Draft 2015: 10 players who could be Packers’ first pick
By Rob Reischel, Special to Packer Plus
~Packer Nation is lathered up, per usual.
Two cornerbacks have left town. There’s precious little depth at inside linebacker. Tight end remains a minor concern.
But truth be told, when the NFL draft begins April 30, Green Bay’s needs pale in comparison to the rest of the league.
At least a dozen teams would love an upgrade at quarterback. Most teams look at Green Bay’s offensive personnel and salivate.
Heck, just compare the Packers to the top teams of 2014.
Super Bowl champion New England lost its two starting cornerbacks, potential Hall of Fame nose tackle Vince Wilfork and two high-quality running backs in free agency. NFC champion Seattle could use two starting-quality wide receivers and a huge upgrade on the offensive line.
Dallas, who many considered the fourth-best team in football, has a glaring need at running back and holes throughout its defense. And AFC runner-up Indianapolis has a below average defense and a mediocre offensive line.
Compared to their brethren across the NFL, the Packers are in relatively good shape. But if Green Bay is to take the next step — and return to a Super Bowl for the first time in five seasons — Thompson has to be at his best next weekend.
Green Bay holds the 30th overall selection, as well as its own pick in all seven rounds. The Packers also have two compensatory picks in the sixth round.
With a relatively stacked roster, it would be hard for Green Bay to carry nine rookies in 2015. So this could be a draft where Thompson moves up for a player he covets, much like he did in 2009 when he nabbed outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
If the traditionally conservative Thompson stays put — as he does most seasons — there will be several players at No. 30 that could provide immediate help. Here’s a look at 10 players who could intrigue Thompson and be Packers by the end of the night on April 30.
ERIC ROWE, CB, UTAH
Played cornerback and safety at Utah. But with 4.45 speed in the 40, most teams project Rowe to be a corner at the next level.
Rowe has the size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and physicality to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage, as well as impressive closing speed. He’s strong in run support and has a toughness about him that’s impressed scouts.
Rowe had just three career interceptions and three pass breakups at Utah, though, raising many questions about his ball skills.
“If I had to pick, I would choose corner,” Rowe said of his preferred position. “I have more growth at that position, I have a lot more things to work on and having one-year experience (playing cornerback), I feel like I did a pretty good job, so with some more practice and more coaching, I’ll get better.”
BYRON JONES, CB, CONNECTICUT
Jones recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at UConn’s pro day and could be long gone when Green Bay drafts. That’s because Jones also set a world record in the standing broad jump (12-3) at the NFL combine — that’s right, a world record — and displayed a remarkable vertical jump of 44.5 inches.
The lanky Jones (6-1, 199) began his career as a two-year starter at safety. But personnel losses caused the Huskies to move Jones to cornerback in 2014.
Jones flashed early in the year, then underwent shoulder surgery in October that ended his final season.
Jones has the athleticism and length to be a terrific NFL cornerback. But he lacks experience at cornerback and doesn’t always play to the remarkable testing numbers he produced.
“It was awesome,” Jones said of the NFL combine. “Just to perform your best at the biggest stage. I had all of my life to prepare for this, and in the end all you can ask is to have an opportunity to do this, and to perform like that and to set a personal record is a great feeling.
“The entire process was extremely exciting — the entire four-day process. You don’t get a lot of sleep and you’re floating on a high getting to talk to NFL coaches and GMs. It’s all about football and you’ve got to love that.”
MARCUS PETERS, CB, WASHINGTON
Thompson has always stressed character when it comes to his draft picks. And in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez saga, it should be more important than ever.
So would Thompson gamble on a player like Peters? It’s doubtful, but never say never.
Peters (6-0, 197) is arguably the most talented cornerback in this draft. But he was kicked out of the Washington program last November after multiple clashes with the Huskies coaching staff.
“I live and I learn from it, you know?” Peters said. “There are going to be things that (aren’t) going to go right, but I went through one of the worst things that could happen to me in life. I got kicked off my team, I wasn’t able to finish out my college career with my teammates and I own up to that and I man up to that and I just move forward.”
Peters ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and did 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. His ball skills and awareness are considered outstanding.
Peters’ checkered past could take him off some draft boards altogether. He’s also been inconsistent in coverage.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Peters said. “All I tell (teams) is that I’ve matured from the decisions I made in the past and I’m moving forward.”
JALEN COLLINS, CB, LSU
Collins has a terrific size (6-1, 203) and speed (4.48) ratio. He also showed impressive burst in running down Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon in the open field after a 65-yard run last season.
Collins is extremely inexperienced, though, and made just 10 career starts at LSU. Although the Tigers rotate personnel in the secondary, Collins was up and down and lost his starting job at times.
“Just kind of refocusing myself to the task at hand, which was getting back on the field,” Collins said of losing his starting position. “Sticking to it, working hard every day, listening to the coach, being a team player, being selfless and working hard every day.”
ERIC KENDRICKS, ILB, UCLA
With former starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones gone, the Packers have a huge need at inside linebacker. And Kendricks — regarded in many circles as the No. 1 player at his position — figures to still be on the board.
Kendricks (6-0, 232) lacks ideal size, but he has terrific instincts, is light on his feet, and packs a greater punch than his frame suggests.
But Kendricks rarely takes on blockers, instead relying on his agility to shed them.
“Measurables are one thing,” Kendricks said. “But you can’t measure explosion and you can’t measure certain other things that people bring to the table like natural instinct and getting to the ball.”
Kendricks’ brother, Mychal, plays for Philadelphia and has similar measurables (6-0, 240). And in three seasons, Mychal has made 40 starts, has 201 tackles and nine interceptions.
“I want to see my brother be as successful as possible,” Eric Kendricks said. “I have my own goals and aspirations. What I want to achieve is maybe different from what he wants to achieve. I have my own goals that I covet and I won’t stop until I achieve them.”
BENARDRICK MCKINNEY, ILB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
Seen by most as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the draft after Kendricks. But McKinney is 4 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Kendricks, and if Thompson wants a thumper, this would be his man.
McKinney (6-4, 246) will be one of the NFL’s tallest middle linebackers, and he believes his size is a huge plus.
“It helped me quite a bit, just looking over the line of scrimmage, being long with a long wing span, getting off of tall, big offensive linemen, using my hands,” McKinney said. “It helped me get a big advantage.”
McKinney is raw, but a terrific athlete. McKinney ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 and has a 34-inch vertical leap. And after the Packers spent years watching A.J. Hawk get destroyed by bigger blockers, McKinney’s ability to take on blocks would be a sight for sore eyes.
The knocks on McKinney are his coverage ability and overall awareness.
When asked his greatest weakness, McKinney said: “Covering and staying on the field on third down. I’m going to get better at that. So that’s the only thing.”
EDDIE GOLDMAN, DT, FLORIDA STATE
The Packers are set for 2015 with the return of nose tackles B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion. But both players are on one-year deals, and Thompson could try finding his long-term solution in this draft.
The massive Goldman (6-4, 336) has been compared to former New England tackle Vince Wilfork. Goldman gobbles up blockers and is quicker than he looks.
Goldman is adept at collapsing the pocket and preventing quarterbacks from stepping up. But Goldman’s sack numbers were always somewhat pedestrian.
“Just tough, hard-nosed,” Goldman said of his style. “I can give you a little finesse now and again. But for the main part, I’m a tough, hard-nosed type of guy.”
OWANAGBE ODIGHIZUWA, OLB, UCLA
Odighizuwa is viewed as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. The Packers figure to have terrific depth at OLB in 2015, but Julius Peppers is 35, and both Mike Neal and Nick Perry are entering contract years.
The 6-3, 270-pound Odighizuwa is a rare athlete, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds. He also lifted 225 pounds 25 times and had a 39-inch vertical jump.
The downside is Odighizuwa sat out the entire 2013 season after two separate hip surgeries. The first was on his right side, the second on the left.
“In a lot of ways when I was doing the rehab on the right side my left was taking a lot of the load and wear and tear because of that,” Odighizuwa said.
MAXX WILLIAMS, TE, MINNESOTA
This would certainly be a luxury pick. But tight end and left tackle are probably the only two spots on Green Bay’s offense without an above average starter.
And could you imagine one of the NFL’s top offenses adding the draft’s No. 1 tight end?
Williams, just 20, has terrific athleticism, is extremely fluid, and is most often compared to Dallas standout Jason Witten.
Williams ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.78. He lifted 225 pounds just 17 times, although the redshirt sophomore is still growing into his body and figures to get much stronger.
Williams also has terrific bloodlines. His father, Brian, played offensive line for the New York Giants for 11 seasons. His mother, Rochelle, was a standout volleyball player at Minnesota. And his grandfather, Robert, was a quarterback at Notre Dame and was selected in the 1959 draft.
“It was a great experience having my dad play in the NFL and growing up around that kind of atmosphere, being in the locker room and seeing what the game’s all about, actually inside the NFL, what football truly is,” Williams said. “I think that’s helped me in my career knowing that I know what it’s like and I can fall back on my dad if I have any questions. He’s one of those guys I’ve always relied on for those questions because he’s been there, he’s done it, he’s succeeded at the highest level.”
DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM, WR, OKLAHOMA
Thompson has given quarterback Aaron Rodgers a remarkable number of weapons during their time together.
And Thompson has been better at drafting wide receivers than any general manager in football.
The Packers certainly don’t need another wideout. But you never know what’s going on inside Thompson’s head. And Green-Beckham could be a steal at the bottom of Round 1.
At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Green-Beckham has the physical skills to be dominant. He has rare athleticism, is extremely physical and has an enormous catching radius.
Green-Beckham also carries a good deal of baggage. He was dismissed from the Missouri program after allegedly pushing a woman down the stairs. Although charges weren’t formally filed, Green-Beckham could have a strike against him in the NFL’s domestic abuse category.
If Thompson went in this direction, though, the Packers would have Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Green-Beckham, all 24 or under. And Green Bay could be set at wideout for the rest of Rodgers’ career.
“I do feel like those mistakes have put me back,” Green-Beckham said. “Just taking the opportunities now and not thinking about the past and just trying to look forward to just taking all the things I went through, going to Oklahoma, doing everything the right way, doing what I was supposed to do down there.
“Just taking those opportunities and just making the best out of it and maturing and doing all that, spending my time with the coaches and with the players, more hours in study hall. Just doing all that stuff personal-wise made me a better person.”
This story appeared in Packer Plus Magazine