It’s the third offseason of the Gutekunst era in Green Bay and he’s given a whole new meaning to March M@&n%s$ (I’m not a copywrite law expert, and didn’t want to risk it). But not to worry, I refuse to do one of those *fun* brackets that pits TV shows against each other. I’m a dad. I don’t watch TV. I’m talking Green Bay Packers free agent rumor madness!
For years we couldn’t have this much fun in March. Ted wouldn’t allow it. So, let’s take a walk down possibility lane and chat about one of my favorite reported rumors like we’re Victoria F. in “the Bachelor” mansion.
According to a Rob Demovsky report, the Green Bay Packers are pursuing Austin Hooper. In his report, Demovsky says the Packers are looking to add two pass catchers this offseason with the potential of one being the free-agent tight end from Atlanta. Makes sense. This means the Packers will release Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis knowing they need to upgrade that position.
After a Pro Bowl season in 2018, Hooper burst into last season like the Kool-Aid man at a children’s party. Through week eight he was among the league leaders in many TE stats and was tied for the most TDs (5). He’s young (25 years old), athletic and a solid route runner. An MCL sprain cost Hooper three games in 2019 but he still finished the season ranked 5th in receptions (75), 6th in yards (787) and 5th in TDs (6).
At a 6’ 4” tall, 254 lbs and a 4.72 second 40 the 2016 Stanford product is similar to, though a touch slower than, George Kittle (6’ 4”, 250 lbs and 4.5-second 40-yard dash). A combination the Packers haven’t had at the TE spot since the Super Bowl run in 2009-10. And let’s be honest, though Hooper isn’t known for his blocking, anything is an upgrade from Graham.
Typically, with a pass-catching free agent the trope you’ll hear among Packers fans is “imagine what he’ll do with Rodgers throwing him the ball.” I don’t believe that’s applicable to Hooper. Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan has definitely not played to the 2016 MVP caliber that brought them to the Super Bowl, but he’s still a top 10-15 passer. If the Packers decide to bring him in, I would expect similar production from Hooper in 2020. Which would still be a COLOSSAL upgrade. Graham finished 2019 at 20th in receptions (38), 18th in yards (447) and tied for TDs at 19th (3).
Additionally, the Packers signing Hooper would keep him away from other suiters like the Bears and Cowboys. But they’ll have to pay a price. Hooper is seeking close to $11 mil per year.
With the Packers’ needs on defense and their cap situation, the second pass-catcher would need to come from the draft. Hopefully, we’ll see the third-year Packers GM buck another trend. The Packers haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round of the draft since Javon Walker was taken at 20 in 2002. There are kids serving our country who were born that year. Rodgers was playing QB for the Butte Roadrunners.
They’ve been able to find production from early to mid-round picks (Jordy Nelson, Devante Adams, Greg Jennings), late-round picks (Donald Driver) and even undrafted free agents (Alan Lazard). But we’ve yet to see them pull the trigger on round-one wideout talent.
And if there ever was a draft to do it, it’s this one. National pundits are throwing around the word “historic” when referencing this group.
I’ve looked through a few mock drafts to quell my excitement. Most have the Packers doing one of three things with the 30th pick; drafting an offensive tackle, linebacker or receiver.
CBS has them going linebacker with linebacker Kennith Murray from Oklahoma in the first and waiting until the second to draft Brandon Aiyuk from Arizona State. I have my doubts that Aiyuk, who is rated as the 42nd player in the draft, will be there for the Packers in the second. But anything can happen on draft night.
Our friend Aaron Nagler over at Cheesehead TV also has the Packers selecting Murry in his mock draft (presented by Bud Light Seltzer NBD). Then in the second going with KJ Hamler, the wide out from Penn State. I believe he is more likely to be there than Aiyuk.
Fansided’s mock draft predicts the Packers going with John Jones a big, and I mean big, tackle from Houston with the 30th pick then snagging Aiyuk in the second. I’m guessing they’re also predicting the Packers pick up a top-tier free agent linebacker.
I don’t have the time to be a draft expert, but I would love to see a round-one wideout alongside Adams, Hooper and Aaron Jones. If this wideout class is as deep and talented as billed we could be looking at a recreation of the 2009 Sports Illustrated cover. It’s highly unlikely, on the verge of impossible, that one of the top prospects like Cee Dee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III will be there at 30. But if the Packers somehow could grab Tee Higgins from Clemson or Laviska Shenault Jr. from Colorado, the offense could be poised for a big bounce back in year-two under LaFleur.
Oh, the memories…
——————Nick Meisner was baptized in a church of green and gold clad parishioners and grew up in the literal shadows of Lambeau Field. Needless to say, he has been a Packers fan for life. He writes for PackersTalk.com when his wife and two daughters are asleep and with a Miller Lite within arms reach. You can follow Nick on twitter at @nicmeis.