The Green Bay Packers fell short once again in the NFC Championship Game. With Aaron Rodgers weighing his future, dedicating the 2021 NFL Draft to helping the future Hall of Fame quarterback will be crucial if the Packers want to compete for the Super Bowl next season.
We saw what happened in the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead of providing Rodgers with more help, general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up in the first round to draft Jordan Love. Then, with their second-round pick, the Packers drafted running back A.J. Dillon. A franchise that should be in a win-now mode instead put more pressure on its legendary quarterback and that proved costly this season.
With Rodgers hinting at being uncertain about this team, the pressure is on Gutekunst to take a win-now approach this offseason. The Packers missed an incredible opportunity this year to reach the Super Bowl, but their window isn’t closed completely. That is, if this team gets it right in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Let’s examine how the Packers draft picks can be used to help Rodgers reach a Super Bowl next season.
Green Bay Packers draft picks: Round-by-round targets in upcoming NFL Draft
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Thanks to an incredible season, ended on the doorstep of their first Super Bowl appearance in a decade, Green Bay will be picking late in the upcoming draft. It likely pushes them away from trading up for outstanding talent, but the 2021 draft class still offers plenty of options to help the Packers in 2021.
The needs in Green Bay are evident. Gutekunst must find a starting cornerback to replace Kevin King, another offensive weapon to help Rodgers and this team needs reinforcements on the offensive and defensive lines.
Given Green Bay’s salary cap situation, addressing those areas in free agency is going to be incredibly challenging. Even if the Packers had the financial flexibility, center Corey Linsley and running back Aaron Jones are free agents. One of the two is unlikely to return in 2021, creating an additional hole on the roster.
Needless to say, Gutekunst has his work cut out for him this offseason. But with the fans and quarterback turning the heat up on him, he’ll need to deliver in the 2021 NFL Draft.
First round, 29th overall: Jalen Mayfield (OT, Michigan), Kadarius Toney (WR, Florida), Christian Barmore (DT, Alabama), Asante Samuel Jr (CB, Florida State)
Losing David Bakhtiari before the NFL Playoffs took a toll on the offensive line. Billy Turner kicked out to left tackle and was exposed in the NFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, right tackle Rick Wagner also operated as a turnstile against the Buccaneers. Drafting an offensive tackle and cutting Wagner, freeing $4 million in cap space, makes sense.
Mayfield’s size and athleticism will immediately attract the attention of teams. There’s a chance he could start on the left side, but he profiles best as a right tackle. While that’s not quite as valuable as a blindside protector, Mayfield makes up for it with the potential to become a perennial Pro Bowl tackle. He showed tremendous improvement in pass protection and would give the Packers two pillars on the outside to protect Rodgers.
One obvious takeaway from the loss to Tampa Bay was Green Bay’s glaring hole opposite Jaire Alexander. Kevin King never stood a chance on Sunday, giving up two touchdowns and making the costly penalty that sealed the Buccaneers’ victory. The Packers need another cornerback who can thrive in coverage. Asante Samuel Jr. could be perfect. With Alexander shutting down No. 1 wide receivers, Samuel Jr. can take advantage of quarterbacks trying to throw his way. Thanks to the same instincts and ball skills he learned from his father, that could lead to a ton of interceptions.
There’s also a strong argument to be made for adding an offensive weapon to this offense. While Davante Adams is an All-Pro receiver and Marquez Valdes-Scantling can make plays deep, Green Bay’s offense lacks a pass-catcher who can do things on his own. While Ka’darius Toney doesn’t have great size (5-foot-11), he is Percy Harvin-like. Put him in the slot and watch him turn short routes into 40-yard plays without breaking a sweat.
At least one of the Packers picks must be devoted to the defensive line They added Damon Harrison late in the year, but would benefit even more by finding a long-term defensive tackle to pair with Kenny Clark. While Barmore is a rotational player, he dominates when he takes the field. Put this 6-foot-5 tackle on the front alongside Clark and the duo will create havoc.
Second round, 61st overall: Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State, OT), Jabril Cox (LB, LSU), Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State)
Dillon Radunz never got a chance to improve his stock this year due to North Dakota State wiping out most of its season. While that’s bad news for his chances of being selected higher in the 2021 NFL Draft, it could still be worth it if he lands in the right situation. He started at left tackle for the Bison, but would flip over to the right side in Green Bay. His experience on the left side, paired with his strength as a run blocker, would make him a nice fit for the Packers’ increasingly run-heavy offense.
It’s been far too long since Green Bay had a linebacker who could make plays in coverage, Quite frankly, they also haven’t had a linebacker with modern athleticism at the position. Jabril Cox would change that immediately. Size (6-foot-4) and speed are his calling cards, allowing him to react quickly and get to the ballcarrier faster than others. It also enables Cox to be used as a blitzer, slipping through gaps in the interior and causing problems. Whoever is Green Bay’s defensive coordinator in 2021, they would love having Cox.
It’s hard to make a case for any college football player who should regret playing in 2020 more than Wade. Viewed as a top-15 pick a year before the 2021 NFL Draft, Wade’s transition to the outside this year at Ohio State was brutal. With that said, there is still plenty to like. For one, he excelled as a nickel corner and that is an area of need for Green Bay. He is also the same cornerback whose length and athleticism caught everyone’s eye in the first place. Wade could replace Chandon Sullivan, a frequent target of Tom Brady’s throws in the NFC Championship Game.
Third round, 92nd overall: Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis, RB), D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan, WR)
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Aaron Jones probably won’t return next season and Jamaal Williams is also a free agent. While this opens the door for A.J. Dillon to take on a significant role in 2021, catching the football isn’t one of his appealing traits. That’s where Kenneth Gainwell enters the picture. This past season with Memphis, he hauled in 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns. Oh, he is also dangerous as a ballcarrier as well. In Matt LaFleur’s offense, he can be moved around just as this team did with Jones.
D’Wayne Eskridge played multiple roles for Western Michigan. Not only was he an offensive weapon, but a dangerous returner and even a fill-in cornerback. In the NFL, he’ll be a return specialist and wide receiver. While a 5-foot-9, 190-pound receiver isn’t the dream mold for Green Bay, Eskridge’s speed makes up for it. He can be used in jet motions, turn screens into big gains and loves turning on the jets for a big play downfield. Plus, after this team putting up with abysmal play from their returners in 2020, Eskridge would be a weapon in that department.
Green Bay Packers mock draft: Using 2021 NFL Draft to help Aaron Rodgers
One of the best parts of the offseason is putting together mock drafts and simulating through different scenarios. With the help of The Draft Network’s 2021 NFL Draft simulator, we did that with the Packers draft picks.
- First round, 32nd overall*: Asante Samuel Jr, CB, Florida State
- Second round, 61st overall: Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
- Third round, 92nd overall: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
- Fourth round, 133rd overall: Javian Hawkins, RB, Louisville
- Fourth round, 136th overall: Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
- Fourth round, 140th overall: Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin
- Fifth round, 172nd overall: Trey Hill, iOL, Georgia
- FIfth round, 178th overall: LaBryan Ray, DT, Alabama
2021 NFL DRAFT TRADE: Green Bay Packers send the 29th overall pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 32nd pick and a 2021 fourth-round selection.
Trading down from the No. 29 overall pick will be something Gutekunst seriously consider. In this scenario, it means more Packers draft picks. Moving down a few spots still puts Green Bay in a position to either grab a starting cornerback or their right tackle of the future. We chose Samuel Jr., who fired a 20.2% incompletion rate when targeted, per Pro Football Focus.
While the play at tackle was atrocious in the NFCCG, Wagner and Turner played well for most of the season. Given both are playing under fairly reasonable salaries, they can compete for the starting spot on the right side in the summer. With that in mind, Samuel Jr. became the pick and he takes over on the outside. Pairing him with Alexander can make this secondary a lot better, especially with Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage playing well.
In the second round, Green Bay grabs its linebacker. Krys Barnes looks like he can be a contributor next season, but there is no one on this depth chart with real athleticism. Cox can help against the run, flying in to fill lanes and plowing into the ball carrier or he can slide into soft zone coverage and make it harder to complete passes over the middle against Green Bay.
With the additions made, paired with a new defensive coordinator, the Packers now might have a defense capable of reaching the Super Bowl. After disappointing Rodgers last offseason, now we start to help him out. Eskridge will give him another option to throw deep to and it shouldn’t be long before they have chemistry. Plus, Eskridge will help his quarterback have much shorter fields to work with.
Tyler Ervin was an unheralded piece of Green Bay’s offense before he suffered a season-ending injury. Hawkins will be an even better version of that for LaFleur. He’ll be used in plenty of jet motions, slide into the slot at times and can carry the football on pitches and other outside runs. Hawkins is the player who you just find a way to feed at least five times a game and he’ll make things happen for your offense.