In terms of the 2016 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) are now over. Those games gave us a chance to look at the many prospects for the upcoming draft.
The actual 2016 NFL draft will start on April 28 and last through April 30. Before then, there are still a couple more steps in which prospects can help themselves in terms of their draft stock.
The NFL Scouting Combine starts on February 23 and after that we will have the various pro days for the players in the draft to try and impress the scouts, coaches and front office-types who will be in attendance.
I will be doing four or five mock drafts before the actual draft. As I noted in the recent story I just wrote about tight end Hunter Henry of Arkansas, I’ve had a pretty good track record predicting some of the players that Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers have actually selected in the draft over the years.
For instance, last year I was correct in my projection that both both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan would be selected in my final mock draft last year.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve become a real student of the NFL draft and it’s great to have built an association like I’ve established with NFL scout Chris Landry.
Landry is one of the best in the business and his insight and knowledge really help me out, as I look at the prospects that I feel would be good fits for the Packers.
The Packers currently have picks in all seven rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, plus are expected to receive two compensatory picks for the losses of Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency.
I’m estimating that those losses will garner the Packers a compensatory pick in the fourth round and also one in the fifth round.
So, without further adieu, here is my first 2016 NFL mock draft for the Packers, also utilizing the compensatory picks.
Round 1: Tight End Hunter Henry (Arkansas)
Weight: 255 pounds
The Packers have the 27th selection in the first round of this year’s draft. At this point, I’m guessing that all four of the top offensive tackles in the draft will already have been taken at this point of the draft. I’m thinking the same will hold true regarding inside linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama.
Therefore, if tight end Hunter Henry is still on the board, I’m taking him. Why? The Packers need an additional tight end who can stretch the seam down the middle of the field, similar to what Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots and Greg Olsen of the Panthers can do. That will also open things up for the wide receivers on the Packers.
Think about the Keith Jackson/Mark Chmura combination in 1995 and 1996, when you consider the duo of Henry and Richard Rodgers.
Henry was named to the 2015 AP first team All-American team, as well as being named to the first team All-SEC squad. Henry also won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.
In 2015, Henry had 51 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns. In his first two years at Arkansas, Henry had 65 receptions for 922 yards and six touchdowns.
Hunter is definitely the best tight end in this draft, plus he can run-block. Just ask NFL scout Chis Landry:
“I’ve liked Hunter Henry since he stepped on at Arkansas as a true freshman,” Landry said. “I thought he was one of the best tight ends in the country then. He’s very athletic in the modern day game of football where you can play the wide-flex and put him out.
“He’s outstanding in the passing game and he is really good in the running game, because you have to be in the run-scheme that Bret Bielema has. I like him an awful lot. I think he’s good. I think the kid [Austin Hooper] from Stanford is a good player. The kid from Ohio State has had a really good week here, Nick Vannett, who I think is a really good player as well, so keep an eye out on him.
“But I would definitely put Hunter Henry at the top of this group. I think you can get him later in the first round, simply because tight ends tend to move down a little bit, but it wouldn’t shock me if someone in the teens reached for him. He’s that good.”
Round 2: Linebacker Scooby Wright III (Arizona)
Weight: 246 pounds
Scooby Wright of Arizona took the college football world by storm in 2014, as the sophomore had one of the better seasons put together by a linebacker in recent memory.
That season, Wright had 164 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one fumble recovery and five forced fumbles. That led to Wright getting a number of awards, including the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Vince Lombardi Award. Wright was also a consensus All-American.
In 2015, Wright was hobbled by injuries to both his knee and his foot. He missed most of the regular season, but was back for the New Mexico Bowl, where he had 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks, as the Wildcats beat the New Mexico Lobos 45-37.
The Packers need an inside linebacker who is adept at stopping the run at the line of scrimmage or behind it. Wright is that type of player. With the addition of Wright, the Packers can move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, while the other inside linebacker spot would be filled by either Jake Ryan or Sam Barrington. Joe Thomas has been playing at the position on passing downs.
I also talked with Chris Landry about Wright and he’s very impressed.
“Scooby Wright is really an outstanding player,” Landry said. “He’s very instinctive. He’s a lot like Zach Thomas, who played for Texas Tech years ago and played with the Dolphins.
“Very good tackler. Fills the holes versus the run very hard. Also has the ability to get to his landmarks in coverage. He’s always in position.
“Some guys are what we call “glute” players. They really do a good job of diagnosing things on the field and being a coach on the field. That’s what Scooby Wright is. I think he’s going to translate very well in that regard on the pro level.”
Round 3: Offensive Tackle Kyle Murphy (Stanford)
Weight: 298 pounds
Stanford runs a pro-style offense and they run a very good mixture of plays in both the passing game and the running game. The offense was very successful, as once again the Cardinal won the Pac-12 conference and the Rose Bowl.
Kyle Murphy was a big reason why. Murphy played left tackle in 2015, plus played right tackle in 2014.
Murphy was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 and second team All-Pac-12 in 2014.
Murphy is a very solid blocker in the running game, plus is steadily improving in terms of his pass blocking.
The Packers desperately need some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. Don Barclay is certainly not the answer. Barclay gave up nine sacks just by himself in 2015, playing in place of both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari when both were injured.
Bulaga has been injury prone his entire career in Green Bay, while Bakhtiari had both knee and ankle injuries which hampered him almost all of the 2015 season.
The Packers need a quality replacement on hand if either go down due to injury. Murphy can fill that role.
Round 4: Linebacker Joe Schobert (Wisconsin)
Weight: 236 pounds
The outside linebacker position is in a flux situation right now with the Packers. While it does appear that the Packers will move Clay Matthews back to the position in 2016, there are a number of questions that still need to be answered.
The first question is whether or not Julius Peppers will return in 2016. My guess is that No. 56 and his 10.5 sacks in 2015 will return. But both Mike Neal and Nick Perry will both be unrestricted free agents in March. I can’t see the Packers bringing both of them back.
Both Neal and Perry played well for the Packers down the stretch and in the postseason. It will be a tough decision as to who to keep. The Packers also have players like Jayrone Elliott and Andy Mulumba in reserve. Of the two, Elliott has more upside.
But more depth is needed at the position, especially if you could add a player who can make big plays. Joe Schobert of the Wisconsin Badgers can do that.
In the past two seasons, playing on one of the better defenses in college football, Schobert had 130 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and six forced fumbles.
In 2015, Schobert was named as a first team All-American, as well as being named first team All-Big Ten. Schobert was also named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, plus won the Jack Lambert Trophy.
I also talked to Chris Landry about Schobert.
“The Badger [speaking of Schobert] is a really good pass rusher,” Landry said. “He’s got good pursuit skills. I think he’s an outstanding player.”
Round 4 (compensatory): Running Back Josh Ferguson (Illinois)
Weight: 200 pounds
Head coach Mike McCarthy laid down the gauntlet recently for Eddie Lacy when he announced that No. 27 has to get in better shape heading into the 2016 season. The Packers want Lacy to lose 30 pounds. When Lacy was at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, he weighed in at 231 pounds. That was good enough for the Packers to draft him. It also tells me that Lacy was probably playing at a weight of something north of 260 pounds in 2015.
Reportedly, Lacy has reached out to Tony Horton, the creator of the P90x workout. We shall see whether or not that alliance, if it should happen, will get Lacy back to the weight he was in 2013, when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
James Starks had a decent year filling in for Lacy at running back and based on reports I’ve read, it looks as though he will return to the Packers, even though he will be an unrestricted free agent in March.
The Packers also have John Crockett on the roster to add depth to the position. While Lacy and Starks are pretty good receivers out of the backfield, especially Starks on screen plays, the Packers could use a player who could really fill that role.
To me, that player is Josh Ferguson of Illinois, who had a real good week at the East-West Shrine Game, which is played right down the road (St. Petersburg, Florida) so to speak from where I live.
Ferguson looked very quick in the practices that week, and is a natural catching the football.
In his career at Illinois, Ferguson rushed for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus caught 168 passes for 1,507 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ferguson also has experience in returning kickoffs.
Round 5: Defensive Tackle Matt Ioannidis (Temple)
Weight: 295 pounds
One of the players who really improved his stock at the Senior Bowl was defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis of Temple.
Depending on what the Packers do on the defensive line this offseason, a player like Ioannidis could add some quality depth.
Both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion will be unrestricted free agents this March. Raji was having a very nice season in 2015, when a groin injury slowed him down. Guion missed the first three games of the season due to a suspension, then started slow, but came on down the stretch late in the season and in the postseason.
I would not be surprised if the Packers bring them both back. The cap hit for the two of them combined in 2015 was just over $4 million combined ($4,235,000).
The Packers also re-signed their best player on the defensive line, Mike Daniels, to a long term deal. Datone Jones had his best season for the Packers in 2015, plus the Packers also like the progress that Mike Pennel made this past season.
In addition to that, Josh Boyd spent the season on injured reserve, while rookie Christian Ringo impressed on the practice squad.
Still, you can never have too many quality players mixing it up in the trenches.
Ioannidis is more of a run stuffer, but can also rush the passer on occasion. In his career at Temple, Ioannidis had 112 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, deflected eight passes, had one fumble recovery and had two forced fumbles.
Round 5 (compensatory): Cornerback Taveze Calhoun (Mississippi State)
Weight: 185 pounds
The Packers will most likely lose Casey Hayward to free agency this offseason, but the team should still be in good shape depth-wise at the cornerback position. The Packers will still have Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde, Demetri Goodson and LaDarius Gunter.
That being said, the NFL is a pass-happy league, and one can never have enough cornerbacks.
In college football, no conference has faster receivers than the SEC conference, which is where Taveze Calhoun of Mississippi State played.
Calhoun was another player who showed off his skills at the East-West Shrine Game practices.
Calhoun also played on one of the better defenses in the SEC and he was part of a great tandem at cornerback, along with Will Redmond.
In his career with the Bulldogs, Calhoun had 154 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 21 passes defended, six interceptions, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.
Round 6: Offensive Tackle Alex Lewis (Nebraska)
Weight: 290 pounds
Alex Lewis of Nebraska was yet another player who stood out at the East-West Shrine Game practices.
Lewis first played his college ball at Colorado before transferring to Nebraska. Lewis was the team captain for the Huskers in 2015. His dad Bill was a former All-American center for the Huskers in the 1980s.
Lewis was named to the second team All-Big Ten squad in 2015 and was named honorable mention in 2014 by both the coaches and the media.
As I said with the earlier selection of Kyle Murphy, the Packers need to add some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. The Packers found themselves without both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari in one game this season versus the Arizona Cardinals. The results were not pretty. In fact, they were downright ugly.
Round 7: Quarterback Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech)
Weight: 234 pounds
There is a reasonable chance that backup quarterback Scott Tolzien will be leaving the Packers this offseason, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March. As we saw numerous times in 2015 with a number of teams in the NFL, the quarterback play was absolutely brutal at times. Tolzien will look to get a shot as a starter with one of those teams in 2016.
Third string quarterback Brett Hundley was truly fantastic in his chance to shine in the 2015 preseason for the Packers. All told, Hundley posted a passer rating of 129.7 based on 45 completions on 65 attempts for 630 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception last summer.
If Tolzien leaves, Hundley will step up to be come the main backup to Aaron Rodgers. That means the Packers will be looking to develop another young quarterback on their roster.
It would be nice if the quarterback has a strong arm and good mobility, just like Rodgers and Hundley have.
Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech has those attributes. Driskel played in the Senior Bowl this year and he threw a late touchdown pass off his back foot late in the game.
Driskel played most of his collegiate career with the Florida Gators before transferring to Louisiana Tech. In his career with both Florida and Louisiana Tech, Driskel threw 50 touchdown passes versus 28 picks for 7,437 yards.
Driskel also rushed for 972 yards and had 14 touchdowns.
In his one and only year at La Tech, Driskel threw 27 touchdowns passes versus eight interceptions for 4,026 yards.