Here's My 2018 Packers Mock Draft. Let the Mocking Ensue.

Posted April 24th, 2018 @ 03:04pm

The Brian Gutekunst era officially kicks off this week, with the Pack’s new GM—armed with a league high 12 picks—set to deliver his initial draft class. Gutey needs to be up to the challenge as the Packers look to remain near the top of a stacked NFC.

It would be beyond surprising if he actually keeps all 12 picks—the smart money says he’ll move up and down a bit and end up drafting nine or ten players. For the purposes of my mock, I’ll make the picks as scheduled, while considering what could happen if Gutey swings a deal.

First, here is how I have the first 13 picks falling:

1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold, QB, USC: I can’t see Dorsey and Wolf swinging for the fences with Josh Allen here.

2. N.Y. Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB Penn St.: Eli’s team is suddenly the least relevant in the division. That won’t work in New York. They bring in an instant star and try to wring a bounce back season out of Manning.

3. N.Y. Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: See above. Jets go with the QB with the most star power and rolls the dice that he grows up quickly.

4. Cleveland: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State: He would look SO good in green and gold. Pairs with last year’s #1 to build the foundation of a budding defense.

5. Denver: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Elway’s talking about trading out, but Allen getting mentored by Keenum sounds like a winning combination for now and the future.

6. Buffalo (trade with Colts): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: Colts have needs everywhere, so they add a second #1 and give Buffalo their QB of the (near) future.

7. Tampa Bay: Derwin James, S, Florida St: Fits a need for Bucs and has lots of college fans in the area.

8. Chicago: Quentin Nelson, G, Notre Dame: Virtually every mock has this one. Which means it can’t possibly happen.

9. San Francisco: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: Last year’s #1 pick might soon be behind bars. Smith slots in to replace him.

10. Oakland: Tremaine Edmonds, LB, Virginia Tech: He’s young and raw, but Gruden loves him and he fits a need.

11. Miami: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: This might be a spot the Pack looks to move up to to grab Denzel Ward. With top four QBs gone, Fish could look to add picks. If not, they take the best player left on the board.

12. Indianapolis (from Bills): Vita Vea, DT, Washington: Colts D desperately needs some beef and by moving down they get the best nose tackle in the draft.

13. Washington: Denzel Ward, CB Ohio St.: They would look long at hard at the tackle, McGlinchey, and the Pack dearly hopes they do. But Ward’s value is too hard to pass up at a position where they need a playmaker.

If it falls this way, with the top six defensive studs off the board, the Pack brain trust will likely be disappointed. I think they will try hard to move up to 10-12 if one of them is still available. If Ward, James, Fitzpatrick or either of the two LBs are on the board, the Pack takes one of them. But if they’re all gone, I’ve got the Pack drafting:

14.  Marcus Davenport, OLB, Texas-San Antonio: The concern, of course, is the small school background. But Davenport appears to have as much or more upside of any pass rusher in the draft. Gutey swings for the fences here that Davenport can navigate the extreme rise in competition and become an instant rotational player in the front seven. With Matthews and Perry always banged up, there is a desperate need for a pass rusher to make things a bit easier for the guys on the back end.

(Bonus pick: I think the Vikes wait on the offensive line until Friday and draft South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert with pick #30, as they envision double tight end looks with Rudolph and the rookie. They deem another weapon for their shiny new QB the top priority).

Round 2 (45) Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado: It would be a huge surprise if the Pack doesn’t pick a corner with one of its first two picks. Oliver has the height and the ability to press at the line that the Pack’s scheme covets. Very athletic kid who has a chance to be a long-time starter, which Packers would need him to be, since Williams and House are likely one-year stopgaps. He can also fill a need as a punt returner.

Round 3 (76) Dante Pettis, WR, Washington: I wouldn’t be shocked to see Gutey move back into the second round to try to lock up the tall, speedy DJ Chark from LSU if he’s still there at around pick 60. If he’s still available, he’s the pick here. If not, Pettis would give the Pack a complement to Adams as a speedy outside threat. His record nine career TDs as a punt returner would give Green Bay a nice new weapon on special teams.

Round 4 (101) Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford: The more things change, the more they stay the same as Gutey continues his run on the Pac 12. Schultz is a complete tight end and will provide the blocking ability the Pack lost with the departure of Richard Rodgers (Jimmy Graham will not be asked to do much blocking). He has good hands, but not great speed. Could be a nice addition for the run game and become a reliable third down target for #12 down the road.

Round 4 (133) Chuks Okorafor, OT, W. Michigan: The Pack may end up addressing their unsettled situation at right tackle sooner, but if they wait, the massive Okarofor would be a solid pick. He’s played both tackle spots and at 6’6” 330, he’s got the measurables to compete at this level. PJ Fleck would call him ‘elite.’

Round 5 (138) Jack Cichy, OLB, Wisconsin: The Somerset native would likely be drafted a couple of rounds higher had he not missed his last 20 games. Despite 18 months of inactivity,the Pack likes the value here to pair him with former teammate Vince Biegel. With 12 picks, the team can afford to roll the dice that Cichy’s health problems are a thing of the past.

Round 5 (172) Quin Blanding, S, Virginia: A four-year starter who played virtually every snap for all four seasons, he’d be an instant addition to the special teams units. Pack needs depth here with the loss of Burnett, but with Jones, Brice and Evans ahead of him on the depth chart, he won’t be counted on for defensive snaps early.

Round 5 (174) Tony Brown, CB, Alabama: Another pick that will be asked to compete right away on special teams. Pack likes his toughness and ability to tackle, but he still needs to work on coverage abilities. Probably projects as a backup throughout his career, but could turn into a solid nickel corner in a couple of years.

Round 6 (186) Matt Gono, G, Wesley: Gutey’s predecessor was very good at finding linemen on day three and let’s hope this kid is the latest. He’s probably a couple of years away, after playing at the Division III level, but the Packers figure to have a couple of in-house candidates to replace Jahri Evans if he isn’t resigned. Gono is big and raw, but has potential to be a starter down the road. Pencil him in for the practice squad in 2018.

Round 6 (207) Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami: At just 5’9” he draws comparisons to Danny Amendola and figures to be featured in the slot in the NFL. Tough, productive player at the U who is also a solid punt returner. He has a shot at stealing Trevor Davis’ roster spot, after Davis ran his mouth at the airport. This would make three rookie candidates to audition as the team’s  2018 punt returner.

Round 7 (232) Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado: After drafting three backs last year, this is not a need pick. But Lindsay is more of a third down, receiving option—something the Pack doesn’t have on the roster. Nicknamed the Tasmanian Devil, Lindsay is a bundle of energy on the field. He’s just 5’9” 190, so he won’t be asked to run between the tackles, but could make the team as a change of pace back.

Round 7 (239) Matt Dickerson, DE, UCLA: Gutey just can’t let a draft go by without one Bruin being drafted. An injury ended his senior year midway through the season, so his draft status is cloudy. Think of him as a poor man’s Dean Lowry—he lands on the practice squad this year and will work to earn a roster spot in 2019.

This is my ninth Packer mock draft and I believe I have gotten precisely one pick right in the nine years: Randall Cobb. I’ll consider the draft an instant success if they are able to grab one of the six elite defenders with the #14 pick. The defense needs a difference maker and all of those guys have a chance to be special.




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Early Musings on the Pack's 2018 Schedule

Posted April 20th, 2018 @ 04:04pm

So now we know precisely when each of the Packers' 2018 games will be played. We still don't know what this team will look like. Next week's draft will answer most of those questions, but there will still be some roster tinkering between now and the start of training camp.

What will the right side of the offensive line look like? Who will line up opposite Davante Adams at WR? What will the back end of Mike Pettine's defense look like? Who will emerge as the starter at running back? And on and on. So there will be no game by game predictions yet, that will come in early September.

For now, let's look at the rhythm of the schedule and what it means for the 100th edition of the Green Bay Packers.

For the 13th straight year, the Pack and Bears will play in prime time--this time in the coveted week 1 Sunday night spot: an homage to the Pack's 100th season. While the Bears are likely to be improved, with offensive free agency acquisitions to make things easier for Mitchell Trubisky, this is a perfect opening game for the Pack to begin to get their swagger back and prepare them for the Vikings in week 2.

Long time readers of this blog know that I look at the season in quarters, and the Pack's first quarter includes three home games, against the Bears, Vikes and Bills--with a road game in Washington in between. The Pack couldn't have asked for a more desirable way to get the defense acclimated. It stands to reason that it will take a little time for that unit to get comfortable with Pettine's system. Facing Trubisky, Cousins, Smith and McCarron is about all they could ask for--compared to some of the QBs and offenses they will face later.

The Pack's second quarter includes three road games, beginning with a division game at Detroit. Next, the 49ers come to town for a Monday night game. Jimmy G fever has already reached fever pitch--the Niners have the maximum five prime games on their schedule, as the Packers do (the Vikings only have four...hmmm). With road games looming on opposite coasts at the Rams and Patriots, the Pack will need to take care of business on Monday night. It's their only home game between September 30th and November 11th. And they'll have the bye following this game, a chance to heal up and brace themselves for the toughest stretch I can ever remember: the four toughest road games on the schedule over a five week stretch.

The Sunday night game in New England will be one of the most anticipated of the season: just the second matching Brady and Rodgers. As tough as finishing this two game stretch will be, it kicks off a brutal stretch of three prime time games in four weeks--all on the road. I've never seen anything like that: New England, Seattle and Minnesota, with a home game against the Dolphins in the middle. If the Pack can steal one of those (Seattle seems the most likely), they'll set themselves up for their five December games to close the season.

If the Pack can get through November above .500, say 6-5, they'll be in good shape for a return to the playoffs, because barring injury, they'll be favored in all five December games. They will all be cold weather games, three Lambeau games: Cards, Falcons and Lions and two road games, in Chicago and at the Jets. It's nice to finally close the season at home--something that hasn't happened in a while.

So to summarize, September and December seem to set the Pack up for success, while October and November are brutal, with their four toughest road tests of the season. The notoriously slow starting Packers can't afford to slip up early this year. If they take care of business early, they should be able to withstand some Ls in the middle and be where they want to be when they enter the home stretch.

My seven round Packer mock draft will be posted on Tuesday. Please come back and check it out.

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It's a New Era in Titletown and That's a Good Thing.

Posted March 14th, 2018 @ 03:03pm

The dawning of free agency has ushered in the dawning of a new era in Green Bay. And while there will be some difficult realities to digest, the reality of a seven year Super Bowl drought has amped up the urgency meter.

Brian Gutekunst has already demonstrated that he will work the roster harder in March than we ever saw under Ted Thompson. We've gotten used to watching teams spend gobs of money in March, while the Pack waited for the Marshall's counter to open a couple of weeks later to peruse the discount bins.

The Pack's draft and develop philosophy will always hold center court, but with salary caps  in the stratosphere and a five year window to return to the top with Aaron Rodgers, Gutey understands he can do some considerable tinkering before he turns his attention to his 12 draft picks.

If you would have told me the Pack would sign two free agents before the official window opens, I would have assumed one, if not both, would be cornerbacks. Obviously, that was not the case. There was a run on corners Tuesday, but the Pack sat on the sidelines.

The first signing was the most un-Thompsonest signing ever. Would Ted have ever considered a 31 year old skill player, giving him the richest deal at his position? Um, no. But Jimmy Graham is now a Packer, taking care of the biggest hole on the offensive side of the roster. Graham was never the playmaker in Seattle that he was in New Orleans, but he remained one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league.

The Packers will count on him to be more than a red zone magnet, envisioning that he will draw plenty of attention in the middle of the field, providing favorable matchups for Davante Adams and the running game. It's a three-year deal, but essentially two years, with the 22 million guaranteed over the first 24 months. It's been reported that Rodgers lobbied for this signing--I wonder if he knew it would cost him his favorite receiver.

It's disappointing, and a bit surprising, to learn that Rodgers didn't hear about Nelson's release until after the fact. Their production and chemistry were better than any in the NFL over the past seven or eight seasons. Packer nation will need some time to get over this divorce, but it's one of those bitter realities. Most receivers, when they get to be 33, slow down and aren't worth seven-figure contracts. With all the money committed to Adams, Nelson and Cobb (north of $30 million on the cap)--plus Graham, there was no way that was going to work. When he was unwilling to play for substantially less, he became a cap casualty. Nelson has been considerably underpaid for years--I don't blame him for wanting to get paid one more time.

Now the Pack has a hole at outside receiver opposite Adams. Geronimo Allison and Michael Clark will be in the mix, but the Pack will keep their eyes open for good value there, and will likely add another or two in the draft.

The move that most excited me was the signing of Mo Wilkerson, on a one-year prove it deal. He was at his most productive in '14 and '15 with the Jets, when Mike Pettine was his coordinator--that's undoubtedly why he made the Pack a priority. We all know that a stout pass rush can make up for deficiencies in the back end, and suddenly the Pack has a three man line that will rank among the league's best. Adding Wilkerson alongside Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could be scary.

Obviously, there is still plenty of work be done at edge rusher and cornerback, along with figuring out what's going on on the right side of their offensive line. Bryan Bulaga's status is one of the big pieces to be sorted out, as well as whether they bring back Jahri Evans or go younger there. They'll also likely face the prospect of losing Morgan Burnett, who will likely be looking for a big money deal that the Pack will feel they can't afford. With Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice waiting in the wings, they may swallow hard and let Burnett walk away.

It's a brave new world in Green Bay. In the nine years I've been writing this blog, I've never worried that one of my posts could get outdated quickly in March. But Gutey has already demonstrated that he will look to improve his roster wherever he can in free agency. And he's proven he won't be blinded by sentimentality. Two positive developments in Titletown.

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