So much debate has been shoveled by the usual draft pundits about the Green Bay Packer history of not drafting a wide receiver in the first round lately that you’d think the team had an actual written rule banning the thought of a round one wideout. For those of you losing sleep that the Packers will miss out on an All-Pro receiver because they can’t bring themselves to draft a pass catcher in round one it is time to take a Tylenol PM, rewind some wise words from your quarterback and R-E-L-A-X. This draft is different.
Different because in the 2022 NFL draft the Packers have an extra first round and second round pick. Different because they let three of their top five receivers walk during the offseason. Different because Gutekunst has made it clear he doesn’t always follow Ted Thompson’s conservative approaches. And finally, different because the Packer front office is listening to Aaron Rodgers and his input has weight in personnel decisions. Tom Clements and Sammy Watkins will have jobs in Green Bay in 2022 thanks to Rodgers input being part of the personnel process now in place at 1265 Lombardi Ave. There is no doubt he will have influence on this draft process and the pass catchers drafted by the Green and Gold.
The most critical question that must be answered by Gutekunst & Rodgers Inc. is what is the talent available at wide receiver late in round one? If the Packer brain trust thinks there is a prospect who has what is often defined as “number one” receiver potential, then you draft that game changing player. If you face options with an equal amount of talent and potential, say three or four prospects with “number two” receiver potential then you have to decide on basically four options:
1) draft a player that has the same talent as one that will be drafted later in the draft, or,
2) trade down and pick a prospect early in the second round, or,
3) wait until your next selection, or,
4) pick a player who plays a different position and try to trade up in the second round.
There are at least eight wide receivers that have been named as potential first or second day draft picks:
Garrett Wilson OSU
Jameson Williams * Alabama
Drake London * USC
Chris Olave OSU
Treylon Burks Arkansas
Jahan Dotson Penn State
Skyy Moore W. Michigan
George Pickens * Georgia
On the bubble of this group are four more prospects:
Christian Watson NDSU
John Metchie III * Alabama
Jalen Tolbert S. Alabama
Alec Pierce Cincinnati
*= serious injury
Twelve prospects with at least “number two” potential, but how many have true All-Pro potential? Tape review has four players who displayed elite skills in college. Williams and Metchie III from Alabama and Pickens all had speed and the ability to catch contested balls. Unfortunately, all three suffered serious knee injuries and are still recovering. Pickens is the farthest along, having returned to the field for the final games of the 2021 college season. London displayed top caliber ball skills and was able to produce at a high rate on a mediocre USC team. London repeatedly made contested catches, but that may be because he does not possess elite speed. London is recovering from a serious ankle injury and did not run a 40 yard dash at his recent pro day. The Packers are focused on winning in 2022. It is hard enough to get a fully healthy rookie receiver to make an impact. Would the Packers gamble on a receiver with a bad wheel? Not unless their medical showed a complete recovery.
Some draft mocks have the top five picks on the list (Wilson -Burks) gone before the Packers send a card to the commissioner. Others have Burks or Olave available to the Packers. If five teams ahead of the Packers are drafting pass catchers at least one team will probably pass on the injured options in the top five. Olave ran a 4.39 forty at 187 pounds. He has good tape which shows route running experience. The Packers need a receiver who can, “take the top off a defense” as LaFleur recently stated. If Olave is there it would be hard to pass him up. If the lone receiver from the top group left is Burks, then the Packers won’t be finished drafting receivers. At 6’3” and 225 lbs. Burks was probably the biggest slot receiver in college football. He is a good receiver but not a burner, running a 4.55 forty.
If the Packers gamble on one of the receivers injured in college, it may be Pickens. The 2021 Peach Bowl highlighted Pickens’ talents. While he did have a bad drop on a 7 yard curl, he made two highlight leaping catches and adjusted well on off target throws. His speed was obvious and he had no trouble cutting on his repaired knee. Pickens and Alec Pierce had very different impacts on the game. Pickens was the leading receiver for the Bulldogs with seven catches for 135 yards and one TD. Pierce had only three catches for 28 yards and a TD. While Pickens looks quick and speedy, Pierce seems like a slower receiver with sneaky speed. Pierce made many high point catches in his career (review the ND game) and was able to make some great contested catches but watching his tape Pierce’s 4.41 forty compared to Pickens 4.47 at the combine surprises. Pickens only knock are small hands, the smallest of this group. To compare, Skyy Moore has the biggest hands at 10 ¼ inches while Pickens are 8 ¾.
Dotson has good tape but a small frame (5’10”/175 lbs) and the Packers are flush with smaller slot receivers. LaFleur was honest when he emphasized needing to have every type of weapon in the wideout group.
Moore, an alum of former Packer #1 receiver Greg Jennings has many similar attributes to Jennings. He ran a 4.41 forty (Jennings ran 4.48) he has good hands but he is small, just under 5’10” and 195 lbs. (Jennings was 5’11” and 197 pounds). Could Moore provide a déjà vu for Rodgers and help the team to another Super Bowl?
The outside player in this article is Christian Watson from SDSU. Watson has all the measurables the Packers are craving. He’s big, fast, and has experience running gadget plays, blocking and playing in the cold. But coming from a subdivision conference has has not played against NFL level talent, nor has he tried to memorize an NFL playbook or learn the NFL nuances of playing wide receiver in the NFL. After looking at as much tape as I could find on Watson I can’t tell if he will become another Jordy Nelson or just be really fast and peak at a Jeff Janis level.
Perhaps the Packers will focus on Jalen Tolbert, another small school prospect, but he is the most likely of the bunch to be a second round pick.
As with all these prospects only time will tell. Often for receivers your success is linked to the skills of your quarterback. For all his post Packer bickering, Greg Jennings couldn’t put a good QB in Minnesota to help his stats. The receivers who get drafted by this Packer team will have a PHD level course awaiting them. Let’s hope they pass the test.