Green Bay Packers

There Are Multiple Ways To Build Around Jordan Love In the Draft

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff (USA TODAY Sports)

After three years on the bench, Jordan Love is finally the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback. Because of how things have played out for the organization since 2020, Love goes to the final season of his rookie deal without a true advantage that the inexpensive years tend to generate, especially because Aaron Rodgers leaves behind $40.3 million in dead money. Therefore, the Packers need to generate other kinds of edges to benefit Love in his first year as a starter.

Armed with draft capital after trading Rodgers to the New York Jets for a good haul, Green Bay must make their selections with Love in mind. The Packers need to use this draft, particularly their three top-50 picks, to surround Love with talent. The main idea is to create an environment where Love can truly be evaluated. Hopefully for the Packers, he succeeds. But if he doesn’t, Green Bay’s management will have a definitive answer in time to use the extra capital in 2024 to find another passer.

Even though the Packers are moving on from Rodgers, the team intends to be competitive immediately. And the expectation is fair. Last season, Rodgers was not more than a top-20 quarterback in most metrics, so expecting something similar or better from Love, who’s not a rookie, is reasonable.

General manager Brian Gutekunt said this during his pre-draft press conference:

We’re excited about this football team and where it can go. Obviously, we’re a long ways away from what our 53-man roster and our 16-man practice squad is going to look like, but we’re really excited about it. It’s going to be new, obviously, specifically at quarterback. But at the same time, the goals don’t change around here. It’s going to be the same goals we’ve always had, right? There’s one goal here every single year, no matter what, just like it was the last time we moved on from one quarterback to the other. It’s going to be on those guys to put in the work. It’s going to be exciting to see. Nothing’s really changing.

Since taking Aaron Rodgers in 2005, the Packers have selected one first-round offensive skill position player in the first round: Jordan Love. While the team has gotten multiple second-round weapons, including Christian Watson at the 34th-overall pick last year, it makes more sense now than ever to give the quarterback more personnel support.

That’s why Jaxon Smith-Njigba would be the ideal scenario.

This is not exactly a great receiver class, and several pundits see JSN as the only first-round WR in true value. And he, too, has his flaws and limitations. Take a look at his NFL Network profile overview, from analyst Lance Zierlein:

Smith-Njigba is a possession slot receiver who lacks the shake to separate underneath and the speed to run past defenses. He’s tough in the middle of the defense and has proven he can make catches in congestion. Smith-Njigba will need to fine-tune his route running to give himself his best chance to succeed at the next level. It is impossible to ignore his monster finish to the 2021 season, and he has starting slot potential, but the speed concerns coupled with an injury-plagued 2022 season threaten to negatively impact his draft stock.

The expectation is he’ll be mostly a slot receiver, which might limit his ceiling, but for the Packers this might work — and could be even an argument for Smith-Njigba to be more valuable to the Packers than he would be elsewhere.

JSN would be a perfect complement to Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, the young outside receivers the Packers drafted last season. Moreover, as a possession receiver, Smith-Njigba would be a useful tool for Love to make easy throws in the middle of the field.

What if?

I’ve made the argument for Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But there are no assurances he will be on the board at 13, even though the Packers jumped the WR-needy New England Patriots by swapping picks with the New York Jets. If JSN goes earlier, there isn’t another clear-cut first-rounder at wide receiver. For example, the Packers may like Quentin Johnston or Jordan Addison. However, it would be understandable if they look at another position at pick 13 and go back to receiver later — Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, Michael Wilson, and Jonathan Mingo are potential Packers types expected to be drafted on Friday.

And while I made the case that there is no value in adding a tight end in the first round, the Packers would have two more options to help Love on Thursday. The first would be trading down and adding a tight end late in the first. That could alleviate the value consideration and adjust to where most boards indicate the top tight ends will go.

The other option, and more likely one, is to draft an offensive tackle at 13. Paris Johnson, Peter Skoronski, Broderick Jones, and Darnell Wright are all expected to be picked in the top 20.

Initially, one might argue that this selection wouldn’t help the team right away, because the Packers already have David Bakhtiari, Zach Tom, and Yosh Nijman at the position. But taking a tackle early would make sense in the short- and long-term.

Any potential first-round tackle could play immediately. If not at right tackle, with Zach Tom sliding to guard, the rookie himself could start his career at right guard, moving Jon Runyan to the bench. In this case, it would be particularly important to find a prospect with good run-blocking skills.

Eventually, the young player could move to left tackle in 2024, considering David Bakhtiari’s potential departure. Bakhtiari is unlikely to play for the Packers in 2024 with a $40 million cap hit. Green Bay’s options are to extend, trade, or release the 11-year veteran. Nijman is also an unrestricted free agent in 2024, so it makes even more sense to take a tackle early, projecting him and Zach Tom as the long-term starters at the position.

Later, the Packers would still have three more top-80 picks, including 42 and 45, to select more offensive weapons. And those are considered to be sweet spots for tight ends, which is the biggest need on Green Bay’s roster.

Edge defender is a relative need for Green Bay and, as a valuable position, should be considered at 13. But this is the year to surround Jordan Love as well as possible and see what the new version of this offense can do with more talented pieces.

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