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Mock draft roundup: Focus for Packers shifts to defense with Pro Days underway

While a new weapon for Aaron Rodgers is a fan-favorite option in Round 1, the Packers have other less-sexy needs that are arguably more important.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Northwestern at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The fluctuations with the Green Bay Packers’ projected draft strategy by draft experts continues as a good portion of mock drafts released recently have the Packers veering almost entirely away from the offensive side of the football.

A first-round receiver has been top of mind for the past two off-seasons, but the Packers could prioritize making some moves on the defense for new coordinator Joe Barry to build with. Despite what the draft community might be mocking (here and elsewhere), that may not be inside linebacker, but more on that later.

The uncertainty around the Packers free agent plans also add to the intrigue of what they may be prioritizing come April. The Packers look to be clearing some cap space with restructures so new talent could be on the way, or simply staying in house. For now, let’s see how the mock drafts are shaking up this week.

Draft Network & Greg Newsome II, DB, Northwestern

Newsome seems to be making his way up the draft boards and into the first round after the Packers met virtually with the Northwestern product. even has the Packers trading up to the 22nd overall pick to make the selection of the 6-foot corner – which doesn’t look as wonky as it did before Brian Gutekunst headed to Northwestern’s Pro Day.

This is a selection for the Packers that could add a strong perimeter defender opposite of superstar corner Jaire Alexander. Stronger boundary play, paired with Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos as flexible safeties, would allow Barry to deploy the two-high coverage schemes we saw with the Rams — Barry’s former team.

Newsome has good coverage and ball skills without draping himself all over opposing wide receivers. Critically, he shows up when it matters:

Should Kevin King leave in free agency there’s a gaping hole in the secondary that was already a weak point to begin with. Adding Newsome would be an upgrade, even if King stayed.

CBS Sports: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Collins makes another appearance in the mock draft rounds and it’s easy to see why. On the surface, the Packers run defense needs a boost and adding a rangy, athletic linebacker to the defense could help stop running backs and provide coverage of athletic tight ends.

But the addition of Barry to the coaching staff and the recent history of the Packers acquisitions – be it draft or free agency – might suggest that the Packers don’t prioritize using premium resources on the position. The Rams certainly haven’t and still managed to have a top run defense. Instead, Barry, who came up through the ranks as a linebackers coach, coached up Cory Littleton from undrafted to All-Pro and focuses more on gap discipline in the run game.

That being said, Collins would certainly be a plus to the second-level of the Packers defense and already conducted a virtual interview with Green Bay. He is a 6’4”, 260 lbs. beast who’s an experienced starter and has a nose for the ball. He flashed as a freshman at Tulsa, but his gradual improvements year-over-year to earn the Nagurski Award winner for Most Outstanding Defensive Player suggests a gifted athlete who’s going to grind at practice and in the weight room. The last 10 winners of that award include: Chase Young, Josh Allen (JAX), Bradley Chubb, Jonathan Allen, Aaron Donald, and Luke Kuechly. A pretty decent hit rate.

PFF: Nick Bolton, OLB, Missouri

PFF really likes the idea of getting an off-ball linebacker to Green Bay, considering they have the Packers’ cumulative off-ball linebacker grade at 39.4 – second-worst in the NFL – and found Green Bay had the second-fewest defensive stops from the position. But you don’t need stats or grades to tell you how poor the Packers were at getting stops last year that weren’t, in part, errors by opposing offenses.

Bolton’s play style is best described as an aggressive enforcer. He wants to pop the ball out of ball carrier’s hands and make receivers antsy when they hear footsteps on shallow crossers. He’s not just a defensive thumper though, as he’s pretty good at dropping into zone coverage and looked like a true field general for the Tigers. He’ll need to be coached up, however, and really sharpen his pursuit angles to not get lost in the shuffle or out of position.

Pro Football Network: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Like Teven Jenkins in previous mock drafts that we’ve seen, doubling down on a unit that was already a strength for the Packers last year could be critical, should Corey Linsley make it to free agency. The Packers can shift things around to replace Linsley if need be, but that could lead them to being weak at a guard position.

Vera-Tucker is a coveted, versatile lineman who can play both guard spots for the Packers or kick out to a tackle position. At 6’4” 300 lbs, AVT is an athletic lineman with a great first strike in the run game and puts plenty of opponents into the turf. His strength and balance are evident on tape as he looks like an immovable sequoia when opposing defenders use power rush moves. He has a little more trouble with speed rushers as a left tackle (having played 462 snaps there), but with David Bakhtiari already occupying that territory, it’s more likely we’d see Vera-Tucker at LG with Elgton Jenkins kicking in to center or at RG.