There’s a lot of talk about the Green Bay Packers and a pass catcher early, but there are other potential targets for them in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Aaron Rodgers story has dominated the headlines with the Green Bay Packers this offseason, but there is a 2023 NFL Draft looming for them as the Jordan Love era gets underway. Many analysts in mock drafts have the Packers pegged to land one of the top tight ends in a loaded class of potential long-term starters. Others believe this might be the time they land that elusive first-round receiver.
It’s been said about the 2023 NFL Draft, so it’s worth repeating here: expect the unexpected. Over the last five drafts (all in the tenure of Brian Gutekunst), the expected results have often been subverted. Only Daniel Jeremiah and Mike Mayock had the Packers taking Jaire Alexander. Consensus in 2019 was they’d land one of T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, while other mocks had them going Brian Burns, Andre Dillard, and Devin Bush. In 2020, very few even had the thought of suggesting Jordan Love. It was mostly receivers, from Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, to guys like Jalen Reagor and Cole Kmet.
Green Bay Packers First-Round Targets In The 2023 NFL Draft
In 2021, Asante Samuel Jr. looked like the guy destined to be a Packers. Christian Barmore, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Greg Newsome were the favorites. Kadarius Toney was a popular selection as well, and it turned out to be Eric Stokes. The 2022 mocks were all over the place. Daxton Hill was a favorite, as was landing a tackle like Trevor Penning, Tyler Smith, or Bernhard Raimann. George Pickens was another favorite, and instead, the Green Bay Packers took two Georgia defenders.
The point is, with all the mock drafts saying it’s tight end, there’s a chance the Packers go in a direction that isn’t what the consensus believes. With all that said, let’s look at first-round target for the Packers in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Sensible Options: Trenches
There’s one area that might be overlooked a little with the Green Bay Packers in round one of the 2023 NFL Draft, and that is the trenches. On the surface, it might not make sense. But, when deeper digging is done, there are long-term cracks in the foundation. How long will Preston Smith and David Bakhtiari be around? Is there enough trust in Zach Tom and Yosh Nijman? Is Kingsley (J.J.) Enagbare just a third rotational guy?
These questions, especially looking to 2024, lead to the idea of trenches in the first round. Who could it be?
Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
We know the Green Bay Packers go bigger at edge rusher, so that leaves a couple options in round one. One of those is Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa. Nicknamed “Hercules”, Van Ness presents ample strength to play on the edge. He can unlock explosiveness with his get off, and convert said explosiveness into a powerful bull rush at contact. He’s given headaches to both Paris Johnson and Peter Skoronski.
The production hasn’t been there, and it’s due to the lack of consistency as a pass rusher on the edge. Several of his productive pressure plays have come from the interior, and it’s going to be a transition. Van Ness has to utilize his functional strength more consistently as a run defender and must develop a strong repertoire. He will have time to develop and rotate into some snaps in 2023 and be a starter down the road.
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Myles Murphy is another edge prospect with middling production and high-end upside. Murphy was a consensus top-10 prospect just a few months ago, but his stock has been trending downward in media mock drafts. Murphy explosiveness is evident on film, and he has impressive strength, plus a great long-arm move as a pass rusher that also helps him sit and leverage the run game. The question for him is how much he can grow as a rusher to be a full-time, high-end starter in the league. An athlete with projectable upside and room to grow as a pass rusher? Where have we heard that before?
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The chance that Paris Johnson Jr. falls to the Green Bay Packers is pretty unlikely, but if it happens, that would be a difficult decision to pass. Johnson is a high recruit who finally moved to tackle in 2022, and grew more and more comfortable as the season went on. His awareness as it plays to who is rushing versus who is dropping needs work, as does his positioning at the snap. But, his athleticism is a great functional tool in the run game, where he can reach block, sustain on the move, and get to the second level with ease. His footwork to set and recover in pass pro is there. Keep his hands in tight more and he can be the high-end starter.
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Broderick Jones has a better chance of falling to the Packers in the 2023 NFL Draft than Johnson does, but the two are pretty close in terms of grading. Like Johnson, Jones is a phenomenal athlete with the skills to be a dominant blocker on the move. His only issues there are overrunning plays and losing a bit of balance while looking to sustain blocks on the move. His footwork and functional athleticism play very well in pass protection, and his ability to hang on without sinking his hips to anchor shows how much strength he has in his arms and lower half. Plus, he recovers insanely well. There’s work to do, but he’s one of the few who could reach pro bowl status in a couple seasons from this tackle class.
Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
Another uber-athletic offensive tackle, Anton Harrison spent a lot of time in an offense that ran a ton of RPOs, so there weren’t always a ton of reps of longer, more sustained pass protection. When there was though, his power and athleticism shone through. He has the quick feet and is another tackle with impressive skills on the move. He can uproot defenders in the run game as well.
Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
If you’re looking for pass protection with development to work on in the run game (often a Packers MO) then Darnell Wright is the guy. Wright handled the top SEC rushers with ease in 2022, from Will Anderson to B.J. Ojulari. His ability to set vertically to handle speed and control with his inside hand to prevent inside moves is a great combo. Wright resets his hands well and is powerful enough to anchor and give up limited ground. If Yosh Nijman doesn’t stick around and Zach Tom takes over at left tackle, Wright can slide in at right tackle for sure in 2024, with the potential to start over Nijman right away.
The “Help Your QB” Options: Pass-Catchers
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
This might actually be the year that the Green Bay Packers absolutely overhaul the receiving skill positions. If they actually take a receiver in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, it will be Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba’s athletic testing was stellar, especially his agility times. But the film reigns supreme, as does his 2021 production. Smith-Njigba’s ability to win as a route runner, create space at the catch point and win with reliable hands, and dominate post-catch with catch to attack transition skills and curvilinear speed is lethal. His likely role early is in the slot, but encouraging reps against press could lead to snaps on the perimeter.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
A first-round tight end has been mocked to the Green Bay Packers a ton in the 2023 NFL Draft process. Michael Mayer has long been the favorite, and it’s easy to see why. His ability to play inline drastically improved in 2022, especially with hand placement and block sustainment. Mayer has savvy short-area quicks that he can leverage into separation, and he can win at the catch point with great positioning and elevation skill to be a reliable middle of the field target and red zone specialist.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Perhaps the best pass-catcher in the class, period, Dalton Kincaid combines rare quicks in and out of breaks, great hands and body control, and an innate ability to find a way to win after the catch. He won’t play inline, but he can contribute as a blocker with second and third-level defenders. Kincaid can be a winner at all three levels of the defense and bring something to Green Bay that hasn’t been there since Jermichael Finley.
Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
The ultimate wild card at tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft, Darnell Washington has spectacular upside. He’s going to be a great third tackle right away and a true run game force multiplier, as long as he stays balanced with calculated aggression at the point of attack. He can handle edge rushers in pass pro, but what’s so exciting is how he wins as a receiver. Right now, it’s a lot of wins through contact and impressive contact balance and nimbleness post-catch. If he can create more consistent motor control and work to be less clunky at times, the ceiling is insane.
Let’s Get Wild
Keion White, EDGE/DL, Georgia Tech
Things could get absurd in the 2023 NFL Draft, and the Green Bay Packers won’t be an exception. Keion White is one of the prospects attending the 2023 NFL Draft, and his size (6’4 7/8″, 285 pounds) will intrigue the Packers. He wins with a lot of power generated from first-step explosion and shedding at contact, often with a push-pull move. He’ll have to expand the repertoire, but he’s already a sound run defender who can potentially move around the defensive line.
Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
Would the Green Bay Packers actually take an edge rusher who currently sits at 238 pounds? It would be very unusual, but Will McDonald might be worth it. He has a strong array of moves to get to the quarterback, and has the length and positioning at the point of attack to actually anchor in the run game. He played a lot of 4i in Iowa State’s defense and still generated consistent pressure. He’s thin, and could add 10-15 pounds. If the explosiveness and twitchy change of direction sticks, look out.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Detroit Lions are currently the favorite to select Devon Witherspoon, but NFL teams might not like that he’s 181 pounds. He could experience a fall, and the Green Bay Packers could pounce. Witherspoon has inside/outside versatility, impressive patience in his pedal, great transitional quicks to recover, and a physical demeanor that’s unmatched.
Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Deonte Banks finally stamped his first-round status after the combine, but the film is good too. He’s great technically in press, and stays physical throughout routes. He can close with great speed and is a catch-point disruptor. If the Packers aren’t sold with Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas does indeed switch positions, corner becomes a need in a loaded class.