There are a lot of things that could change for the Green Bay Packers in the coming weeks, but the Draft Industrial Complex waits for no man.
If you listened to Justis Mosqueda and I talk about the draft this week or have consumed any NFL Draft content the last six months, you know that it’s a weak quarterback class. However, there is still a ton of talent at other positions, including ones that are likely going to need big needs for the Packers in 2022.
It’s still unclear if Aaron Rodgers is coming back, retiring, or wants to be traded. That decision, along with countless cap-saving moves, will have a domino effect on the entire roster and give us a more clear idea of what positions the Packers will need to focus on in the draft.
Until that happens, the best we can do is speculate. That doesn’t mean it’s too early to start taking a look at some potential positions of need, along with players who could be perfect fits in Matt LaFleur and Joe Barry’s schemes.
Rashan Gary developed into a sensational pass rusher last year, with the technique finally coming along with his athleticism. Unfortunately, there’s a very real chance that Gary is the only starting-caliber EDGE on the roster in a couple of months.
Za’Darius Smith is a likely cap casualty this offseason. With a $27 million cap hit in 2022, it’s unlikely the Packers will find a suitable trade partner, but could save $15 million by releasing him. Preston Smith’s future is up in the air as well, and his absence could have a more profound impact. He will have a $19.7 million cap hit barring any kind of extension or restructure, and the Packers could save more than $12 million by parting ways.
If the Smith Bros. are gone, then edge becomes a top-tier priority for the Packers in the draft. The key will be replacing Preston’s ability as an edge setter, and that’s a quality that not every EDGE prospect is going to have. There are a ton of athletic pass rushers in this class, but few have experience also helping with outside containment and run defense like Preston was able to provide Joe Barry’s defense in 2021.
The Player: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
There might not be a better “edge setter” in this draft class than Georgia’s Travon Walker. Playing alongside so many top-tier NFL draft prospects on an elite Bulldogs defense, Walker played a keep role in constricting rushing lanes and preventing outside containment.
Listed at 6’5” and 275 pounds, Walker has long arms and does a fantastic job of getting extended on offensive linemen to keep his chest clean and easily disengage. When he gets extended, Walker has the play strength to drive blockers back into the backfield to create huge problems for the offense.
As a pass rusher, Walker won’t win with explosiveness, speed, or bend, but he can certainly win with strength. He already possesses a handful of pass-rush moves with good hand usage as well to disengage on his way to the quarterback.
There are plenty of EDGE prospects Packers fans should be happy with if Brian Gutekunst pulls the trigger. George Karlaftis out of Purdue is someone the Packers could seriously consider trading up for, and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II has some elite athleticism for the position, much like Gary coming out of Michigan.
Still, I really like Walker’s play style, and think he’d be a great fit for the Packers late in the first round.
At this exact moment, the only noteworthy receivers under contract in Green Bay are Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, and Juwann Winfree. That’s not great to put it nicely.
Davante Adams could hit free agency, but it’s possible (perhaps even likely) that the Packers either place the franchise tag on him or finally work out an extension that is worked in a way to minimize his 2022 cap hit. His potential return could also depend strongly on whether or not Rodgers comes back to play under center.
Retaining 12 and 17 will be the top priorities for Green Bay’s front office, but even if both return, there could be other questions at receiver. Allen Lazard is restricted free agent, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling will be hitting the open market. Both are players who have earned Rodgers’ trust, and while the Packers will have more control in retaining Lazard, it could be a challenge to keep MVS given the team’s cap constraints.
The doomsday scenario of all three receivers playing elsewhere next season feels unlikely, but all three staying in Green Bay doesn’t feel like a much more realistic possibility. In pretty much any scenario, another top receiver should be considered a priority.
The Player: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
If you’re a Packers fan (or Matt LaFleur) who appreciates a wide receiver who is a tenacious run blocker, then you’re going to fall in love with Treylon Burks.
One of the first things that stood out to me when I watched Burks on film was his relentlessness as a blocker. He has great size at 6’3” and 225 pounds and uses that frame to bully defensive backs and second-level defenders as a blocker, even leading the way at times to spring his running back for big plays.
As a receiver, Burks was relied on heavily as the Razorbacks’ top playmaker. Whether it was being the go-to guy on screens and end-arounds, or beating defenses over the top, Burks has a versatile skill set thanks to his size, top-end speed, and lateral agility. His body control and athleticism in jump-ball situations makes him capable of “Mossing” defenders on a regular basis as well.
Burks is so skilled that he could effectively fill in for either Lazard or MVS in their role if either were to leave. There’s a good chance he’s gone before the Packers pick at No. 28, but if he’s still on the board then Gutekunst won’t need much time before making his selection.
The surprise departure of Kingsley Keke leaves the Packers even more thin on the defensive line than they would like to be. Kenny Clark has been an anchor in the trenches, but there is almost no depth outside of that.
Dean Lowry had arguably the best season of his NFL career, putting up a career-high five sacks. His resurgence could have helped keep him in Green Bay for a little while longer, but the team’s cap situation could make it hard for them to keep Lowry’s $8 million cap hit on the books. Meanwhile, Tyler Lancaster is an unrestricted free agent and it’s unclear if Green Bay would be able to bring him back on a veteran minimum deal.
After Clark and Lowry, the defensive line becomes pretty barren. T.J. Slaton showed flashes as a rookie, but would likely need to take a big jump this offseason to become a full-time starter. Jack Heflin got Packers fans excited in the preseason, but as an undrafted rookie he saw very limited action.
Clark, Slaton, and Heflin can all hold their own on the interior, but even if Lowry stays, finding another guy that’s comfortable as a three-technique or five-tech could be very valuable.
The Player: Logan Hall, DL, Houston
I talked about Walker as someone I liked as an edge setter, and I think that Logan Hall out of Houston has similar traits that could make him a valuable Day 2 defensive end prospect.
Hall’s size immediately stands out at nearly 6’6” and 278 pounds with a wingspan of 80.25 inches. That size and length combined with some very good play strength makes him a difficult player for offensive linemen to anchor against, with Hall possessing an intimidating bull rush.
I like the way that Hall gets off the snap, and while he doesn’t always lower his pad level, he has the effort and motor to keep himself in almost any play. I also have some questions about him being able to quickly shed blockers in the run game, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Hall’s size and strength.
There are a handful of promising defensive linemen in this draft that are probably better prospects. Still, I think Hall could be a promising Day 2 pick that could be a fun player to watch line up alongside Clark on the defensive line.
The Packers haven’t valued inside linebackers much over the last decade-plus. Since drafting A.J. Hawk with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, the Packers have only drafted one stand-up linebacker in the first three rounds since.
That player? Oren Burks.
Gutekunst might have lucked into one of the best inside linebackers in the modern Packers era this past offseason, signing De’Vondre Campbell for only $2 million. Now that Campbell is an All-Pro and a free agent, it’s uncertain if the Packers will be able to afford the linebacker’s services again.
If Campbell is gone, then the Packers will be thin at inside linebacker once again. Krys Barnes is an ERFA, meaning he’ll be a logical player to bring back on a league-minimum deal. However, the remaining inside linebackers on the roster after Barnes would be Ty Summers and Isaiah McDuffie. Summers has been a solid special teamer and a liability on defense, while McDuffie saw virtually zero playing time on defense.
Even if the Packers can’t bring back Campbell, it’s unlikely that the Packers will make the position a draft priority. That doesn’t mean that they might not look at a player in the later rounds, however.
The Player: Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
Chad Muma was easily Wyoming’s best defensive player last season, racking up 142 combined tackles, eight tackles for loss, and three interceptions including two returned for touchdowns.
At a little over 6’2” and 241 pounds, Muma has the size to play ILB at the next level. His instincts are what stood out most to me on film, reading his keys and mentally processing quickly to beat blockers to their landmark and limit explosive plays. He has good play strength and technique to make him a reliable tackler as well.
In coverage, Muma is more comfortable in zone, reading the QB’s eyes and recognizing route combinations to jump passes. In man coverage, his lack of lateral agility and top-end play speed would make him a likely mismatch against the more athletic tight ends and running backs at the next level.
Some draft analysts have Muma as a Day 2 pick, and I have him graded as a top-80 prospect. The Packers might wait a bit longer before taking a linebacker, but if Campbell is gone and the scouting department likes they see from Muma’s tape, he could be a solid third-round pick.