With Pro Days starting to wrap up across college football programs and public workouts for NFL Draft prospects coming to an end, NFL teams’ draft boards are nearing completion as well. The same can be said for NFL writers, and on this fine Tuesday, this writer executed a 7-round mock draft using The Draft Network’s Predictive Big Board.
If the actual 2022 NFL Draft shook out like this, one could expect Green Bay Packers fans to be up in arms on Thursday night about not getting a wide receiver with one of their first two picks. Instead, I went for defense, for reasons I will explain shortly, instead ending up with three wide receivers, one each in rounds two, four, and seven. With this approach, the Packers might still be wise to look to acquire a veteran receiver, though there would be precious few roster spots available at that position in this case.
Still, I feel good about this mock addressing most of the Packers’ major needs. I found what I feel to be excellent depth at multiple levels of the defense, players with Pro Bowl-caliber upside at wide receiver and tight end on day two of the draft, and elite athletes who could contribute on special teams later on in day three.
Round 1, Pick 22: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
As the board began to get into the late teens, Karlaftis remained available, and I found myself holding my breath, hoping he would make it to 22. He did, so I grabbed him even with wide receivers Chris Olave and Treylon Burks on the board. The ultra-talented Karlaftis would be a tremendous third EDGE player behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, providing the Packers with an exceptional motor and a very good athlete to rotate in and add to the pass rush on third downs.
Additionally, Karlaftis will turn 21 next week, and the Packers love drafting young players with their first-round picks. If he falls to 22, this seems like an extremely strong possibility.
I just needed to hold my breath and hope that one of the two remaining receivers on my board would fall to 28.
Round 1, Pick 28: S/CB Daxton Hill, Michigan
My gamble didn’t pay off, at least at wideout. Three straight receivers went off the board in the three picks immediately before 28 — Penn State’s Jahan Dotson to Buffalo at 25, Olave to Tennessee at 26, and Burks to Tampa Bay at 27. That left me to either reach for NDSU’s Christian Watson or find a player who I think is a plug-and-play slot corner and rotational safety in Hill.
Hill lit up the Combine in Indianapolis, putting up blistering times of 6.57 seconds in the 3-cone, a 4.38-second 40, and a 1.47-second first 10 yards. His 2021 season was spent almost exclusively as a slot corner after working primarily as a safety for his first two seasons. Like Karlaftis, he will be 21 on draft day, and he should be able to slide in as the Packers’ dime back on day one while rotating with some other corners at nickel.
Round 2, Pick 53: WR George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Finally, we have a wideout in round two. Watson was gone by 53, as I expected, but Pickens profiles as a great deep-ball receiver with length (6-foot-3 1/4) and toughness. The cutups of Pickens’ tenacity and aggressiveness as a blocker are worth watching repeatedly, so let’s look at him getting open for a deep shot instead:
Pickens long speed & ability to take the top off the defense at his size is impressive. He’s able to create separation & get behind the DB here, then adjust to lay out & make a difficult catch. He’s a big play waiting to happen.— Off-Season Andrew (@Patriots_Andrew) March 22, 2022
A better throw makes that an easy walk-in touchdown. Pickens’ 4.47 speed is plenty fast enough to work as a deep threat (see Nelson, Jordy and a 4.51) and Matt LaFleur will love his willingness to get dirty in the run game.
Round 2, Pick 59: DL Travis Jones, UConn
The Packers just signed Jarran Reed to a one-year deal to supplement Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry on the defensive line, but the team needs some long-term answers. Both Reed and Lowry will be free agents next year, and Jones enters as a player could contribute all over the line in base while providing interior pass rush on passing downs.
Jones profiles as a nose tackle, perhaps a bit of a luxury with the Packers having Clark and last year’s 5th-round pick, T.J. Slaton, on the roster. But Jones is a ridiculous athlete, testing even better than Clark did in 2016 while coming in about an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. If the Packers want to keep giving Clark more snaps at 3-technique (or if they want to give him a bit more of a break from his nearly 80% snap rate moving forward), Jones is an ideal choice to rotate in and eventually project as a starter.
Round 3, Pick 92: TE Jelani Woods, Virginia
A long-term answer as an in-line tight end is a great use of a round-three pick. I’ll just leave this here to address the receiving ability of the 6-foot-7 Woods, who scored a perfect 10 in his RAS this spring:
If you ever wondered what it would look like if humanity trained a pissed off moose to catch a football, I give you Virginia TE Jelani Woods. pic.twitter.com/HPHpdW2RPT— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 10, 2022
Woods transferred from Oklahoma State to Virginia for the 2021 season because he was used almost exclusively as a blocker. He responded with 598 yards and eight touchdowns and now projects as one of the highest-ceiling players at his position in this class. Give him a year to learn from Marcedes Lewis and the Packers could have a Lewis clone on their hands — except one who runs a 4.61 40.
Round 4, Pick 132: WR Romeo Doubs, Nevada
Early on day three, I’m doubling up on deep threats at wide receiver. Doubs didn’t work out at the Combine, but his numbers speak for themselves: two straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and at least nine touchdowns, plus a 17.3-yard average as a junior in 2020.
According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Doubs has “speed to separate deep but (is) a linear route-runner who will struggle to elude NFL press.” Combined with Pickens, however, who looks poised to be able to separate better, Doubs could well be the benefit of single coverage, where he could use that straight-line speed much the same way that Marquez Valdes-Scantling did. Additionally, he has experience on returns and special teams, and he would immediately contribute as a gunner.
Round 4, Pick 140: OL Cade Mays, Tennessee
Mays started his career at Georgia before transferring within the SEC East to Tennessee. A left tackle there, Mays hits all of the Packers’ size and agility thresholds, and could find himself as a candidate to play either tackle or guard at the NFL level. In fact, much of his athletic testing looks very similar to a certain left tackle on the Packers’ roster who currently wears number 69.
Round 5, Pick 171: P Matt Araiza, San Diego State
Sorry, Pat O’Donnell. If the Punt God is here in round five, I’m taking him, regardless of the guaranteed money in O’Donnell’s contract. Araiza told reporters at the Combine that he would relish the chance to punt in cold weather, and his 51.2-yard average (and Ray Guy Award) in 2021 make him an easy call for me. My only concern is his ability to hold on place-kicks, something the Packers said was a factor in letting go of Corey Bojorquez in favor of O’Donnell; that’s because Araiza was also the Aztecs’ field-goal kicker for the last three years.
Round 7, Pick 228: WR Kevin Austin, Jr., Notre Dame
Round 7, Pick 249: CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State
I’m lumping the two seventh-rounders together. Late in the draft, the Packers love to take fliers on insane athletes. Both of these players fit that bill, with RAS values of 9.93 (Austin) and a perfect 10 (McCollum). McCollum, who’s plenty big enough at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds to play corner or safety, was the only player to run faster than Daxton Hill in the 3-cone at the Combine (6.48) and he added a 4.33 40 to boot. Austin is one of APC’s favorite late-round receivers, having run 4.43 with a 1.48 10-yard split in Indy and going green all across the board on all his testing.
Austin’s questions largely stem from injuries and a suspension at Notre Dame, while McCollum’s will be about his level of competition at the FCS level. But both of these players should be able to pitch in on special teams while they develop as potential contributors on offense.