Sometimes football can be as simple as doing the thing the opponent least wants you to do. The Green Bay Packers desperately wanted Kyle Shanahan to let Jimmy Garoppolo try and beat them. Instead, Shanny handed the ball to Raheem Mostert ... wait, turns out Mostert is still running. Against a battered Eagles secondary, Matt LaFleur decided even a mediocre group of receivers with Davante Adams could attack Philly through the air and they barely bothered with the run game, putting the game in Aaron Rodgers’ capable hands.
Too often teams forget this mantra, attempting instead to out-think their opponent, getting too cute for their own good. This was a staple of late-stage Mike McCarthy football. But what if we applied this notion to the draft? Take the players teams in the NFC North and NFC playoff race would least like to see join the team?
We had some fun and tried to figure out what that looked like. Turns out, a pretty damn good haul for the Pack.
First round — Brandon Aiyuk WR Arizona State
Let’s let famous tape grinder and NFL Matchup executive producer Greg Cossell explain why this one makes sense. Here’s a bit from his notes on Aiyuk:
Aiyuk is at his best in space and on the move where he can utilize his explosive traits both as a route runner and run-after-catch: Vertical routs, in-breakers at the short and intermediate levels, multiple screen concepts, jet seeps, orbit reverses.
That reads like a want ad for a Matt LaFleur receiver, particularly given the skill sets of the other secondary receivers currently on the roster. He’s precisely the kind of receiver who can be a factor early, even before his relationship with Rodgers is fully formed, specifically because he’s so dynamic with the ball in his hands.
Just design plays to get him the ball and let the chemistry develop from there. If the ball is coming to him on a jet or screen, there’s no need to worry about Aiyuk being in the right place on a second-reaction play. He can score from anywhere on the field.
Second Round — Cole Kmet TE Notre Dame
Brian Gutekunst couldn’t make it work with Austin Hooper in free agency, but can do the next best thing and draft a ‘Hooper’ in the second round. Before free agency, reports indicated the Packers hoped to sign and draft a pass catcher. They got Devin Funchess, but he’s a one-year stop-gap solution.
If Green Bay can find a dynamic threat in the first and an ultra-reliable, middle-of-the-field pass catcher can be taken here, defenses would have to be worried. Go 11 personnel with Davante Adams, Aiyuk and one of Funchess or Lazard and make defenses play small. Go big in 12 personnel with Jace Sternberger and Kmet, either of whom can play split out or wide. Imagine this group in the red zone. It’s a defensive nightmare.
Another receiver here could make sense too (Donovan Peoples-Jones?) but given how much LaFleur wants to play big, a run/pass weapon would likely be much tougher to defend.
Third Round — Akeem Davis-Gaither LB Appalachian State
If ADG doesn’t get hurt in the pre-draft process, he goes top-50 and Green Bay doesn’t get a chance to draft him at 62 much less 94. Instead, the dynamic and versatile App State linebacker falls, providing Mike Pettine a chess piece to play all over the field. Gutey also already signed an undersized linebacker who plays bigger than his size and can make plays sideline-to-sideline. All ADG has to do is watch Christian Kirksey play and he’ll have a great mentor.
Davis-Gaither rushed the passer more than most off-ball linebackers in college, offering some juice as a blitzer for Pettine as he transitions off the ball. Think of ADG as a better, more versatile version of Raven Greene, one with premiere talent. This is a Pettine fever dream.
Fourth Round — Antonio Gibson RB/WR Memphis
Late buzz could push Gibson into late Day 2, but his consensus board ranking puts him at 120, right in line with the Packers fourth-round pick. Gibson can be the player Ty Montgomery could have been but never fully became as a weapon without a true position. Play him in the backfield, play him in the slot, give him jet sweeps and return duties. Let him use his athleticism and 4.39 speed to create big plays. Add Aiyuk/Kmet/Gibson to this offense and look out.
Fifth Round — Leki Fotu DT Utah
Once we get into the meat of Day 3, there aren’t many “scary” players to pick, but teams certainly don’t want to see the Packers take a block-eating interior defender to go next to Kenny Clark, with a fifth-round pick no less. Fotu may be an early down-only player, but for the Packers, that’s just fine given how often they want to play small with Pettine. Find a perfect fit interior defender to bolster the one big flaw on the team? Tough to beat.
Sixth Round — Joe Reed WR Virginia
He’s fast (4.4) productive in the ACC, and can make plays in all parts of the field. Reed may not be scary in a vacuum, but put him with all these offensive playmakers, and he’s part of the icing on the cake. Pushing guys like Jake Kumerow and Darrius Shepherd, who lack athletic ability and dynamic upside, only makes this team better.
Seventh Round — Jon Runyan OT Michigan
He’s a terrific athlete from a blueblood program with an NFL veteran for a father. It’s a mold that has worked for the Packers before and even if he never becomes a great player, the Packers have a penchant for hitting on Day 3 offensive lineman. If there’s one place he can succeed, it’s in Green Bay.