After adding defensive tackle Kenny Clark to bolster the team’s weakest position in the first round, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and his staff gets back to work with pick No. 57 overall in the second round and No. 88 overall in the third round on Friday.
“Unless we do some trades or something,” Thompson said on Thursday night.
There’s plenty of talent available. Limiting this story only to positions of need, here’s a look at the Day 2 landscape.
The gigantic void left by B.J. Raji’s decision to not play in 2016 made defensive line the position of preference over inside linebacker. So, it was Clark instead of Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, who might not have solved the pass-coverage issues, anyway, and UCLA’s Myles Jack, whose knee problems scared away everyone in the first round.
Assuming Ragland and Jack don’t make it to Green Bay’s spot, would Thompson make a strong departure from his draft history by selecting USC’s Su’a Cravens or LSU’s Deion Jones in the second? Cravens in 226 pounds and Jones is 222. Thompson hasn’t drafted an inside linebacker lighter than 236 (Abdul Hodge in 2006). Cravens is a safety-turned-linebacker and Jones has the speed to run with anyone on the field. They’d be huge upgrades as pass defenders, with Cravens being an all-around weapon and Jones an excellent blitzer. More on Cravens later.
Also remember: Utah State’s Nick Vigil, who has the best change-of-direction skill of any linebacker in this draft, and West Virginia’s Nick Kwiatoski, who led the inside linebacker class with 10 passes defensed. They’re possibilities in Round 3. Ohio State’s Joshua Perry and Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers might not be the answer on third down but are excellent prospects, as well. The best statistical producer was Oklahoma’s Dominque Alexander — he allowed a 35.0 percent completion rate, best in the class — but he was a horrible tester at the Combine.
Clay Matthews is back at outside linebacker but who will join him in 2017, with Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Datone Jones — all elephant defenders — entering their final season under contract? That makes this a key looking-ahead-position.
True 3-4 outside linebackers: Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence doesn’t figure to get to Green Bay’s spot in the second, but Boise State’s Kamalei Correa could. He’s an athletic, high-motor performer who didn’t dominate in 2015 (seven sacks, 28 pressures, 37 tackles, 7.5 stuffs — defined by STATS as a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run). Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun is one of the best pass rushers in the draft (10.5 sacks and 46 pressures) but isn’t a strong run defender (45 tackles and only 2.5 stuffs). Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert does everything at a high level (9.5 sacks, 38 pressures, 10.5 stuffs, 71 tackles) but lacks size and length. Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell was an all-around standout against lesser competition (5.0 sacks, 25 pressures, 14 stuffs, 80 tackles). Schobert and Correa could figure inside, too, in the sort of role Matthews played the past season-and-a-half. This might be a bit early, but Southern Utah’s James Cowser statistically might be the best defensive player in FCS history. He owns the FCS records with 43 sacks and 80 tackles for losses.
Elephants: Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Clemson’s Kevin Dodd might not have a long wait on Friday. Penn State’s Carl Nassib (6-foot-6 7/8, 277 pounds) was the breakout player of all breakout players last season with an NCAA-leading 16.5 sacks. This was a guy who didn’t start a single game in his high school career. BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi (6-foot-6 1/2, 285 pounds) had 10 sacks and was a major impact player vs. the run (17 stuffs vs. Nassib’s four).
Clark is a big help but more work needs to be done. Without Raji, Mike Pennel (four-game suspension) and Jones (at least full-time as he shifts roles), the Packers could use another body to really turn the defensive line into a strength. Expect a run on that group in the second round but between Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Florida’s Jonathan Bullard, Penn State’s Austin Johnson, Illinois’ Jihad Ward, Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington and a pair of undersized playmakers, Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day and Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington, a few intriguing talents should be on the table. Most of those guys are mentioned here.
With guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang and left tackle David Bakhtiari entering their final season under contract, this is a problem area that must be addressed. At left tackle, Indiana’s Jason Spriggs will be long gone and Auburn’s Shon Coleman and Texas Tech’s LeRaven Clark are projects who need seasoning. And they’d have time to get that seasoning with Green Bay’s line intact for 2016. Coleman, who has battled back from cancer and spent two years out of the game, allowed just 0.75 sacks, according to STATS. Clark, with his enormous 36 1/8-inch arms and athleticism, has unbelievable left-tackle traits. He’s got a lot to learn after playing in a pread offense. He yielded three sacks but was flagged five times for holding.
Other than Stanford’s Joshua Garnett, who wouldn’t be a great fit in Green Bay’s zone scheme, the entire class of guards, which is led by Kansas State left tackle Cody Whitehair, is available. In fact, of our top eight remaining, Whitehair, Missouri’s Connor McGovern, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, North Carolina State’s Joe Thuney and Washington State’s Joe Dahl played left tackle for all or part of last season. Here’s our predraft story on the Elite 5.
Only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was selected in Round 1. That leaves Alabama powerhouse Derrick Henry on the board, as well as pass-catching threats Devontae Booker of Utah, Paul Perkins of UCLA, Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, C.J. Prosise of Notre Dame and Kenyan Drake of Alabama. Henry, Indiana’s Jordan Howard and Arkansas’ Alex Collins are workhorse types who could be in play if the Packers are considering moving on from Eddie Lacy and/or James Starks in 2017. Neither Henry, Howard nor Collins have shown to be much of a factor as a receiver. The elusive Perkins, the receiver-turned-back Prosise and career backup Drake have struggled in pass protection. Booker, with 1,257 rushing yards, 37 receptions and a decent grade in Pro Football Focus’ protection metric, might be the best blend.