It’s obvious to both diehard and casual Packers fans that the team desperately needs to upgrade at the safety position and also on the defensive line. Middle linebacker or tight end (if Jermichael Finley can’t play) could use upgrades as well.
With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb returning at wide receiver, and Jarrett Boykin emerging last season, nobody is clamoring for the Packers to add another receiver. But the upcoming draft is overflowing with receiving talent, and Packers general manager Ted Thompson might not be able to help himself.
If the Packers take a wide receiver in the first two rounds, I’ll have no problem with it. Sure, it might not fill an immediate need, but Thompson’s batting average in drafting receivers is one of the best in the league. It’s definitely a lot higher than when he tries to draft a pass-rushing complement to Clay Matthews, a dynamic defensive lineman or an offensive tackle.
If Thompson does take a wide receiver early in the draft, here are five guys that I think would be good selections for the Packers.
Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU
Fit with the Packers: I thought Beckham could possibly be a second-round target for the Packers, but he has rocketed up draft boards in recent weeks. After an impressive performance at the NFL Combine, he might be gone by the time the Packers pick in the first round. What I like most about Beckham is the consistency of his speed. Aaron Rodgers takes his footwork and timing on passing plays seriously. When Rodgers is in position to make a throw, he needs his receivers to be where he expects them to be on the route. Beckham’s quickness off the ball and smoothness in his acceleration makes that possible. He’s not herky-jerky in his movements and won’t be a half-step off when Rodgers is ready to throw.
Davante Adams, Fresno St.
Fit with the Packers: Adams has long arms and catches everything thrown his way. He’s also physical and should be productive in the red zone thanks to his ability to time leaps and go get the ball at its highest point. And you can’t ignore the guy’s production: 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns in two seasons. Adams isn’t a speedster, but could fill the James Jones role of providing Rodgers with a big, tough and physical target. Some scouts knock him for being a “system wide receiver,” but that might be a plus in the Packers’ view. Thompson tends to draft receivers who are fundamentally sound and would be good fits for the Packers’ “system.”
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Fit with the Packers: What I’ve liked best about watching film on Evans is his mastery of the back-shoulder catch. If Rodgers watches film on Evans, he might personally demand that Thompson takes him in the first round based solely on his ability to catch back-shoulder passes. Evans knows how to use his size and strength to box out defenders, while still having the hands and arm length to reel in those back-shoulder throws that appear to be zooming out of bounds. At 6-foot-5 with NBA-style leaping ability, Evans would be another option for boosting the Packers production in the red zone. So what’s the downside? Evans is far from polished. The Johnny Manziel-led offense at Texas A&M featured a lot of improvisation. He’s also not very fast. McCarthy and Bennett would have some work to do with Evans in making him a better route-runner and understanding the nuances and tricks of operating in traffic with less-than-superior speed. The Packers tend to draft more polished route-runners when they pick wide receivers in the early rounds, but Evans’ physical skills might be too good to pass up.
Jarvis Landry, LSU
5-11, 205 pounds
Fit with the Packers: Landry ran the slowest 40-yard dash (4.77 seconds) of any receiver at the combine. What he might lack in speed, he makes up for in route-running, toughness and intelligence — all traits Thompson likes in wide receivers. Landry also was a special teams standout and doesn’t hesitate to lay someone out blocking on running plays or bubble screens. A faster 40-time at his upcoming pro day will help alleviate concerns about Landry’s speed. But even if his time doesn’t improve much, Landry’s college production and his toughness will resonate with Thompson. He’s a good all-around football player.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon St.
Fit with the Packers: Cooks wasn’t thought of as a receiver with blazing speed heading into the combine. Then he posted the fastest 40-time (4.33 seconds) of any receiver in Indianapolis. He followed that up with impressive showings in the 20- and 60-yard shuttles, demonstrating that not only is he fast, but he can also change direction and pivot without slowing down. Combine the speed he showed at the combine with the elusiveness and craftiness he shows running after the catch on film could turn Cooks into a special receiver pretty quick. With Cobb on the roster (but set to hit free agency next offseason), perhaps Thompson won’t want to add another slot-type receiver. But there are so many good ones in this year’s draft that he might do it anyway. I’m sure Rodgers and McCarthy would find a way to make it work.
Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Fit with the Packers: I’ll throw in Coleman as a bonus because I think he’s more of a fourth or fifth-round option. It’s impossible not to like a guy who is 6-foot-6 with the strength to break through jams at the line and who averaged almost 22 yards per catch in college. He was slowed by a terrible offense and a knee injury his junior season. Many analysts thought he should have stayed at Rutgers one more year. But he didn’t, and if the Packers take him, Rodgers will have a big target with a lot of untapped potential. Coleman won’t blaze by anybody over the top, but he might be a good option to replace the physicality the size of James Jones.