In terms of the 2017 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) have been played. As did the other bowl games which were played, as some players didn’t get an opportunity to play in an all-star game.
Those games gave us a chance to look at a number of prospects for the upcoming draft in April.
The actual 2017 NFL draft will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29. Before then, there are still a couple more steps in which prospects can help themselves in terms of improving their draft stock.
The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis starts on February 28 and lasts until March 6. 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 mock drafts (including this initial one) before the actual draft.I will focus my mock drafts on the Green Bay Packers. I’ve had a pretty decent track record predicting some of the players that Ted Thompson has actually selected in the draft over the years.
Last year in my final mock draft, I correctly predicted that the Packers would select offensive tackle Kyle Murphy of Stanford in the draft.
In my final mock draft in 2015, like a blind squirrel which finds an acorn, I was right about the Packers selecting both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan.
Bottom line, I’ve been doing this exercise for over a decade now and it’s been a lot of fun for me and I hope the same holds true for you.
I’ve become a real student of the NFL draft over the years and it’s very nice 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. I’m also happy to say that I contribute some stories to his fine website on a regular basis.
You can be certain that there will be a number of draft stories of mine which will be added over the next number of weeks.
Getting back to the Packers, the team has primarily been built on a draft and develop basis since head coach Mike McCarthy and Thompson joined forces in 2006.
In 11 seasons since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.
It’s rare that Thompson dips his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.
But when Thompson has signed a free agent player like Ryan Pickett, or signed players who were recently released by the previous teams like Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders), Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) and Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams), the results have been pretty good.
I see Thompson as being more active in free agency this year, but the draft will still be his main focus.
After the release of cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks this week, the Packers reportedly will have close to $43 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. This is based on what the Packers gained by releasing Shields and Starks and a salary cap that’s projected to rise about $13 million this year.
Thompson is truly a scout at heart. The week of the NFC title game when the Packers played the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, Thompson was here in the Tampa Bay region scouting players at the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg.
The Monday after the Packers lost to the Falcons in the NFC title game, Thompson was in Mobile, Alabama scouting players at the Senior Bowl.
In the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers have a selection in each of the seven rounds, plus are expected to get a compensatory pick, most likely in the fifth round, according to Over The Cap.
What position will the Packers focus on in the draft and in free agency? Well, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com talked with a trusted source of his with the Packers. Pauline’s source said: “Corners, lots of them.”
So, without any further adieu, let’s take a look at the first mock draft. As you will see, I did select a couple of cornerbacks, but not as early as the Packers did in 2015, when they selected Demarious Randall and Rollins with their first two picks in that draft.
My approach to this draft was to improve not only the secondary, but to improve the overall defense, starting with the Front 7.
Round 1: Linebacker T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)
Weight: 243 pounds
One big reason why the secondary of the Wisconsin Badgers had such an outstanding year in 2016 (except for the second half vs. Penn State in the B1G title game), was the play of the Front 7 of the Badgers.
Nobody was more prevalent in that regard than T.J. Watt. No. 42 had 63 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2016, which garnered him second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Watt can play outside or inside in the 3-4 scheme used by Dom Capers. I expect Watt to be used on the outside more often than not, just like he was with the Badgers. I expect the Packers to re-sign Nick Perry, who along with a healthier Clay Matthews, will be able to assist Watt in putting pass pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I also think there is a chance that the Packers will re-sign Julius Peppers, but only at their price, plus Green Bay also likes the upside of Kyler Fackrell, who was a rookie in 2016.
Watt has an exceptional motor and like Perry, plays the run extremely well.
This is what Landry said about Watt after he declared for the 2017 NFL draft:
“The younger brother of J.J. Watt had a terrific 2016 campaign, notching 11.5 sacks and defending the run very well. He can play an array of positions, so his versatility is his real value.”
Round 2: Defensive Lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama)
Weight: 312 pounds
The Packers played the run better in 2016 better than they did in 2015, especially early in the season. Still, there were times when the run defense of the Packers was just gashed. Letroy Guion was solid in the first part of the season, but at times looked like he was in the witness protection program in the second half of the year.
That’s why it would be prudent to draft someone like Dalvin Tomlinson of Alabama. Tomlinson knows how to play the leverage game in the trenches, as he was a three-time heavyweight wrestling champion in high school.
That serves him well playing on the defensive line, as he is almost impossible to move off the point. As a senior for the Crimson Tide, Tomlinson had 62 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and three sacks.
Head coach Nick Saban used Tomlinson on both the inside and outside in the multiple-look defenses that Alabama uses.
The Packers like versatility as well, and Tomlinson would fit in nicely with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark to form a talented trio for the Pack on the defensive front.
This is what Landry said about Tomlinson at the Senior Bowl:
“Tomlinson surprised me. He plays with great pad level, leverage and quickness. He flashed power and won out during a number of one-on-ones.”
Round 3: Inside Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern)
Weight: 245 pounds
Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez have been fairly solid at inside linebacker for the Packers. Ryan improved in his second year with the team in 2016, while Martinez had a great training camp and was having a decent rookie year when he suffered a knee injury that hampered him down the stretch of the 2016 season.
That being said, neither Ryan or Martinez bring that wow-factor taking down an opposing player with a resounding hit. The Packers haven’t had that in an inside linebacker since they had Desmond Bishop lining up at the position.
That’s why the addition of Anthony Walker Jr. of Northwestern is something that the Packers should consider. The former Wildcat certainly has that wow-factor and he most definitely brings a physical presence.
In 2015, Walker had 122 tackles with 16.5 of them for a loss, as he was named a first-team All-Big Ten and third-team AP All-American that season.
In 2016, Walker had 109 tackles with 10 of them for a loss, as he was named second-team All-Big Ten.
Walker played well in 2016, but was exceptional in 2015. Why the difference? Many scouts believe Walker added too much weight his junior year and is better off playing at around 230 to 235 pounds like he was his sophomore year.
That would also help his coverage skills, which were not bad at Northwestern, as he had 16 passes defensed in his career as a Wildcat.
This is what Landry said about Walker prior to the Pinstripe Bowl:
“LB Anthony Walker Jr. was a returning All-American and played up to that reputation with 98 tackles, including 58 unassisted. The Northwestern junior also collected two sacks, recovered two fumbles and had a team-high 10 tackles for loss. He’s now fourth on the career tackle-for-loss list with 39.5.”
Round 4: Cornerback Fabian Moreau (UCLA)
Weight: 194 pounds
It goes without question, that the Packers have to improve their play at cornerback by utilizing both free agency and the draft. The course I expect Thompson to follow in free agency, is to sign a player who has recently been cut by his former team due to salary cap reasons.
But in terms of the draft, the Packers are catching a break in 2017, as the cornerback position is one of the deeper ones in this draft. That’s why they can select the best player on their board early in the draft and still get a talented cornerback later on.
Case in point is Fabian Moreau of UCLA. Just prior to the 2015 season, head coach Jim Mora, Jr. said that Moraeu was a first-round talent. Unfortunately for Moreau, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot early in the season which ended his year.
But in 2016, Moreau bounced back, as he had 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, as he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12. Before his foot injury, Moreau flashed his talent as a Bruin, as he was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014, with 53 tackles, three for loss, one interception and eight passes defensed.
In 2013, Moraeu was also named honorable mention All-Pac-12. Similar to Sam Shields, he started out on offense in college, as Moreau was a running back initially, but switched to defense.
This is what Landry said about Moreau at the East-West Shrine game practices:
“UCLA CB Fabian Moreau has excellent size and athleticism and had a solid week in pass coverage. He has quick feet and he’s a fluid athlete. He was very aware in zone coverage. I thought he really helped himself with his performance during the week.”
Round 5: Cornerback Marquez White (Florida State)
Weight: 185 pounds
Like Quinten Rollins did at Miami of Ohio, Marquez White of Florida State was also was a two-sport star, as he played basketball for the Seminoles in 2013-2014 for six games.
White quickly realized that football was his best sport, even though he was primarily a special teams player in 2013 and 2014.
White became a starter in 2015, as he had 25 tackles, two for a loss, one interception, and two pass breakups In 2016, White had two picks and four pass breakups, as he earned honorable mention All-ACC from the league media.
Like Moreau, White has the height one likes at the cornerback position, but does need to bulk up a bit.
This is what Landry said about White at a Senior Bowl practice:
“White held on a little too long in press coverage but otherwise had a stellar day. He showed quick feet, good change of direction and flipped his hips nicely while displaying an understanding of how to use the sideline to his advantage and maintaining tight coverage.”
Round 5 (compensatory): Running Back Joe Williams (Utah)
Weight: 205 pounds
There were a lot of impressive performances during the East-West Shrine game week, but no one impressed me more than running back Joe Williams of Utah. Williams is part of a running back class that is also exceptionally deep in 2017.
That’s why you could still get a quality back like Williams in the fifth round of the upcoming draft. Williams had a phenomenal back half of the 2016 season for the Utes in 2016. This was after a slow start to the season and the thought of retiring from football.
But starting in the seventh game of the season for Utah, when the Utes played Oregon State, Williams went on a run that would have put him in the Heisman discussion had this performance been year round.
In six games to end the season, with opponents like Washington and Colorado on the Pac-12 schedule, Williams rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns. Then in the the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, Williams rushed for 222 yards and another score, plus caught a pass for 56 more yards.
I expect the Packers to re-sign Eddie Lacy to pair with Ty Montgomery at running back. That being said, a talented player like Williams will push for playing time, especially on third down.
This is what Landry said about Williams during the East-West Shrine game practices:
“Utah RB Joe Williams has an outstanding burst and he was a little bit thicker than I anticipated. He is going to be a mismatch in the passing game as he gains more experience. He looks like an ideal change-of-pace back at the next level.”
Round 6: Wide Receiver/Punt Returner Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech)
Weight: 177 pounds
One of the biggest issues for the receivers of the Packers over the past couple of years is their ability (or lack thereof) to separate themselves from their defenders. One player who can help them in that regard, as well a being an option in the punt return game is Trent Taylor of Louisiana Tech.
Taylor has been called by some scouts as a poor man’s Wes Welker. Taylor doesn’t have the prototypical size you normally want at wide receiver, but he is extremely quick and effective.
In four years at Louisiana Tech, Taylor had a whopping 327 catches for 4,179 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Taylor was named second-team All-Conference USA selection in 2014 and was first-team All-Conference USA in both 2015 and 2016.
Taylor also returned 58 punts for 482 yards in his time with La Tech.
Taylor would be best used in the slot for the Packers, but no matter where he would line up, he has the quickness to get off his defender in a hurry and make some very nice YAC (yards after catch).
This is what Landry said about Taylor prior to the Senior Bowl:
“Taylor wins with his ability to work in and out of tight areas, as well as find space in zone coverages. Barring too much contact, Taylor is a sure-handed receiver who can be trusted to haul in short catches and bring the ball past the sticks. He has explosive second-step burst after catch, and showed great separation after interior receptions to finish big play opportunities.”
Round 7: Center/Guard Chase Roullier (Wyoming)
Weight: 315 pounds
The Packers will most likely be looking for a center/guard in the 2017 draft, as I don’t expect the Packers to re-sign JC Tretter, plus the Packers want to solidify the depth at guard, even if the team re-signs T.J. Lang, which I expect the team to do.
The team can help themselves in both areas by drafting Chase Roullier of Wyoming. Roullier played both center and guard at Wyoming his freshman year and then moved to left guard for the next two seasons, as he was named honorable mention All-Mountain West in 2014 and second-team All-Mountain West in 2015.
In 2016, Roullier returned to the center position and was named first-team All-Mountain West, protecting quarterback Josh Allen and blocking for star running back Brian Hill.
This is what Landry said about Roullier at the East-West Shrine game practices:
“Chase Roullier, OL, Wyoming is much bigger than I thought from what I saw on tape. He’s handling pass protection really well. And he’s opened some eyes this week.”