Aaron Nagler speaks with Ryan Wood about the Packers' need to find an edge rusher to boost their pass defense. (April 23, 2018) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Eighth in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Edge rushers.
It’s debatable which is the greatest need, edge rusher or cornerback. What is clear, however, is the Packers desperately need to replenish their outside linebacker depth chart – and with talent that comes from high-end picks. Behind injury-prone Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, the Packers' edge-rush rotation consists of Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel, Chris Odom and Reggie Gilbert. None have proven they can consistently pressure the passer. So an edge rusher could be in play for the Packers with their first-round pick (No. 14 overall), but they’d be wise to not stop there. With such a great need, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers double – or even triple – dip into the class. Priority level: High.
RELATED: NFL draft 2018 pass rusher rankings
A brief overview of where the Packers stand at outside linebacker prior to the 2018 NFL draft USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
MARCUS DAVENPORT, TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO
6-5¾, 264 pounds
The good: Athletic “freak” who played basketball and was a wide receiver in high school. Big and fast (4.58 40), only player weighing at least 260 pounds to run sub-4.6 at the combine. Explosive potential, with a 124-inch broad jump that would have ranked sixth among receivers at the combine. Showed comfortability rushing from a two-point stance at Senior Bowl. Some positional versatility, with a frame to put on more weight if a team desires. Solid setting edge against the run.
The bad: Raw talent will need to make transition from lower-FBS level. Needs to expand on pass-rush arsenal. Rarely dominated games as someone with his talent should at a lower level of college football. Because of his height, must learn to lower pad level for leverage.
Projected round: 1.
HAROLD LANDRY, BOSTON COLLEGE
6-2⅜, 252 pounds
The good: Polished pass rusher who led the nation with 16½ sacks as a junior in 2016. Explosive off the snap (1.59 10-yard split higher than Davenport’s 1.62) with good bend around the edge. Forced 10 fumbles combined in 2015 and 2016 seasons, including seven in 2016. Should be ready to play ample portion of pass-rushing snaps early. Though not as athletic as Davenport, a 4.64 40 with a 119-inch broad jump was near top of his class. Benched more than Davenport (24 reps to 22). A 36-inch vertical leap would have cracked top 10 of receivers at the combine and was more than Davenport’s 33½.
The bad: More speed than strength coming off the edge. Ankle injury ended his senior season in late October. Had five sacks in eight games before injury. Ceiling hinges on whether he can develop counter moves to maximize his initial burst. Struggles as a run defender.
Projected round: 1.
LORENZO CARTER, GEORGIA
6-4⅞, 250 pounds
The good: Played behind Leonard Floyd (6-5½, 246) early in his career at Georgia, and measures similarly. Ran better than Floyd with a 4.5 40 (Floyd’s was 4.60). Vertical leap of 36 inches tied Harold Landry for fourth among edge rushers at the combine, while 130-inch broad jump led his position. Perhaps most impressive was 34-inch arms and 82-inch wingspan.
The bad: Production didn’t equal elite physical tools. Never had more than five sacks in a season, finishing with 14 in four years. Needs to put on more weight; did not bench press at the combine.
Projected round: 2.
ARDEN KEY, LSU
6-4⅞, 238 pounds
The good: A natural pass rusher with excellent quickness and length (82⅛-inch wingspan). Tremendous flexibility helps him turn corner on the edge. As a sophomore, finished second in SEC with 11 sacks, behind only 2017 No. 14 overall pick Derek Barnett. “From an athletic perspective,” NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said, “if he was clean off the field, he'd be a first-round edge rusher.”
The bad: Stepped away from the football program last spring, drawing questions about his love for the game, though he returned in the summer. Followed strong sophomore season with only four sacks last fall. Missed first two games last season recovering from shoulder surgery, following advice that did not come from team doctors. Has struggled finding a consistent weight, ballooning to 270 pounds last year but weighing into combine at 238. Off-field red flags will drop his draft stock, but also a poor run defender.
Projected round: 2-3.
JOSH SWEAT, FLORIDA STATE
6-4¾, 251 pounds
The good: A five-star prep prospect, tore up the combine with a 4.53 40 that included a 1.55 10-yard split. That speed translated into good burst off the snap, recording 12½ sacks the past two seasons.
The bad: Talent is unrefined, not nearly the sum of his parts. Tore his ACL while dislocated left knee as a high school senior, missing most of the season. Left knee will get scrutiny entering the draft. Must learn how to better use his athleticism. Could be a mid-round steal but could also bust.
Projected round: 3-4.
Best and busts
With all due respect to Kabeer Gbaha-Biamila, a fifth-round pick in 2000 who had 74 1/2 career sacks in nine seasons, Clay Matthews is the best edge rusher the Packers ever drafted. Not only did Matthews break KGB’s franchise career sacks record (now at 80 and counting), but the Packers would not have won Super Bowl XLV without the six-time Pro Bowler. The Packers traded up in the draft to select Matthews, something that doesn’t always work. In 2001, they traded up seven spots to select Florida State’s Jamal Reynolds (10th overall), who had three career sacks and never started a game in three seasons.