By GERY WOELFEL
It isn’t often an NFL team can cure all of its ailments in a draft.
But this year’s draft, which commences Thursday night and concludes Saturday in Kansas City, could go a long way toward making the Green Bay Packers healthy again.
The Packers, who had advanced to the playoffs three straight seasons before missing out last season, are seemingly in a prime position to address their most glaring needs. Those needs are:
- Tight end. Robert Tonyan, who had manned the starting tight end position in recent years, bolted to Titletown and recently signed a free-agent deal with the rival Chicago Bears. The Packers current No. 1 tight end is now Josiah Deguara, a non-descript backup the last three seasons who had a paltry 13 catches last season.
- Wide receiver. The Packers leading receiver from last season, Allen Lazard, recently signed with the New York Jets. With Lazard’s departure, the Packers need another starting receiver to join Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, who are talented but still young and raw.
- Defensive end. Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed have moved on to Minnesota and Seattle, respectively, and left the D-line perilously thin.
Fortunately for the Packers, the draft will provide plenty of replaceable candidates at each of the aforementioned positions. In fact, it would be somewhat surprising if the Packers didn’t fill those glaring holes with their first three draft picks.
The Packers have a first-round pick, the 13th overall selection, along with a pair of second-rounders at Nos. 42 and 45, the former coming from the Jets as part of the Aaron Rodgers’ trade.
Here are three draft scenarios in which Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst can nicely plug the team’s holes at tight end, receiver and defensive end.
With their first pick, the Packers could focus on a tight end, either Michael Mayer of Notre Dame or Dalton Kincaid of Utah.
Then, in the second round, they could take a defensive end, possibly Felix Anudike-Uzomah of Kansas State, Tuli Tuipulotu of Southern Cal, Auburn’s Derick Hall or perhaps edge rusher Will McDonald IV of Iowa State, and a wide receiver, possibly Cedric Tillman of Tennessee, Tyler Scott of Cincinnati or Josh Downs of North Carolina.
The Packers use their first pick on a wide receiver. There are four generally agreed upon first-round receivers: Quentin Johnston of Texas Christian University, Zay Flowers of Boston College, Jordan Addison of Southern Cal and Jaxson Smith-Njigba of Ohio State, the latter being the overwhelming choice to be the first receiver taken off the draft board.
The Packers then could choose a defensive end, possibly Anudike-Uzomah, Tuipulotu, McDonald or Hall, and tight end, possibly Darnel Washington of Georgia or Sam LaPorta of Iowa or Luke Musgrave of Oregon State or Tucker Kraft of South Dakota State.
The Packers opt to take a defense end with the 13th overall pick and cold possibly choose Myles Murphy of Clemson or Lukas Van Ness of Iowa.
Then, in the second round, Green Bay could take a receiver (Scott, Tillman or Downs or perhaps rising Jonathan Mingo of Mississippi and a tight end (Washington, LaPorta, Musgrave or Kraft).
As one can see, Gutekunst will have several options in which to address his team’s most pressing needs.
My Packers’ mock draft
Here’s how I would draft for the Packers.
(Round, overall pick, player, pos. school)
1, (No. 13) — Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame.
2. (No. 42) –Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee.
2. (No. 45) — Felix Anudike-Uzomah, DE, Kansas State.
3. (No. 78) — Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland.
4. (No. 116) — Jordan Battle, S, Alabama.
5. (No. 149) — Ivan Pace, ILB, Cincinnati.
6. (No. 207) — Payne Durham, TE, Purdue.
7. (No. 232) — Chad Ryland, kicker, Maryland.
7. (No. 235) — Lew Nichols III, RB, Central Michigan.
7. (No. 242) — C.J. Johnson, WR, East Carolina.
7 (No. 256) — Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia.
While tight end, receiver and defensive end are priority draft concerns, the Packers could have another one at offensive tackle.
There are still major concerns about David Bakhtiari, the team’s All-Pro left tackle. Bakhtiari has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and there are also whispers he wants out of Green Bay, especially with his good friend Rodgers now relocating to the Big Apple.
As such, if the Packers are convinced Bakhtiari, who’ll turn 32 on Sept. 30, doesn’t fit into their present or future plans, they could target an offensive lineman with their first-round pick.
This is a primo draft for offensive tackles, and there figures to be four quality OTs taken in the upper-half of the first round, including Paris Johnson Jr. of Ohio State, Broderick Jones of Georgia, Darnell Wright of Tennessee and Peter Skoronski of Northwestern, whose grandfather, Bob, started at left tackle for the legendary Vince Lombardi teams in the 1960s.
Among potential second-round offensive tackles are Dawand Jones of Ohio State and Matthew Bergeron of Syracuse.
Two former University of Wisconsin standouts – Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig – are projected to go in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.
The Packers have shown more than casual interest in both of them. Benton could provide instant help along the D-line and Herbig could provide much-needed depth at inside linebacker.
The Packers monitored both players at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. What’s more, both players attended the Packers’ so-called local pro day workout in Green Bay.
A longtime agent on whether there would be a flurry of trades in this draft: “I think there’s going to be a lot of trades. A lot of them. With those four quarterbacks at the top of the draft, teams will be making moves to get them. And I can see a bunch of teams trying to move from the second round into the late first round. It could get crazy.’’
It already has, thanks to Mr. Aaron Charles Rodgers.