Day One of our Green Bay Packers NFL Draft coverage will center on the "best player available" to the Green Bay Packers at #29 in the first round on defense, as well as some prospects that could be available in the first two days.
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By Jimmie Kaska
The NFL Draft is Thursday night, and it'll be a while before the Green Bay Packers pick--they're on the clock with the 29th overall pick in this year's draft, which means it'll be around three hours after the draft before we meet the newest Packer.
With that in mind: No mock draft can come up with a single scenario in which we know who exactly will be on the board when Green Bay is up to pick. In keeping with the Packers' theme of drafting the best player available, here are some guys to watch at various positions of need on the defensive side of the ball for Green Bay that would also satisfy the best player available mantra.
It's considered a deep draft at corner, and most of the top prospects aren't being projected to be off the board by the time Green Bay settles in to make their pick. If that plays out, the Packers will have plenty of options to consider.
Corners like Ohio State's Gareon Conley, Washington's Kevin King (above), LSU's Tre'Davious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, and USC's Adoree' Jackson are all possibilities for the Packers to consider. Of that group, Kevin King is the most intriguing to me. He's 6'3" and has experience at safety, so he offers some versatility for the Packers if he should be available.
Should any of those players slide, they may be available too when the Packers pick again at 61, and they could be re-considered there. Some of the other corners in most experts' top 100 lists include a trio of 6' players from power-five conferences, UCLA's Fabian Moreau, Florida's Teez Tabor, and Washington's Sidney Jones. A few seniors also projected to be picked in the second or third rounds include Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley, Colorado's Ahkello Witherspoon, Tennessee's Cameron Sutton, and Minnesota's Jalen Myrick. Corner is deep in this year's draft, and the Packers seem likely to grab one of the top dozen or so available in this year's class.
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As deep as the NFL Draft will be at corner, there are also some players that offer an intriguing blend of versatility and proven play-making ability that could help fill the role vacated by the departed Micah Hyde. That is, a hybrid corner/safety that can make plays both in the pass game and in run support.
The biggest name that could be available is Michigan's Jabrill Peppers. Peppers is considered one of the best athletes in the entire draft, but his versatility may be hurting him. Peppers can line up pretty much anywhere defensively at linebacker or in the secondary, and has also played on offense. He'd also be an instant contender as a top kick and punt returner.
To me, an instant fit would be Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie (above). Chidobe Awuzie had nine sacks in college, showing he can help in the pass rush, and 265 career tackles (including 25 TFLs), showing he can help in run support. But, he was also a force in the secondary, with 25 pass deflections, and forced six fumbles (recovering three) and making three interceptions. Other safety/corner hybirds projected for the later first round or second day include Washington's Budda Baker, Michigan's Jourdan Lewis, and Iowa's Desmond King, who had a penchant for the big play any time he faced Wisconsin.
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PASS RUSHING LINEBACKER/END
Despite locking up Nick Perry and the presence of Clay Matthews, the Packers have a perpetual need for depth at pass rusher, and even more so now that Julius Peppers has returned home to Carolina. Pass rushers are a hot commodity come draft time, with several of the top prospects of this year's class likely going in the top 10 or 15 selections.
The popular pick is T.J. Watt, a Wisconsin native and Badgers product. Most reading this know all about T.J. Watt. Most also know his older brothers are both in the NFL. However, Watt has been blazing up draft boards as the draft approaches, making it possibly less likely that he would be available at #29. Teams ahead of Green Bay have similar needs, and the last name may be too much to pass up for teams like Detroit in the early 20's.
If the Packers learn towards someone who is more of a rush "end" in their scheme, there are interesting prospects available in the first few rounds. Some early picks could be players like Missouri's Charles Harris or Auburn's Carl Lawson (above), the latter of which could slide into the third round due to injury and size concerns. Carl Lawson could work as a situational pass rusher in compliment to the Packers' high-priced regulars at that position, essentially filling the void left by Peppers. There are several defensive ends with second- to fourth-round grades that Green Bay could consider, from small-school prospects like Derek Rivers of Youngstown State to hulking Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova, up to relatively known commodities in Florida State's DeMarcus Walker or Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall. Of this group, Tanoh Kpassagnon is very intriguing: a project from a small school with great athleticism at 6'7" and nearly 290 pounds. Can the Packers afford a project at a key position while trying to get back to the Super Bowl?
If Green Bay decides to go with a player that could also slide back into pass coverage, UCLA's Takkarist McKinley's name will be the first to pop up after Watt. There's a number of outside linebacker prospects that are graded in the late first- to third-round range, including power-program players like Alabama's duo of Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, as well as LSU's Duke Riley. Houston's Tyus Bowser is a player who has played in the 3-4 that also fits the mold of other versatile prospects (Tyus Bowser also played for Houston's basketball team). Bowser is projected to go late first or early second, and may not be available when Green Bay selects at #61 in the second round.
Is T.J. Watt a fit for the Green Bay Packers?
While it's not out of the question that the Packers could look for help on offense early on, especially along the offensive line, it seemed clear that Green Bay's greatest need is to start filling some holes defensively. Of the prospects mentioned above, my personal favorites for Green Bay with its first pick (at #29) are Washington cornerback Kevin King and Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie. Since both can play corner and safety, and both bring size and playmaking to whatever secondary they end up a part of, it would be a fantastic add for the Packers if either of them ends up in green and gold. The reason is simple: the Packers are better if they add anything to a secondary that couldn't keep up with Atlanta in the NFC Championship.
Looking at the second- and third-round picks, it doesn't make sense for the Packers to gamble. They'll add a piece in the secondary somewhere in the first three picks most likely, so it is reasonable that they will address other top needs in the second or third round. A pass rusher that slides, due to size or scheme, could be scooped up near the end of rounds two and three. Of the players graded in that range, Auburn's Carl Lawson seems like a player that could end up near the end of round two due to some injury concerns. Lawson was very productive when healthy, and was a Freshman All-American. There are some project-type players graded in the mid-rounds that the Packers could look at, like Villanova's freak athlete Tanoh Kpassagnon, but it seems like Green Bay would try to find a "safer" player in that range to address some immediate needs along the offensive line if they go defense in the first round.
I'm not a GM, but if I'm pretending to be one, I'd be all about grabbing either King or Awuzie in the first round, and hoping Lawson is around with one of the next two picks. In a shallow class for offensive line help (where most are projected to be picked third- to fifth-round), it's not a stretch that the Packers could go defense with their first two picks.
Tomorrow, I'll look at the offense's needs: offensive line, running back, and wide receiver (they've already addressed tight end and the quarterback situation is OK, I think).
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