Yes, Christmas in late April is right around the corner. We are just three days from the 2016 NFL draft, which begins on April 28 and runs through April 30.
By now, Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers have put together their draft board. NFL scout Chris Landry always says that if teams set up their draft board properly, it will guide you through the entire draft.
Landry feels that Thompson and the Packers are one of the best in the NFL at setting up their board.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, when it comes to all the NFL draft material I put out, I rely heavily on the insight and information I receive from Landry via our conversations and also the data I get from his fine website.
Through my conversations with Landry and by gaining key data from his website, I have had some success throughout 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.
This will be my final mock draft before the festivities begin on Thursday night. In my first mock draft, I had the Packers selecting tight end Hunter Henry of Arkansas in the first round. However, after the signing of free agent tight end Jared Cook, I believe the Packers will definitely look to shore up at another position in the first round.
That is not to say that the Packers still won’t be looking to select another tight end later in the draft.
In my second mock draft, I had the Packers selecting inside linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama. That is still a very distinct possibility, especially with the Packers looking to move Clay Matthews back to the outside at linebacker.
In my third mock draft, I had the Packers taking defensive lineman Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech. That also is a good possibility, because veteran B.J. Raji is taking a hiatus from football in 2016.
But enough of looking back, it’s time for my final 2016 NFL mock draft for the Packers.
Round 1: Linebacker Reggie Ragland (Alabama)
Weight: 247 pounds
The Packers will have a number of options in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL draft, but if linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama is still on the board at pick No. 27, the Packers should definitely consider taking him. Landry sees Ragland as the best inside linebacker in the draft.
“Well, I think Reggie Ragland is a better version of C.J. Mosley,” Landry told me last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “He’s got great range. I do think he’s a three-down linebacker. I think he can do a lot in blitz looks as well. He’s going to be an outstanding player.”
Alabama was ranked third in total defense and first in rushing defense in the FBS. Ragland was a big reason why.
In the past two seasons with the Crimson Tide, Ragland had 197 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups, one interception, four sacks and three forced fumbles.
Ragland is a downhill, physical linebacker at the point of attack on the inside on running downs, plus can blitz well, both from the inside and outside on passing downs. He also had a good week at the Senior Bowl, as he also showed solid coverage skills.
At the combine, Ragland ran a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash.
Plus, adding to all that, Ragland thinks he will become a member of the Packers, per this story by Chase Goodbread of 24/7 Sports.
“I did meet with them, and they talked to me about that they needed a linebacker on the inside,” said Ragland. “And if they had the opportunity, I think they would. But I’m not sure. It all depends when draft day comes.”
Round 2: Defensive Lineman Chris Jones (Mississippi State)
Defensive lineman Chris Jones of Mississippi State is an intriguing prospect who has excellent size and natural power.
Jones is strong in his hands and upper body and he utilizes those assets to shed blockers. Jones also has quick feet. He has the ability to collapse the pocket rushing the passer, as he had 34 quarterback pressures in his career.
Jones is also solid stopping the run, as he has the agility to scrape down line of scrimmage and look for the ball carrier.
In his career with the Bulldogs, Jones had 94 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
Even with his great size and talent, Jones has not played up to his expectations, as he was former 5-star recruit coming into college.
This is where working under a defensive line coach like Mike Trgovac will really help him. Trgovac will make sure that the fire is always lit under Jones. As will his defensive linemate Mike Daniels.
Like they did with Ragland, the Packers have already met with Jones.
Jones is better suited to play the 5- technique (defensive end), but can also play the 3-technique (nose tackle).
The Packers need to add some help on their defensive line, especially with B.J. Raji taking a hiatus from football in 2016. Add to that, Mike Pennel is suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
The good news for the Packers regarding their defensive line is that the team re-signed Letroy Guion in free agency, plus Josh Boyd will be back this season after spending the 2015 season on injured reserve. In addition to that, the Packers really like the upside of Christian Ringo, who spent the 2015 season on the team’s practice squad.
Round 3: Offensive Tackle Kyle Murphy (Stanford)
Weight: 305 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 very consistent with his blocking in the running game, plus is also steady with his pass blocking.
The Packers desperately need some quality depth and a swing tackle at offensive tackle. Although he was re-signed (most likely to compete at guard), Don Barclay is certainly not the answer at the tackle position. 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, plus has the ability to move inside as well if needed.
Round 4: Linebacker Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame)
Weight: 223 pounds
Before his devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl versus Ohio State, Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame was considered the best linebacker in the country.
Dr. Dan Cooper, the surgeon who performed the procedure on Smith’s knee reconstruction, is optimistic that Smith will fully recover. That being said, right now Smith can neither raise his foot nor swing it out to the side, and it is not a given he gets those abilities back.
That is why he will most likely slip to the third day of the draft.
Landry talked to me about Smith’s medical status.
“Let me remind people,” Landry said. “There is not a better player in this draft than Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame.
“You are talking about a guy who could be the first pick or the second pick or third pick of the draft if he was healthy. If you are in a position, maybe like Bob’s Packers or somebody like that, I mean you are talking about an elite player.
“You would have to redshirt him, as he’s not going to play next year. But if you are willing to do that and be comfortable enough as an organization to do it, and then medically do you feel good, with the the doctors being comfortable saying that this guy is going to be fine in a year, it’s just going to take time, he is well worth the wait.”
Like they have done with both Ragland and Jones, the Packers also had a meeting with Smith prior to the draft.
Smith had a fantastic three-year career in South Bend, as he had 284 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
Before his injury, Smith ran a 4.44 in the 40.
Round 4 (compensatory):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 showed of his speed at the NFL Scouting Combine, when he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.
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): Linebacker Jatavis Brown (Akron)
Weight: 222 pounds
Jatavis Brown of Akron was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, which was the same honor cornerback Quinten Rollins of the Packers received in 2014 when he played for Miami (Ohio).
Brown had a fantastic season in 2015 for the Zips, as he 116 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles.
Brown led the way on the Akron defense which was third in the country versus the rush.
With the addition of Brown, the Packers will definitely be adding some speed to their defense. On his pro day, Brown was phenomenal, as he showed off his strength and speed. He had an outstanding 33 reps in the bench press, plus ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.
I asked Landry if Brown’s performance on his pro day had him moving up his draft board.
“Yeah, I do,” Landry said. “I did a little more work on him which you’ll see in the scouting reports that I’m working through. His [Brown’s] workout caused me to do a little more work.
“He’s not moving up a whole lot, but I think he has some value. I still think he’s a guy that may go maybe as high as the third, but certainly he deserves to be in the fourth round, the 5.5 group. He’s at the top of my 5.4 group now, with Dadi Nicolas of Virginia Tech.”
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 linebacker on passing downs, where he could cover running backs and tight ends. He has the size, speed, hands and track record 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 certainly has the quick feet to play the offensive tackle position in the NFL, but he might be a better fit to play inside when it’s all said and done.
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.
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.
Ritcher definitely has the lineage and ability to add some talent to the Pack’s offensive line, no matter the position.
Round 7: Quarterback Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech)
Weight: 234 pounds
With the loss of quarterback Scott Tolzien via free agency, the Packers will be looking for a third quarterback to play behind starter Aaron Rodgers and backup Brett Hundley.
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.
It would be nice if the third 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.