Green Bay Packers: The 2020 NFL Draft Class and Some Possible Moves in Free Agency

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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.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

David Bakhtiari

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.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Clay Matthews III forces a key fumble in Super Bowl XLV.

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.

Snacks Harrison

Damon “Snacks” Harrison

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.

AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

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.

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan Jr.

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.

Final 2020 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst 2020 Combine III

Even though we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will still take place starting three days from now on April 23. Which means I’ll be doing my final mock draft exercise for the Green Bay Packers, which I have been doing now for 20 years.

I first started doing my mock drafts when I was with Packer Report, and that continued with Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report (for three and a half years) and now my own site. Over the years, I have had a decent track record in correctly naming some players who the Packers did select in the various drafts.

Over the past several years, I have utilized the wisdom and insight of NFL scout Chris Landry and I basically use his positional draft boards and horizontal draft board to guide me through my selections for the Packers.

In the past, I have done a number of mock drafts each year, some starting shortly after the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl were over. I would then do another mock draft after the NFL Scouting Combine. This year will be different. I’m doing just two mock drafts and this will be my second and final one.

My first mock draft for the Packers in 2020 is right here.

Again, making use of the expertise of Landry is very helpful. I’m talking about a scout, who has also been a coach and an administrator, who has been to every NFL Scouting Combine since it’s inception in 1982.

That’s why I use his various draft boards to help steer me through my selections.

Besides using his draft boards to select any given player, I will also add comments which Chris has made about that particular player, whether at the combine or at other events like East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl practices.

It’s important to note that towards the end of a draft, teams look to improve the special team units on their team. That is what I have tried to do in this mock with my Round 7 selections.

I’m sure Packer Nation is hoping that general manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouting staff will have similar success in drafting like scout Jack Vainisi did in the 1950s, especially with the 1958 draft class which saw three future Pro Football Hall of Famers come to Green Bay.

Based on the two-year track record of Gutekunst running the draft for the Packers, one should expect some trades. I expect Gutekunst to use some of his late-round extra draft picks (five total picks in Round 6 and Round 7) to try and move up in the middle rounds of the draft.

But for this mock draft, there will be no trades.

Okay, the Packers on the clock.

Round 1: Running Back Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Jonathan Taylor in the Rose Bowl

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 226 pounds

Almost seven weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why drafting Jonathan Taylor was a decent possibility for the Green Bay Packers. I still feel the same way today, perhaps even stronger.

In fact, I also had the Packers taking Taylor with pick No. 30 in my first mock draft three weeks ago.

When he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards (plus scored 50 touchdowns) and averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season. Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

This is what Landry said about Taylor at the combine:

Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans (more on him below) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.

The Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur run the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. This bodes well for Taylor picking up the offense quickly.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

There is one other reason that the Packers will have Taylor on their radar. A number of players are due to become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley, cornerback Kevin King and both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs on the team.

The Packers need to try and cover themselves at each one of those positions in the draft, although I do expect the team to do extensions for Bakhtiari and Clark for sure.

Doing an extension for Linsley is questionable, as is the case for King and Williams. I believe the Packers will also extend Jones, but that he won’t be a priority.

That’s why drafting Taylor is a growing possibility for the Packers.

Round 2: Defensive Lineman Raekwon Davis (Alabama)

Raekwon Davis

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 311 pounds

The calling card of Raekwon Davis has been his run-stopping ability on the defensive line at the University of Alabama. Which is not to say, Davis can’t get after the quarterback, as he did have 8.5 sacks when he was a sophomore for the Crimson Tide and he was named first-team All-SEC.

The production for Davis fell off a bit as a junior, but as a senior was named second-team All-SEC.

But stopping the run is what he does best and in four years at Alabama, Davis had 175 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

The Packers need someone to help to disrupt the opponents run game, even with the talented Kenny Clark on the defensive line. The Packers were ranked just 23rd in run defense last year and were thoroughly embarrassed trying to stop the run in the 2019 NFC title game.

Stopping the running game starts in the trenches.

Landry said this about Davis prior to the Citrus Bowl:

Davis is a true senior and two-year starter who can line up on the inside in a base four-man front or at defensive end in a base three three-man front. He’s a powerful run-defender with the length and upper-body strength to stack blockers, locate the ball and shed in time to make the play. He’s not as effective rushing the passer, but pushes the pocket and has enough quickness to get better.

Round 3: Wide/Slot Receiver Antonio Gibson (Memphis)

Antonio Gibson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

The Packers certainly have some dangerous weapons on offense for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to utilize. Running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams come to mind.

The offense would become a lot more potent with the addition of players like Jonathan Taylor and slot receiver Antonio Gibson. Not to mention faster, as both Taylor and Gibson ran a 4.39 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Packers need someone at receiver to take some the emphasis away from Adams. Young players like Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow all have upside. The addition of Devin Funchess will definitely help.

But production from the slot receiver for the Packers stuck out like a sore thumb all year long for the Packers in 2019.

This is where a great athlete like Gibson can step in. Last year at Memphis, Gibson caught 38 passes for 735 yards (19.3 average) and eight touchdowns. In addition, Gibson ran for 369 more yards and four scores. Think jet sweep (like Deebo Samuel) with a guy like Gibson when he’s not catching the ball.

Plus, even though the Packers have a talented return man in Tyler Ervin, Gibson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 for the Tigers.

Landry said this about Gibson at the NFL Scouting Combine:

Memphis WR/RB Antonio Gibson ran an unofficial 40-yard dash of 4.40 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gibson (6’0/228) and Devin Duvernay are currently tied with the fastest unofficial 40-yard dash times among wide receivers at the combine. The Memphis speedster is a position-versatile dynamo who could see work at both running back and receiver in the pros.

Landry also said this about Gibson at the Senior Bowl:

The fact Gibson was even at the Senior Bowl speaks volumes as he was not on the scouting radar before the season began. He’s a receiver in a running backs body.

Round 4: Offensive Tackle Alex Taylor (South Carolina State)

Alex Taylor

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 308 pounds

Even though left tackle David Bakhtiari will eventually get a contract extension before he reaches free agency in 2021 and the Packers signed Rick Wagner in free agency to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who also left via free agency, the Packers need to add some offensive tackle talent in this draft.

Alex Taylor of South Carolina is an intriguing prospect. Taylor is huge, as he goes 6’8″ and is north of 300 pounds. Add to that, he has a massive 36 inch wingspan. You wouldn’t think a guy that big could run very fast, but Taylor ran a 5.09 in the 40 at the combine.

Taylor has started 22 consecutive games for South Carolina State at right tackle and was third-team all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as a junior and third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-MEAC honors as a senior.

While Taylor is learning the NFL ropes, the Packers could also re-sign offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to add to the offensive tackle depth chart, as Veldheer played very well in the absence of Bulaga in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks last postseason.

Landry said this about Taylor at the Senior Bowl:

Alex Taylor has arguably the most upside of any player in the Senior Bowl. His frame and length would be top in the NFL. However he lacks technical refinement, and is a ways away from being a competent NFL protector. Taylor got better over the week, but his lack of refinement was obvious. Taylor could be a top tackle in the NFL. I just wonder if he’ll ever meet that ceiling.

Round 5: Cornerback Dane Jackson (Pittsburgh)

Dane Jackson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 187 pounds

The Packers have two pretty good starting cornerbacks in Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. The third cornerback who the Packers used a lot last year is free agent Tramon Williams.

Williams could be an option to come back, as he played pretty well for someone who recently turned 37. King has two issues in terms of his future. One, he has been injury prone in his career. Two, he will be a free agent in 2021. And who knows if he’ll be back, as David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark and Aaron Jones will be much bigger priorities in terms of doing contract extensions.

Which leads to me to the selection of Dane Jackson of Pittsburgh. Jackson played four years with the Panthers and played in 46 games. In that time, Jackson had 149 total tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions (one for a touchdown), 39 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

Jackson was honorable mention All-ACC as a junior and second-team All-ACC as a senior.

Jackson ran a 4.57 in the 40 at the combine, but his ball awareness makes him look much faster on tape.

This is what Landry said about Jackson at the Senior Bowl:

Dane Jackson was one of the best defensive backs in Mobile. I wasn’t too aware of his tape coming in but his physicality and athleticism in coverage during drills had me excited to see the traits on his tape. It was a great week for Jackson, capped off by being voted the best DB on the South squad by his teammates.

Round 6: Linebacker Chris Orr (Wisconsin)

Chris Orr

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

With Blake Martinez leaving the Packers via free agency and even with the signing of Christian Kirksey, the Packers are still looking for help at inside linebacker. Yes, Oren Burks could come on and be the guy, but after two years of little or no contributions, don’t hold your breath.

There is also a chance that the Packers might bring back Clay Matthews III to play at inside linebacker.

Which takes me to Chris Orr of the Wisconsin Badgers. Orr played in the same type of defensive scheme that the Packers utilize under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, as Jim Leonhard (who played under Pettine in the NFL) runs a similar 3-4 defense for the Badgers.

Orr has sort of flown under the radar in this draft, which is surprising to me. Especially based on what he did his senior year for the Badgers and the great workout he had on his pro day.

In 2019, Orr had 78 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, five passes defended, one recovered fumble and two forced fumbles. Orr played four years for the Badgers and had a great career in Madison overall, which included two interceptions, including one for a 78-yard touchdown.

Because of his great season in 2019, Orr was named second-team All-Big Ten at inside linebacker.

Or didn’t receive an invite from the combine for some ridiculous reason, and all he did was run a 4.65 in the 40 to add to his great stat line.

This is what Landry said about Orr after his pro day workout in Madison:

Wisconsin LB Chris Orr ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at the school’s pro day. Orr additionally logged 20 reps on the bench press to go with a 36.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9-foot-2 before taking part in on-field drills. While the linebacker did not receive an invitation to the combine, some corners of the evaluating community are quite high on Orr.

Round 6: Quarterback Nate Stanley (Iowa)

Nate Stanley

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 235 pounds

I do expect the Packers to select a quarterback in this draft. It might be early if the right QB is on the board, but more than likely, I see the one taken later in the draft.

Which takes me to Menomonie, Wisconsin native Nate Stanley, who played for the University of Iowa and started for three years.

In his career with the Hawkeyes, Stanley threw 68 touchdown passes versus 23 interceptions for 8,297 yards.

Stanley was also a sparkling 3-0 in bowl games he started.

While he is certainly not a real mobile quarterback, he also is not a statue and he can move around the pocket. Stanley also has a rocket for an arm.

Landry said this about Stanley prior to the Holiday Bowl:

Nate Stanley is 2-0 in bowl games (now 3-0). He was just okay against Boston College in the win Pinstripe Bowl win two years ago – throwing for 99 yards and a score – and last season he kept his cool against the tremendous Mississippi State defense hitting 68% of his passes for 214 yards and three scores with a pick. He doesn’t have to bomb away against the Trojans, and he only threw 14 touchdown passes on the year, but he’s the senior veteran who won’t make the big mistake.

Round 6: Offensive Lineman Jon Runyan Jr. (Michigan)

Jon Runyan

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 306 pounds

Chris Landry knows a little about the Runyan bloodline, as he was part of the front office of the Houston Oilers when they drafted Jon Runyon Sr. in 1996.

Like his father did, Jon Runyon Jr. played at Michigan and had a very nice career. In fact, in both 2018 and 2019, Runyan was named first-team All-Big Ten at offensive tackle.

Although he was solid as a tackle in college, his best position in the NFL might be at guard as you will see with the comments of Landry.

Landry said this about Runyan at Day 2 of the East-West Shrine practices:

I was impressed with Jon Runyan on a number of occasions today. The former Michigan tackle has lined up at guard the past two days and looks like a natural at the position.

Landry said this about Runyon on Day 3 of the practices in St. Petersburg:

On the offensive line, Jon Runyan had another solid day and seems to be improving with each practice.

Round 7: Linebacker/Safety Khaleke Hudson (Michigan)

Khaleke Hudson

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 224 pounds

Khaleke Hudson is one of those tweeners. He’s basically one of those hybrids who can play both safety and linebacker. That versatility put together a great career for Hudson at the University of Michigan.

In four years with the Wolverines, Hudson had 225 total tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Hudson had a great senior year for the Wolverines, as he had 102 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and also a blocked kick.

Hudson ran a 4.56 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 30 reps on the bench press.

Landry said this about Hudson at the Senior Bowl:

Hudson’s Senior Bowl week has been outstanding. He weighed in with good numbers and his week never came down from there. He flew around in coverage and kept making plays in every drill. For a stud athlete coming from a pretty big school, the lack of buzz coming into Mobile was pretty surprising. But, it’s safe to say he’ll have plenty of it leaving Mobile.

Landry also talked about Hudson playing both safety and linebacker:

Michigan DB/LB Khaleke Hudson is a safety who converted to linebacker. He moves very well but is engulfed vs size and is not a big asset in coverage. His best skill set is his toughness and awareness. I like him as a sub package situational player and he can excel on special teams.

Round 7: Tight End Stephen Sullivan (LSU)

Stephen Sullivan

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

When one thinks about the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers, most people will recall that the son of Randy Moss played tight end most of the time. I’m talking about Thaddeus Moss. Moss had a nice year catching the ball from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, as he caught 47 passes for 570 yards and four scores.

But like all great teams in the SEC, all positions have fantastic depth, which was the case for the Tigers at tight end. The backup to Moss was Stephen Sullivan, who definitely is not a slouch, plus he did start two games in 2019.

In his three-year career at LSU, Sullivan had 46 receptions for 712 yards and three touchdowns.

Sullivan converted to tight end in 2019 after playing wide receiver for the Tigers in 2017 and 2018.

Besides having great size for a tight end, Sullivan ran a 4.66 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry said this about Sullivan at the Senior Bowl:

LSU TE/WR Stephen Sullivan caught the ball smoothly and moved exceptionally well for his dimensions” during the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice week. Sullivan also run-blocked well during the week. He has a chance to stick on a roster as a mid-late round pick.

Initial 2020 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Matt LaFleur 2020 NFL Combine(1)

Even though we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will still take place starting a little over three weeks from now on April 23. Which means I’ll be doing my annual mock draft exercise for the Green Bay Packers, which I have been doing now for 20 years.

I first started doing my mock drafts when I was with Packer Report, and that continued with Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report (for three and a half years) and now my own site. Over the years, I have had a decent track record in correctly naming some players who the Packers did select in the various drafts.

Over the past several years, I have utilized the wisdom and insight of NFL scout Chris Landry and I basically use his positional draft boards and horizontal draft board to guide me through my selections for the Packers.

In the past, I have done a number of mock drafts each year, some starting shortly after the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl were over. I would then do another mock draft after the NFL Scouting Combine. This year will be different. I don’t expect to do more than two mock drafts and this will be my first.

Again, making use of the expertise of Landry is very helpful. I’m talking about a scout, who has also been a coach and an administrator, who has been to every NFL Scouting Combine since it’s inception in 1982.

Besides using his draft boards to select any given player, I will also add comments which Chris has made about that particular player, whether at the combine or at other events like East-West Shrine or Senior Bowl practices.

With all that being said, here goes.

Round 1: Running Back Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 226 pounds

Almost four weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why drafting Jonathan Taylor was a decent possibility for the Green Bay Packers. I still feel the same way today, perhaps even stronger.

When he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards (plus scored 50 touchdowns) and averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season. Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

This is what Landry said about Taylor at the combine:

Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans (more on him below) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.

The Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur run the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. This bodes well for Taylor picking up the offense quickly.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

There is one other reason that the Packers will have Taylor on their radar. A number of players are due to become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley, cornerback Kevin King and both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs on the team.

The Packers need to cover themselves at each one of those positions in the draft, although I do expect the team to do extensions for Bakhtiari and Clark for sure. Please check out Tom Silverstein’s fine article regarding this situation.

Doing an extension for Linsley is questionable, as is the case for King and Williams. I believe the Packers will also extend Jones, but that he won’t be a priority.

That’s why drafting Taylor is a growing possibility for the Packers.

Round 2: Wide Receiver Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jalen Reagor

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 206 pounds

In looking at Jalen Reagor of TCU, his skill-set reminds me of Randall Cobb, who spent eight years with the Packers catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.

In three years at TCU, Reagor caught 148 passes for 2,248 yards (15.2 yards-per-catch average) and 22 touchdowns.

Like Cobb did with the Packers, Reagor also return punts and kickoffs and last year the former Horned Frog returned two punts for touchdowns.

In terms of the passing offense of the Packers, Reagor would help fill the void that was missing for the most part all of the 2019 season. That is, getting substantial production from the slot receiver spot.

This is what Landry said about Reagor at the combine:

TCU WR Jalen Reagor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Reagor (5’11/206) outright crushed his jumps earlier on Thursday, logging a 42-inch vertical jump and 138-inch broad jump, both close to the top marks at his position in this year’s class. His 40-yard dash was not nearly as impressive, especially given that Reagor reportedly ran the sprint in 4.29 seconds hand-timed during his collegiate career with the Horned Frogs. We wouldn’t overreact to the 4.47s mark he ran on Thursday, but at the very least, it’s not ideal.

Round 3: Center Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)

Tyler Biadasz

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 314 pounds

As I previously noted earlier, there is a decent chance that the Packers will not be bringing back starting center Corey Linsley in 2021. If Linsley does leave, the Packers could move left guard Elgton Jenkins to center and plug in a new left guard or they might select a player like Tyler Biadasz of Wisconsin to fill the void at center.

Biadasz makes a lot of sense, as the Badgers utilize the same outside zone running scheme that the Packers employ.

The former Amherst, Wisconsin native started all 41 games at center that he played in at Wisconsin through his junior year. He opened some eyes with his play as well. In 2017, Biadasz was a Freshman All-American and was named third-team All-Big Ten. In 2018, Biadasz was named first-team All-Big Ten.

And in 2019, Biadasz was named first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten, as well as winning the Remington Trophy and being a finalist for the Outland Trophy.

This is what Landry said about the former Badger:

Wisconsin C Tyler Biadasz is a rock solid center prospect in this years draft. His pass protection, while not the strength of his game is better than amateur scouts suggests. He understands angles, leverage and has excellent quickness to replace hands and strength to turn defenders.

Round 4: Linebacker Jacob Phillips (LSU)

Jacob Phillips

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 229 pounds

In his three-year career as a LSU Tiger, Jacob Phillips made 218 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.

In 2018, Phillips played alongside of Devin White (now of the Tampa Bay Bucs) for LSU. Talk about a dynamic duo. In 2019, Phillips played next to Patrick Queen, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, just like White was in 2019.

As this was Queen’s first season as a starter for LSU, Phillips took over the inside linebacker leadership role for the Tigers in 2019, as the team eventually won the national title.

His leadership did not go unnoticed by the defensive staff at LSU either. Phillips was described to me as being long and athletic and that he takes coaching well. Also that he runs well and is physical. Good body control in pass coverage. Always is looking to get better.

This is was Landry said about Phillips:

Former LSU Tigers may make up a large share of the top 100 picks this year, thanks to guys like Phillips. He ran a bit faster than expected (4.66 40) and was explosive in the jumps (39-inch vertical, 10-6 broad). His junior-year tape exhibited good athleticism, which meant there was no surprise when he was able to quickly step over pads and fluidly change directions in the field workout. Phillips was a big part of a pretty strong performance by the inside linebacker group on Saturday.

Round 5: Quarterback James Morgan (FIU)

James Morgan

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 229 pounds

James Morgan of FIU is a very interesting story from a Wisconsin perspective. Morgan played his high school football at Ashwaubenon High School, which is basically right in the backyard of Green Bay and Lambeau Field.

Morgan wore No. 4 in youth football to honor Brett Favre, but in high school and in college, has moved on to No. 12 to honor Aaron Rodgers.

Morgan started his collegiate career at Bowling Green before transferring to Florida International University (FIU). His combined stats at both locations are pretty good, as he has thrown 65 touchdown passes versus 34 interceptions for 8,654 yards. In his last two seasons at FIU, Morgan threw 40 touchdown passes compared to just 12 picks.

The Packers and many NFL teams have shown interest in Morgan throughout the scouting process. Some have said that Morgan might be drafted as early as Day 2 of the draft, but Landry does not believe that will happen.

Here is what Landry said about Morgan during the East-West Shrine week practices, as he saw a lot of things he liked :

James Morgan entered Shrine week largely overshadowed by more highly-heralded signal callers, but the FIU passer acquitted himself quite nicely in the three practices. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback displayed a big league arm, remarkable poise, and delivered the ball with touch and accuracy. Morgan also impressed from a mental processing standpoint. He may have been the most consistent quarterback on either side this week, and with many evaluators on hand, I thought he really helped himself.

All that being said, Landry also said this about Morgan, as he threw some cold water on Morgan’s NFL possibilities:

Morgan completed just 57.2% of his passes as a result of poor footwork and release point. He also doesn’t move well outside the pocket and I struggle to see him as even a developmental type prospect.

Round 6: Offensive Tackle Charlie Heck (North Carolina)

Charlie Heck

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 311 pounds

Charlie Heck is the son of Andy Heck, who was a first-round pick out of Notre Dame in the 1989 NFL draft and had a long NFL career.

Charlie has started 35 games for the Tarheels in three season, plus played in eight games as a reserve as a freshman. From the perspective of the Packers, they have to be interested in a versatile offensive tackle like Heck because he has played both right and left tackle.

In his junior year, Heck started 12 games at right tackle and then started 12 games his senior year at left tackle.

This is what Landry said about Heck going into the 2020 NFL draft:

North Carolina T Charlie Heck is a run first right tackle type that will have to grow and develop as a pass protector. While Heck is not a spectacular athlete — testing in the 38th SPARQ percentile of NFL offensive linemen — he comes to the draft well-seasoned after starting 35 games with the Tar Heels.

Round 6: Defensive Back Brian Cole II (Mississippi State)

Brian Cole

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 213 pounds

You know what they say about defensive backs in the NFL. You never can have enough in this pass-happy league. Which is why a player like Brian Cole II of Mississippi State would be an excellent player for the Packers in the draft, seeing as he played against some of the finest receivers in the country in the SEC.

The Saginaw, Michigan native started his collegiate career at Michigan before transferring to Mississippi State. In the last two years as a Bulldog, Cole had 78 tackles, 10.5 tackles for losses and three sacks. Cole also had two picks, two fumbles recovered and one forced fumble.

Cole has good size and speed and has the ability to play near the line of scrimmage in running situations, plus can cover backs and tight ends in pass coverage. Cole is versatile enough to play either safety or cornerback.

This is what Landry said about the former Bulldog at the combine:

Mississippi State DB Brian Cole ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Cole (6’2/213) is considered a potential “box” safety — or possibly a nickel — and this is a pretty solid time for a player of that skill set. He was a productive member of the Mississippi State defense.

Round 6: Linebacker Carter Coughlin (Minnesota)

Carter Coughlin

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 236 pounds

With the loss of outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell to free agency, the Packers will be looking to fortify the depth at that position, even if they were able to bring back someone like Clay Matthews III, who would mostly play inside anyway.

That is why selecting someone like Carter Coughlin from Minnesota would help that situation. Coughlin had a very productive career as a Golden Gopher, as he had 158 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

As a sophomore, Coughlin was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, second-team All-Big Ten as a junior and then second-team All-Big Ten again as a senior.

Coughlin ran a 4.57 in the 40 at the combine, plus had a 36 inch vertical jump.

This is what Landry said about the future of Coughlin in the NFL:

Minnesota EDGE Carter Coughlin posted 15.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks in 2018, and 9.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks in 2019. He plays with good quickness and speed off the edge and once he learns better hand usage can become an effective situation rusher in addition to being an ace special teamer.

Round 7: Defensive Tackle Benito Jones (Mississippi)

Benito Jones

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 316 pounds

Even with the talented Kenny Clark on the defensive line and having a tackling machine like Blake Martinez behind him, the Packers struggled stopping the run in 2019. The Packers were ranked just 23rd in run defense last year and were thoroughly embarrassed trying to stop the run in the 2019 NFC title game.

This is where drafting someone like Benito Jones makes sense. Jones is your typical run-stuffing nose tackle, who also has some pass-rushing ability. In four years at Ole Miss, Jones had 132 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

Jones was named second-team ALL-SEC in 2019.

This is what Landry about the former Rebel:

Ole Miss NT Benito Jones (6’1/316) is a former five-star recruit who led Ole Miss with 10 TFL and recorded 5.5 sacks on his way to receiving second-team All-SEC honors. Though he lacks prototype length for an interior lineman, Jones was a disruptive force displaying impressive strength at the point of attack. He plays with solid leverage and uses his hands well to shed blocks.

Round 7: Safety Josh Metellus (Michigan)

Josh Metellus

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 209 pounds

As I mentioned earlier, you can never have enough defensive backs on your team, plus one is always looking to improve the quality of special teams. That is why you normally see a lot of linebackers and defensive backs taken late in any given draft by teams.

Which takes us to safety Josh Metellus of Michigan. The former Florida native is strong and fast, plus is versatile. In his career as a Wolverine, Metellus had 186 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, one sack, five interceptions (one for a touchdown), 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

As a sophomore, Metellus was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, then was named second-team All-Big Ten as a strong safety/rover and was once again named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a senior.

Metellus is an excellent downhill tackler and shows great awareness in pass coverage.

This is what Landry said about Metellus at the combine:

Michigan S Josh Metellus ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Metellus ranked 11th among the “true” safeties who ran in the event, and he also had a solid vertical jump at 36.5 inches, and a respectable 124-inch broad jump. The 5-foot-11, 209-pound defender also was among the top defensive backs with 20 bench press reps.

Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

Why Clay Matthews Jr. Deserves to be Among the Best of the Best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Clay Matthews Jr. tackling Earl Campbell

It’s hard to believe that Clay Matthews Jr. is still in the modern era classification for when voters look at great players to put in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just think about it. Matthews was a rookie in 1978 with the Cleveland Browns. That was 41 years ago. But when a player, especially a linebacker like Matthews, who played 19 years in the NFL and had such a amazing run of consistency and productivity, it’s truly astonishing.

Matthews played 278 games in the NFL throughout his career. No. 57 played with the Browns for 16 years and then finished the last three years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons.

Those 278 games are 22nd all time in the annals of the NFL. 12 of the players above him in terms of games played were either kickers or punters. George Blanda, who is fifth all time with 340 games played, played quarterback and also kicked.

Blanda is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As are position players like wide receiver Jerry Rice (303 games played), quarterback Brett Favre (302 games played), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (296 games played), cornerback Darrell Green (295 games played) and defensive end Bruce Smith (279 games played).

You will note that Clay’s brother Bruce’s name above. Yes, Bruce has a bust in Canton and so should his brother Clay.

Clay went to four Pro Bowls and was named to be on the Pro Football Reference All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

Just look at the stats Matthews put up over 19 seasons. No. 57 had 1,561 tackles, 83.5 sacks, 16 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles, 14  fumble recoveries and 140.5 impact plays.

Let’s compare those stats to other linebackers who are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Junior Seau + Clay Matthews

Derrick Brooks + Clay Matthews

Brian Urlacher + Clay Matthews

To me, there is no question that Clay Jr. belongs among the best of the best in Canton. I felt the same way when I was part of the crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place among the greats at the Hall of Fame for several years.

In 2020, because of it’s centennial year of the NFL, there will be 20 new members to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be five modern era players, 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Besides Matthews, I’m also promoting LeRoy Butler to be named among the five modern era players going into the Hall of Fame.

As people also know, I’m also promoting a number of senior nominees in 2020 as well, which includes Boyd Dowler, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team, as well as Lavvie Dilweg, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1920s.

I listed three Green Bay Packers above to be part of the Class of 2020. I also believe Jack Vainisi, who was the primary scout of the Packers in the 1950s, also should go in as a contributor.

Clay Jr. has a Green Bay connection as well. I’m talking about his son Clay III, who played with the Packers for nine great seasons. Clay III is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

Clay III currently plays with the Los Angeles Rams, after leaving the Packers via free agency after the 2018 season. Matthews wanted to continue his career in Green Bay, but was never given that opportunity. He also has eight sacks so far this year for the Rams and that has happened with Matthews missing over a month of the season due to a broken jaw.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he helped to force a fumble by Rashard Medenhall with the Steelers driving into Green Bay territory at the start of the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh was driving for the go-ahead score when Matthews forced that huge fumble. Eight plays later, Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, as the Packers went up by 11 and never looked back.

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

The Matthews family has set a large net over the NFL over the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. We talked about Clay III, who may end up in Canton himself, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Then there are Bruce’s sons, who are Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

When I was helping to promote Jerry Kramer to get his rightful place in Canton, I forged a great friendship with Jerry’s daughter Alicia, who worked very hard to get her dad the honor he richly received.

I wrote about that endeavor in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook.

In an apropos manner, I have also become friends with Jennifer Matthews, who like Alicia did, is working hard behind the scenes to help get her father the distinction he truly warrants for what he did in his NFL career.

Clay Jr. and Jennifer

Clay Jr. is also getting endorsements from players now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like Kramer did.

When you put up the excellent production that No. 57 put out on the field, people are bound to notice.

Especially the great players who he competed against and who eventually ended up in Canton. Take a look at two of those endorsements.

Anthony Munoz on Clay Matthews

Warren Moon on Clay Matthews

Plus there were his teammates who knew how great Clay Jr. was. The same held true for Kramer, when teammates and Hall of Famers like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis and Bart Starr heartily endorsed No. 64.

The same thing holds true with a Hall of Fame teammate of Matthews with the Browns.

Ozzie Newsome on Clay Matthews

The bottom line is that Clay Matthews Jr. deserves to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020.

In two years, Matthews will fall into the seniors category for the Hall of Fame, which has become an abyss for so many worthy players who deserve a bust in Canton.

That is why Rick Gosselin of the Seniors Committee proposed getting 10 worthy seniors in as part of the Class of 2020, which was approved by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That will definitely help, but there will still be a number of worthy seniors who will still be waiting for a place among the best players in pro football history. Players who have fallen through the cracks throughout the years and decades.

That’s why it’s important to induct a great player like Clay Matthews Jr. while he is still a modern era nominee.

That, and because of his steady and prolific play in the NFL for close to two decades, which definitely deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Some Observations About Potential Green Bay Packers in the Class of 2020

hall of fame packer logo 2

The time is getting closer about finding out who will be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2020, the class will be much larger because of the centennial year of the NFL.

There will be the five modern-era players, plus 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Last week the modern-era nominee list was pared down to 25 semifinalists from a total of 122 nominees. One of those players is LeRoy Butler. This is the third straight year that Butler had made it down to the semifinals. But No. 36 has never been a finalist, which is a big step in getting a Gold Jacket, based on what I have heard from Clark Judge, who is voter for the Hall of Fame.

Butler, along with Steve Atwater of the Denver Broncos, were named All-Decade in the 1990s at safety. Of the 22 players on that All-Decade team of the ’90s, only Butler and Atwater don’t have a bust in Canton.

The list of 25 will be pared down to 15 in January and then that group will be taken down to the final five inductees on the day before Super Bowl LIV, which would be on Saturday February 1.

Another player who is among the 25 modern-era semifinalists has a bit of a Green Bay connection. I’m talking about Clay Matthews Jr., who is the father of Clay Matthews III, who played with the Packers from 2009 through 2018 and is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers when he helped to force a fumble during a key point of the game.

I’ll be writing a piece on Clay Jr. in the near future about why he deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton, which just happens to include his brother Bruce.

In terms of the seniors, the group of over 200 nominees will also be trimmed to 20 at some point in the very near future.

This group will be determined by a 25-person “blue-ribbon panel”, which consists of 13 current Hall of Fame voters, as well as some well known NFL names.

The panelists are Ernie Accorsi, Bill Belichick, Jarrett Bell, Joel Bussert, John Clayton, Frank Cooney, John Czarnecki, Rick Gosselin, Elliott Harrison, Joe Horrigan, Ira Kaufman, Dick LeBeau, Jeff Legwold, John Madden, John McClain, Gary Myers, Ozzie Newsome, Sal Paolantonio, Carl Peterson, Bill Polian, Dan Pompei, Charean Williams, Chris Willis, Barry Wilner, and Ron Wolf.

The panel will eventually name the 10 seniors, the three contributors and two coaches without needing a vote from the 48-person selection committee, which used to be the process in the past.

But because 2020 is a special centennial year for the NFL, this group of 15 will be inducted into the Hall once the list if finalized by the panel.

The Packers have a number of senior nominees who deserve a place in Canton in my opinion. And I believe that one of those seniors will be part of the Class of 2020.

The list of seniors for the Packers includes Boyd Dowler, who was an All-Decade player in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th anniversary team.

Plus there is Ron Kramer, who was also on that 50th anniversary team.

Dowler and Kramer are the only two members of that 45-man team without a bust in Canton.

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Jerry Kramer was another member of that 50th anniversary team and he finally got his rightful due and was inducted in 2018.

There are a few other All-Decade players who are senior nominees for the Packers. One is Lavvie Dilweg, who was All-Decade in the 1920s, while another is Cecil Isbell, who was All-Decade in the 1930s.

Dilweg is the only first-team member from that All-Decade team of the ’20s not in Canton, while Isbell is the only All-Decade quarterback not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Another former Packer who was named All-Decade in the 1960s was Don Chandler. The former Florida Gator played most of his career with the New York Giants, both as a kicker and a punter, but also played three years with Green Bay from 1965 through 1967.

The Packers won the NFL title in each of those years, which also included the first two Super Bowls. Chandler was named as the punter on the All-Decade team of the ’60s.

Being named All-Decade is supposedly one of the key factors that the 25-person blue ribbon panel will use in their determination of the final group of 10 seniors.

That certainly helps players like Dowler, Dilweg and Isbell.

But there are a number of other former Packers were dominant players in their day and came very close to being named All-Decade.

I’m talking about Verne Lewellen in the 1920s, Bobby Dillon in the 1950s, (Ron) Kramer in the 1960s, Gale Gillingham in the 1970s and Sterling Sharpe in the 1990s.

Lewellen was considered the premiere punter of his era, when punting was truly an art form in the era of “three yards and a cloud of dust” in the NFL of the ’20s. There was no punter named on the All-Decade team of the 20s.

Plus, Lewellen was multi-talented, as he scored more touchdowns than anyone who played in the NFL while he was a player, plus once led the NFL in interceptions one season.

Dillon intercepted 52 passes in just eight seasons in the NFL. One of the people who will be on the blue ribbon panel, Ron Wolf, is a big fan of Dillon.

“He was a 9.7 sprinter coming out of the University of Texas and would be a corner in today’s game,” Wolf said. “But back then the best athletes were put inside. In order to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I believe you are talking about the best of the best. Bobby Dillon is one of those from his era. Witness the fact that (safeties) Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell are in the Hall. Dillon accomplished more than those particular players did in the same era. He was a rare football player, the best defensive back of his time.”

Kramer was considered among the best three tight ends in football when he played in the 1960s and the other two, Mike Ditka and John Mackey, are in Canton.

Gillingham was considered the one of the top guards in the NFL for several years and most likely would have been named All-Decade in the 1970s had not head coach Dan Devine foolishly moved No. 68 to defensive tackle for the 1972 season.

Not only was that move ridiculous, but a knee injury cost Gillingham almost the entire ’72 season.

When Sharpe played from 1988 through 1994 before a neck injury ended his career, only Jerry Rice was considered to be above No. 84 in terms of stature at the wide receiver position.

Another former Packer who deserves consideration for a place in the Hall is Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston. The first trade Vince Lombardi ever made once he became head coach and general manager of the Packers, was to acquire Thurston from the Colts.

Thurston, along with Kramer, made the power sweep the signature play of the Packers in the Lombardi era. The two guards would pull out and get to the second and third levels with their blocks, as Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung would continually and consistently gain large chunks of yardage.

Based on my discussions with people like Rick Gosselin and Judge, I believe the two best possibilities in terms of being named as a senior for the Packers as part of the Class of 2020, are Dowler and Dilweg.

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler

But I believe only one Packer will get in as a senior in 2020.

We should know something very soon.

I also believe Jack Vainisi has a chance to be one of the three contributors for the Class of 2020. If not that class, he should be put in the Hall of Fame in the near future.

Wolf should know all about Vainisi’s prowess as a scout in the 1950s for the Packers. There are seven Packers who Vainisi drafted in the ’50s who are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I’m talking about Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Ray Nitschke and (Jerry) Kramer.

Plus, it was Vainisi who also drafted Dillon, (Ron) Kramer and Dowler.

Vainisi also played a pivotal role in bringing Lombardi to Green Bay in 1959.

These are my observations as the hourglass continues to run down regarding who from the Packers could be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

We will know soon enough.