As NFL teams prepare for the 2017 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) have taken place. As did the other bowl games, as some players didn’t get an opportunity to play in an all-star game.
Next on the agenda is the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which takes place next week, starting on February 28 and lasting until March 6.
We will see prospects either improve or slightly damage their draft stock at the combine, depending on how they do in the various drills.
But no matter what happens at the combine, a prospect can either stand by his performance at the combine or try and improve his numbers at his school’s pro day.
After that comes the actual 2017 NFL draft, which takes place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.
And while all that is happening, teams in the NFL will be able to improve their roster makeup by utilizing free agency, which officially starts on March 9. Depending on who the various teams add to their roster, that will have an impact as to who the team adds to their roster via the draft.
Bottom line, we are still very early in the draft process. It’s difficult to judge at this point where a player may be slotted in the draft, especially for teams like the Green Bay Packers, who have the 29th selection of the first round.
For all my draft stories, I’m going to utilize the insight and expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry for each player that I write about.
Okay, here we go. I’m going to give it a shot and write about seven potential prospects that the Packers may be able to select at pick No. 29. You will note that only one of my choices played prominently on the offensive side of the football.
Linebacker T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)
Weight: 243 pounds
I had the Packers selecting T.J. Watt in my very first mock draft, which I put out last week.
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 recently:
“The more I study him, the more I think Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt can play in any base defense. He can play on the edge in a traditional four man front as well as a standup rusher with drop ability.”
Outside Linebacker Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)
Weight: 265 pounds
Takkarist McKinley played defensive end at UCLA, but also has the potential to become a 3-4 outside linebacker due to his pass-rushing skills and speed.
McKinley really stepped-up his play in 2016 with the Bruins, as he had 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and six pass breakups. That earned McKinley a first-team All-Pac-12 designation.
McKinley has a fast motor and is relentless from sideline to sideline. A number of his tackles were within two yards or less of line of scrimmage, which tells you about his speed in reacting to the football.
Just like with the selection of Watt, McKinley can become a huge asset for the Packers at outside linebacker.
Ted Thompson has drafted a player out of UCLA in the first round of the draft in two out of the last four years. Thompson selected Datone Jones in 2013 in the first round, plus picked Kenny Clark last year in the first round.
This is what Landry recently said about McKinley:
“UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley is very athletic looking on film and should do well at the combine. Expect him to run in the 4.55 range with a vertical jump around 37 inches. McKinley ran a 10.70-second 100-meter dash in high school. McKinley may have shoulder surgery after the Combine, but the impending procedure isn’t expected to affect his testing.”
Safety/Linebacker Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
Weight: 205 pounds
Before he went to Michigan, Jabrill Peppers was the 2013 USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year while playing in New Jersey. Peppers also won the 100 meters and 200 meters at state in both his junior and senior years in high school.
Peppers went to Michigan to play football because of his admiration of Charles Woodson. In his career as a Wolverine, and like Woodson, Peppers helped the team on defense, special teams and on offense.
In 2014, Peppers had a leg injury which sidelined him after three games. In 2015, Peppers was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was also named first-team All-Big Ten, as he had 5.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass break-ups as a defender, 72 rush yards and two touchdowns on offense and a 27.9 yard kick return average and an 11.4 yard punt return average.
In 2016, Peppers was named first-team All-Big Ten once again, plus was named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, as he moved around on the Wolverine defense. Peppers had 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception.
Peppers also rushed for 167 yards and three scores, plus had a punt return for a touchdown (14.8 yard average) and also had a 26 yard average on kickoff returns.
In the NFL, Peppers looks to be a hybrid player on defense, as he has played in the secondary at safety, plus can come up in the box and play the run well at linebacker, plus cover running backs and tight ends in the passing game.
Peppers can play the role that linebacker Joe Thomas now plays for the Packers on passing downs or could be part of the secondary in the nickel and dime looks that the team employs.
This is what Landry said about Peppers recently:
“Michigan LB/S Jabrill Peppers is an intriguing prospect that will ultimately be a will backer in the Deone Buchanon mold, only lacking the frame of Buchanon. Peppers is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds who is built more like a safety but does not have the range and cover skills of a Landon Collins. If he runs and workout well at the Combine as it will show some cover speed that he doesn’t show on tape.”
Cornerback Tre’Davious White (LSU)
Weight: 191 pounds
Tre’Davious White was a four-year starter at cornerback at LSU, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, as he had 55 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, seven passes defended and also had a forced fumble.
In his career at LSU, White had 167 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions (including one for a touchdown), 34 passes defended, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.
After his senior year, White was named as a first-team Walter Camp All-American and All-SEC selection.
White is also an exceptional punt returner, as he had a punt return for a touchdown for three consecutive seasons from 2014-2016.
The Packers desperately need more talent and depth at cornerback and White would surely help in that area, as well as being a possible option in the punt return game which also needs help.
Landry said this recently about White:
“LSU CB Tre’Davious White might be underrated by some in the scouting circles. While he did regress some last season, his ability to shut down receivers when opponents throw his way is rare and he plays a tough, aggressive style. He has first round skills and would be a steal if he falls into round two.”
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (USC)
Weight: 185 pounds
Adoree’ Jackson was a three-year starter at USC at cornerback. Like Peppers did at Michigan, Jackson was a triple-threat on defense, special teams and offense for the Trojans.
On defense in his career at USC, Jackson had 139 total tackles, six tackles for a loss, six interceptions (including one for a touchdown), 28 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
On special teams, Jackson had four kickoff returns for scores, as well as four more in punt returns.
On offense in his career as a Trojan, Jackson had 39 receptions for 628 yards and six touchdowns, as well as rushing for 92 more yards.
Jackson won multiple honors in his career, as he was named a Freshman All-American, Pac-12 Defensive Rookie of the Year and honorable mention All-Pac 12 as a freshman, first-team All-Pac 12 in 2015 and then won the Jim Thorpe Award, as well a being named first-team All-Pac 12 and All-American in 2016.
Thompson has also gone to the well a couple of times to USC in the first round with his selections for the Packers. In 2009, with one of his two first-round selections, Thompson picked Clay Matthews, plus he also selected Nick Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Like White would do, Jackson would be an outstanding addition to the cornerback position, plus would become a huge factor in the return game.
Landry said this last month about Jackson:
“The winner of the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best cornerback, Jackson moonlighted as a receiver and kick returner at USC. Jackson is a twitched-up athlete who reached the qualifiers for the Rio Summer Games in the long jump event. Jackson’s athleticism isn’t in question, but he’ll need to work on his technique. Despite that Thorpe award, Jackson was inconsistent in coverage for a top prospect in 2016. He is built similarly to Adam Jones when he came out of West Virginia.”
Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)
Weight: 200 pounds
Cordrea Tankersley has excellent size for a cornerback. At Clemson, he didn’t play much his first two years as a Tiger, but was named third-team All-ACC in 2015, as he had 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, five interceptions (including one for a touchdown) and had nine passes defended.
In 2016, Tankersley was named first-team All-ACC and third-team Associated Press All-American, as he had 52 tackles, six tackles for a loss, four picks and 11 passes defended.
Tankersley played a big role on the defense for the Tigers as they won the FBS national championship.
Like White and Jackson, Tankersley would be a welcome addition to the cornerback position, plus would add more size.
Before the FBS title game versus Alabama, Landry said this about Tankersley:
“Tankersley likely boosted his stock after coming up with two huge plays in the ACC Championship Game. First, he made a highlight-reel interception by tiptoeing both feet in bounds, then sealed the Tigers’ victory with a diving interception with 1:11 left in the game. It was the first two-interception game of his career. He also broke up another pass and had four tackles.”
Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Weight: 197 pounds
There are probably three running backs in the 2017 NFL draft who may be selected in the first round. Most experts seem to think Leonard Fournette of LSU and Dalvin Cook of FSU will be the first two running backs off the board.
That may mean that Christian McCaffrey might still be available at pick No. 29 when the Packers select. Although the Packers will be focusing to shore up their defense in round one, especially in the secondary, depending on how the team draft board looks, McCaffrey might be an option.
Why? Right now, only Ty Montgomery is a sure thing to play running back in 2017. Eddie Lacy will be an unrestricted free agent and even if the Packers do re-sign him, which I think they will, it will most likely be on one-year deal to prove his worth to the Packers and the rest of the NFL.
Backup Christine Michael has the size and speed you like and has flashed some nice ability, but has proven to be a liability in terms of knowing his assignments, which has been typical of him throughout his NFL career. Michael will also be an unrestricted free agent.
That’s why a player like McCaffrey might be enticing for the Packers to select in the first round, not to mention that he would be an excellent fit for the team on offense.
In his career at Stanford (the same school that Montgomery came out of), McCaffrey rushed for 3,922 yards (6.2 average) and scored 21 touchdowns. In the passing game, McCaffrey had 99 receptions for 1,206 more yards and had 10 scores.
McCaffrey also returned a punt (11.2 average) for a score, as well as a kickoff (26.2 average) for a score.
In 2015, McCaffrey was a consensus All-American, Heisman Trophy finalist, Associated Press and Pac-12 Player of the Year. In 2016, McCaffrey was named first-team All-Pac-12 and Associated Press second-team All-American honors.
Like Montgomery, McCaffrey would create huge mismatches on passing downs out of the backfield, plus would be another player who could help the return game on special teams. Plus, his quick cut ability is a perfect match for Green Bay’s running offense.
Landry said this recently about McCaffrey:
“Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey is one of the more intriguing players in this April’s NFL Draft. He has been compared to a number of players. He is a bigger and faster than Danny Woodhead. He is not as explosive as a Dion Lewis or Reggie Bush but he is an outstanding runner with great vision, balance and body control. While I don’t see him carrying the load, I do see him catching the ball out of the backfield, lined up as a satellite back and getting the ball in a variety of ways. I see him as a cross between Brian Westbrook and Dion Lewis.”