After taking three straight offensive players in rounds two, three, and four of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers went back to shore up some holes on the defense with a pair of fifth-round picks. In or around the fifth round, NFL teams are looking for players with athletic upside who have yet to turn that into equivalent production or for players with a specific skillset who can contribute in a specific role on the team.
In Tedarrell “TJ” Slaton and Shemar Jean-Charles, the Packers seem to have focused on the latter.
The first of the two picks was Slaton, a massive 6-foot-4, 330-pound nose tackle. His strengths are not as a pass-rushing, pocket-collapsing down lineman; Slaton is a more prototypical two-gapping anchor who should be able to occupy blockers and keep second-level defenders clean to flow to the football.
Still, Slaton is a plus athlete at his size. A 5.08 40 with a 1.68-second first ten yards is remarkable for a player of his size, and he is more explosive than most 330-pounders. That offers some promise of untapped pass-rushing potential if Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery can draw it out of him.
Fundamentally, however, Slaton looks like a conventional 1-tech or 0-tech tackle who can anchor the middle of the line. With the Packers seemingly intent on using more three-man lines on early downs under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Slaton should have an opportunity to earn some snaps rotating with Kenny Clark, who must be kept available to line up in passing situations.
The second of the two fifth-round picks is a bit of a mold-breaker at cornerback, as the Packers selected Shemar Jean-Charles out of Appalachian State. Green Bay always prefers larger cornerbacks, having only draft one player at the position under 5-foot-11 since 2006 (and that being the ultra-athletic Jaire Alexander). But at almost identical height to Alexander, Jean-Charles is nowhere near the athlete as the former first-rounder.
Instead, Jean-Charles has become a viable NFL player more on the basis of his savvy, intelligence, and film study. In speaking with Packers media after being selected, he mentioned his football IQ on multiple occasions, identifying his preparation as the reason for his FBS-leading 17 pass defenses in 2020.
He also noted that at Appalachian State, starters typically play special teams, and Jean-Charles said that he did so “willingly.” That would be a logical place for him to start in Green Bay, particularly covering kicks and punts. On defense, however, he would appear likely to provide competition for Chandon Sullivan at slot cornerback, where he can use his instincts and intelligence to cover shifty players on the inside. Sullivan will play in 2021 on a Restricted Free Agent tender, and there is no guarantee that he will be back in Green Bay beyond that.
First-round pick Eric Stokes looks intended to be the future bookend to Alexander on the boundary. Jean-Charles would then make sense as a player to contribute in the long term at that Star position, which Barry spoke about at length as an important piece of the defense when introduced as defensive coordinator. That would be particularly appropriate should Sullivan either price his way out of Green Bay with a strong 2021 season or regress and require replacement during the fall.
Stay tuned for more news on the Packers’ draft picks throughout the weekend here at Acme Packing Company.