We are now less than a month away from the 2016 NFL draft, which will take place starting on April 28. It’s time to put out my third version of a 7-round NFL mock draft for the Green Bay Packers.
I will not be selecting any of the players that I have picked in my first two mock drafts. For reference, here is my initial mock draft and here is my second mock draft, which I did shortly after the NFL Scouting Combine.
I will do one final mock draft the week of the actual draft. In that draft, I will utilize players who I have selected in earlier mock drafts. As always, I am using the insight and information that I have been able to access from NFL scout Chris Landry to help me work through this process.
Through my conversations with Landry and by gaining key data from his website, I have had some success through the years doing mock drafts for the Packers. For instance, I was correct in my projection that both both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan would be selected by the Packers in my final mock draft last year.
Enough of that, it’s on to the next mock draft.
Round 1: Defensive Tackle Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech)
Weight: 324 pounds
In 2014 and 2015, Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech was a load trying to block. In those two seasons combined, Butler had 106 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three passes deflected, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble.
Butler is very quick off the ball and is outstanding versus the run. The former Bulldog can be explosive off the snap and can push the pocket backwards in passing situations.
Butler had an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl, as he was very effective in one-on-one drills due to his athleticism. He used his short area quickness upper body strength to get through and around blockers. Butler also has long arms which allow him to rag doll his opponents once he gets them off-balance.
Chris Landry like what he saw from Butler in Mobile.
“Vernon Butler to me, is a really good penetrator,” Landry said. “Really quick off the ball. Good use of hands. I think he’s to me an early second-round value, who could slip into the first round.
“Again, it’s an unusually deep year (for defensive linemen). I expect in the first round that A’Shawn Robinson will go, Jarran Reed to go, both are from Alabama. Robert Nkemdiche is going to go somewhere. You are talking about a guy who is a top five pick, but will slip some. And how far, I don’t know. I just sit there and think that I could see a guy like Rex Ryan saying, ‘I’ll take that guy. I’m not afraid.’
“Sheldon Rankins of Louisville. Andrew Billings of Baylor. Vernon Butler is right in that group. And there was another yesterday with Kenny Clark of UCLA (pro day). Jonathan Bullard from Florida. I think Butler would have real good value at the top of the second round and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s late first round.”
With B.J. Raji taking a hiatus from football in 2016, it makes sense that the Packers add some size and talent across their defensive front. Butler certainly fills that bill, as he still has some real upside.
Round 2: Inside Linebacker Joshua Perry (Ohio State)
Weight: 254 pounds
Joshua Perry of Ohio State won’t be the first Buckeye linebacker picked in the 2016 draft, as that honor will go to Darron Lee, but Perry has some very nice ability as well.
Perry was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes, as he had 293 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and eight passes defended in those three years. Besides having excellent size, Perry ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, plus had an excellent broad jump which covered 124.0 inches.
Perry is strong and physical at the line of scrimmage, plus he reacts quickly in finding the football. He also is a very good tackler and and can blitz well when called upon to do so.
The former Buckeye is a high character guy, who was a team leader at Ohio State, as the Buckeyes went 38-4 with Perry as a starter, including a national championship.
The addition of Perry will make the expected move of Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker seamless. Perry will undoubtedly be one starter on the inside, with Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan battling for the other starting job at ILB.
Round 3: Outside Linebacker Jordan Jenkins (Georgia)
Weight: 259 pounds
Jordan Jenkins was a four-year starter at Georgia, as he forced his way on the field halfway through his freshman year. Jenkins never takes a play off and his motor is always running, as he plays hard to the whistle.
Jenkins played both right and left outside linebacker positions in the Bulldogs 3-4 defense, as he had 205 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, five passes defended, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in four seasons.
The former Bulldog is equally effective playing the run and rushing the passer.
Although the Packers did re-sign Nick Perry, it was only a one-year deal, as the jury is still out on whether No. 53 can be a consistent performer at OLB. Plus, Julius Peppers is now 36, and is in the last year of his three-year contract.
The Packers also like the upside of Jayrone Elliott, but the Packers still need to add depth and talent to the outside linebacker position. Jenkins will do that.
Round 4: Running Back Kenyan Drake (Alabama)
Weight: 210 pounds
By adding running back Kenyan Drake, the Packers will add a very talented running back, who is not only pretty good toting the rock, but also is a big threat catching the football. Drake is also an outstanding kick returner.
In addition, the Pack will be adding another back from Alabama, which is where Eddie Lacy hails from. Drake played second fiddle to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at running back for the Crimson Tide, but was very effective when he got his opportunities.
Drake ran for 1,495 yards (6.4 average) and 18 touchdowns in his career at Alabama, plus had 46 receptions for 570 yards (12.4 average) and four more scores.
Drake showed his kick returner prowess in the national title game versus Clemson, when he returned a kick for 95 yards and a score late in the game.
Drake would be the heir apparent to James Starks as a compliment to Lacy, as No. 44 came back to the Packers on just a two-year deal after he tested the free agency market.
The Packers expect Lacy to come back with a vengeance in 2016 after a disappointing 2015 season. No. 27 was obviously carrying too much weight this past season, but has become much leaner thanks to working out with Tony Horton and utilizing his P90X workout.
The Packers expect Lacy top look more like the player he was in 2013 and 2014, when he averaged 1,159 yards rushing (4.4 average) and 10 touchdowns. Lacy also averaged 38.5 catches per season and two more scores in those two years.
I anticipate Lacy to have another big year in 2016, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. At that point, I believe the Packers would re-sign Lacy and that Drake would be an excellent partner to pair with No. 27 at running back into the future.
Round 4 (compensatory): Offensive Lineman Joe Dahl (Washington State)
Weight: 304 pounds
Joe Dahl started out at Montana before transferring to Washington State, where he played both left guard (one year) and left tackle (two years) as a three-year starter.
Most scouts see Dahl as a guard in the NFL, although he could play offensive tackle in a pinch. Dahl had a good week at the Senior Bowl where he had looks at both left and right guard.
Dahl kept his hips low off the snap and and used his near 33-inch arms extended to engage. He also was very active with his hands and showed accurate placement to tie up rushers and control the point of attack.
The Packers need to add to their depth and talent on the offensive line, at both guard and tackle. Both left guard Josh Sitton and right guard T.J. Lang played through injury issues in 2015 and both will be unrestricted free agents in 2017.
Round 4 (compensatory): Defensive End Jihad Ward (Illinois)
Weight: 297 pounds
Jihad Ward has the prototypical size one is looking for as a 3-4 defensive end. Ward was a two-year starter with Illinois, where he had 104 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes deflected, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Ward has the body type to add more bulk. He plays the run very well, which is the most important attribute for a 3-4 DE. Excels against 1-on-1 blocks. That being said, he needs to be better against double team blocks. Ward also need to use his hands better in taking on blocks.
Ward has nice athleticism and he has the ability to play both defensive end spots. He always puts out great effort and his pass rush is a work in progress.
With good coaching, Ward can continue his development, which has a lot of upside. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac of the Packers is the perfect coach for Ward to work under.
Round 5: Tight End Tanner McEvoy (Wisconsin)
Weight: 230 pounds
Tanner McEvoy was used like a Swiss Army Knife by Wisconsin. The 6’6″, 230-pound McEvoy played quarterback, safety and wide receiver for the Badgers. In three years with the team, McEvoy showed how athletic he was at these positions.
At quarterback, he wasn’t a great passer, as he had just five touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 709 yards. But when it came to running the football as a QB, he was very dangerous. McEvoy ran for 706 yards on just 82 carries (8.6 average) for eight touchdowns.
McEvoy got to play some wide receiver at Wisconsin in 2015, and he had 10 catches for 109 yards. The reason his stats were so low was because he was a starting safety for the Badgers, as he had six interceptions, which was second in the Big 10 and sixth nationally.
Most scouts think McEvoy would be better suited to play tight end in the NFL due to his size and athleticism. Those attributes would also be a big reason why he would also excel on special teams.
Chris Landry had this to say about McEvoy:
“He [McEvoy] is an athletic guy,” Landry said. “I think he can play tight end. He’s a project. I think he’s more of a later-round guy. But I do have him and I’ve done a lot of work on him this spring.
“I do think he does have some value later in the draft. I’ve got him as a fifth-round guy and I’ll update my boards in a little bit. I’ve got a 5.4 grade on him and I think he and a couple other kids, like the [Darion] Griswold kid from Arkansas State, have a lot of ability.
“They’ve [Wisconsin] done a really good job with tight ends in the past. They understand blocking, which is important. He’s not a guy who is going to be a great receiver, but I think he can develop into more of a polished receiver and understand blocking.”
Like the Badgers did, the Packers can utilize McEvoy in a number of ways. Besides being a special teams stalwart, McEvoy can be groomed at tight end (even with the recent signing of Jared Cook), plus can help out on defense at times.
McEvoy would also be an intriguing prospect to play at linebacker on passing downs, where he could cover running backs and tight ends. He has the size, speed and hands to excel there.
Round 6: Offensive Lineman Nick Ritcher (Richmond)
Weight: 305 pounds
Nick Ritcher was the best player on the offensive line for one of the best football programs in the FCS at Richmond.
Ritcher has very quick and light feet to play the offensive tackle position in the NFL. He has the ability to play inside as well.
Nick’s dad Jim was a 16-year NFL veteran, who played with the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons. Jim mostly played center in the NFL.
Ritcher definitely has the lineage and ability to add some quality depth to the offensive line of the Packers, especially at offensive tackle.
The Packers desperately need that, as the lack of depth and talent at offensive tackle position was very apparent for Green Bay last year. Especially when right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari were out with injuries.
Round 7: Quarterback Cody Kessler (USC)
Weight: 220 pounds
With backup quarterback Scott Tolzien moving on from the Packers to the Indianapolis Colts via free agency, the Packers will be looking to add another quarterback to their roster.
Obviously, former Cal Bear Aaron Rodgers will be the starter, while second-year player Brett Hundley out of UCLA moves up to be the backup.
Hundley shined last summer as a rookie out of UCLA in the preseason, as posted a passer rating of 129.7 based on 45 completions on 65 attempts for 630 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception in the preseason.
Another Pac-12 quarterback could join the Packers in 2016. That QB could be Cody Kessler out of USC. Kessler never quite lived up to the hype he had coming out of high school, but was still effective with the Trojans.
Kessler never had a completion average below 65 percent in three years as a starter at USC. In those three years, Kessler threw 88 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 10,330 yards.
Although Kessler doesn’t have the running ability of either Rodgers or Hundley, he still moves around quite well in the pocket. He also has experience in a pro-style, West Coast offense, which is the offense he ran at USC.
Kessler also doesn’t have the arm strength of either Rodgers and Hundley, but is very accurate and he gets through his reads very quickly.