This is Part 5 of our Green Bay Packers seven-round mock draft. Our picks for the first four rounds were vetted by three NFL scouts to make sure our selections have a good chance of being available. Picks in the final three rounds are being based on a combination of player rankings at NFL Draft Scout and Optimum Scouting and the opinions of two scouts.
In our mock, the Packers replaced T.J. Lang in the first round and filled critical needs at cornerback in the second round and outside linebacker in the third round. We added another cornerback in the fourth round.
With Green Bay's selection n the fifth round, it’s time to get a running back.
The Packers haven’t drafted a running back since 2013, when they landed Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round.
Coach Mike McCarthy covets three-down backs. That’s something he reiterated at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix on Wednesday. The Packers also covet size. Power runners, after all, are key during bad-weather/bad-field games in December and January. General manager Ted Thompson hasn’t always drafted big runners. Howver, when he drafted Brandon Jackson (5-10, 210) in 2007, he had Ryan Grant (6-1, 222). Franklin (5-10, 205) came after Lacy (5-11, 231).
Ty Montgomery isn’t exactly small at 6-foot and 216 pounds, but he has to prove he’s got the durability to pound the ball between the tackles 10 or 12 times a game. That means Thompson will likely go into this draft seeking a big runner who can catch and protect.
Pittsburgh’s James Conner (6-1, 233; 4.65 at Combine) and Wyoming’s Brian Hill (6-1, 219; 4.54 at Combine) were considerations in the fourth round. Asked about the odds that either would make it to the Packers’ spot at No. 174, a scout said. “If forced to guess, I’d say ‘no’ on both, but you know how backs tend to fall.”
Conner is one of the great stories in the draft. In 2014, he was a first-team All-American with 1,765 rushing yards and a school-record 26 rushing touchdowns. Conner, however, tore his MCL in the 2015 opener and sat out the rest of the season. Conner was winded during his rehab. His face was puffy. On Thanksgiving 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer. Twelve rounds of chemotherapy later, he beat the disease and rushed for 1,092 yards (5.1 average) and caught 21 passes (14.4 yards per catch). He had only one fumble.
“I ask the coaches, ‘What do you guys want in a RB?’ They want a tough guy," Conner said at the Scouting Combine. "My mental toughness and my physical toughness, I feel, is second to none. I just been through so much and I think I’m more determined than any running back in this class and just willing to make sacrifices and do whatever it takes.”
Hill piled up 1,631 yards (5.8 average) as a sophomore and 1,860 yards (5.3 average) as a junior before turning pro, well aware of the wear and tear of 775 carries. The major question mark are his eight catches last season, though it should be noted Wyoming ran the ball 62.5 percent of the time. He did have 20 grabs (6.6 yards per catch) as a sophomore. Hill had only one fumble.
“Honestly, if I’m giving a scouting report on myself, I’m going to say; I’m the best running back in this class,” he said at the Combine. “I have the hands, I run the ball well, and I’m really active in the pass protection game. I’m one of the few all-around backs in the draft class.”
If both backs are gone, the next-best big backs would be North Carolina’s underrated Elijah Hood (6-0, 232; 4.58 at pro day) and Wisconsin’s Corey Clement (5-10, 220; 4.68 at Combine).
Hood rushed for 1,463 yards (6.7 average) and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore. He split time with fellow draft prospect T.J. Logan as a junior and rushed for 858 yards (5.9 average) and eight touchdowns. His three-year total was 2,580 yards (6.0 average) and 29 touchdowns. He caught a career-high 25 passes (5.7 yards per catch) in 2016. Hood fumbled twice.
Clement tallied career highs with 1,375 rushing yards (4.4 average) and 15 touchdowns as a senior. He had eight 100-yard rushing games, including career-high games of 164 yards against powerhouses Ohio State and Penn State. He finished his career with 3,092 rushing yards (5.4 average) and 36 touchdowns. However, he didn’t play on third down for the Badgers and had only 29 career catches, with 12 (11.0 yards per catch) as a senior. Plus, he had five fumbles.
Also part of the equation is pass protection. Based on Pro Football Focus.com’s breakdown, Hood was easily the best in our group of four, followed by Hill, Clement and Conner. Clement and Conner, in fact, were terrible, though they have the size to improve in that key phase.
Who’s the pick? If all four were available, my order of preference would be Hill, Hood (close second), Conner (close third) and Clement (distant fourth).
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.