Late-round gems to plug into LaFleur’s offense

For any number of reasons, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur caught general manager Brian Gutekunst and team’s eye during the hiring process. Seemingly a good fit when paired with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, LaFleur will be under the gun from early on in the process for how he not only handles returning this team to the playoffs, but how he is able to prove himself to the fan base.

As a relatively-youthful coaching option, LaFleur will be tasked with installing his offensive mindset onto the team with his new coordinators and assistants. His offensive identity, which made him a popular candidate for potential head-coaching jobs this offseason, will be given new life, as the players in Green Bay have far more potential and higher ceilings than what LaFleur worked with in Tennessee.

However, with that inexperience comes issues too, and the current status of the team’s offensive personnel could use a bit of a revamping as well. Long-time veteran slot receiver Randall Cobb is out on the market as a free agent, and after our crop of drafted receivers last season proved that he could be expendable, don’t expect to see Cobb back in the Green & Gold. Filling that hole, along with shoring up the offensive line and tight end units will be key in LaFleur’s first season in Titletown.

A big part in what made LaFleur so successful was his integration of pass-catching running backs and fluid-moving offensive linemen, which helped his playcalling become efficient.

At the moment, Aaron Jones profiles as the starting back on this team (as he should be) and has some pass-catching abilities, but mostly in the screen game and not much in actual split-wide packages. For offensive lineman, there is a definitive need for improvements, as injuries have plagued this unit and the interior guard positions have suffered the most in terms of lack of productivity.

While the positions of edge rusher and safety are thought to be the biggest needs that should be addressed early on in the 2019 NFL draft, offense needs to take a precedence too, dependant on how the board falls. Here are some under-the-radar, late-round prospects that would be great fits in LaFleur’s offense.

Running Backs

Myles Gaskin – Washington

L.J. Scott – Michigan State

Karan Higdon – Michigan

Bryce Love – Stanford

James Williams – Washington State

A common theme with all of these running backs listed? They all have featured pass-catching abilities while in college, a necessity for a back in LaFleur’s system. The team invested big-time money into former Patriot Dion Lewis, and while he never truly lived up to the expected production, he has the receiving skillset to pay dividends for the Titans.

There are two Big Ten and three Pac-12 choices on this list, so big-conference backs are used to the wear and tear of the game.

Starting at the top, Gaskin is projected to go in rounds two through four, and would be a solid selection in round four for Green Bay. As is a consistent knock throughout the league, Gaskin’s 5-9, 193-lb. build brings about more concerns than answers, but would add a nice change of pace in the passing game.

Scott faced injuries the vast majority of 2018, and would potentially be a late-first rounder if healthy, so his value would be great in rounds three or four. He has the quickness that LaFleur and company value, but would need to improve upon ball security and pass catching.

Both Higdon and Love are comparable in running styles and abilities, but Love is the bigger name of the two. Higdon is more durable and thrived in the Michigan offense, but Love has the potential to make more noise at the NFL level if he is able to return to form after his December surgery from his ACL tear. Love would be a steal if available in the fourth.

The final guy listed is more of a lottery ticket but one that has the potential to make Gutekunst look like a genius. Projected to go fifth round or later, Williams is illusive and has the potential to become a solid change of pace guy who would be a good pass catcher. In 2018 alone, he had 83(!!!) catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns.

Williams is a guy that could become another late-round developmental special for the Packers and could pay great dividends down the road.

Offensive Line

OT-

Trey Pipkins – Sioux Falls

Tytus Howard – Alabama State

Kaleb McGary – Washington

G-

Nate Davis – Charlotte

B.J. Autry – Jacksonville State

Keaton Sutherland – Texas A&M

In a world that fill-in offensive linemen grow on trees, the Packers need to go to a different forest and start picking the starting-caliber linemen who can become day one starters if need be. The only two offensive lineman who can be penciled in for week one are All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and durable center Corey Linsley.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga still can play and is in the top ten at his position, but his healthy concerns make him hard to project. If he has a healthy training camp, then by all means he should be Green Bay’s right tackle for 2019.

The only two positions not mentioned so far? Guards, as both Lane Taylor and whatever the hell our right guard position is are both messes that need to be addressed. Taylor is a capable backup who has not broken out of that shell yet at left guard, and the combination of Byron Bell and Justin McCray led to a lot of QB hits at right guard.

For tackles, Pipkins and Howard both come from smaller schools and are looking to beat the odds to be drafted. Both are projected to be mid-round selections but with a run on offensive linemen bound to happen, Green Bay may need to take either of these guys in the fourth to ensure they add a buildable piece. McGary would be a solid option too, as his physical play in the Pac-12 makes him an intriguing fit.

Concerning guards, eyes on Autry and Sutherland as the diamonds in the rough here. While Davis has the potential to become a solid interior lineman, both Autry and Sutherland are projected mid-to-late round selections and would represent steals for the Packers if brought in.

Their stature and style of play would translate well to the NFL level and would ensure that the Packers would have solid backup options to go to or even to plug in for week one.

While options are galore for the Packers in this upcoming draft, they need to trust their scouting and their guts on who would make the biggest impacts. Both running back and offensive lineman are positions of need to transition into LaFleur’s schemes, and it would be smart to invest at least one selection into each positional group by the time day three is complete.

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Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23

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