The 2019 NFL draft is about five weeks away. Every NFL team, including the Green Bay Packers, have pretty much put together their draft board.
This is because of all the hard work that the scouts and those in the front office have done, as they have scouted the bowl games, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl), the NFL Scouting Combine and finally the pro days, which are still ongoing.
The Packers are going into the upcoming draft with a new head (Matt LaFleur), as well as a general manager (Brian Gutekunst) who has only been on the job for a little over a year.
Things certainly aren’t the same in Green Bay like they were when Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy were the tandem at general manager and head coach. The two had a nice run together, as McCarthy had a record of 121-70-1 while Thompson was his GM.
That record included six NFC North titles and nine playoff appearances.
But even though his team won Super Bowl XLV, the Packers under McCarthy did not fare as well in the postseason overall, as he was just 10-8, which included four overtime losses.
And during that tenure, Thompson mostly built the team through the draft and rarely dipped his toes into the free agency waters. He did strike gold with both Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers, but both were signed after they were cut from their previous teams.
Thompson hardly ever signed a UFA (unrestricted free agent). In fact, from 2010 through 2017, Thompson signed just four UFAs.
That certainly wasn’t the case last year in the first year under Gutekunst as GM, as he signed two UFAs, tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive back Tramon Williams. Plus he also signed defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson (after he was cut by the New York Jets).
Wilkerson signed a one-year deal last year and is now a UFA and speculation seems to indicate that he will return to Green Bay.
If people thought Gutekunst was aggressive last year, that was nothing compared to what he did a few days ago.
Gutekunst signed four UFAs in one day last week when he signed edge rusher Preston Smith (formerly of the Washington Redskins), edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens), safety Adrian Amos (formerly of the Chicago Bears) and offensive lineman Billy Turner (formerly of the Denver Broncos).
To say the least, Packer Nation was abuzz.
The Packers did release outside linebacker Nick Perry and inside linebacker Jake Ryan is now headed to the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent.
The odds of seeing Clay Matthews back as a Packer appear to be slim, and if he did return he would be slotted as an inside linebacker for the most part. Wide receiver Randall Cobb also looks to be gone, unless he agrees to a much smaller contract.
Speaking of Cobb, he is currently visiting the Dallas Cowboys as I write this. Plus, former Packer Jordy Nelson, who was released by the Oakland Raiders last week, is currently visiting the Seattle Seahawks.
I still expect Aaron Rodgers to improve on his performance last year, which was hindered by a knee injury in Game 1 that affected his mobility for several weeks, not to mention his disconnect with McCarthy in terms of how to run the offense.
I definitely see things improving for Rodgers under LaFleur.
In terms of doing my first mock draft at this somewhat late stage, I have been working on a book project with Jerry Kramer, and that is where most of my time allotment has gone. I have been doing mock drafts for the Packers for almost two decades now and normally I do at least four each year. This year there will be just two.
I have had decent success with my selections throughout the years and a lot of it is due to the relationship I have struck with NFL scout Chris Landry.
As you look through my draft selections, especially later in the draft, please note that I am trying to address the special teams issues that the Packers have had recently and are now trying to improve with new coaches.
In this year’s draft, like a blind squirrel, I certainly hope that I can find some acorns with my picks.
With that, it’s time for my first mock draft for the Pack in 2019.
Round 1: Edge Rusher Montez Sweat (Mississippi State)
Weight: 260 pounds
Montez Sweat put together two fantastic years at Mississippi State, as he earned two straight All-SEC honors, as he had a combined 101 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 22.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.
In his final year as a Bulldog, Sweat was also named second-team All-American by the Associated press.
Sweat received high praise at the Senior Bowl, which included this comment from Chris Landry.
“With 22 sacks over the last two seasons in the SEC, Sweat can be of assistance early as he demonstrates incredible vision, length, power, hand usage and a variety of counters to win as a pass rusher. He has been unblockable this week.”
Sweat also helped himself at the combine, as he ran 4.41 in the forty, plus did the 20-yard shuttle in 4.29 seconds.
The Packers helped themselves in free agency by bringing in the Smith boys to add to their pass rush, plus they have Kyler Fackrell, who had a breakout season last year (10.5 sacks).
The Packers would be fortunate if Sweat is on the board when the Packers get their first pick in Round 1 at No. 12, but if he is, adding a dynamic pass-rusher like Sweat would really make the pass rush of the Packers an extremely scary one to scheme against.
*** Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported on Sunday (March 17th) that Sweat has a pre-existing heart condition that was revealed during the NFL Scouting Combine medical checks. Rapoport also reported that the doctors deemed this a “low-risk” situation, which is why Sweat was able to work out at the combine.
Round 1: Tight End T.J. Hockenson (Iowa)
Weight: 251 pounds
T.J Hockenson had a breakout season in 2018 with the Iowa Hawkeyes, as he hauled in 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns. The Hawkeyes had a dynamic duo at tight end last season with both Hockenson and Noah Fant (39-517-7).
Overall in his career at Iowa, Hockenson had 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns. Hockenson also had a rushing TD.
In terms of his draft status, Hockenson has a higher rating then Fant going into the upcoming draft, as he is a much better blocker. Both have a chance to be selected in the first round.
Some mock drafts have Hockenson and Fant going somewhat early in Round 1, but just looking at team needs in the NFL, I believe there is a chance that one or both will be there when the Packers have their second choice in the first round at No. 30.
This is what Chris Landry said about Hockenson at the Senior Bowl.
“Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson is an excellent receiver and a unusually great blocker coming out of college. He is more advanced than 2018 breakout tight end George Kittle at the same stage.”
The Packers need additional help at the tight end position, as Jimmy Graham is nearing the end of his career, as is Marcedes Lewis (who was recently re-signed). The Packers also have Robert Tonyan.
Hockenson would help in two big areas. One as a productive pass-catching receiver, plus would tremendously help with his run-blocking in the outside zone scheme which Matt LaFleur will be utilizing in 2019.
Round 2: Offensive Tackle Kaleb McGary (Washington)
Weight: 317 pounds
Kaleb McGary was a four-year starter at right tackle for the Washington Huskies. Not only that, but McGary was named All-Pac-12 there in both 2017 and 2018.
McGary has the strength and agility which has made him a very good run blocker throughout his career at Washington. Those attributes will come in handy in the outside zone blocking scheme which will be utilized by new head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers.
The former star of the Huskies is not a bad pass blocker either based on the honors he has received in the Pac-12, but his ability to run block is his biggest strength.
McGary is also mentally tough, as he and his family have gone through some difficult times recently.
Chris Landry said this about McGary after watching film of him at the Senior Bowl.
“Kaleb McGary was impressive when studying senior bowl practice tape. He was a stalwart for the Washington offensive line in his four seasons as a starter. He could potentially step in right away and help someone and should go no later than mid second round.”
The Packers desperately need a right tackle to come in and play well, as Bryan Bulaga has often been injured playing at that position. Since 2012, Bulaga has missed 40 games due to injury, plus has had to leave a number of games early due to an injury.
I believe McGary can be the guy to step in for Bulaga.
Round 3: Running Back Miles Sanders (Penn State)
Weight: 211 pounds
Running back Miles Sanders had big shoes at Penn State last season, trying to replace Saquon Barkley. But Sanders did a fine job, as he rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns, plus caught 24 passes for 139 more yards.
Up until last year, Sanders had to play second fiddle to Barkley for a couple of years, but shined when he had the opportunity, as he rushed for 375 yards and three touchdowns, plus caught eight passes for 54 yards and another score.
Because of his performance in 2018, Sanders was named second-team All-Big Ten, plus was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player by Penn State.
Sanders is a low-mileage running back coming into the NFL, plus has the patience, instincts and quick feet to run to daylight.
Sanders performed well at the combine by running a 4.49 in the 40 and also did the 20-yard shuttle in 4.19 seconds.
Chris Landry said this about Sanders after checking out some film of the former Nittany Lion.
“Penn State RB Miles Sanders caught 24 passes, and his ability as a receiver is one of the main reasons why Sanders impresses on film. He has light feet light feet to dart through creases.”
Round 4: Offensive Lineman Michael Deiter (Wisconsin)
Weight: 309 pounds
The Packers would be very pleased if Michael Deiter would still be on the board when Green Bay has it’s first pick in Round 4. It could happen too, as Deiter was not that impressive at either the Senior Bowl or the combine.
Still, the film does not lie when scouts like Chris Landry look at what Deiter did at Wisconsin over four years. For one thing, Deiter was versatile, as he played all the positions on the offensive line…center, tackle and guard.
As a sophomore in 2016, Deiter was named Honorable Mention in the Big Ten when he played center and left guard. In 2017, when Deiter played left tackle, he was named first-team All-Big Ten. And as a senior in 2018, Deiter was once again named first-team All-Big Ten, this time at left guard. No. 63 was also named second-team All-American.
Landry said this about Deiter during the course of the 2018 season.
“A four-year starter, Deiter has double-digit starts each at left tackle, left guard and center. His experience (he has played 95% of his team’s snaps during his career, according to PFF) and versatility only enhances his draft stock. Deiter isn’t likely to wow at the combine but he possesses the skill-set to be an immediate plug-and-play starter at the next level.”
Round 4: Linebacker Germaine Pratt (North Carolina State)
Weight: 240 pounds
In his first season as a starter at North Carolina State as a linebacker in 2018, Germaine Pratt turned in quite a performance. Pratt had 104 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, six sacks, three passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbled. That led to Pratt being named first-team All-ACC.
While he wasn’t a starter in his first three years with the Wolfpack, Pratt received plenty of playing time. Over those three years, Pratt had 131 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four interceptions, six passes defended, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
At the combine, Pratt ran a 4.57 in the 40.
The Packers need help at the inside linebacker position. Blake Martinez is a very solid starter at one of the ILB spots, but now with the release of Antonio Morrison by the Packers and with Jake Ryan signing with the Jaguars, the depth at the position is very low.
If the season started today, second-year linebacker Oren Burks would start alongside of Martinez. There is also the slight possibility that the Packers could re-sign Clay Matthews.
Pratt has the speed and coverage ability to play on third down, covering either running backs or tight ends.
Chris Landry said this about Pratt at the end of the 2018 college season.
“In his first season as a starter, Pratt led the Wolfpack with 104 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss and six sacks this past season. He also had two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. He ranked second in the ACC with 9.45 tackles per game and was named All-ACC.”
Round 5: Safety Mike Edwards (Kentucky)
Although the Packers signed Adrian Amos a few days ago in free agency, they are still looking for more depth at the safety position. Because of that, Green Bay would be thrilled to be able to select safety Mike Edwards of Kentucky, as not only is he a ball hawk, but also a sure tackler.
In his career as a Wildcat, Edwards had 317 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 10 interceptions (two for touchdowns), 23 passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
In 2016, Edwards led all SEC defensive backs with 100 tackles. In 2017, Edwards almost hit the century mark again in tackles with 96.
Chris Landry said this about Edwards heading into the 2018 season.
“The defense as a whole didn’t come up with enough big plays or game-changing moments – especially over the second half of last year – but Edwards did his part, having to make way too many stops from the secondary. He led the team with 96 tackles with a sack and a team-leading four picks. He’s not huge, but he’ll do whatever is needed – it would be nice if he didn’t need to do so much.”
Round 6: Wide Receiver Penny Hart (Georgia State)
Weight: 180 pounds
The Packers are looking for someone to become their prime slot receiver in 2019, and if they draft Penny Hart of Georgia State, they may have found their man.
And because of his great week at the Senior Bowl, the Packers may have to go earlier than the sixth round to select Hart.
In his career at Georgia State, Hart had 203 receptions for 2,960 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hart also excelled as a return man, as he returned kickoff and punts for Georgia State and had a punt return for a TD in 2018.
Although Hart is small at 5’8″ and 180 pounds, he is also very quick and makes sudden cuts to get away from defenders.
Hart was not invited to the combine to work out, but is believed to be able to run the 40 at around 4.4.
Chris Landry said this about Hart after watching him at the Senior Bowl.
“Nobody went from as unknown to as intriguing as Penny Hart, who eviscerated defensive backs for three straight days during practices.”
Round 6: Cornerback Corey Ballentine (Washburn)
Weight: 196 pounds
Corey Ballantine of Washburn sort of flew under the radar of some scouts because he played Division II college football. But he certainly got noticed eventually because of the way he dominated the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association for two years.
Ballentine was named first team All-MIAA in both 2017 and 2018 at cornerback, plus was a dangerous return man.
In 2017, Ballentine had 54 tackles and seven pass breakups on the year. He also ranked fifth in Division II by averaging 30.6 yards per kick return. In 2018, Ballentine was not as successful returning kicks, but he still was a stud on special teams with three blocked kicks and was still a first-team All-MIAA defender (50 tackles, three tackles for loss, three picks, four passed defended, two forced fumbles).
Chris Landry said this about Ballentine midway through the 2018 college football season.
“There’s an old saying that, “If you’re good enough, the NFL will find you.” While D-II football is rarely recognized for producing professional prospects, there’s a flashy cornerback at Washburn University that is drawing plenty of NFL eyeballs. Senior CB Corey Ballentine (5-11, 204, 4.45, #1), brings great speed and athleticism to the position but has also excelled as a special teams demon, averaging 26.5 yards per kick return over the past two seasons. He also has three blocked kicks this season and led the Ichabods in special teams tackles (10) as a sophomore. A dual-sport collegiate star, Ballentine runs track at Washburn, a sport he has played since the fourth grade and has contributed to his phenomenal conditioning. He made the switch from safety, where he did a tremendous job playing in the box, to cornerback, which seems to be a more natural fit and allows him to use his athleticism. A solid tackler, Ballentine plays physical and persevered through difficult times as a freshman, when he contemplated quitting football. Praised by his coaches for being smart and humble, the NFL will be happy that he decided to stick it through and now he’s in line to be rewarded for all of his hard work over the past four years.”
Round 7: Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (Wisconsin)
Weight: 241 pounds
Although outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel of the Wisconsin Badgers certainly wasn’t near the classification of former Badger T.J. Watt (who Ted Thompson should have drafted in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL draft) or even Vince Biegel (who Thompson did draft in Round 4 of that same 2017 NFL draft), No. 17 definitely had his moments on the field for the Badgers.
Van Ginkel had a solid two-year career at Wisconsin after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. In 2017 and 2018, Van Ginkel had 98 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, two interceptions (one for a TD), five passes defended, one fumble recovery and four forced fumbles.
In 2018, Van Ginkel was named third-team All-Big Ten.
Besides being productive at outside linebacker for the Badgers, Van Ginkel’s play on special teams stood out.
At the combine, Van Ginkel put up nice numbers, as he had a 38 inch vertical jump and ran the 20-yards shuttle in 4.14 seconds. At the Wisconsin pro day, Van Ginkel ran a 4.56 in the 40.
Chris Landry said this about Van Ginkel prior to the Wisconsin-Minnesota game late in the 2018 season.
“LB Andrew Van Ginkel is coming off a 10-tackle showing. All 10 were solo tackles. When healthy, his hustle and long reach combined with T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly give the Badgers a strong linebacking core.”