Perfect Packers 2023 NFL Draft plan: Find playmakers opposite Christian Watson, add at edge rusher and safety
The Green Bay Packers have found out how the majority of the NFL lives in 2022, missing the playoffs for the first time under head coach Matt LaFleur. The team suffered a series of injuries to a number of key players – NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, linebacker Rashan Gary, All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Eric Stokes. – which helped break his three-season streak of 13 winning campaigns, the longest such streak in league history.
The Packers started 2022 strong, winning three of their first four games, but then lost seven of their next eight games from Weeks 5-12, setting the tone for the declining year. Green Bay had a brief glimmer of hope after a four-game winning streak over the Bears, Rams, Dolphins and Vikings, but the Detroit Lions shattered those dreams by handing their division rival a 20- 16 at home in the regular season finale. It was a disappointing performance in which the Packers offense could not fend for themselves.
With an 8-9 record, the Packers were an average team the first year without first-team All-Pro receiver Davante Adams, scoring 21.8 points per game (14th in the league). This was expected as Rodgers attempted to bond with rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, the team’s second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The biggest disappointment has been the defense, which is expected to be one of the top five units with all first-round picks and money invested in that side of the ball. The unit allowed 21.8 points per game, ranking 17th in the NFL. The Packers have all of their own picks except for their sixth-round pick and have a few more seventh-round picks thanks to trades. Here’s a look at how they should use those selections in the 2023 NFL Draft in order to get back on track.
Packers team needs: WR, TE, S, DT, EDGE, OG (via Josh Edwards)
2023 Packers draft pick
Note: compensatory selections have not yet been awarded
201 (via Jaguar)
210 (via Lions, acquired commercially with Rams)
For more comprehensive draft content, check out our latest prospect rankings and mock drafts, as well as our new weekly podcast, “With the First Pick,” featuring former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.
Draft a wide receiver with his first-round pick
It’s the offseason in Green Bay, Wis., which means it’s time to pull out the draft stat that goes around every year: Green Bay didn’t select an offensive skill position player ( running back, wide receiver or tight end) in the first round since 2002 when he picked Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker with the 20th overall pick. The last time the Packers took an offensive position player in the first round, Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man” (the first) was the highest-grossing film in the world.
More than 20 years in the draft and no offensive skill position players speak to the front office’s belief that Hall of Famer Brett Favre and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers could do more with less talent at their disposal, and both proved the theory to be correct for many seasons. However, it could be argued that the Packers also wasted some of Favre and Rodgers’ twilight seasons by not surrounding them with more talent as their mobility and other skills slowly deteriorated.
Whether or not Rodgers returns to Green Bay, he or Jordan Love, the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, could use another weapon or two in the passing game to complement Christian Watson, whose nine scrimmage touchdowns were tied for the most among all rookies with Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. Those nine scrimmage scores were tied for fourth in the entire NFL among all wide receivers with some of the best in the league: Justin Jefferson of the Vikings, Ja’Marr Chase of the Bengals, CeeDee Lamb of the Cowboys, the Browns’ Amari Cooper and Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks. The Packers’ Week 18 skid against the Lions showed the need for another weapon or two, as the Lions either teamed with Watson or bracketed him with a safety most of the game, challenging another ferryman to beat them.
TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston, one of the driving forces behind the Horned Frogs’ surprise college football playoff run; Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, who led all tight ends in receptions (138) over the past two college football seasons; or USC wide receiver Jordan Addison, the top wide receiver of the 2021 college football season, would all be good picks at No. 15. Whatever position they don’t tackle in the first round, he must then be addressed by the end of the second day. (Towers 2 and 3).
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Add depth to the rusher edge
The Packers had the 10th-best rushing ratio this season at 34.6% — a solid year from a macro standpoint in terms of upsetting opposing quarterbacks. However, that number is backed up by the first nine weeks of the season when their rate of 39.8% was second-best in the NFL. During that span, linebacker Rashan Gary led with 38 pressures, tied for fifth in the NFL and six sacks. Once weeks 10-17 rolled around — after Gary, 25, suffered a torn ACL — they dropped to the sixth-lowest rate in the league (29.7%).
Green Bay’s other outside linebacker, Preston Smith, 30, had a solid year as one of 23 NFL players with at least 20 quarterback hits and eight sacks, but the Packers’ defense has need more than those two, given the pass. rush died when one of them couldn’t play.
Some names to target in Rounds 2-5 could be Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey, whose 11.0 sacks tied for fifth most in college football last season; Army’s Andre Carter II, whose 15.5 sacks in 2021 were second in the nation behind only Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. and also more than current Detroit Lion Aidan Hutchinson; or Ohio State’s Zach Harrison, one of the key elements of a defense that nearly eliminated eventual national champion Georgia in the college football playoff semifinals. More reliable players in this area will do wonders for the Packers defense.
Look for starting caliber safety in the middle rounds
While the Packers are stacked at cornerback with Pro Bowl pick Jaire Alexander, ballhawk Rasul Douglas — his nine interceptions over the past two seasons are tied for third in the NFL — and third-year former pick first-rounder Eric Stokes. This is not the case with the position group behind them. Adrian Amos, who was one of football’s best safeties in 2020, continued a downward trend in his decent game to have to be let go in 2022. Amos gave up six touchdown passes in coverage for the second consecutive season after allowing just two in 2020. He allowed 102.8 passer coverage as a primary defenseman, 17th most in the NFL among defensive backs to play in at least 10 games. He’s set to hit free agency this offseason.
Former first-round pick Darnell Savage also regressed to the point where he was benched and then reinserted into the roster to play in a reduced nickel role. He lost his safety spot to Rudy Ford, a player the Jaguars fired the day the roster was cut before the start of the 2022 season. Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson or one of Alabama’s two safeties, Brian Branch and Jordan Battle, could be a big help for the Packers in the Round 3-4 range.