After two straight losing seasons, it has become pretty clear the Packers need some help if they are going to return to the level of play that helped them win the NFC North five out of six years from 2011 to 2016.
Since the Packers need so much help, it’s hard to predict just who general manager Brian Gutekunst will target with the No. 12 pick of the NFL Draft, which kicks off with the opening round tonight in Nashville.
Gutekunst could try to improve just about every position on the defensive side of the ball. That would certainly follow the recent trend of first round picks for the Packers. The last time the Packers used their first draft pick on an offensive player was in 2011, when it selected offensive tackle Derek Sherrod out of Mississippi State.
Considering the Packers have almost exclusively targeted defensive players in the draft’s first round in recent years, maybe it’s time to find someone that can revitalize an offense that has lagged. If the Packers do decide to go with an offensive player, many think it could be a tight end, and the top two tight end prospects in this year’s draft both come out of Iowa.
T.J. Hockenson appears to be the most pro-ready tight end in the draft, and many of the mock drafts that show up online this time of year think he could be headed to Green Bay.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a scout who doesn’t love Hockenson’s game. A ferocious blocker with good hands and superb route-running skills, he’s viewed as a complete tight end,” NFL Network host Peter Schrager wrote in his mock draft. “Reliable, sturdy, proven — he’d make new Packers coach Matt LaFleur (and, more importantly, Aaron Rodgers) very happy.”
Many mock drafts think Hockenson will be off the board when the Packers are on the clock, which would mean the team could instead draft Hockenson’s teammate at Iowa, Noah Fant, who may be the better pass-catcher of the two tight ends.
In Peter King’s recently released mock draft on nbcsports.com, he had the Packers choosing Fant.
“Over his last two seasons at Iowa, Fant average 14.7 yards per catch and had 18 receiving touchdowns. Contrast that to teammate Hockenson’s 14.8-yard average over the last two years, with nine touchdowns. Very interesting. And Fant runs better, in the 4.5-second 40- range,” King wrote. “This is probably 10 picks too high for Fant, and it wouldn’t surprise me if GM Brian Gutekunst picks long-term offensive tackle Andre Dillard here instead. But in any case, I can’t see Fant making it out of the first round.”
The Packers haven’t drafted a tight end in any round since they took Kennard Backman in the sixth round in 2015 and haven’t used a first-round pick on a tight end since taking Bubba Franks out of Miami with the 14th overall pick in 2000.
The Packers could also use their 12th pick on an offensive linemen. The two players that showed up on mock drafts as possible Packers’ picks were Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor and Oklahoma guard Cody Ford. Jenny Vrentas, who writes for the Monday Morning Quarterback at SI.com, had the Packers going with Taylor.
“Bryan Bulaga, the Packers’ 10-year veteran right tackle, is entering his 10th NFL season and the final year of his contract and has dealt with several injuries over the last two seasons,” Vrentas wrote. “Taylor, who played right tackle for Florida, makes sense here.”
The one player that was linked the Packers the most in mock drafts was Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. While Bush, who was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten last season, is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds, he has the speed to cover players down field, and projects to be an strong pass rusher at the pro level.
“Adding an athletic cover player and a seek-and-destroy hitter would be a smart move, even if they need to give Aaron Rodgers more help,” Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports wrote in his mock draft. “Fortunately, with two more picks coming up in the next 32 selections, they don’t need to reach for an offensive fit here.”
Another possible linebacker that could be taken by the Packers is LSU’s Devin White, who won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker last season.
“White covers a ton of ground against the run, and also would upgrade the Packers intermediate coverage,” Vinnie Iver wrote in his mock draft at sportingnews.com. “He is easily the rangiest defender in the 2019 class and will thrive under Mike Pettine to round out the Packers’ front seven makeover. White showed off his elite speed and athleticism at the Combine in a compact package.”
Most think the deepest position in this year’s draft is along the defensive line, and even though the Packers signed two free agent pass rushers in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, the team could still use more players to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Ed Oliver, a defensive tackle out of Houston, might be available with the 12th pick, and could certainly help Green Bay’s defense.
“Imagine a defense with Ed Oliver, Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels on the line alongside newly added edge-rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith with Adrian Amos and Jaire Alexander patrolling in the secondary,” Matt Miller wrote in his mock draft at bleacherreport.com. “That’s stout enough to get back in control of the NFC North.”
Another player that would help Green Bay’s pass rush is edge rusher Brian Burns out of Florida State. Ryan Wilson of CBSsports.com predicts the Packers will take Burns with the 12th pick.
“Burns played at 235 pounds last season but showed up at the combine at 249. He quickly alleviated questions about how that weight would affect his speed by blazing a 4.53 40-yard dash,” Wilson wrote. “He reminds us of Aldon Smith on the field and the Packers would gladly welcome that production.”