Almost a month ago, I put out my first and only 2017 NFL mock draft for the Green Bay Packers thus far. I plan to put out three more before the actual draft begins on April 27, including one later this week. But in my first mock, on February 10, I had the Packers selecting linebacker T.J. Watt of Wisconsin with pick No. 29 in the first round.
Since then, that prognostication has picked up some steam and the Watt to the Packers bandwagon is growing.
This past weekend, Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote that Watt is well-positioned for the Packers to select at pick No. 29.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com put out a mock draft yesterday in which he had the Packers selecting Watt in the first round as well.
NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah was on the Watt bandwagon early like myself, when he had the Pack taking the Wisconsin linebacker at pick No. 29 in early February.
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock won’t put out an actual mock draft until the night before the draft, but he did compare Watt and his skill set to that of Clay Matthews of the Packers recently.
“The easy comparison is Clay Matthews. He’s an edge rusher who fits best into a 3-4 system,” Mayock told MMQB. “He has a similar game to Clay — an edge who can drop in coverage and has a motor that just won’t stop.”
Watt also told the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday that he will be meeting with the Packers soon. That sure won’t stop any speculation about him going to Green Bay in the draft.
Watt certainly didn’t hurt himself in the workouts at the combine on Sunday either. The 6’5″, 243-pound Watt did well in all categories.
Watt finished 12th among linebackers in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.69. Watt also had 21 reps on the bench press which placed him tied for eighth.
But in the other five workout categories, Watt was at or near the top in every one of those drills.
Watt finished second in the vertical jump with a leap of 37 inches. The Pewaukee, Wisconsin native was also tied for first in the broad jump with Jabrill Peppers of Michigan with a jump of 10’8″.
Watt finished second in the 3 cone drill with a time of 6.79. The former Badger also tied for first with Ben Gideon of Michigan in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.13.
Finally, Watt finished first in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.20.
As Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote this past weekend, the primary needs of the Packers are cornerback, inside linebacker and outside linebacker.
Green Bay must feel pretty fortunate going into this draft, as those three positions appear to be very deep.
It might come down to the old best player on Ted Thompson’s board at pick No. 29 when the Packers make that pick.
The outside linebacker position will probably have some clarity for the Packers at the time of the draft, as I expect Green Bay to re-sign Nick Perry and Julius Peppers.
The agent for Peppers, Carl Carey, confirmed to various media outlets today that Peppers will indeed play in the NFL in 2017.
“There has been communication with the Packers, and there’s a tremendous amount of mutual respect between Julius and the Packers organization,” Carey said. “They’ve been great to him over the years, and that carries a lot of weight with him. Of course, free agency is unpredictable, so we’ll see what happens over the next several days.”
Peppers has been injury-free during his three year tenure with the Packers, but he’s also 37 years-old and will be playing in his 16th NFL season. Like in 2016, I expect his snaps to be limited at times in 2017.
Perry (two games missed in 2016 and 20 games missed in his five-year career) and Clay Matthews (four games missed in 2016 and 15 games missed in his eight-year career) have been anything but injury-free, which is another reason why selecting someone like Watt makes a lot of sense.
The Packers also like the upside of second-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, but as Mayock has said, Watt has the playmaking ability of Matthews. That type of ability is hard to find, as No. 52 has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), plus has six interceptions (two for scores) in his career.
If the Packers did select Watt with the 29th pick of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, it would be the first time since 1948 that Green Bay selected a Wisconsin native who also played his college ball for the University of Wisconsin in the first round.
The Packers selected back Earl “Jug” Girard of the Badgers in 1948. Girard hailed from Marinette, Wisconsin.
Finally, the Packers have to be looking at the lineage of the Watt family in the NFL. Brother Derek, who also played at Wisconsin, is a fullback with the now Los Angeles Chargers and is 24 years-old.
But the brother that people will certainly compare T.J. with is J.J., who has won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times with the Houston Texans.
Like his brother J.J., who will turn 28-years-old on March 22, T.J. first started out as a tight end in college and then became a talented late-bloomer on defense with the Badgers. The comparisons are striking.
Bottom line, if the Packers do select T.J. Watt and if he comes anywhere close to the production of his brother J.J. in the NFL, the team would have to be ecstatic.