We are now less than a month away from the 2017 NFL draft, which will take place in Philadelphia on April 27 and run through the 29th. The Green Bay Packers will have eight picks in the draft, one in each of the seven rounds, plus a compensatory selection in the fifth round.
There has been a lot of activity on the roster of the Packers since I did my first mock draft back in early February. I wrote about some of that activity in my second mock draft in the middle of March.
The Packers have lost a number of unrestricted free agents, as center/guard JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns, defensive back Micah Hyde signed with the Buffalo Bills, outside linebacker Julius Peppers signed with the Carolina Panthers, right guard T.J. Lang signed with the Detroit Lions, running back Eddie Lacy signed with the Seattle Seahawks and outside linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
In addition tight end Jared Cook signed with the Oakland Raiders, but that move came after Ted Thompson shocked the football world by signing an unrestricted free agent who had not been released by his team yet.
That player was tight end Martellus Bennett, formerly of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Shortly after that move, the Packers signed another tight end, Lance Kendricks, but that move came after Kendricks was released by the Los Angeles Rams.
Thompson prefers to sign unrestricted free agents who were previously released by the former teams. Why? Because that way the signing won’t have any bearing on the compensatory draft formula for the following draft.
But when you sign an unrestricted free agent who is still with his current team, that does factor into the compensatory formula.
All that being said, the Packers still look to get a number of compensatory picks in the 2018 NFL draft, based on the seven free agents that they have lost this offseason.
The Packers have been able to keep a number of their own free agents on the roster, as this list includes outside linebacker Nick Perry, offensive lineman Don Barclay, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, outside linebacker Jordan Tripp and running back Christine Michael.
Than there are the players who are exclusive rights free agents. The list includes punter Jacob Schum (signed his exclusive rights contract), inside linebacker Joe Thomas (received tender offer), defensive lineman Christian Ringo (received tender offer), wide receiver Geronimo Allison (received tender offer), running back Don Jackson (signed tender offer), running back John Crockett (did not receive tender offer) and fullback Joe Kerridge (received tender offer).
Besides Kendricks, the Packers signed two other unrestricted free agents who were released by the former teams, as they signed cornerback Davon House, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars ( House was also a Packer from 2011-2014) and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, formerly of the Washington Redskins.
The Packers also signed “street” free agent guard Justin McCray.
So with all those moves, the Packers still appear to be short-handed at running back, plus need quality depth in the defensive backfield, the interior offensive line and at linebacker.
In this mock draft, I will not be selecting any players I selected in the first two mock drafts I have done previously. That will change when I do my final mock draft the week of the actual draft.
Like I do with all my draft work, I am utilizing the expertise and insight from NFL scout Chris Landry from both our conversations and also information from his fine website. In fact, for this mock draft, I will be utilizing the vertical draft boards Landry has set up for prospects at various positions and also his horizontal draft board, which lists the best players regardless of their position.
Landry explains the process on his site:
After teams set their VERTICAL draft board (positions), they prepare their HORIZONTAL draft board (best players regardless of position) with each team establishing a Top 150 overall board based on grades, which means the “150” board can range anywhere from 120-200 players depending on how the grades fall in each of the 32 draft rooms.
In this mock draft, Landry will add an observation about each player I select. In the late rounds, keep in mind that I am looking for players who not only add quality depth at their respective positions, but who also can help improve the 29th-ranked special teams units for the Packers.
Okay, enough of that, it’s time to draft.
Round 1: Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Weight: 202 pounds
This pick may or may not shock some people. But if any of the three top running backs in this draft (Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey) are still on the board at pick No. 29, my guess is that the Packers will select one of them. The Packers met with Cook at the combine as a matter of fact.
The Packers currently have three running backs on their roster, Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Don Jackson. Montgomery is the only sure bet to be on the roster when the 2017 season begins.
To me, McCaffrey would be the best option for the Packers at running back if he was still available. And he could be, as Landry has McCaffrey ranked No. 23 on his horizontal draft board.
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.
McCaffrey excelled at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he ran a 4.48 in the 40, plus was among the best in the vertical jump, the 3 cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle.
This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report about McCaffrey:
“Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey has been compared to former Cardinal Ty Montgomery, but he is a better runner than Montgomery, a better catcher, he’s more explosive, more agile and he’s faster. Montgomery is more of a straight-line guy.
“McCaffery is a jack-of-all-trades guy who can be your returner and give you 15 snaps a game at RB. McCaffrey is a skilled running back but would also rank as one of the best WR’s in this draft as well. He is the type that needs to get 18-25 touches per game.
“The NFL’s become a matchup league, and Christian McCaffrey is a matchup player. You can line him up anywhere: the I, slot, all the way out wide, wing back. Under a creative offensive mind, he becomes even more valuable. I see him as a better version of Dion Lewis with a little Brian Westbrook in his game.”
Round 2: Outside Linebacker Jordan Willis (Kansas State)
Weight: 255 pounds
Jordan Willis had 115 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his career at Kansas State.
The 6’4″, 255-pound Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, plus was named first-team All-Big 12 and also third-team Associated Press All-American as a defensive end.
Willis opened some eyes at the combine, as he ran a 4.53 in the 40, plus had a 39 inch vertical jump.
Although he played defensive end in college, the former Wildcat will offset the losses of both Julius Peppers and Datone Jones at outside linebacker in the Green Bay 3-4 scheme.
Willis is ranked No. 55 on Landry’s horizontal draft.
This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report On Willis:
“Willis should be able to earn a roster spot and work his way up the pecking order in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He was easily one of the best all-around performers at the NFL Scouting Combine and plays with a great motor on film.
“While he is a straight-liner and deliberate as a pass rusher, his motor and speed will land him a spot. He is more gifted than Jared Allen was coming out of college and if he continues to work, he could have a good career of his own.”
Round 3: Center/Guard Tyler Orlosky (West Virginia)
Weight: 298 pounds
Tyler Orlosky was a three-star offensive guard recruit out of high school, when he passed on offers from Big Ten programs like Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois, and instead enrolled at West Virginia. Orlosky played guard while playing with the West Virginia scout team as a redshirt freshman. After that, Orlosky developed into a fine center.
After starting three games at center in 2013 for West Virginia, Orlosky has remained a fixture at the position ever since and started every game at center from 2014 through 2016.
Orlosky was also team captain. He received second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015 and then was named first-team All-Big 12 as a senior.
Orlosky has the skill set to play well at both guard and center, which is what the Packers need right now.
The former Mountaineer only participated in the bench press drill at the combine, where he had 24 reps.
Landry has Orlosky ranked No. 99 on his horizontal draft board.
This is part of what Landry said in his scout report on Orlosky:
“Orlosky played guard in high school and wanted to stay at that position in Morgantown, but he saw center as his opportunity to see early playing time, making the switch as a redshirt freshman and developing into an All-American as a senior.
“Although not a rangy, explosive mover, he competes with physical hands and the tenacious mentality to tie up defenders at the line of scrimmage. If he can improve his sink and mirror skills in space, Orlosky has the brute power and protection awareness to win a starting role and make all the line calls in the NFL.”
Round 4: Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado)
Weight: 198 pounds
Ahkello Witherspoon was part of a great secondary at Colorado, as he tied with teammate Tedric Thompson with a nation-leading 23 passes defensed in 2016. Witherspoon also had one pick and 22 passes broken up for the season.
In 2015 as a part-time starter, Witherspoon had two interceptions and four passes broken up. In the past two seasons, Witherspoon had 64 total tackles.
Witherspoon tested well at the combine, as he ran a 4.45 40, plus had a 40.5 inch vertical jump, which was tops among cornerbacks. He also did the 60-yard shuttle in 11.60 seconds, which put him in fourth place in that category.
The former Buffalo has been compared to Richard Sherman due to his size/speed and he will definitely enhance a position that struggled mightily at times last season for the Packers.
This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report about Witherspoon:
“A two-year starter at Colorado, Witherspoon played primarily at right cornerback in press-man technique, blossoming as a senior with his impressive ball production to put his name on the NFL radar. He has the physical traits that immediately draw the eye and his classroom smarts (graduated high school with 4.4 GPA; pre-med student at CU) translate on film.
“Witherspoon is still very young in football years and admittedly still learning the position, but his long frame, quick feet and developing instincts are intriguing traits worth developing – long-term NFL starting potential and one of the more underrated players in this class.”
Round 5: Running Back Brian Hill (Wyoming)
Weight: 219 pounds
Brian Hill had a great career at Wyoming, as rushed for 4,287 yards (5.5 average) and 35 touchdowns. Hill also caught 41 passes in his career for 403 yards.
In 2015, Hill was named second-team All-Mountain West, while this past season, Hill was named first-team All-Mountain West.
At the combine, Hill ran a 4.54 in the 40 and looked very sharp in the broad jump and the 60-yard shuttle.
Hill will compete for a roster spot with Michael and Jackson at running back. He could definitely enhance his chances of making the team by becoming a regular contributor on special teams.
This is part of what Landry said in his scouting report on Hill:
“A two-year starter at Wyoming, Hill was a durable, productive workhorse for the Cowboys, rushing for 135.9 yards per game as a sophomore and 132.9 yards per game as a junior. He is at his best off tackle where he can stretch runs outside, using his speed, open-field toughness and hungry run appetite to gash defenses.
“Overall, Hill has the run toughness, play speed and consistent production that projects well to the next level, but he is undeveloped as an inside runner and needs to improve his patience and reliability on third downs to get (and stay) on the field.”
Round 5 (compensatory): Outside linebacker Carroll Phillips (Illinois)
Weight: 242 pounds
In 2015 with the Fighting Illini, when he started three games, Carroll Phillips had 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks. In 2016, when he became a full-time starter, the player known as “Wild Man”, had 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
For his performance last season, Phillips was named first-team All-Big Ten. At Illinois, Phillips played defensive end, but he has all the attributes to become an effective outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Phillips showed nice speed at the combine, as he ran a 4.64 40.
Like Willis, Phillips will help offset the losses of Peppers and Jones at outside linebacker. Plus he has the temperament to become a terror on special teams.
This is what Landry said about Phillips after watching him at a Senior Bowl practice:
“Today was a big win for Phillips. He was terrific standing up over tackle looking quick, fast and fluid. He made plays in every direction of the field, looked forceful on the blitz and did not embarrass himself in coverage drills.”
Round 6: Linebacker Connor Harris (Lindenwood)
Weight: 242 pounds
Connor Harris has been called a poor man’s Chris Borland, due to his size and his tenacity on the football field. In his career at Lindenwood, Harris became the the NCAA All-Division record holder with 633 career tackles.
Harris was named first-team All-American and 2016 Cliff Harris Award award winner as the top defender in Divisions II, III and NAIA. In addition to that, Harris was a three-time first-team All-Midwest Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) pick.
Harris also received some playing time as a running back (50-328, seven touchdowns) and as a punter.
At the combine, Harris ran a 4.73 in the 40, but was among the best at linebacker in the 60-yard shuttle.
Harris would add some depth at the inside linebacker position, but his biggest contribution would be on special teams where he looks to be a demon.
This is what Landry said about Harris after watching him at a Senior Bowl practice:
“Harris had a tough time handling blocks but looked really good otherwise. He was solid against the run and looked fluid and smooth moving in reverse.”
Round 7: Safety Montae Nicholson (Michigan State)
Weight: 212 pounds
When you look at Montae Nicholson, he has everything that you would want as defensive back. Good size and good speed.
But Nicholson’s problem is being timid at times about tackling. Still, in the last two seasons, Nicholson had 169 tackles, which is not bad. The former Spartan also had four passes broken up and had four interceptions in that time.
Nicholson’s speed will definitely help the secondary of the Packers, plus better tackling technique can be taught.
Nicholson is another player who can improve the special teams units.
This is what Landry said about Nicholson after watching him at the NFL Scouting Combine:
“Michigan State S Montae Nicholson notched a 40-yard dash of 4.42 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday. Nicholson’s 4.42 seconds tied USC do-everything DB Adoree’ Jackson for ninth sharpest among defensive backs during Monday’s tests. Despite that top time, he might have trouble drawing interest in the draft this April as he lacks the ideal aggressiveness needed.”