It’s a tradition unlike any other: My annual Green Bay Packers seven-round mock draft, also known as an exercise in fun futility. With Aaron Rodgers finally on his way to the Big Apple, the Packers are poised to enter the great unknown, with Jordan Love behind the wheel.
The two surprising elements to the deal are the first-round pick swap and the conditional pick in ‘24. During the negotiations, it was being reported that next year’s pick would become a first depending on how far the Jets advance in the playoffs or if Rodgers commits to playing a second year in New York. The fact that the pick is now based on whether Rodgers takes at least 65% of the snaps is a big win for the Packers.
The first-round swap is very interesting, and reportedly came about when the Pack was unable to secure an unconditional ‘24 first-round pick in the deal. This gives them flexibility on Thursday night. They could add trade assets and move down a bit if a QB is sliding, or they could even move up a few spots if they’re worried their guy won’t be there at 13.
It’s likely Gutey will engineer a number of trades and move up and down as he sees fit. But assuming the Pack stays put, here’s how I see it all unfolding:
1. (13) Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR Ohio State
There will be a lot of teeth-gnashing and breath-holding when the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans are on the clock because JSN could be in play for both. But if he is available, it’s a slam-dunk pick. And it would be the height of irony that Green Bay finally drafts a WR in the first round days after moving on from Rodgers. JSN is an ideal complement to the Pack’s WR room, sliding immediately into the slot. I wouldn’t be shocked if they work a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to 10 to ensure they get him.
I’m old enough to remember the 2021 Buckeyes, when JSN was the team’s best wideout, despite having Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave as teammates. His injury-plagued ‘22 season is not an issue. He’s healthy and ready to remind everyone what he can do. Smith-Njiba is the clearcut WR1 in this draft and immediately gives Love a big-time playmaker.
If he’s off the board, my hunch is the Pack would turn to either OL Paris Johnson or Peter Skoronski (grandson of Packer Hall of Famer Bob) if either is on the board, or they could look to move down. Option 3 would be to just take the top tight end, likely Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Don’t count out an edge rusher, either, even though Packer Nation may revolt if Gutey goes defense in Round 1 once again.
2. (42) Darnell Washington, TE Georgia
If one of the top two tight ends, Mayer or Dalton Kincaid, is sliding and available late in the first round, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gutey packages a second and a third to pounce on one of them. If not, Washington is an intriguing option. At 6’7”, 264 lbs., he is already a beast of a blocker and will provide immediate dividends in the run game. His receiving chops are a work in progress, but his upside is off the charts.
2. (45) Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Edge, Kansas State
Like Washington, FAU paid the Packers a pre-draft visit and checks a lot of boxes the team likes in an edge rusher. He’s shown versatility, with an ability to move inside, and has the strength and quickness to get after the quarterback. His arms are a little shorter than the Pack prefers, but his production and athletic traits win the day.
3. (78) Sydney Brown, S Illinois
I’ll be very surprised if the Pack doesn’t add a safety before Saturday. If Brown’s off the board, they could turn to Bama’s Jordan Battle or A&M’s Antonio Johnson. But Brown gets the nod with his ability in coverage to go along with his hard-hitting reputation.
4. (116) Blake Freeland, OT BYU
Freeland is a towering 6’8”, a trait the Pack likes, and he was a four-year starter. He needs to add weight and spend a lot of time in the weight room, but this is a developmental pick with an eye on ’24 to hedge against David Bakhtiari and Yosh Nijman‘s uncertain futures. He could be Green Bay’s starting right tackle in the not too distant future.
5. (149) Josh Whyle, TE Cincinnati
I won’t be shocked if Green Bay doubles down at tight end, since the current depth chart is rather barren. All the power programs recruited Whyle, but he chose to stay close to home. At 6’6”, he can go up and grab the contested balls, but Whyle will need to get stronger and learn how to block.
6. (207) Jake Haener, QB Fresno State
It would be a surprise if the Pack doesn’t add a developmental QB in the draft, and Haener gets the call over guys like Stetson Bennett (who’s older than Jordan Love) and Max Duggan. Haener had a virtual visit with the Pack and could come off the board a round earlier, as some see a little Drew Brees in his game.
7. (232) DJ Dale, DT Alabama
After losing Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed, the Pack needs reinforcements up front and may address this position on Day 2. At this point, they take a flier on a durable four year player who at 22, is already married and has earned two degrees at Bama. He was a rotational guy for the Tide and will likely be a practice squad guy early on.
7. (235) Evan Hull, RB Northwestern
The Pack brought in the productive former Wildcat for a pre-draft visit. His ability as a pass-catcher gives him the nod over another back they brought in, Lew Nichols, who’s more of the AJ Dillon mold. Hull could compete for a third down role in a year or two. With Aaron Jones likely playing elsewhere in ’24, Hull gets an audition as the future change of pace back for Dillon.
7. (242) Derius Davis, WR TCU
The Pack goes back to the well to add another body to the wide receiver room. Davis is smaller than the Pack typically likes, but he gives the WR room another slot option and could be a useful gadget guy. He’ll also get a chance at the punt returner job, where he excelled in college.
7. (256) Jack Podlesny, K Georgia
With four picks in the final round, the Pack doesn’t need to wait until the undrafted free agency frenzy to find Mason Crosby’s replacement. Michigan’s Jake Moody is off the board, so the Pack grabs the strong-legged former Bulldog; after all, Gutey loves him some Georgia guys. He has the requisite strong leg and has kicked in tons of huge games in the SEC.