Green Bay Packers: Why Drafting Jonathan Taylor with Pick No. 30 is a Possibility

Jonathan Taylor Combine

There is absolutely no doubt that Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. Taylor is sixth on the all-time rushing yards leaders list and would have passed everyone in front of him had he played his senior year in Madison.

No. 1 on the list is former Badger Ron Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 yards in four seasons with the Badgers. No. 33 also was able to win the Doak Walker Award and the Heisman Trophy his last season with Wisconsin in 1999.

When Taylor announced that he was moving on to play in the NFL shortly after the Rose Bowl, No. 23 had accumulated 6,174 yards rushing (and 50 touchdowns) and had 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.

Although Taylor never won the Heisman Trophy, he did win back-to-back Doak Walker Awards in 2018 and 2019.

Had Taylor played in 2020 with the Badgers, it was virtually certain (unless he was injured) that he would have been the all-time rushing leader in college football history and by a wide margin.

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.

Ball security has to be the number one item that Taylor has to improve on. That being said, in his junior year, a number of the fumbles occurred while the Badgers were running the Wildcat offense and also when Taylor was fighting for extra yards.

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.

NFL scout Chris Landry noted this about Taylor’s performance 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 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.”

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

In terms of of the 2020 NFL draft, I believe it’s a real possibility that the Green Bay Packers might select Taylor at pick No. 30 in Round No. 1.

Why?

There are several reasons. For one, head coach Matt LaFleur runs the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

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.”

Being put in space is something the Packers do on third down with running back Aaron Jones, who is coming off a great 2019 season. Besides rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, Jones showed off his great receiving skills last season, as he had 49 catches for 474 yards and three scores.

Both Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2020 season.

That being said, there is a mutual interest in extending the contract of Jones, as the Packers were slated to meet with the agent of Jones last week to talk about getting a new deal done for No. 33 as he enters his final contract year.

So, why would the Packers draft another running back, especially in Round 1?

All one has to do is look at the running game of the San Francisco 49ers which is three-deep (and at times four-deep) in terms of quality depth. LaFleur basically learned the outside zone scheme from working with the current coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan.

LaFleur and the Packers learned a painful lesson in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, as the Niners ran for a whopping 285 yards, with 220 yards coming from running back Rasheem Mostert, as the 49ers beat the Packers 37-20.

San Francisco was second in the NFL in rushing with 2,305 yards in 2019 and had three running backs who ran for at least 540 yards last season. Mostert ran for 772 yards, while Matt Breida ran for 623 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards.

And when there were some injury issues, a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, ran for 125 yards. Add to that, wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also utilized on end around plays and jet sweeps, as he rushed for 159 yards.

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last year, but by adding a weapon like Taylor would surely enhance the running game.

Plus, let’s not forget that Jones was shut down in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to knee injuries.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

Williams is a solid back, especially on third down due to his pass-blocking ability and his receiving skills, but he is not the game-breaker that Jones is or Taylor is.

Plus by adding the former Badger, both Jones and Taylor can be utilized at the same time. For instance, Jones could be utilized in the passing or running game like the Niners use Samuel in the slot, while Taylor is in the backfield.

Improving the running game will also help quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, as play-action passes have a much better rate of success, plus defenses will put more players in the box to stop the run, which opens up deep passing lanes.

Just take a look at the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterback coach.

The Dirty Birds had a great running back combination with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,944 yards.

Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.

The Packers go into the 2020 NFL draft with 10 picks overall.  The Packers have a first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.

The Packers have a number of needs going into the draft. The two most glaring needs are at wide receiver and at inside linebacker.

The Packers need to find a bookend to Davante Adams at receiver. Fortunately for the Packers, the 2020 wide receiver class in the draft is one of the deepest in several years. The Packers can select a very good receiver in Round 2 because of the depth in this class.

By the way, Adams was a second-round pick by the Packers in 2014.

The Packers are most likely moving on from Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, as he is an unrestricted free agent. No. 50 is a tackling machine no doubt, but his lack of speed hurts him when he chases down running backs on the edge, as well as in pass coverage.

Both positions can be improved before the draft because general manager Brian Gutekunst is not afraid to go after players he targets in free agency.

All one has to do is look at the haul Gutekunst made in 2019, when he signed safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Preston Smith, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and guard Billy Turner.

Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 Combine

Gutekunst is reportedly interested in a couple of players who could definitely help the Packers. One is tight end Austin Hooper of the Falcons, while the other is inside linebacker Joe Schobert of the Cleveland Browns. Schobert hails from Waukesha, Wisconsin and also played his college football for the Badgers in Madison.

If Jimmy Graham is cut by the Packers, it would free up an additional $8 million in salary cap space. That money could be utilized to help sign Hooper, who had his rookie year when LaFleur was the QB coach in Atlanta.

In the past two years with the Falcons, the 6-4, 254-pound Hooper has caught 146 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The 6-1, 245-pound Schobert made a number of big plays for the Browns defensively, as he had two sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2019. Schobert plays the pass much better than Martinez, plus also is a tackling machine against the run, as in 2017, Schobert tied with Martinez and Buffalo’s Preston Brown for the NFL lead in tackles with 144.

There is also speculation that the Packers might be interested in bringing back slot receiver Randall Cobb. The former Kentucky Wildcat played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, after spending eight years in Green Bay.

That will be an interesting dynamic regarding Cobb, if indeed the Packers are interested in bringing him back. In Dallas, he could be reunited with head coach Mike McCarthy, while if he comes back to Green Bay, he would be back with many of his closest friends, including Rodgers.

Cobb had a good year for the Cowboys in 2019 playing mostly slot receiver, as he had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns.

Time will tell what Gutekunst will do in free agency this year, but one thing is for sure, he looks a lot more like Ron Wolf when he headed the front office of the Packers than the man who proceeded him at GM, Ted Thompson.

Wolf utilized free agency freely, while Thompson rarely dipped his toes into those types of transactions. And when he did, it was usually after a player was cut by his former team (see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers) or by signing undrafted rookie or street free agents.

If Gutekunst can help the team via free agency before the draft, then the Packers don’t have to focus on need as much in Round 1, as opposed to selecting the best player available.

Taylor might just be the best player available at pick No. 30 on the draft board of the Packers, especially knowing what an impact he would have with the Green Bay outside zone running scheme. Not to mention adding another home run threat to the offensive backfield and adding quality depth behind Jones.

When Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft takes place on April 23rd, don’t be shocked if the Packers select another stud running back to make their outside zone running scheme even more dangerous.

That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.

Initial 7-Round 2016 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Ted Thompson 2015 NFL Scouting Combine

In terms of the 2016 NFL draft, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) are now over. Those games gave us a chance to look at the many prospects for the upcoming draft.

The actual 2016 NFL draft will start on April 28 and last through April 30. Before then, there are still a couple more steps in which prospects can help themselves in terms of their draft stock.

The NFL Scouting Combine starts on February 23 and after that we will have the various pro days for the players in the draft to try and impress the scouts, coaches and front office-types who will be in attendance.

I will be doing four or five mock drafts before the actual draft. As I noted in the recent story I just wrote about tight end Hunter Henry of Arkansas, I’ve had a pretty good track record predicting some of the players that Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers have actually selected in the draft over the years.

For instance, last year I was correct in my projection that both both cornerback Quinten Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan would be selected in my final mock draft last year.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve become a real student of the NFL draft and it’s great to have built an association like I’ve established with NFL scout Chris Landry.

Landry is one of the best in the business and his insight and knowledge really help me out, as I look at the prospects that I feel would be good fits for the Packers.

The Packers currently have picks in all seven rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, plus are expected to receive two compensatory picks for the losses of Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency.

I’m estimating that those losses will garner the Packers a compensatory pick in the fourth round and also one in the fifth round.

So, without further adieu, here is my first 2016 NFL mock draft for the Packers, also utilizing the compensatory picks.

Round 1: Tight End Hunter Henry (Arkansas)

Hunter HenryHeight: 6’6″

Weight: 255 pounds

The Packers have the 27th selection in the first round of this year’s draft. At this point, I’m guessing that all four of the top offensive tackles in the draft will already have been taken at this point of the draft. I’m thinking the same will hold true regarding inside linebacker Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Therefore, if tight end Hunter Henry is still on the board, I’m taking him. Why? The Packers need an additional tight end who can stretch the seam down the middle of the field, similar to what Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots and Greg Olsen of the Panthers can do. That will also open things up for the wide receivers on the Packers.

Think about the Keith Jackson/Mark Chmura combination in 1995 and 1996, when you consider the duo of Henry and Richard Rodgers.

Henry was named to the 2015 AP first team All-American team, as well as being named to the first team All-SEC squad. Henry also won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

In 2015, Henry had 51 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns. In his first two years at Arkansas, Henry had 65 receptions for 922 yards and six touchdowns.

Hunter is definitely the best tight end in this draft, plus he can run-block. Just ask NFL scout Chis Landry:

“I’ve liked Hunter Henry since he stepped on at Arkansas as a true freshman,” Landry said. “I thought he was one of the best tight ends in the country then. He’s very athletic in the modern day game of football where you can play the wide-flex and put him out.

“He’s outstanding in the passing game and he is really good in the running game, because you have to be in the run-scheme that Bret Bielema has. I like him an awful lot. I think he’s good. I think the kid [Austin Hooper] from Stanford is a good player. The kid from Ohio State has had a really good week here, Nick Vannett, who I think is a really good player as well, so keep an eye out on him.

“But I would definitely put Hunter Henry at the top of this group. I think you can get him later in the first round, simply because tight ends tend to move down a little bit, but it wouldn’t shock me if someone in the teens reached for him. He’s that good.”

Round 2: Linebacker Scooby Wright III (Arizona)

Scooby WrightHeight: 6’1″

Weight: 246 pounds

Scooby Wright of Arizona took the college football world by storm in 2014, as the sophomore had one of the better seasons put together by a linebacker in recent memory.

That season, Wright had 164 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one fumble recovery and five forced fumbles. That led to Wright getting a number of awards, including the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Vince Lombardi Award. Wright was also a consensus All-American.

In 2015, Wright was hobbled by injuries to both his knee and his foot. He missed most of the regular season, but was back for the New Mexico Bowl, where he had 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks, as the Wildcats beat the New Mexico Lobos 45-37.

The Packers need an inside linebacker who is adept at stopping the run at the line of scrimmage or behind it. Wright is that type of player. With the addition of Wright, the Packers can move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, while the other inside linebacker spot would be filled by either Jake Ryan or Sam Barrington. Joe Thomas has been playing at the position on passing downs.

I also talked with Chris Landry about Wright and he’s very impressed.

“Scooby Wright is really an outstanding player,” Landry said. “He’s very instinctive. He’s a lot like Zach Thomas, who played for Texas Tech years ago and played with the Dolphins.

“Very good tackler. Fills the holes versus the run very hard. Also has the ability to get to his landmarks in coverage. He’s always in position.

“Some guys are what we call “glute” players. They really do a good job of diagnosing things on the field and being a coach on the field. That’s what Scooby Wright is. I think he’s going to translate very well in that regard on the pro level.”

Round 3: Offensive Tackle Kyle Murphy (Stanford)

Kyle MurphyHeight: 6’7″

Weight: 298 pounds

Stanford runs a pro-style offense and they run a very good mixture of plays in both the passing game and the running game. The offense was very successful, as once again the Cardinal won the Pac-12 conference and the Rose Bowl.

Kyle Murphy was a big reason why. Murphy played left tackle in 2015, plus played right tackle in 2014.

Murphy was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 and second team All-Pac-12 in 2014.

Murphy is a very solid blocker in the running game, plus is steadily improving in terms of his pass blocking.

The Packers desperately need some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. Don Barclay is certainly not the answer. Barclay gave up nine sacks just by himself in 2015, playing in place of both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari when both were injured.

Bulaga has been injury prone his entire career in Green Bay, while Bakhtiari had both knee and ankle injuries which hampered him almost all of the 2015 season.

The Packers need a quality replacement on hand if either go down due to injury. Murphy can fill that role.

Round 4: Linebacker Joe Schobert (Wisconsin)

Joe SchobertHeight: 6’2″

Weight: 236 pounds

The outside linebacker position is in a flux situation right now with the Packers. While it does appear that the Packers will move Clay Matthews back to the position in 2016, there are a number of questions that still need to be answered.

The first question is whether or not Julius Peppers will return in 2016. My guess is that No. 56  and his 10.5 sacks in 2015 will return. But both Mike Neal and Nick Perry will both be unrestricted free agents in March. I can’t see the Packers bringing both of them back.

Both Neal and Perry played well for the Packers down the stretch and in the postseason. It will be a tough decision as to who to keep. The Packers also have players like Jayrone Elliott and Andy Mulumba in reserve. Of the two, Elliott has more upside.

But more depth is needed at the position, especially if you could add a player who can make big plays. Joe Schobert of the Wisconsin Badgers can do that.

In the past two seasons, playing on one of the better defenses in college football, Schobert had 130 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and six forced fumbles.

In 2015, Schobert was named as a first team All-American, as well as being named first team All-Big Ten. Schobert was also named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, plus won the Jack Lambert Trophy.

I also talked to Chris Landry about Schobert.

“The Badger [speaking of Schobert] is a really good pass rusher,” Landry said. “He’s got good pursuit skills. I think he’s an outstanding player.”

Round 4 (compensatory): Running Back Josh Ferguson (Illinois)

Josh Ferguson.jpgHeight: 5’10”

Weight: 200 pounds

Head coach Mike McCarthy laid down the gauntlet recently for Eddie Lacy when he announced that No. 27 has to get in better shape heading into the 2016 season. The Packers want Lacy to lose 30 pounds. When Lacy was at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, he weighed in at 231 pounds. That was good enough for the Packers to draft him. It also tells me that Lacy was probably playing at a weight of something north of 260 pounds in 2015.

Reportedly, Lacy has reached out to Tony Horton, the creator of the P90x workout. We shall see whether or not that alliance, if it should happen, will get Lacy back to the weight he was in 2013, when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

James Starks had a decent year filling in for Lacy at running back and based on reports I’ve read, it looks as though he will return to the Packers, even though he will be an unrestricted free agent in March.

The Packers also have John Crockett on the roster to add depth to the position. While Lacy and Starks are pretty good receivers out of the backfield, especially Starks on screen plays, the Packers could use a player who could really fill that role.

To me, that player is Josh Ferguson of Illinois, who had a real good week at the East-West Shrine Game, which is played right down the road (St. Petersburg, Florida) so to speak from where I live.

Ferguson looked very quick in the practices that week, and is a natural catching the football.

In his career at Illinois, Ferguson rushed for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus caught 168 passes for 1,507 yards and eight touchdowns.

Ferguson also has experience in returning kickoffs.

Round 5: Defensive Tackle Matt Ioannidis (Temple)

Matt IoannidisHeight: 6’4″

Weight: 295 pounds

One of the players who really improved his stock at the Senior Bowl was defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis of Temple.

Depending on what the Packers do on the defensive line this offseason, a player like Ioannidis could add some quality depth.

Both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion will be unrestricted free agents this March. Raji was having a very nice season in 2015, when a groin injury slowed him down. Guion missed the first three games of the season due to a suspension, then started slow, but came on down the stretch late in the season and in the postseason.

I would not be surprised if the Packers bring them both back. The cap hit for the two of them combined in 2015 was just over $4 million combined ($4,235,000).

The Packers also re-signed their best player on the defensive line, Mike Daniels, to a long term deal. Datone Jones had his best season for the Packers in 2015, plus the Packers also like the progress that Mike Pennel made this past season.

In addition to that, Josh Boyd spent the season on injured reserve, while rookie Christian Ringo impressed on the practice squad.

Still, you can never have too many quality players mixing it up in the trenches.

Ioannidis is more of a run stuffer, but can also rush the passer on occasion. In his career at Temple, Ioannidis had 112 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, deflected eight passes, had one fumble recovery and had two forced fumbles.

Round 5 (compensatory): Cornerback Taveze Calhoun (Mississippi State)

Taveze CalhounHeight: 6’1″

Weight: 185 pounds

The Packers will most likely lose Casey Hayward to free agency this offseason, but the team should still be in good shape depth-wise at the cornerback position. The Packers will still have Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde, Demetri Goodson and LaDarius Gunter.

That being said, the NFL is a pass-happy league, and one can never have enough cornerbacks.

In college football, no conference has faster receivers than the SEC conference, which is where Taveze Calhoun of Mississippi State played.

Calhoun was another player who showed off his skills at the East-West Shrine Game practices.

Calhoun also played on one of the better defenses in the SEC and he was part of a great tandem at cornerback, along with Will Redmond.

In his career with the Bulldogs, Calhoun had 154 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 21 passes defended, six interceptions, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.

Round 6: Offensive Tackle Alex Lewis (Nebraska)

Alex LewisHeight: 6’6″

Weight: 290 pounds

Alex Lewis of Nebraska was yet another player who stood out at the East-West Shrine Game practices.

Lewis first played his college ball at Colorado before transferring to Nebraska. Lewis was the team captain for the Huskers in 2015. His dad Bill was a former All-American center for the Huskers in the 1980s.

Lewis was named to the second team All-Big Ten squad in 2015 and was named honorable mention in 2014 by both the coaches and the media.

As I said with the earlier selection of Kyle Murphy, the Packers need to add some quality depth at the offensive tackle position. The Packers found themselves without both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari in one game this season versus the Arizona Cardinals. The results were not pretty. In fact, they were downright ugly.

Round 7: Quarterback Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech)

Jeff DriskelHeight: 6’4″

Weight: 234 pounds

There is a reasonable chance that backup quarterback Scott Tolzien will be leaving the Packers this offseason, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March. As we saw numerous times in 2015 with a number of teams in the NFL, the quarterback play was absolutely brutal at times. Tolzien will look to get a shot as a starter with one of those teams in 2016.

Third string quarterback Brett Hundley was truly fantastic in his chance to shine in the 2015 preseason for the Packers. All told, Hundley posted a passer rating of 129.7 based on 45 completions on 65 attempts for 630 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception last summer.

If Tolzien leaves, Hundley will step up to be come the main backup to Aaron Rodgers. That means the Packers will be looking to develop another young quarterback on their roster.

It would be nice if the quarterback has a strong arm and good mobility, just like Rodgers and Hundley have.

Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech has those attributes. Driskel played in the Senior Bowl this year and he threw a late touchdown pass off his back foot late in the game.

Driskel played most of his collegiate career with the Florida Gators before transferring to Louisiana Tech. In his career with both Florida and Louisiana Tech, Driskel threw 50 touchdown passes versus 28 picks for 7,437 yards.

Driskel also rushed for 972 yards and had 14 touchdowns.

In his one and only year at La Tech, Driskel threw 27 touchdowns passes versus eight interceptions for 4,026 yards.