My interpretation of the 2020 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers was that the team definitely enhanced the preferred offense which is run by head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.
Five of the nine selections by the Packers were aimed at making the outside zone strategy that much more effective. Those five picks were running back AJ Dillon, tight end/H-back/fullback Josiah Deguara, guard/tackle Jon Runyan Jr., center Jake Hanson and guard Simon Stepaniak.
I had the Packers taking Runyan in my final mock draft.
The most publicized pick of the draft was definitely the first round selection of quarterback Jordan Love, who looks to be the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, but like No. 12, also looks to be holding the clipboard for three or so years.
The draft by the Packers did not address the wide receiver situation for the team which has only one sure option in Davante Adams, plus did not help out the run-defense issue that plagued Green Bay all season long in 2019 and became an embarrassment in the 2019 NFC title game versus the San Francisco 49ers. Nor did the team specifically add to the cornerback position, as Kevin King is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season.
I see general manager Brian Gutekunst addressing those issues via free agency. In fact, he already has at the wide receiver position, as he added Devin Funchess to the team.
Plus, Gutekunst also added Christian Kirksey in free agency to play inside linebacker and replace Blake Martinez, who also used free agency to join the New York Giants. Still, even with Martinez, who was second in the NFL in tackles in 2019, the Packers were just 23rd in the NFL in run defense in the 2019 regular season.
To be more active in free agency, the Packers can help themselves by cutting guard Lane Taylor, which will add approximately $4 million more in cap space for the team.
Green Bay might have signaled that move on Saturday, when they took three offensive linemen in Round 6.
Plus the team has to be even more creative in regards to the salary cap.
Why? The Packers are currently just over $11 million under the NFL salary cap. The 2020 draft class alone will cut into that by just over $8 million. Cutting Taylor will give the team about $7 million to use in free agency. That’s not a lot if you want to add a few more players to your roster.
That’s why doing a contract extension for left tackle David Bakhtiari needs to be a priority. Right now, Bakhtiari’s cap hit is $14.5 million in 2020. But by re-doing his deal and extending it and using a large signing bonus, the Packers should be able to add quite a bit more revenue to use for free agency.
There are some options as to how that added revenue could be utilized.
In terms of helping out the situation at wide receiver and specifically the slot receiver spot in free agency, the Packers may look to Taylor Gabriel, as LaFleur is familiar with him during his time in Atlanta. Gabriel is small (5’7″, 170 pounds), but he’s been effective in the NFL and he’s fast (4.40 in the 40).
The Packers also still see some real upside with Allen Lazard, plus there is also Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown, who have also shown flashes. In addition, there is also Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who seemed an afterthought the rest of the 2019 season after breaking off on a long touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in the seventh game of the season.
In terms of helping out the run defense, one familiar name to look for is Clay Matthews III, who would be a great partner for Kirksey at inside linebacker. When the Packers were struggling to stop the run in both 2014 and 2015, they moved Matthews inside and he made a noticeable difference. As a matter of fact, he was named to the Pro Bowl both years.
Plus, Matthews is very versatile, as he obviously can enhance the pass rush on the outside as well, as he proved last year with the Los Angeles Rams with eight sacks in just 13 games.
The Packers did draft linebacker Kamal Martin and defensive end/outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, but I see both players as having roles on special teams initially.
That’s why also adding a defensive lineman like Damon “Snacks” Harrison in free agency would be huge. There aren’t too many players in the NFL who can stop the run better than Snacks. Pro Football Focus did a piece on Harrison less than a year ago which described Snacks as an immovable force.
In terms of adding quality depth at cornerback, I believe the odds are pretty strong that the Packers will be bring back Tramon Williams, who played very well last year for Green Bay at the age of 36.
The Packers did draft safety Vernon Scott, who also played some cornerback at TCU, but he too fits in more as a special team player in 2020.
Finally, even though the Packers did select three offensive linemen in the 2020 draft, bringing back Jared Veldheer would be a very important add, as the team found out in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau last postseason, when Bryan Bulaga couldn’t play due to the flu.
Yes, the Packers did sign right tackle Rick Wagner via free agency to replace Bulaga, but the depth at offensive tackle currently is iffy at best.
Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 draft class for the Packers, which hasn’t exactly gotten too many favorable grades from many of the “experts” out there.
I recently published a piece on Love, as NFL scout Chris Landry gave his take on his abilities. The one thing that keeps popping in my head about drafting a talent like Love is perhaps due to the injury history of Rodgers. In the last seven years, No. 12 was twice lost for half the season in both 2013 and 2017 due to a broken clavicle. Rodgers missed 16 games overall.
Plus, Rodgers narrowly missed seeing his entire 2018 season wiped out when he suffered a scary knee injury in the opening game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Although Rodgers was able to come back after going to the locker room (in what appeared to be an ACL tear) and lead the Packers to a stirring victory in that game, that injury seemed to plague him throughout most of the season, especially with his throwing motion.
In a perfect world, Love will do exactly what Rodgers did while backing up Brett Favre, which is holding the clipboard and learning the offense, while watching a future Hall of Famer. But if there is an injury to Rodgers, the Packers will have their possible heir apparent ready to go.
I also wrote a recent story on Dillon, as he might be the best part of this draft class, at least initially. Teaming Dillon with Aaron Jones, plus occasionally subbing in Jamaal Williams, gives the Packers a potent running game. Which is one needs to have in the outside zone running scheme for the overall offense to be effective.
The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last season. Adding a talent like Dillon should put the Packers in the top 10.
Another reason the running game of the Packers should be better is because of the selection of Deguara in the third round. I believe that LaFleur sees Deguara to be similar to fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk is both a punishing blocker and a very capable pass receiver. He is a big reason why the 49ers have the best running game in the NFC due to his prolific blocking. Again, the Niners also implement a outside zone running scheme under Kyle Shanahan.
Here is part of what Landry said about Deguara:
Packers selected Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara with the No. 94 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cincinnati’s all-time leader in catches (92) by a tight end, Deguara (6’2/242) was actually invited to the Senior Bowl as a fullback due to his smaller stature. Good news is Bearcats OC Mike Denbrock, who simultaneously serves as the program’s tight ends coach, has a successful track record of producing NFL players at the position. Deguara has the try-hard that front offices crave, which allowed him to pry himself open for the second-highest target share (20%) in the nation at his position last year.
In terms of the rest of the draft class for the Packers, Landry will also give his assessment for each of the players.
Landry’s assessment on Kamal Martin who the Packers selected in Round 5:
Packers selected Minnesota LB Kamal Martin with the No. 175 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Martin (6’3/240) was a two-year starting weak-side linebacker at Minnesota who missed four games as a senior with a foot sprain and knee injury that also kept him out of the pre-draft process. He has the strength, size, and tenacity to play at the next level, but poor technique and vision led to below-average tackling numbers against the run. In coverage, Martin is likely too heavy-footed to reliably cover NFL players, which may force him into a strict special teams role. His aggressive playing style and ability to work through blocks are traits that should translate there.
Landry’s take on the three offensive linemen (Runyon, Hanson and Stepaniak) the Packers took in Round 6:
Packers selected Michigan OT Jon Runyan with the No. 192 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Son of Jon Runyan Sr., a 14-year pro who was once the highest-paid lineman in the NFL, the Wolverines’ left tackle was groomed in the sport and inherited his father’s trademark nastiness in bulldozing oncoming defenders in the run game. His versatility at both left and right tackle in college, as well as the few snaps he took in between at guard, should compensate for his subpar feet, length, and strength at the next level. Overall, Runyan (6’4/306) is an above-average athlete who projects best on the interior line but may be asked to compete at multiple positions in camp.
Packers selected Oregon C Jake Hanson with the No. 208 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Hanson (6’4/303) was a four-year starting center at Oregon who earned an All-Pac 12 honorable mention every season. His experience and competitiveness have him on the NFL’s radar, but he’s a well below-average athlete. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.50 seconds and lacked the strength to be put in one-on-one situations on tape. Hanson will compete for a final roster spot this offseason as a 23-year-old rookie. It’s clear the Packers made offensive line depth a priority over receiver depth in this draft.
Packers selected Indiana OT Simon Stepaniak with the No. 209 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. All 31 of Stepaniak’s (6’4/313) college starts came at guard, but the Packers announced him as a tackle. Stepaniak likely tumbled in the draft due to a Dec. 2019 torn ACL, though that was not his only injury in the Big 10. The owner of bruising size and strength, Stepaniak played with some real nastiness on the interior, but he gets tripped up by technique.
Landry’s assessment of the selections of Scott and Garvin in Round 7:
Packers selected TCU DB Vernon Scott with the No. 236 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Scott (6’2/206) played four seasons at TCU, primarily lining up at safety, but he was well off the radar. As a senior, he mad 44 tackles across 10 games with one interception and eight pass deflections. He’ll need to show out on special teams to make the Packers final roster.
Packers selected Miami DE Jonathan Garvin with the No. 242 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Garvin (6’4/263) was a two-year starter at Miami who made 5.5 and 5.0 sacks as a sophomore and junior. Despite the average production, he declared for the NFL Draft early. He has Day 3 speed (4.82-second 40-yard dash) and will have to show more developmental traits to stick on the Packers’ roster.
To many in Packer Nation, the draft selections by the Packers in the 2020 NFL were somewhat confusing. But both LaFleur and Gutekunst have a plan and going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC title game in their first year together gives them some leeway.
Missing on certain players in the draft happens to all NFL teams. That is why utilizing free agency is so important to add to the weak areas of the team that the draft wasn’t able to address.
Gutekunst has proven over the last three offseasons that he is willing to utilize free agency quite often, which is similar to the man who hired him, Ron Wolf.
Time will tell how many more free agency moves that Gutekunst will make before the start of the 2020 NFL season. I definitely see at least a couple more though.