The Green Bay Packers pick in the top-20 for the first time since 2009 coming off a disappointing and injury-filled season. But as we saw from the Saints last season, one draft can put a team right back in the thick of the Super Bowl mix.
The last time the Packers picked anywhere near this high, Ted Thompson eschewed what would come to be his MO and traded back into the first round. His haul? B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, a pair of Pro Bowl defenders.
New GM Brian Gutekunst still has Thompson on staff, though it will be the Thompson disciple making the final calls.
Packers Twitter will tell you Green Bay has a bottom-tier roster, bereft of talent and riddled with more holes than a nice Wisconsin Swiss cheese. But just like the cheese, that’s nutty.
This team was 4-1 with Aaron Rodgers before he got hurt, and even without him finished with a top-10 rush defense, a top-5 rush offense, and a top-10 adjusted sack rate.
They’re just a playmaker or two away from once again being the thick of a Super Bowl chase, and even without making any additions will be considered dangerous with Rodgers set to back back healthy in 2018. In fact, they’re already boasting the second-best Super Bowl odds in the NFC by our friends in the desert.
Two picks in the top-50 and a cache of mid-round picks with which to deal could give Gutekunst the ammunition he needs to do so some wheeling and dealing, just like his predecessor and mentor did the last time the Packers came up short of the playoffs.
Normally this exercise would be easily done pre-free agency for the Packers because they didn’t even dip their toes into the free agent pool. They were on a lawn chair with a margarita. So without knowing how this team solidified key roster spots, this was an attempt to maximize value while also filling needs.
Green Bay’s primary need is filling Davon House’s spot at cornerback. The Packers could also use a consistent pass rusher, swing tackle (or potentially a successor to Bryan Bulaga), a move tight end, and some speed at receiver. If they can, upgrading the inside linebacker spot next to Blake Martinez would be great, but it’s not a priority unless someone like Roquan Smith falls to 14.
This mock draft was done using Fanspeak’s On the Clock function, and the Draft Scout’s big board in an attempt to make it as realistic as possible.
If their draft went like this, Green Bay should fly back into contender status in a hurry.
Round 1, Pick 14
Derwin James, S, Florida State
It’s pass rusher or bust for a vocal portion of Cheesehead Nation, but this isn’t a draft full of top-tier players at the position. In this mock, Marcus Davenport was on the board and if I’d know he’d crushed the combine, he would have been my choice.
But I don’t need to see James kill it in Indy to know what a special player he can be. His athleticism, toughness, and playmaker jumps off the screen when you watch him at Florida State. The biggest knock on him is he was too good as a freshman and the expectations were probably too high for him last year in a down year for the Seminole program as a whole.
New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves to use multiple safeties and bringing in James, who can play in the box, deep, or cover in the slot, has the kind of versatility Pettine craves. With James, Josh Jones, and Haha Clinton-Dix in the fold, this could be a scary safety group.
All that said, if Morgan Burnett comes back, James doesn’t make much sense here, at least at such a high cost of draft capital. But because we don’t know his status yet, James makes sense.