Thursday, January 18, 2018

What to Expect: The New Era

By Guest Contributor @s_cannoli

While the Packers offseason started a little earlier than normal, it is never too early to start looking forward to the 2018 draft. So, what can we expect? A trade out of the first round? An under-the-radar receiver in round 2? Another 4th round steal at the guard or tackle? A D-II wide receiver in the 6th or 7th round? With Ted out and Brian in, we really don’t know what to expect in this upcoming draft.

This April, at the 2018 NFL Draft, will be the first time we see Brian Gutekunst make significant moves as GM of the Green Bay Packers (although, Gutekunst seems poised to make a more significant splash in free agency than Ted Thompson did in his 13 years as Packers GM). Gutekunst and the Packers will be working with roughly 11 picks, depending on how the compensatory picks are calculated out. Having 11 picks would definitely be beneficial to Gutekunst and his staff as they need to hit a home run on at least a few of those picks in order to contend for a Super Bowl in 2018. So, let's take a closer look at the Packers most important needs in the draft.

The two biggest needs, cornerback and edge rusher, are so obvious that my dad even could tell you it is a dire need (my dad believes Bakhtiari is one of the worst tackles in the game so that’s why I use that example). Outside of those two positions, free agency plays a major role in how important those other needs are, yet they should be addressed in the draft regardless. The Packers could use help at tackle, guard, wide receiver, and tight end just on the offensive side of the ball. As for the defense, Gutekunst could and should look at inside linebacker and safety.

Just because we don’t know Gutekunst’s draft tendencies like we did Ted’s, doesn't mean we can’t have fun trying to predict them. So here is a list of a draft prospect or two that the Packers could potentially take at number 14 overall for each position of need. Please keep in mind that these projections are very early and prospects could rise and fall just minutes before the draft, just ask Laremy Tunsil.

Wide Receiver:
While Michael Clark looks to have a bright future, Jordy Nelson is not getting any younger, Trevor Davis isn’t progressing like we had hoped, and Geronimo Allison did not put up the numbers in his sophomore season like we thought after a promising end to his rookie year. History has shown that receivers drafted in the 1st round are not as productive as teams have hoped. Just look at Laquon Treadwell with the Vikings, Corey Coleman with the Browns, Mike Williams with the Chargers, John Ross with the Bengals, or Corey Davis with the Titans. I think I made it pretty clear that I don’t want the Packers to draft a wide receiver in the 1st round, especially with Sammy Watkins likely to test the open market.

My pick: Calvin Ridley, Alabama
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tight End:
The Packers enter the offseason with only Lance Kendricks under contract for the 2018 season. If Brian is anything like Ted, he will let Richard Rodgers test the market and most likely bring him back for close to nothing. Tight end is a complicated position to draft for because rookies rarely make an impact until a few years into the league, which is why resigning Richard Rodgers is important despite having little to offer outside of his sure hands. Although the Martellus Bennett signing was a disaster, the Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers found out what it was like to have an excellent blocking tight end, so look for Gutekunst to look for someone who can stretch the field and offer something in the running game. Number 14 overall is far too rich for me for the tight end position, but anything is possible.
My pick: Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Bryan Bulaga’s season ended early once again due to another torn ACL, so who knows how he will look when he returns. Kyle Murphy filled in and also headed to IR. Jason Spriggs played a subpar right tackle but looked much better than previous appearances. Justin McCray also played a little right tackle as well even though he previously only played center and guard. McCray played very well but looks to compete for the starting guard position next season. Luckily, the Packers have David Bakhtiari on the left side and when healthy, Bakhtiari is one the best in the business at his position. There are two NFL ready tackles that the Packers could look at in the first round.
My pick: Connor Williams, Texas or Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

Along with center, guard was a bright spot on the offensive line. Recently extended Lane Taylor had another promising season at left guard while Ted Thompson kicked the tires on right guard Jahri Evans and it paid off tremendously. Evans likely would have played every snap if the team wasn't knocked out of the playoffs but a minor injury kept him from doing so. Evans was solid in the running game and held his own in the passing game. Evans could be extended but at 34 years old, don't be surprised if Brian lets him walk after Justin "the Swiss Army knife of offensive lineman" McCray put together a great season at both guard and tackle. There is only one guard worth taking this early but he'll likely be off the board before 14.
My pick: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

Outside Linebacker:
The Packers had next to nothing in the pass rush this year and it really showed. Nick Perry struggled to stay healthy and even when he was, he didn't show his worth. Clay Matthews still played with a high motor at the age of 31 but isn't the same force he once was. Another rare free agent signing by Ted, Ahmad Brooks, struggled to stay healthy as well but made an impact when on the field. Kyler Fackrell once again showed that he just doesn't have what it takes to play at an NFL level. The Packers still don’t really know what they have in Vince Biegel after he started camp with ankle surgery and didn't see much of the field. Reggie Gilbert, who was activated off the practice squad for the last game of the season, raised a lot of eyebrows; not only with his play but also with the fact that Fackrell and Odem made the team over him. Gutekunst could go a number of ways with the plethora of talented edge rushers in this year’s draft.
My pick: Harold Landry, Boston College
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
Inside Linebacker:
What’s a sophomore slump? Blake Martinez took that step that every GM, coach, and fan hope to see out of a 4th round draft pick. Martinez tied for first in the NFL with tackles and probably should have made the Pro Bowl. Martinez played a major role in the run game and is an excellent communicator, but Green Bay still lacks a compliment to him. Jake Ryan looked slow and indecisive while Joe Thomas rarely saw the field. It is possible that Josh Jones, rookie safety, could be moved to inside linebacker after he showed flashes of speed and big hits. Clay Matthews could also be moved back inside depending on what new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, wants to do. Either way, the Packers should look for a coverage linebacker to line up next to Blake Martinez.
My pick: Malik Jefferson, Texas

It was a down year for the safety position after what everyone expected to be a strong spot on the defense. HaHa Clinton-Dix looked hesitant when tackling and again took poor angles towards ball carriers. Both he and the Packers said several times that he was not hurt so hopefully HaHa can bounce back to the All-Pro player he should be. The veteran Morgan Burnett showed to be a valuable piece to the puzzle when the defense looked confused during his time being injured. Burnett is set to be a free agent, but look for Mike Pettine to persuade the front office for Morgan to return as Pettine's defenses are known to require players with a high football IQ like Burnett. Josh Jones looks promising but it was clear that he was much more comfortable playing near the box rather than in coverage. Kentrell Brice, the 2016 People’s Champion, took a major step back in his play but look for him to have a bounce-back season as he returns from a season-ending ankle injury. Again, look for 2 guys here even though one is projected to go much earlier than 14.
My pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama or Derwin James, Florida State

Through the first 4 weeks of the season, many people probably thought that the Packers had the worst set of cornerbacks in the NFL. House was hurt, King was hurt, Rollins was hurt and still slow, and Randall looked to be having character issues. Fast forward to the end of the season and it is not great, but the group looked better as a whole. Randall completely turned around his season and looks like he’ll have a nice career covering the slot, outside, or even moving to safety if need be. House played a nice veteran role but couldn’t stay healthy. King looks like he could be an excellent player but because of injuries and lack of a playoff picture, he was shut down early. Rollins future in the NFL is not looking great as another rough year and a significant achilles injury likely put an end to his time in Green Bay. The injuries got so bad that safety Jermaine Whitehead was playing slot corner at the end of the year. Undrafted free agent Lenzy Pipkins showed that he deserved to see the field, making a handful of nice open field tackles. Josh Hawkins showed his speed and some flashes that he could play in this league. Randall, King, Hawkins, and Pipkins might be the only guys remaining from this group next year so look for the Packers to double dip at the cornerback position once again.
My picks: Josh Jackson, Iowa or Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Photo by Jeffery Becker, USA Today

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