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NFL Draft 2021: Identifying the perfect Packers draft picks at every spot

Forget the mock draft and pick simulators. Who would Green Bay pick at each spot in an ideal world? We don’t live in such a world, but it’s fun to dream. Staying within reason, we try to identify the perfect pick at every spot who could also reasonably be there.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota
Ex-Minnesota star Rashod Bateman fits both the now and the future for the Packers.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft might as well be held in Las Vegas every year, because most picks are low-odds gambles. Still, it’s smart to play blackjack with a strategy. So how could the Green Bay Packers look at this draft? Where is it weak and where is it strong? Plus, what does it tell us about where they could be targeting players? Green Bay, in its war room, has an idealized draft lined up, with coaches and personnel evaluators stumping for their guys.

“Hey, we can get this guy in Round 1, then this guy in Round 2.” Every pick means not picking dozens of other players and it’s important to have reasons for each one of those choices. Going in with a strategy helps inform those choices. So we’ll use the hot list we compiled and project as best we can where guys are going to go to find ideal targets by draft spot.

My goal would be to come out of the first three rounds with an OT, CB, and WR. This draft class stands at odds, to an extent, with our historical norms: get pass rushers, offensive tackles, and cornerbacks early. The EDGE class is poor and OT/CB are the two deepest positions in this draft. That shouldn’t stop the Packers from, as Gutekunst said Monday, moving up for someone special, or in this case sticking and picking that guy.

Position scarcity and the impact of a pass-catcher points me toward prioritizing that flaw, particularly with offensive line and cornerback representing weak-link operations where five okay players are better than three great players and two bad ones. One receiver can change this team more than one lineman in particular, with Billy Turner and David Bakhtiari entrenched for now.

This secondary also features two Pro Bowl caliber safeties and an All-Pro cornerback already. One weak link stands out, but it’s easier for safeties to mitigate the corners of one weak cornerback.

My goal would be to get a speedy run-after-catch threat who could play some cross between Tyler Ervin’s role and a watered down version of the Randall Cobb role. To be sure, the Packers could find this guy if that’s all they wanted, on Day 3, making eschewing a more traditional X receiver possible.

This offense doesn’t require a true slot like Cobb, but someone with a similar skillset would bring a dimension to this attack it currently lacks. However, the offense in the long-term lacks that true WR2 unless Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling take a significant step forward in 2021 and Green Bay can’t bank on that.

To me there’s not a guy in this draft class who can play both roles and 100% fits what the Packers generally look for. Theoretically, Elijah Moore fits the profile, but at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, he’s way too small for what Green Bay likes. Given the dire situation with the receiver room beyond 2021 with no player guaranteed to be on the roster, Green Bay would be smart to grab two players there either way.

29. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The NFL doesn’t seem to love Bateman the way Draft Twitter does. In fact, the aforementioned Moore looks to be entrenched as WR4 in the class and Kadarius Toney could easily go ahead of him based on his absurd run-after-catch potential (a reason he could fit in Green Bay as well).

On the other hand, Gutekunst traveled to see Bateman’s pro day in person where the Minnesota star backed up the rumored EXOS combine times with a low 4.4’s 40 and checked in above six feet. He’s ready to play Day 1 and could not only complement Adams in the short-term, but replace him as WR1 down the line.

(Backup option: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State)

62. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse

He’s the brother of a recent NFL bust and played at a basketball school in the ACC or we might be talking about Meli as a top-40 lock. He’s preposterously athletic for as big as he is (6’2 205), plays with toughness, physicality, and intelligence. His best plays come in off coverage and his length shows up consistently on tape.

Melifonwu brings the kind of size/athletic profile the Packers thought would work for Kevin King but didn’t because he couldn’t stay healthy and he never consistently played with the requisite consistency. Meli offers that, plus he’s such a good tackler, some teams think he’s a safety. As a rookie, that could be his spot as S3 in this defense, then slide him outside to compete on the boundary. If I have to trade up a few spots to get him, I would.

(Backup option: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford)

92. Brady Christensen, OL BYU

If the Packers draft an offensive lineman, he’ll almost certainly be able to play guard or tackle. Green Bay’s front office going back to Ted Thompson prizes flexibility and with Christensen, the only question is his length. Some teams will see him as a guard, but the Packers have made it work with similar players before; Bryan Bulaga lacked prototypical length at tackle.

Still, even if he had to play guard, perhaps he’s a replacement for Elgton Jenkins, who proved he could kick outside last season. He’s an older prospect, but that didn’t scare them away from Jenkins, who turned out to be an inspired pick. As Packers types-y as Packers types get.

(Backup option: Milton Williams, DL, Lousiana Tech)

135. Ambry Thomas, CB, Michigan

PFF likes Thomas more than the mainstream boards and he tested well enough to go higher, but there hasn’t been much juice for the one-year wonder out of Michigan after he opted out for 2020. Thomas provides some juice as a punt returner as well, where he could potentially battle it out for that spot.

Thomas could have played his way into Day 2 had he opted in for 2020. His loss would be Green Bay’s gain here. Thomas could push guys like Ka’Dar Hollman and Stanford Samuels for roster spots right away and when Gutey said this team is better with King than without him, he was providing a scathing indictment of their cornerback depth.

(Backup option: Caden Sterns, S, Texas )

142. Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas

Whether or not the Packers can snag a legit WR2-type early, Darden profiles as the ideal candidate to snag on Day 3 to fill the departed Tyler Ervin role. Darden may be small by Packers standards, but he can fly, produces exciting moments with the ball in his hands, and could offer the kind of specific role a team could ask a young Day 3 player from North Texas to play.

Let him return kicks, be a jet sweep player, take end arounds, and don’t ask him to make route adjustments or call out corner blitzes. Just let him be a playmaker.

(Backup option: Bobby Brown, iDL, Texas A&M)

173. James Wiggins, S, Cincinnati

Wiggins won’t surprise anyone following the RAS shortlist players, but he wasn’t a superstar in college due to some injury issues (an ACL in 2019 and a meniscus in 2020). At this point in the draft his athletic potential and playmaking are worth the pick. He broke out in 2018 with four interceptions, including three that sealed wins for his team. He’s a physical tackler for a guy his size and shows playmaking traits. He profiles as a terrific option as S3 in the short-term and a long-term replacement for Adrian Amos.

Wiggins checks in a little on the older side at 24, but he’s an outstanding athlete, so there’s not a concern he still has to improve physically.

(Backup option: Marco Wilson, CB, Florida)

178. Demetric Felton, RB/WR, UCLA

Don’t @ me about RAS because I don’t care. OK, I do care and it gives me pause with Felton, but at this point in the draft, we are throwing darts. Generally, I want to do that with outstanding athletes and Felton didn’t test like that.

The tape says otherwise and the fit for the Packers is seamless. LaFleur can hand him the ball or throw it to him as a receiver-turned-running back. The Packers met with him at the Senior Bowl and have talked to Javian Hawkins, another small running back. Maybe they’re willing to go outside their preferences to fit a certain role.

(Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame)

214. Sadarius Hutcherson, iOL, South Carolina

Another physical marvel who could improve over time and earn playing time for the Packers. They have reason to trust their coaching staff developing offensive linemen and Hutcherson offers more natural talent than the Day 3 linemen the Packers picked last year. As a developmental pick, this could be their interior version of their Yosh Nijman.

(Backup option: Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State)

220. Jonathan Marshall, iDL, Arkansas

Find me athletic defensive linemen and let coaches earn their money. That’s Marshall, the best athlete in the class by RAS and another guy to have so Tyler Lancaster doesn’t have to make or break your defense. He started his career as a sub-package pass-rusher, so there’s real upside there as well. This is one of my favorite non-sexy position picks.

(Backup option: Chris Evans, RB, Michigan)

256. Feleipe Franks, QB, Arkansas

The Packers need a Tim Boyle replacement as the big-armed practice squad guy who makes bloggers cover their pants. Though Jordan Love is the true “developmental” quarterback on the roster, just draft one every year, bring him in, and see what you can do with him. Franks is a former top recruit with physical tools for days. They could do worse.

(Backup option: Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin)