For the second year in a row, the Green Bay Packers selected a very good cornerback with nice upside with their first selection in the NFL draft.
Last year, the Packers traded out of Round 1 (pick No. 29) and picked cornerback Kevin King with pick No. 33.
Last night the Packers once again traded down and then up, this time with new general manager Brian Gutekunst running the show for the very first time. Green Bay had pick No. 14 and had a number of excellent prospects to select from, which included safety Derwin James of Florida State, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech and edge rusher Marcus Davenport of UTSA.
The Packers opted to trade back with the New Orleans Saints, which put the Packers at pick No. 27. The trade also garnered the Packers a fifth round selection in this draft (pick No. 147), plus a first-round pick from the Saints in the 2019 NFL draft.
Gutekunst showed his aggressiveness by trading back up, as he utilized his long association and friendship with John Schneider of the Seattle Seahawks. The Hawks were desperate to get a pick in either the second or third round, as they did not have one in either of those rounds. So the Packers traded their first round pick (pick No. 27), a third round pick (pick No. 76) and a sixth round pick (pick No. 186) to move up to pick No. 18 in the first round, plus got a seventh round pick (pick No. 248) from the Seahawks as well.
With that pick, the Packers selected cornerback Jaire Alexander of Louisville, who ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Speaking of scouts, NFL scout Chris Landry had Alexander ranked fourth on his cornerback draft board and gave him the same 6.4 grade that he gave Josh Jackson of Iowa. That 6.4 classification means potential starter and early second round value. Landry had Alexander ranked No. 37 on his horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position).
Here is the scouting report Landry put out on Alexander prior to the draft:
Tough, instinctive long corner with very good overall athletic ability. Quick burst, fluid hips. changes directions easily and can effectively play off or in press. Can mirror, anticipate and has good hands and and ball skills. He needs to improve his run strength. Not a very good wrap tackler and slow to shed blocks. Fast, fluid productive corner who with improved strength, technique and discipline can be an effective corner on the next level. Has played mostly on outside but has the fluidity and quickness to slide down over the slot. His return skills will add to his value.
Watching the draft unfold last night brought me back to last year’s draft. Then I had predicted that the Packers would select outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round in my final mock draft. Watt was there for the taking at pick No. 29 for the Packers, but Green Bay traded away that pick to Cleveland and on the very next pick (pick No. 30), the Pittsburgh Steelers picked Watt.
Watt ended up being named to the NFL All-Rookie team as he had seven sacks, seven passes defensed, a pick and a forced fumble.
Last night was a case of deja vu for me. I had predicted that the Packers would select Davenport in the first round in my final mock draft this year. Once again, Davenport was there for the taking. But alas, the Packers traded the pick to the Saints and Davenport was the player who New Orleans selected.
Time will tell if Davenport can have the same impact for the Saints this year as Watt had for the Steelers in 2017.
Still, the Packers made a very nice addition to their secondary, as director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan of the Packers said to the media last night.
“Jaire is a guy that we targeted all along,” Sullivan said. “We liked him from the outset. He’s a good football player.
“Very few corners, when they play the game when the ball’s in the air, can you feel them close space. He’s one. When you watch him play, you can feel him close space when the ball’s in the air, both playing forward and backward. The kid can run. On top of that, he’s quick and he can change directions and do those things.
“We’re just excited about the skillset as a whole. We think he has the make up to be a high-caliber player.”
That’s all good, but what will the Packers do on Day 2 of the draft? Right now, the Packers only have one selection, which is pick No. 45 in the second round. That pick will be announced by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer.
It’s also possible that the Packers will try and trade back into the third round, as they have plenty of ammunition to do so, as Green Bay has two fourth round picks and four fifth round picks.
Based on what Gutekunst told the media last night, I think trading back into the third round is a good possibility.
“The way that our board looks now, I would assume we’d move around a little bit,” Gutekunst said. “We have a lot of picks, and there’s areas of the board that we feel really good about, so I would assume that we would.”
So, who will the Packers target tonight? A pass rusher has to be the priority. The good news is that there are still some very good prospects who can help in that regard. In fact, Landry has three of them rated in the top 30 of his horizontal draft board.
Let’s look at those players and the scouting report that Landry has put out on each of them.
No. 23 Harold Landry (Boston College)
May slip do to his lack of production this past season (due to injury) but I feel someone will get a steal as I feel his plays bigger and stronger than his size which helps him play contain effectively and hold down the point. Love his instincts and patience—doesn’t overpursue and rarely out of position. He can be an 3-4 OLB who can play from a 3 point stance in nickel. Top notch competitor, like his athleticism to play pursuit and close to QB with great bend and flexibility.
I had the Packers taking Landry in the first round in my first mock draft. The former Golden Eagle also ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the combine.
No. 24 Arden Key (LSU)
Weight: 238 pounds
Long, athletic pass rusher with a nice get off and burst to get and close the corner. He has instincts to react to and play the ball. On the down side, he has off field issues that still are a question within the league. He played and prepared poorly last year and doesn’t do good job of keeping his body in shape. He needs to improve his upper body strength as he is slow off blocks. Has the pass rush traits to be the top edge rusher off the board but has moved himself down boards due to his attitude and play. A major trust issue for teams but his talent will get him a shot somewhere.
Landry told me earlier this year that if Key didn’t have the issues which have moved his draft stock down, he would most likely would have been a top 10 pick overall.
No. 29 Lorenzo Carter (Georgia)
Weight: 250 pounds
Long, high motor guy with a narrow frame but plays with good strength and power. Shows good edge rush speed, stays low and knows how to string moves together. Shows good instincts and awareness dropping into coverage. He lacks short area quickness and is more of a build up speed guy due to his length. I don’t like him in coverage. I see him as a 3-4 OLB who is better playing forward than backwards.
Carter ran a 4.5 in the 40 at the combine.
If the Packers can nab any of the three players above in the second round, especially either Landry or Key based on their sack production in college, they would have to be thrilled.
Both Landry and Key had great seasons as juniors 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.
Key had 55 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
There is another pass rusher that the Packers might look at if these three players are gone by the time they pick in Round 2. That player is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of Oklahoma. In his last two seasons with the Sooners, Okoronkwo had 146 total tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, two fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles.
Okoronkwo is a little on the short side, as he goes 6’1, 253 pounds, but has been very productive.
Here is Landry’s scouting report on Okoronkwo, who he has rated No. 49 on his horizontal draft board.
Very productive player with a great motor, instincts and strength. He can play Will linebacker in a 4-3 and might also be able to handle the Sam backer position. Shows good pass rush ability with lots of length, plays with strength and is effective in pursuit. He is not comfortable dropping into coverage so I have some concerns about him at linebacker while I don’t see the size allowing him to play down regularly in the league.
Bottom line, the Packers must focus on getting an edge rusher in the second round. A good pass rush will help the secondary problems that the team had last season.
The Packers were tied for 17th in the NFL in sacks last season with 37. That is almost 20 sacks behind the NFL leader, the Steelers, who had 56. The pass rush of the Steelers was certainly helped by the addition of T.J. Watt.
The lack of a potent pass rush by the Packers led to the secondary being exposed last season. Green Bay was ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0.
Not only that, the Packers 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.
So, the focus has to be on getting a better pass rush in Round 2.
In Round 3, if the Packers can trade back into it, the Packers will have a number of positional options. They can add a wide receiver. Or an offensive lineman. Or even another cornerback.
But the first focus tonight should be on improving the pass rush for the Packers in 2018.