Thursday night: the Packers are on the clock and I am standing in front of my TV. This is not my usual draft MO. I’m usually at the prized corner position on the family room sectional, chillin’ because the Pack is picking at the back of the first round and they’ll likely just be taking a DB from the Pac 12.
But this was Gutey’s first go-around. The guy who leap-frogged the chosen on (Eliot Wolf) and was handed the task of making sure Aaron Rodgers’ golden years have a chance to be golden on the field as well.
And from the perspective of us fans, the first round had fallen precisely into place. The Packers were on the clock and safety/slot corner do-everything DB Derwin James was still on the board. Most mocks had him heading to Tampa Bay at #7. On top of that, young speedy linebacker Tremaine Edwards was also still available. Maybe he could be the prized inside linebacker in Mike Pettine’s newfangled defense.
Either one would do. But wait, the Pack has traded down to #27. Instant deflation. Why? Why pass up the chance to take a playmaking defensive player when that unit desperately needs another? But then we hear the Pack acquired the Saints’ #1 pick next year. Whoa, Gutey. Can’t blame you there–that’s huge capital. Sure, the Saints could be a Super Bowl contender. But they could also see the bottom drop out as can happen to any team at any time.
Moments later, Gutey traded back up into the middle of the round to select CB Jaire Alexander and all was right with the world again (well mostly…ok, somewhat…ok, never mind). The Pack’s situation at corner was extremely shaky heading into this draft. Yes, veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House were brought in as stopgaps, but both are likely here for just one season. The future was Kevin King (provided he can stay healthy) and a bunch of unproven youngsters: Rollins, Hawkins, Pipkins and Brown.
Clearly the Packers front office targeted that position and figured that Alexander would likely still be available a bit later in the round. Or maybe they liked him and Mike Hughes and figured they could get one of those two guys (though Hughes comes with considerable off-field concerns. Sometimes those go away, but sometimes they don’t). For what it’s worth, Alexander was Mike Mayock’s #1 CB in this draft.
Sounds like Alexander will step instantly into the nickel CB spot, with a chance to move outside next season. He’s about 3/4 of an inch short of the usual Ron Wolf measurables chart, but he checks every other box you want (including a sizzling 4.38 40 time), plus plays with attitude. When Mel Kiper invoked the name Deion Sanders when describing him, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. He may get a shot as a returner, which would be a bonus. If he can be a playmaking corner covering slot receivers, the Pack’s defense will have taken a huge step forward.
On to Friday night, where I was hoping a pass rushing outside linebacker might drop into the Pack’s laps. It almost happened, as BC’s Harold Landry continued to slide. He was a popular pick for the Pack in round one in many mocks and he was almost still there at 45, but the Titans swooped down and grabbed him at 41. But lo and behold, Iowa’s Josh Jackson was still there and Gutey pounced. Another year, another pair of corners in their first two picks. Jackson became the 7th DB drafted in the first two rounds in the past five drafts.
This pick was universally loved. The only concern with Jackson was his 4.58 40 time. Packer scouts believe he’ll be plenty fast enough to keep up with NFL receivers, plus his bigger frame and ability to jam receivers at the line will fit Pettine’s needs perfectly. He picked off eight balls and deflected another 17 last season–he was the #1 corner in the draft according to Pro Football Focus. By most accounts, the Pack snagged two of the top four corners in this draft–immediately transforming the depth chart. House and Williams may start the season, but if things go according to plan, King, Alexander and Jackson will all be starting by the end of the season.
It was not a surprise that Gutey traded back into the third round, after trading his own third to move back up in the first round. What was a surprise is that he again ignored a pass rusher. Clearly he and his staff did not value the ability of the guys still available at that position. In LB Oren Burks, out of Vandy, they get a versatile, speedy defender who started out at safety and then moved to outside linebacker. By all accounts, he’ll move inside to play alongside Blake Martinez, allowing Matthews to remain outside, where he’d prefer to be. He also has a shot at being the dime ‘backer, with his speed and coverage ability.
The move into the third cost a pair of fourth rounders, but Gutey still had eight day three picks. Either he would package some to move around and maybe end up with six more players, or he was going to get a bit creative with his eight picks. He chose the latter, surprising all of us by drafting a punter and a long snapper. Alabama’s JK Scott was the second of three punters drafted in the fifth round and will compete with Justin Vogel for the job. His rare knack for hitting the corners makes him attractive and he had a stellar career in huge games for the Tide. Why not see what he can do at this level.
Long Snapper Hunter Bradley was regarded as the best in the draft and last year that position was a horror show. Again, when you’re drafting 11 players, rather than the usual seven or eight, you have the luxury of avoiding the circus that is the chase for undrafted free agents. The Packers have their new snapper and he will get to work with Vogel, Scott and Mason Crosby as soon as the team gathers for mini camp.
The other noteworthy element to Saturday was the three swings Gutey took at wide receiver. After losing Nelson and Janis, the Pack needed to retool and add some bodies. If one of the three become a top four guy, it will be a success. The first off the board was Missouri’s J’mon Moore, whose 4.60 at the combine sent him tumbling down draft boards despite two very productive seasons. The Pack believes his 4.49 pro day time is more indicative of who he is.
I’ve never seen him play, but shortly after the pick was announced, I got a text from former Fan host (and current Kansas City sports talker) Henry Lake. He wanted me to know that we got a good one here. He’s watched him play a lot. “(Moore) is really good. Great value for your Packers. Nice sleeper pick.” That’s good enough for me. He’s had some issues with drops, but he’s big, physical and made a lot of big plays in college.
The next two guys will keep the Pack’s uniform stitching ladies very busy. Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. Dang, that’s a lot of letters. Scantling is the speed guy the Pack needed to add, clocking in at 4.37. He started at NC State and finished at South Florida. Sounds like he may need a year of seasoning.
EQ will likely have the best summer, since he’ll be catching a lot of balls from his college teammate DeShone Kizer: the pair hooked up 58 times for 961 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016–most draft analysts seem to believe he has the chance to be the best of the three. But his reported disdain for playing special teams is a concern. Hopefully he’ll learn how things work in the NFL.
The Pack finally addressed the offensive line in the fifth round when they added right tackle Cole Madison from Washington State. It wouldn’t be a Packers draft without a Pac 12 pick along with a day three lineman–those have worked out exceedingly well in recent drafts. Madison will compete with Justin McCray for the right guard spot. For now it looks like the Pack will hope that Bulaga heals quickly, or that Spriggs or Murphy is ready to step in there.
The other selection was defensive end James Looney, out of Cal. He played in a 3-4 there, though appears to be a bit undersized and needs to play more physically–sounds like a candidate for the practice squad.
Biggest surprise for me is that the Pack didn’t draft a potential candidate at right tackle or a tight end. Jimmy Graham is likely a one or two year fix and Lance Kendricks is not the long term answer. At some point they need to draft one somewhat early–they usually take a year to get acclimated to the game before they produce on the field. They did add an undrafted guy, Kevin Rader out of Youngstown State. But he caught 22 balls for 272 yards and two TDs, so he doesn’t get my pulse racing.
The Pack has added around a dozen undrafted guys, including a QB out of Eastern Kentucky. Most of the guys are linemen, both sides of the bal,l along with three more inside linebackers.
Overall, we won’t be able to grade this draft for a few years, but I’m excited about the two corners and the potential that Burks could add to the middle of the defense. And having an extra first rounder makes this a great first draft for the new regime. The Pack is getting top grades by most of the “experts.” If they hit on their first three picks and all three are productive this season, Mike Pettine’s unit will not be a liability and the Pack will be right where we expect them to be in December and beyond.