The 2018 NFL draft will take place starting on April 26 and will last through April 28. This year the location is AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The draft process is now situated in Indianapolis, where the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium and is on it’s final day.
Up until now, we have seen the bowl games, plus the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl).
After the combine is over, the final step in the draft process for prospects will be the workouts that they will have at their various school’s pro days.
The Green Bay Packers go into this draft knowing that they will have 12 picks, which is tied with the Cleveland Browns in terms of having the most selections in the draft.
Unlike the last 13 NFL drafts for the Packers, Ted Thompson will not have the final say as to whom the Packers will select this year. Thompson has moved on from his role as general manager of the Pack to one in an advisory role and he was replaced as GM by Brian Gutekunst, who is going into his 20th year in the Green Bay organization.
Gutekunst, who is 44, has served in a number of capacities with the Packers, which includes being a scouting intern, East Coast scout, director of college scouting and as director of player personnel.
Gutekunst sees this upcoming draft class as being very solid.
“I think it’s a good class, it’s intriguing. I think it’s a strong secondary group, you know?,” Gutekunst said while speaking to the media at the combine last Wednesday. “I think the interior of the offensive line group is pretty strong. I think there’s depth at quarterback. There’s a lot of pieces that haven’t been answered yet, questions that haven’t been answered yet. We have 12 picks, and I think it’s a good class to get after those guys with 12 picks.”
In terms of the mock draft I’m doing, this will be the first of four. I have been doing mock drafts for the Packers since my days at Packer Report, which goes back 16 years.
I have had a decent track record over the years with my projections, which is a combination of getting excellent insight and information from NFL scout Chris Landry, as well as sometimes being like a blind squirrel who still finds an acorn.
In this mock draft, you will note that I have utilized a couple of things I am very familiar with. One is the East-West Shrine Game, which is played locally here in St. Petersburg and where I am often a spectator.
The other is the University of Wisconsin, a football program I have grown close to, ever since Kevin Cosgrove (a college buddy) became an assistant coach there under Barry Alvarez in 1990 and later became his defensive coordinator from 1995 through 2003.
That period saw the Badgers win three Big Ten titles, as well as three Rose Bowl wins.
In this past East-West Shrine Game, the Badgers had four of their players in the game and one of those players, safety Natrell Jamerson, was Defensive MVP of the game.
Adding to that, the hiring of Mike Pettine as the defensive coordinator of the Packers sets up a connection between someone he is very familiar with. I’m talking about Jim Leonhard, the defensive coordinator of the Badgers.
I see that association as being an inroad for the Packers possibly adding a couple of Badgers on their roster via the 2018 NFL draft, as well as possibly signing a couple as undrafted rookie free agents.
In this mock draft, I will not utilize any trades, although I believe Gutekunst will most likely go down that road in this draft. I also see Gutekunst using free agency more often than Thompson did, which also will play a part on the position players I select in this draft.
Speaking of free agency, Pro Football Talk says that Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported today that defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson will be visiting the Packers soon, once he is officially released by the New York Jets. I wrote about the possibility of Wilkerson joining the Packers on March 1.
The bottom line in this mock draft is that I will be picking five players who played in the recent East-West Shrine Game, plus I will be selecting two Badgers, one of whom played in that game.
So, without further adieu, here is my initial 2018 NFL mock draft for the Pack.
Round 1: Outside Linebacker Harold Landry (Boston College)
Weight: 250 pounds
I talked to NFL scout Chris Landry last week to get his take on both Harold Landry of Boston College and Marcus Davenport of UTSA (Texas-San Antonio) in terms of their pass rushing ability. I also wanted to get his read on who he would select if both were on the board and if he happened to be the GM of a team like the Packers.
Landry told me that he likes both players a lot, but based on recent play, like at the Senior Bowl, not to mention what happened at the combine on Sunday, Davenport (ran 4.58 in the 40) would be the player he would pick.
That being said, Chris Landry also likes Harold Landry quite a bit. Going into the 2017 season, the NFL scout had the BC star ranked sixth overall on his 2018 NFL draft board. There is a good reason for that. In 2016, Landry had 50 total tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed and seven forced fumbles. The number of sacks and forced fumbles led the country in those categories.
That led to Landry getting multiple All-American honors, as well as being named first-team All-ACC. But things were different in 2017, as Landry played through an ankle injury. Still, he still earned third-team All-ACC honors with 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, and two pass breakups.
Landry didn’t play in the Senior Bowl because of the ankle injury, but he looked very athletic and healthy at the combine on Sunday. He ran a 4.64 in the 40, had 24 reps in the bench press, jumped 36 inches in the vertical jump, leaped 119 inches (9.9 feet) in the broad jump, ran 6.88 seconds in the 3 cone drill, ran 4.19 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and ran 11.35 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle.
At this point of the draft for the Packers (pick No. 14), I see the two top pass rushers (Bradley Chubb and Davenport) off the board. Still, selecting Landry here would be quite the consolation prize, as he definitely lives in the same neighborhood with both Chubbs and Davenport.
Round 2: Cornerback Mike Hughes (Central Florida)
Weight: 191 pounds
The situation at cornerback for the Packers is definitely in a state of flux. The secondary for the team was just horrible last season. For one thing, the Packers were ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0.
Not only that, Green Bay also allowed opposing QBs to complete 67.8 percent of their passes. The Pack also allowed 30 touchdown passes and only had 11 picks. The defense also allowed 55 completions of 20 yards or better.
Plus, their top pick from last year’s draft, cornerback Kevin King, played hurt all season with a shoulder injury, although he flashed very good ability when he played. The Packers are confident King will recover fully from a medical procedure this offseason to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
The good news for the Packers in terms of the cornerback play last season was the way Damarious Randall performed for the most part in 2017. Randall was the No. 1 pick for the Packers in 2015. Still, Randall has been on and off with his play in his tenure in Green Bay, so nothing is a given.
In that same 2015 draft, the Packers selected cornerback Quinten Rollins in the second round. Rollins, who will never be known for his speed, showed some good awareness for the football at times, but he unfortunately had an Achilles rupture last year which ended his season. That injury also clouds his future in the NFL.
The bottom line is that the Packers need to add at least one cornerback to their roster in this draft and most likely two. The first one they draft should have the ability to start immediately. That takes me to a player I saw quite a bit in 2017 here in FLA. That player is cornerback Mike Hughes of UCF.
Hughes is not only a great cornerback, as he had 49 total tackles, four interceptions (one for a score), 11 passes defended and one forced fumble for the 13-0 Knights, but he was also a very dangerous kick returner as well.
Hughes had two kickoff returns for touchdowns for UCF in 2017, plus also had a punt return for a score.
At the combine, Hughes ran a 4.53 in the 40, plus had 20 reps on the bench press.
In scouting Hughes, Landry compared his ability to Marcus Peters, now of the Los Angeles Rams. In a deep cornerback class, Landry said Hughes will be one to watch, because he is an excellent press corner with versatility.
Round 3: Wide Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame)
Weight: 214 pounds
At this point, all is quiet on the wide receiver front for the Packers. That will probably change at some point. Why? That’s because both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will most likely be looking at getting their contracts renegotiated to a lower price, especially with the re-signing of Davante Adams to a four-year $58 million contract extension.
Nelson is set to have a cap number of $12.5 million this year, while Cobb will have a cap hit of $12.7 million according to Over The Cap. I expect at least one of them to re-do their current contract, even with the NFL salary cap going up to at least $178 million in 2018. We shall see.
But either way, I see the Packers adding to the receiver corp in this draft, probably twice, as Nelson will be 33 in May and while Cobb will only be 28 in August, No. 18 has had his fair share of injury woes.
One receiver who has great size and speed who should interest the Packers is Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame.
Not only is St. Brown 6’5″, 214 pounds, but he also ran the 40 in 4.48 seconds and had 20 reps in the bench press at the combine. St. Brown’s numbers at Notre Dame are a bit uneven, but that is mostly due to the mediocre QB play this past season.
In 2016, when DeShone Kizer was his QB, St. Brown had 58 receptions for 961 yards (16.6 average) and nine touchdowns. This past season, those numbers fell to 33 catches for 515 yards and four TDs.
But his size speed and athleticism have always been off the charts. Landry said this about St. Brown heading into the 2017 college season:
BREAKOUT STAR: WR Equanimeous St. Brown — He has a terrific opportunity to produce as the No. 1 wideout in Notre Dame’s revamped offense. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is known as an innovator despite being only 34 years old, and he could find ways to open up St. Brown in the passing game. Many experts considered the 6-foot-5, 203-pound receiver as a top-100 recruit when he committed to the Fighting Irish as a high school standout in Anaheim, Calif.
Round 4: Offensive Lineman Mason Cole (Michigan)
Weight: 305 pounds
Offensive lineman Mason Cole is from nearby Tarpon Springs, Florida and was a star at East Lake High School before heading to Ann Arbor to play at Michigan.
Cole’s versatility is something that the Packers love to see in an offensive lineman. Cole started 25 games at left tackle in 2014 and 2015, before moving to center for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Cole was named second-team All-Big Ten in both 2016 and 2017 and was honorable mention in 2015.
Cole also told the media at the combine that he would love to play for the Packers and a quarterback who wears No. 12.
“I think that’s one of the crazier things about playing in the NFL, especially as a rookie,” Cole said. “I’ve grown up my whole life watching guys like Aaron Rodgers play football. And to have a chance to be his center, be an offensive lineman for him next year, I mean that’s just incredible to think about: How fast time flies and how great of a journey this has been.”
At the combine, Cole had 23 reps in the bench press and ran a 5.23 in the 40.
Cole was also named to the Senior Bowl, where Landry had this to say about Cole’s practice performances in Mobile:
Tuesday: Terrific day for Cole, who lined up at center. Fundamentally sound and blocked with proper knee bend and leverage. Quick, explosive and strong at the point. Handled opponents in one-on-ones and looked good during scrimmage.
Wednesday: Another really good day for Cole. Smart, tough and blocks with great fundamentals. Agile and also strong but must learn to finish run blocks.
Round 4 (compensatory): Tight End Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)
Weight: 248 pounds
In four years at Wisconsin, Troy Fumagalli had 135 receptions for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns. After the 2017 season, in which he had 38 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns, No. 81 was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. In addition to that, Fumagalli won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award in the Big Ten.
In 2016, Fumagalli was named second-team All-Big Ten, plus was named Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP, as he caught six throws for 83 yards and a touchdown in the 24-16 victory over Western Michigan.
Like Cole, Fumagalli would love to play for the Packers after he met with both Gutekunst and tights ends coach Brian Angelichio.
“I want to show I love the game and that I’m a complete tight end,” said Fumagalli via Packers.com. “I’ve been asked over the years to run block, to pass block, to catch.
“Just being reliable, being there whenever (the QB) needed me, that’s something I always took pride in. Clutch situations I want to be that guy. I want the ball in my hands. I want to make a play for them.”
It’s important to note that Fumagalli has only nine fingers, as he lost the index finger on his left hand at birth. Still, Fumagalli estimated that he dropped only one pass per season as a Badger.
On his first practice day at the Senior Bowl, Fumagalli showed some nervousness at times catching the ball, but overall Landry was impressed with his catching ability and blocking:
Tuesday: Struggled in a number of areas catching the ball but looked really good blocking.
Wednesday: Plays like a big-bodied tight end. Tough. Not spectacular in any area rather very efficient as a blocker and pass catcher.
Fumagalli did not run at the combine, but did 14 reps in the bench press. Expect to see Fumagalli run at the Wisconsin pro day.
Round 5: Cornerback Tony Brown (Alabama)
Weight: 198 pounds
When you look at the statistics, Tony Brown of Alabama doesn’t stick out to you. One reason was because he was part of a very talented defensive backfield. Plus, he was a part-time starter and who also filled the role of the nickelback.
In his career with the Crimson Tide, Brown had 86 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, three interceptions (including one in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game), five passes defended and one forced fumble.
But there is a lot more to like about Brown. For one, he is very fast. Brown ran a 4.35 at the combine, plus he earned first team All-America honors in track and field in the spring of 2015 in the 4×400 meter relay .
Brown is also a stalwart on special teams and is a very good tackler in run support.
Bad tackling and a lack of speed have become issues in the Green Bay secondary, plus it’s always a plus to improve special teams, which is why Brown would be a great value here.
Round 5 (compensatory): Linebacker Micah Kiser (Virginia)
Weight: 238 pounds
Micah Kiser led the ACC in tackles each of the past three years and in 2017 won the Campbell Trophy, the academic Heisman of college football.
In his career at Virginia, Kiser had 408 total tackles, 33.5 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, one interception, 12 passes defended, six fumble recoveries and eight forced fumbles.
As one can see by that stat line, Kiser was a magnet to the football.
At the Senior Bowl, Kiser left after one practice due to a lingering knee injury, but this is what Landry said about him in a Senior Bowl preview:
Micah Kiser was underrated entering the season, but the Virginia linebacker built off solid sophomore and junior seasons in 2017 to make himself into a legitimate second-day prospect. He’ll have an opportunity to put his sideline-to-sideline speed, motor and instincts on display in Mobile, and he could jolt his stock if he shows well in coverage — an ability he’s flashed at times in his career.
Kiser did work out at the combine and fared pretty well, as he ran a 4.66 in the 40, jumped 35.5 inches in the vertical jump, leaped 121 inches in the broad jump, ran 7.05 seconds in the 3 cone drill and ran 4.24 in the 20-yard shuttle.
The Packers need to add quality depth at the inside linebacker position and bringing on a player like Kiser certainly does that.
Round 5 (compensatory): Wide Receiver Daurice Fountain (Northern Iowa)
Weight: 210 pounds
Daurice Fountain’s hometown is Madison, Wisconsin, where he went to James Madison Memorial High School, where he was named first-team All-State at wide receiver.
In four seasons at Northern Iowa, Fountain caught 150 passes for 2,077 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Landry said this about Fountain after he was named Offensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Game, as he had three receptions for 61 yards (20.3 average).
Speed was not an issue for Fountain, and neither was catching the ball. Fountain caught the ball very well, except he was doing it at full speed, down the field and running past defenders. I was also impressed by his feistiness and willingness to compete. He leaves Shrine week with a draft grade a full round higher than the one he arrived with in St. Petersburg.
Landry also said this about how Fountain practiced that week.
Fountain showed flashes of ability during the initial two Shrine practices then really pulled it together on Wednesday morning and was the top receiver on the field. He catches the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to win out for contested passes. Fountain was probably the fastest receiver on the field during East practice, showing a terrific burst and the ability to outrun defenders down the sidelines. He looks primed to be a fourth or fifth man on the depth chart at the next level, and displaying return skills during Saturday’s game will only enhance his draft stock.
For some unfathomable reason, even after his performance in the East-West Shrine Game, Fountain was not invited to the combine.
Fountain will have to make due working out for NFL teams at his pro day.
Round 6: Running Back Justin Jackson (Northwestern)
Weight: 193 pounds
In four seasons at Northwestern, Jackson rushed for 5,440 yards and 41 touchdowns, plus caught 122 passes for 858 yards and another score.
Jackson was named honorable mention All-Big Ten his freshman year as a Wildcat, plus was named second-team All-Big Ten in his three remaining years at Northwestern.
Jackson also played in the 2018 East-West Shrine Game, where he rushed for 39 yards in just seven carries. Jackson also caught five passes for 17 yards.
Landry said this about Jackson prior to the 2018 Big Ten season:
Northwestern senior RB Justin Jackson looks like one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the best but Jackson slotted in right behind, followed by Iowa’s Akrum Wadley and Ohio State’s Mike Weber. This past season, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Jackson rushed for a healthy 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns across 13 games played. If he were to rush for 2,277 yards during the coming season, he would exit his Northwestern career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher. As productive as he has been, that mark is probably beyond the pale for the Northwestern standout.
Jackson ran a 4.52 in the 40 at the combine, plus did 13 reps on the bench press, jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical jump, leaped 122 inches in the broad jump, ran 6.81 seconds in the 3 cone drill, ran 4.07 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and ran 11.06 in the 60-yard shuttle.
The Packers invigorated their running attack last season, as two rookies (Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones) stood out. The other rookie who was drafted last season, Devante Mays, did not fare well when given limited opportunities (two fumbles).
Ty Montgomery has been too injury prone, both at running back and wide receiver.
Adding a back like Jackson make sense, because he not only adds to the depth at RB, but also because he is made for the type of offense that the Packers run.
Round 6 (compensatory): Outside Linebacker Joe Ostman (Central Michigan)
Weight: 255 pounds
In his last two seasons at Central Michigan, Joe Ostman had 129 total tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, 21 sacks, two fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles.
In the East-West Shrine Game, Ostman had six tackles, which included one sack.
One can never have enough players who can rush the passer in the NFL, so Ostman is an excellent value in Round 6.
Landry had Ostman rated among the top overall graded players in the MAC.
Like Fountain, Ostman was not invited to the combine, so he will work out for NFL teams at his pro day.
Round 7: Safety Natrell Jamerson (Wisconsin)
Weight: 198 pounds
Natrell Jamerson really helped himself with a solid senior season at Wisconsin, as the safety had 51 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions (one for a touchdown) and 10 passes defended.
Jamerson also has experience at cornerback as well, as he played there as a sophomore and as a junior.
As I mentioned earlier, the secondary of the Packers was a mess in 2017. The safeties did not exactly stand out either. Morgan Burnett will be an unrestricted free agent, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took a definite step back with his play last season and rookie Josh Jones missed way too many assignments.
Picking a player who can play both safety and cornerback, plus was well-coached at Wisconsin is a no-brainer here in Round 7.
Landry said this about Jamerson after the opening day of practice at the East-West Shrine Game:
Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson had an impressive opening day. In the team scrimmage, he flew across the field to track down an interception in front of a receiver and cornerback. It was a very nice play as Jamerson showed speed and an ability to track the ball. Jamerson (6-0, 198) is a versatile athlete who could end up really helping himself this week.
Jamerson was named Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, as he scooped up a fumble and ran it back 68 yards for a touchdown.
At the combine, Jamerson ran a 4.40 in the 40 and had 25 reps in the bench press.
Round 7 (via trade): Quarterback Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech)
Weight: 225 pounds
There is no doubt that the Packers are going to do at least two things this offseason regarding the quarterback position. One will be to re-do the contract of Aaron Rodgers and make him the highest paid QB in the NFL (at least at the time). Secondly, the Packers are definitely going to add some competition to the depth chart at the QB position, seeing as to how badly Brett Hundley struggled at times last season in relief of an injured Rodgers.
I see the Packers adding a veteran free-agent NFL QB, perhaps someone like Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, who has worked under Joe Philbin there. With Philbin back now as offensive coordinator, Moore would appear to be a good fit.
I also see the Packers drafting a QB. If one of the top QBs fall into their lap at No. 14, I would expect the Packers to possibly select that QB (depending on who he is), similar to what Thompson did in the 2005 NFL draft when he selected Rodgers at pick No. 24, or to trade the pick to someone like the quarterback-needy Arizona Cardinals, who have the next pick at No. 15. Just by trading spots with the Cards, the Packers would be able to get an additional fourth round pick. Or, perhaps someone like the Los Angeles Chargers (pick No. 17) would want to trade up, due to the age of Philip Rivers. That would net the Packers an additional third round pick.
But more likely than that is to select a QB between the fifth and seventh rounds of the draft. One quarterback who falls into that scenario is Nic Shimonek of Texas Tech.
Shimonek has put up some pretty good numbers in 2017 and also in a brief glimpse of him in 2016. In that period, Shimonek threw 39 touchdown passes versus 11 interceptions for 4,427 yards.
In 2017, Shimonek led the Big 12 in pass completions and was named honorable mention All-Big 12.
Shimonek ran a 4.88 in the 40 at the combine and has shown some good ability to throw on the run.
Landry said this about Shimonek after the first practice at the East-West Shrine Game:
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek had a decent first practice of the week. Some team sources were remarking that Shimonek has a live arm and Texas Tech runs more pro concepts than many people realize. Shimonek could be the top quarterback to watch on the West squad this week.
Shimonek threw the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass for the West with just a little over a minute remaining in the Shrine game, as the West beat the East 14-10. Overall, Shimonek was 12-of-18 for 105 yards with one touchdown pass and no picks in the game. That added up to a passer rating of 100.5.