The NFL Combine is now underway with defensive linemen and linebackers set to perform later today in Indianapolis. Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst considers this draft a “good one” to help build the team while identifying the tight end, edge rusher, and corner class as positions that are deeper than usual this year during his conversation with Larry McCarren on Tuesday. With those three positions in mind, this article will discuss three prospects who should be on the Packers’ Combine watchlist this weekend.
Before we get into the prospects, first we take into consideration Gutekunst’s previous draft tendencies in the first round to better gauge what the Packers could do with the 15th overall pick.
The first factor to consider is that Gutekunst has only drafted one offensive player, quarterback Jordan Love, in the first round as the team’s general manager. Secondly, Gutekunst has developed a habit of pairing a first-round pick in a position with an established star (Rashan Gary/Preston Smith, Love/Aaron Rodgers, Eric Stokes/Jaire Alexander, Quay Walker/ De’Vondre Campbell, and Devonte Wyatt/Kenny Clark). The final tendency to consider is that five of his seven first-round picks have recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.40 or higher. Now let’s dive into these prospects.
TE Michael Mayer
This first prospect doesn’t necessarily fit the three tendencies listed above, but he’s certainly been a fan-favorite projection for the Packers. Michael Mayer is a phenomenal prospect entering the draft and will likely steal the show at the Combine on Saturday.
The 6’4 tight end is arguably the best prospect at the position since Rob Gronkowski and would be an immediate upgrade at a position the Packers have tried to address for years. Mayer boasts exceptional qualities at the position and could make Gutekunst break out of his drafting habits if he’s available when the Packers are on the clock.
Mayer will be a must-watch prospect when he performs this weekend, not just for the Packers but for the entire league as a whole. The former Notre Dame star has already been impressing scouts and staff throughout the week and that’s something that is bound to continue throughout the rest of the Combine.
DE Lukas Van Ness
Lukas Van Ness on the other hand fits all three components that Gutekunst searches for in the first round. In fact, going into the Combine, Van Ness looks strikingly just like Gary as a prospect and should test relatively similarly. Ten months ago, outside linebacker coach Jason Rebrovich noted that he sees ‘four legit’ players being in his ideal OLB rotation. As of now, the Packers rotation consists of three with Gary, Smith, and second-year Kingsley Enagbare.
Therefore, it’s not out of the question that the Packers could address this position again at the top of their draft. Lukas Van Ness is the player I have on my radar. The 21-year-old might not have been an impactful starter for the Hawkeyes’ defense but he was an outstanding rotational player who totaled seven sacks in 2022.
Van Ness has the inside/outside versatility on the defensive front that compares to how the Packers utilized Za’Darius Smith during his time in Green Bay. Van Ness’ athleticism and high ceiling make him an ideal candidate for the Packers, especially if he can record a RAS of 9.7 or higher after Thursday.
S/CB Brian Branch
Brian Branch is my ideal candidate to be selected in the first round by the Packers this year. The former Alabama star checks all the boxes in what Green Bay looks to add into the secondary while helping boost a potentially weak position. Branch is coming into the Combine listed as a safety/corner hybrid that has the versatility to play all over the secondary.
When looking at the current group the Packers have in the secondary, Gutekunst highlighted two specific players and gave an insight into the type of qualities he’s looking for in a prospect at the position.
“I love the versatility of [Rasul Douglas and Darnell Savage] and their ability to do different things,” Gutekunst said earlier this week in Indianapolis. “The goal will be at the end of it to have at least five guys out there. It’s really a nickel league and who plays slot, who plays safety, will really be determined through camp and whatever new additions we might make.”
Branch could be that new addition who plays at his best while in the slot or in zone coverage by showcasing his incredible play recognition ability and his reaction time. He was always all over the football at Alabama and has experience playing in a variety of positional alignments. Branch should excel during the M drill on Friday and it’ll be important to see his measurables to determine his best-suited position.——————
Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.
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