any team a versatile receiver.

The gap between Jefferson and someone like Jerry Jeudy is minimal and for me, he’s a better prospect than someone like Henry Ruggs III who will almost assuredly go before him. It’s not just for the Packers, Jefferson would help any NFL, but as a bigger slot who can play outside as well, run jet sweeps, take screens, and still hit shot plays, Jefferson profiles as the ideal fit for the Packers offense, particularly if they can find a deep threat receiver in free agency.

Jon Meerdink – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

There seems to be no reasonable scenario where Jeudy is on the board at 30, but most of the crushes in my life have included an aspect of unreasonableness. But that notwithstanding: I love watching Jerry Jeudy play football.

It’s really cool to see players who understand how all the pieces fit together. The truly great players know how to make plays by being in the right place at the right time, and Jeudy seems to magnify his already excellent route running skills with a keen understanding of where he can make the biggest impact within the context of a given play.

Will that skill translate to the NFL without overwhelming athleticism? I think there’s reason to be skeptical, but that’s not stopping me from loving what Jeudy does with and without the ball in his hands.

Jonathan Barnett – Sage Surratt

Partially just trying to find a different name than already named, but in my search I found my true draft love. Maybe I exaggerate. Either way, Surratt stands out to me in a few big areas. He is a great route runner. That is huge for the Packers. I think that gives him a big leg up on other options. Davante Adams kills people with route running and Surratt worked his way open in college with his ability to be precise.

The other aspect I love is his play after catching the ball. LaFleur runs a lot of short routes and timing to go along with play action. Surratt is big and he reads a field well. Once he has the ball he makes good cuts, moves laterally without losing speed and gets to space. He is also a physical player and fights through contact.

Couple places to go with players who are good, but this is a draft crush article. I love the competitiveness and the physicality he brings.

Tex Western – KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State

While the Packers have size and at least some speed at the wide receiver position, what they lack is a shifty player for the slot. Perhaps no player fits that description better in this draft class than Hamler, the former Penn State Nittany Lion. And yet he’s capable of being so much more than just a slot receiver.

Hamler reminds me of a cross between two players who have carved out very different roles in the NFL: DeSean Jackson and Taylor Gabriel. At about 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Hamler fits in nicely in between the two NFL receivers, with Jackson going 5-foot-10 and 169 pounds and Gabriel entering the league at 5-foot-7, 167.

Hamler shows the skills that made both of these players successful in the NFL. Jackson is a pure deep threat that belies his small stature, thanks mainly to his 4.35 speed and great ball-tracking ability. Meanwhile, Gabriel’s shiftiness makes him more adept at working near the line of scrimmage as well as the middle of the field. Hamler displayed all of those traits in Happy Valley and he should post one of the most impressive wide receiver workouts at this year’s combine. Oh, and adding in his return ability is just an added bonus.

I’m not necessarily advocating for taking Hamler with the 30th pick, but I think he could be a perfect fit for what the Packers and Matt LaFleur need on offense. Remember, LaFleur worked on the 2016 offense that used Gabriel in both the big-play threat and slot receiver roles, and Hamler can be all that and more in the right scenario. If the Packers decide to move back out of the first round to pick up some second-day picks, I would be thrilled with Hamler as an early second-rounder. If he fell to 62 overall, I would be the living embodiment of the Vince McMahon GIF.