GREEN BAY, Wis. – Want to know who the Green Bay Packers are going to pick in the first round tonight?
You might have better luck getting the nuclear codes to attack those troublesome penguins in Antarctica.
My first NFL Draft as a full-time Packers beat writer was in 2009 but my first overall might have been 2003. This is the most tight-lipped draft that I can remember. Over the last week, I’ve sent countless e-mails and text messages to agents. It’s not that they don’t know who the Packers are leaning toward. They can’t even get a return message from general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Loose lips sink ships. Last year, the player I predicted would be the pick was Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers thought the Packers were going to take Aiyuk, too. So, they jumped ahead of Green Bay and took the talented slot. It was a franchise-changing move. With the receiver board wiped out, Gutekunst traded up for quarterback Jordan Love.
That said, after numerous conversations with decision-makers around the league and talks with agents, here’s what I think.
First-Round Receiver Is Realistic Option
The Packers could deliver that long-awaited first-round receiver to Aaron Rodgers. In fact, just about every agent that I’ve spoke to predicted they’d take a receiver, including a few agents who have first-round prospects at other positions but not one at receiver. To me, that was interesting.
“That whole ‘Aaron Rodgers needs offensive weapons’ thing has kind of been under the radar but that’s still a thing,” one team’s personnel director said. “It’s not like they have a stable of receivers. Those young guys have been inconsistent. (Marquez) Valdes(-Scantling) is a quality player but, other than that, it’s him and Davante (Adams). I know for sure Aaron has been pushing for a receiver in some form or fashion. So, I would not be shocked if it’s a receiver.”
One scout had an interesting idea. If there’s tension between Gutekunst and Rodgers over last year’s selection of Love and the lack of movement on a contract extension, one way to diffuse it would be to give Rodgers a weapon to pair with Adams. Yes, the Packers led the NFL in scoring and Rodgers won his third MVP last season, but why not try to be even better? Remember, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Green Bay’s offense failed to deliver in crunch time against Tampa Bay. Would another legit receiver have pushed the Packers over the top? And don’t forget, the Packers have zero receivers with more than five career receptions under contract in 2022.
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More First-Round Possibilities
Last night, I published a story with scouts guessing Green Bay would go with Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, TCU safety Trevon Moehrig or Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis. Those predictions were amplified on Thursday morning. Two scouts believed there was a chance all four players could be available at 29.
One scout also mentioned Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood. Jenkins and Leatherwood are tackles by trade who could play guard. They’d provide immediate depth at a position that has been eroded by attrition. Remember, if left tackle David Bakhtiari isn’t quite back from his torn ACL in time for Week 1, Billy Turner could move to left tackle but who would play right tackle? If you say Elgton Jenkins, fine, but who’s going to play left guard? Remember, last year's No. 3 tackle, Rick Wagner, played 57 percent of the snaps. Getting an instant contributor on the offensive line is of vital importance.
“Safest player outside the top 15,” a scout said of Teven Jenkins.
Davis is a superior athlete at a position where the Packers have lacked superior athletes. As one scout put it, “After watching (Tampa Bay’s) Devin White and (Chicago’s) Roquan (Smith) four times last year, you’d think Gutey would be intrigued about what a player like Davis could do for his defense.”
The Packers don’t need a safety, not with Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. However, Savage played in the slot at Maryland and Moehrig played in the slot at TCU.
“I don’t know if he’s there but Moehrig fits what Green Bay typically drafts,” one top scout said. “He’s smart, good kid, young, clean character, clean injury history, good football player. I wouldn’t be surprised at that. My sleeper pick for them is him, Davis or a receiver.”
So, Who’s the Pick?
Gutekunst has traded up in each of his first three drafts. So, my guess is he trades up again for a receiver. A scout on Thursday morning said his team has the board stacked as Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore and Purdue’s Rondale Moore.
Unless Gutekunst is ready to move on from the team’s long-established height parameters, neither Elijah Moore (5-9 1/2) nor Rondale Moore (5-7) will be an option. That would leave it between Bateman, who can play outside and inside, and Toney, who is more of just a slot but also has running and return experience. Toney would be an exceptional fit in the slot, not just as a receiver but on jet sweeps with his 8.8-yard average on 66 career attempts. However, he missed portions of the 2017 and 2019 seasons due to injuries. Bateman’s been healthy, is a year younger and, as one league source noted, has cold-weather experience. In other words, Toney has the higher ceiling while Bateman has the lower floor.
So, Bateman is the pick with a trade up. That, of course, means the Packers will trade out of the first round and pick a lineman on Friday, right?