REVIEWING THE PACKERS 2018 DRAFT
Last weekend probably gave us the most interesting and some would say, most exciting draft for a number of years. Without question, they were very tiring days (nights) as we closely followed the selections each of the teams were making and in particular, what impact that would have on who the Packers might choose. On top of that, trying to keep up with Brian Gutekunst’s 1st round trades (and which draft picks were involved in them) made it even more challenging. But wow, what a rollercoaster ride it was!
On Thursday night (make that Friday morning) we waited around with great anticipation – who will the Packers take at 14? Maybe they’ll even trade up – there had been rumours for a couple of days that they were having informal talks with Cleveland (#4), Denver (#5) and Oakland (#10). Cornerback? Safety? Pass Rusher? For just over two hours we waited for the Packers to be on the clock…Derwin James is still available…Tremaine Edmunds is still available…here it comes…the PACKERS ARE ON THE CLOCK…and then before we could blink they were no longer on the clock!
Inevitably, what immediately followed were lots of moans and groans and cries of “Ted is still with us” with the realization that the Packers had traded down from the 14th spot to 27. Hmmmph.
As details of the trade came through, with the Packers picking up an additional 2019 1st round pick (as well as an extra 5th rounder this year) the moans and groans changed to exclamations of amazement “we got what?….a 1st round pick ?!” Unbelievably, in moving down 13 spots, the Packers had fleeced the Saints. But still our feelings were tinged with disappointment. Surely picking 27th, we weren’t going to get what we really wanted.
What would the Packers do now? It seemed like we probably had another two hour wait to find out. But wait, a little over 30 minutes later we again heard the words THE GREEN BAY PACKERS ARE ON THE CLOCK! This clearly isn’t Ted Thompson’s Packers anymore. Brian Gutekunst had traded back up to 18th and it was game on again.
In summary, the Packers had moved down 4 spots (from #14 to #18) and given up 3rd and 6th round picks and in return had gained an additional 1st round pick (2019) and additional 5th and 7th round picks. Wow, fantastic business! Now, if only they could get across the goal-line with the actual pick itself…
And they did! The Packers selected Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville with that 18th overall pick. Alexander was ranked as the 2nd best corner in the whole draft by nearly every expert (1st was Denzel Ward, picked by Cleveland at #4), was ranked 15th overall on the draft board of this writer and much more notably, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock had projected Alexander to go to the Packers in his mock draft the day before. So certainly, the Packers got value for the pick and addressed one of their burning needs at corner. Alexander is not only a great athlete with quickness, speed and smoothness (he ran 4.38 in the 40 and 6.71 in the 3-cone drill at the combine) but he can also blank wideouts in man coverage and plays the ball well.
Alexander had a minor knee injury in 2017 and at just over 5-10, he is slightly shorter than many would regard as the optimal size for an NFL corner these days, but there is little else with which to find 'fault' with this selection.
Following the Packers selection of Alexander, some players who many teams including the Packers may have considered as possible mid-1st round picks, started to slip down the board as some surprise selections were made. Two of those who surprisingly starting to fall were OLB/DE Harold Landry and CB Josh Jackson – both of whom could easily have been selected by the Packers at their original spot of 14.Having been more dynamic in just a few minutes than the Packers had been in the draft for nearly a decade, the Packers were looking good from the position of their next pick at #45.
As the 1st round (and day) ended and we moved into the 2nd round (hopefully refreshed after a good night’s sleep!), both Landry and Jackson remained on the board. That was until the 43rd overall pick, when the Raiders traded up ahead of Green Bay and selected Landry. We can but only suspect that the Packers had both Landry and Jackson high on their board at this point and perhaps the Raiders pick made up their minds. In any case, two picks later the Packers used the 45th overall selection to take Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa.
Jackson was ranked in the top 5 corners on most draft boards and was the 3rd ranked corner on this writer’s board (as well as being my 23rd ranked player overall) – he was also one of the guys picked out by the UK Packers Draft Guru Andy Davies as somebody to look out for as a potential Packers pick.
So following on from Alexander, the Packers hit big again with Jackson in round 2 – getting great value for the pick and a player who will contribute quickly at a position of need. By the numbers, Jackson is not quite the athletic specimen that Alexander is – Jackson timed at 4.56 in the 40 and 6.86 in the 3-cone-drill at the combine. He’s also had only 1 real year of starting in college. But at around 6 feet tall with a 38 inch vertical jump, he brings ideal NFL level height and reach to the table. One of things I really like about Jackson is that he plays the ball – how often have you seen corners be in perfect position but still not make a play on the ball? Jackson is not that guy. Great football height, length, hands and skills mean that he has the potential to be a day 1 starter on the outside (opposite, a hopefully fit again, Kevin King) – meaning that Alexander can move inside and cover the slot receiver. Great pick.
The Packers had no 3rd round pick, having traded it away to Seattle on Day 1, but it seemed very likely that Gutekunst would try and engineer a move back into Round 3 - utilising his stockpile of later round picks as bait. And so it proved – the Packers moved up into the late 3rd Round (88th overall) by trading 4th and 5th rounders to the Panthers. With that newly acquired Round 3 pick, the Packers selected the athletic Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt.
Like Jackson before him, Burks was one of the guys picked out by the UK Packers Draft Guru Andy Davies as somebody to look out for as a potential Packers pick. At the very least, the Packers will be hoping that Burks will immediately step in to become the single drop-back linebacker in the dime 4-1-6 defense and be a special teams standout. The Packers will be hoping that Burks will be pushing Jake Ryan for a starting ILB spot by midseason, if not sooner. Why? Because, they love the athleticism, skills and versatility he brings to the position. The former safety ran an excellent 4.59 for the 40 at the combine and all of his drills just re-enforced what an athlete at the linebacker position Burks is.
As much as I’d like to be able to claim that I saw this pick coming…I simply didn’t. I had Burks rated as a 5th rounder (155th overall) on my board. In all fairness, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. did have him rated as a late 3rd round pick…so chalk one up for Mel “The Haircut” Kiper. The two main things that pushed Burks down my draft board were: 1) Burks had just one year playing as a traditional ILB position and 2) his strength at the point of impact against the run – would he be overpowered in the NFL at just 233 pounds? Don’t get me wrong though, he’s an excellent addition and would appear to be an upgrade over free agent loss Joe Thomas.
After Day 2 was over, there seemed to be agreement amongst the experts that the Packers first two days were right up there with the best 2018 drafts so far. Great job so far by Gute. It was going to be interesting where the Packers would focus their efforts on Day 3 where the picks come thick and fast – all indications were that they would turn to helping the offense…and so it proved.
Following all of the Day 1 trades, the Packers first pick in Round 4 was late in the round and with the 133rd overall selection they took J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri. Moore was one of the guys picked out by the UK Packers Draft Guru Andy Davies as somebody to look out for as a potential Packers pick. At nearly 6-3 and 206 pounds, Moore is a lanky athlete suited to playing as an outside receiver. Indeed for a large part of his Mizzou career he lined up solely on the left side and outside of the numbers (the ‘X’ position) – one of his perceived downsides that saw him slip down some draft boards. He also ran only a 4.60 in the 40 at the combine which concerned many teams, although he went some way towards rectifying that concern by running 4.48 for the 40 at the Missouri Pro Day.
To complete the picture, he was amongst the top 5 receivers at the combine in most of the other skill tests. With his height and jumping ability, you would expect Moore to be excellent in the red zone – and he is, garnering 18 touchdowns through the air in the last two seasons. I had Moore ranked as the 185th best player available (6th round) and therefore for me was a little bit of a reach. Moore had problems with dropped balls and that concern coupled with the other downsides previously mentioned were the reasons he was further down my board than some others had him – for example, CBS Sports had him 137th on their board – very, very close to where he was actually taken.
In the 5th round, the Packers had the opening selection (138th overall) – where they took Cole Madison, OL, Washington State. Madison was a right tackle in college but the Packers are already projecting him to guard in the pros. This is not uncommon, particularly with a tackle whose arms are shorter than you would normally want in an NFL tackle. I too saw Madison as a guard prior to the draft and whilst he has a chance to compete on the right side, I was concerned about both his strength and athletic ability, particularly in the run game (he came from a prominently passing offense with the Cougars). I had Madison graded as a 7th rounder (220th overall) but, on the plus side, former Cowboys Exec Gill Brandt had Madison ranked as high as 76th overall in his mid-April big board.
With the second of their 5th round picks (172nd overall), the Packers had many observers shaking their heads with the selection of J.K. Scott, P, Alabama. I had Scott at 239th (and the 2nd punter) on my draft board going in, and that coupled with Justin Vogel’s 2017 performance meant that I was included in these head-shaking observers. Clearly, the Packers saw something in Scott (he is a gifted athlete) that made them consider him late in the draft and once they had decided that they wanted to take him, then the decision to do so a couple of rounds earlier than expected must have been triggered by the fact they see him as a one off and feared that he would be selected by another team.
Looking to continue bolstering their passing offense, the Packets dipped back into the wide receiver pool by using the 174th overall pick (5th round) to select Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, South Florida. Valdes-Scantling is a fine physical specimen at 6-4, 206 who wowed scouts at the combine with a 4.37 time in the 40 yard dash. He absolutely could be the deep threat that the Packers are hoping to find and will definitely compete for a roster spot, probably as the no.5 or no.6 receiver. I had him ranked as the 301st player overall for a number of reasons (not least his questionable hands) and therefore his selection at 174 was probably a bit of a reach. But this is one of those reaches that I have little problem with because of his combination of size and speed.
In the 6th round (207th overall pick), the Packers took a guy that I assumed would have come off the board way earlier. I had Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame ranked as the 79th player overall and a potential 3rd round pick. At 4.48 for the 40, St. Brown is slightly slower than Valdes-Scantling but has more height (6-5) and body bulk (214 lbs) and competes better for the ball down the field, being a real end zone threat. He hasn’t yet been a game-winning wideout and his numbers dropped off in 2017 from 2016, which may have concerned NFL scouts. Even more concerning may have been character questions that some teams had. Nonetheless, this is an outstanding talent with great potential who I would expect to earn the no.4 wide receiver spot on the Packers roster come the season opener.
With the wide receiver position taken care of, the Packers moved back to defense with their first selection in Round 7, when they selected James Looney, DE, California with the 232nd overall pick. Looney clocked a good 4.89 in the 40 and brings athleticism to the Packers defensive line mix. At 6-3, 287 he lacks the ideal size to be an every down lineman in the 3-4 but could bring pressure as a pass rusher. I had Looney ranked as a potential 5th round pick (148th on my board) and therefore I feel that the Packers got excellent value for this pick.
Later in the 7th round, the Packers turned to solving a problem that has bugged them for a couple of years – long snapper. In selecting Hunter Bradley, LS, Mississippi State with the 239th overall pick. I only had one long snapper on my board (of 582 players) – Tanner Carew of Oregon who was invited to the combine. However, I really don’t have much of an issue with the selection of Bradley in order to fill a need. All indications are that he’s excellent in this specialist role…and I’ll certainly bow to the judgement of those that have spent time scouting him.
The Packers final pick of the draft was Kendall Donnerson, LB, Southeast Missouri taken with the 248th overall pick. This pick surprised me – Donnerson was another player who wasn’t on my draft board. He wasn’t invited to the Combine, but in other workouts did put up some really impressive athletic numbers (including 4.48 in the 40) which clearly means that he has a lot of athletic potential. That in turn, means that he has a chance to stick, particularly as a special teams player.
After three days, the Packers had their men and on paper it looks like an excellent start for Brian Gutekunst in the draft room. A Gute job, well done.
Find Peter on twitter here: @The_IT_Hedgehog