After the Davante Adams trade to the Raiders, the Green Bay Packers now have five top-100 picks in this year’s NFL draft. Brian Gutekunst and company have proven creative (and relatively bullish when compared with past Packer’s front offices) with their willingness to use draft capital in creative ways. This year, there is much room for creativity. Furthermore, if there were ever a year for the Packers to make a splashy pick for a first-round WR, this is it. Davante Adams has moved to Las Vegas, MVS remains a free agent, and the current top options for newly signed Aaron Rodgers include Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard (who is still a restricted free agent), and Robert Tonyan–who is coming off a season-ending ACL injury.
Indeed, all signs seem to be pointing toward a rebuild of the wide receiver room on draft day. And while I would not be upset to see Ohio State stars Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson in green and gold in 2022, there are other foundational needs for the Packer’s–along the offensive line and at the tight end position–that I feel are more important to address with their early picks.
The TE Position is Being Overlooked
The Packer’s current depth at the TE position includes Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan. Both have proven to be favorite targets of Aaron Rodgers, but neither imposes the type of force for an offense that players like Travis Kelce or Darren Waller do for their respective teams.
And while the jury is still largely out on the ceiling for Tonyan, his injury in 2021 and lack of targets and receptions in 2020 (despite staggering touchdown numbers) are causes for concern. What’s more, Lewis is more of a blocking TE who is good as an occasional safety outlet for Rodgers, but he is past his prime in terms of offensive production.
The argument could be made that Rodgers is not known for utilizing his tight ends in the same ways as other superstar quarterbacks. But Rodgers has not had a true receiving tight end since Jermichael Finley, and a counterargument could be made that with a true receiver at tight end, Rodgers would have no choice but to utilize the position in the passing game.
Enter the Colorado State prospect, Trey McBride. At 6’4” and 260 pounds, McBride is a big bodied athlete with good speed (4.65 40 yard dash time) and the ability to run after the catch. He also has shown great hands and the ability to make high-point catches in traffic. What’s more, McBride has been scouted as player with good blocking technique who could develop into a strong run-blocker with good coaching (which the Packers absolutely have on the offensive side of the ball).
The Packer’s wide receiver room definitely needs some work before week-one, but who’s to say this has to be done with wide receivers alone? Adding a reliable and productive tight end could go a long way toward taking the pressure off of the receiving corps and the Packer’s offense as a whole. Just look at what Travis Kelce does for the Chief’s offense.
Lessons from 2021
Injuries plagued the Packer’s offensive line in 2021. Despite this, Rodgers was kept relatively clean for much of the season. And Green Bay’s shifting and re-tooling on-the-fly worked well enough last year, it is not a model for success moving forward. To make matters worse, Billy Turner was an early cap casualty this offseason and David Bakhtiari has not played much football in over a season. Aaron Rodgers cannot throw the ball to anyone if he isn’t protected. So–first things first–the offensive line must be bolstered and strengthened before any outside weapons are added.
The Packers have had success with late-round offensive lineman picks, but if they are ready to go all in for another Super Bowl run in 2022, now is not the time to invest in a developmental player. We need players that are ready to step in on day one and provide consistent production–especially when the stakes are protecting the NFL’s highest paid player and back-to-back MVP.
Enter Boston College prospect, Zion Johnson. Johnson is not the top-rated lineman in this year’s draft; however, he is a good fit for the Packer’s current OL depth and he may be available at pick 22–the Packer’s first selection. Johnson showed versatility in college, playing at both the guard and tackle positions–but he is a better fit at the guard position. With Rodgers’ blind side well protected by Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, Johnson could compete with Royce Newman for the guard position on the right. Yosh Nijman deserves the chance to compete with Dennis Kelly for a starting tackle position, and adding Johnson would go a long way toward shoring up the offensive front. What’s more, as I stated above, Johnson has experience at multiple positions on the offensive line. And if Green Bay is to learn anything from 2021, it’s that offensive line versatility is invaluable in the dog days of an NFL season.
Avoiding the First-Round WR Temptation
While Gutekunst and company may be salivating at the opportunity to land one of this year’s top wide receiver prospects early in the draft, there is good reason they ought to avoid this temptation. Not only is the 2022 class incredibly deep at the WR position, but there are still high quality free agents available for the Packers to add before draft day.
Because of this, the Packers would be smart to shore up their foundational needs along the offensive line and the tight end position before they make any draft moves on the outside. What’s more, the addition of a true receiver at the tight end position would, as prolific Sunnyvale trailer park wordsmith Ricky Lafleur would say, “get two birds stoned at once”.
Again, would I be upset if the Packers take a pair of first-round WR’s? Absolutely not. But do I think there is better use of their early-round draft capital for the upcoming season? Absolutely. With Rodgers well protected and incentivized to spread the ball to different positional receivers, there is good reason to expect the passing attack in Green Bay to be better than it was a season ago–despite losing the best receiver in the game.