GREEN BAY – Before he makes the picks that will define the first NFL draft of his own, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst wants to make sure he knows exactly what he’s getting.
In prior years, general manager Ted Thompson used his allotted 30 pre-draft invitations to the Packers' facility mostly on undrafted free agent types, refusing to tip off the competition on what he might be doing in the early and middle rounds of the draft.
Gutekunst has changed all that and has brought in some of the top names in the draft, including Florida State safety Derwin James, Washington nose tackle Vita Vea, Virginia Tech inside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes.
“I just thought for me and how I wanted to go about it, there's just a certain amount of, yes, I wanted to have some face-to-face time with (them) individually,” Gutekunst said Monday. “I also think getting them with our coaching staff and seeing how they might fit in our room and our team locker room was important.
“We've done that in the past, I don't know if it's been as publicized as it has been, but we've done that in the past and I always liked it. We just did a little bit more of it this year.”
It’s important to point out that teams often send out fake signals through these visits, never intending to draft the individual they bring in, hoping other teams will make incorrect assumptions. Still, that’s probably only true in a few cases.
Here is a list of visits that are known to have taken place this month (all are confirmed through NFL sources except where another publication is noted):
» DB Dane Cruikshank, Arizona, 6-1, 209 pounds (4.41, 38½, 25) A top tester at the combine, Cruikshank played cornerback at a JC (Citrus College) for two years and for the Wildcats for one season. Was moved to a rover-type position as a senior and picked off both Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold. Drew a lot of interest after his combine performance. Made eight pre-draft visits. Projected: 2nd or 3rd day.
» DT Mike Ramsey, Duke, 6-1½, 300. (4.89, 30, 31) Started final 25 games for Blue Devils and played 1,812 snaps total. Team captain as a senior. Had 0.5 sacks his sophomore and junior seasons and then totaled 5½ as a senior. Very strong, but lack of height will be tough to overcome in the NFL. Will have to play with great leverage similar to Mike Daniels, who is one inch shorter. Projected: Free agent.
» WR Justin Watson, Penn, 6-2, 215 pounds (4.44, 40, 20) Dominated at the FCS level, scoring 31 touchdowns in three seasons as a full-time starter. Averaged 13.2 yards per reception and caught 286 passes for 3,777 yards and 33 touchdowns in college. Had 19 100-yard games. Tall and long-armed, making him a good target. Jump in competition will be abrupt. Projected: 3rd day.
» DT Julian Taylor, Temple, 6-4, 295 pounds (4.83, 33, 31) Lean, long-limbed athlete with limited tape to watch. Tore meniscus in his left knee in the 2015 season opener and missed the rest of the season. The following year, he tore his ACL in the same knee and missed all but three games. Was mostly healthy his senior year and had a breakout game against undefeated Central Florida (10 tackles, 4½ for loss). Will have to continue adding bulk to compete in the NFL. Projected: 3rd day.
» WR Keith Kirkwood, Temple, 6-2½, 221 pounds (4.45, 35, no bench) Had Division 1 basketball offers, but committed to Hawaii to play football. Made five starts as a freshman and then transferred to Temple to help raise girlfriend’s daughter, whose biological father had died. Played in eight games (four receptions) in ’14, one game in ’15 (injury) and then 27 straight to finish out his career. Averaged 15.3 yards per reception and caught 87 passes for 1,319 yards and 11 touchdowns during final two seasons. Projected: Free agent.
» OT Kolton Miller, UCLA, 6-8½, 309 pounds (4.91, 31½, 24) Has the right build to play left tackle in the NFL. Huge hands (10¾ inches) and wing span (82½ inches) are ideal for the position. Started nine games at right tackle before starting all 13 on the left side in ’17. Must continue to build strength and learn how to use it, especially in the run game. Missed seven games in ’16 due to a leg injury. Projected: 2nd day.
» S Derwin James, Florida State, 6-1, 215 pounds (4.47, 40, 21) Big-time athlete who was a force his freshman year, posting 91 tackles, including 9½ for loss, 4½ sacks and five pass breakups. Tore meniscus in his left knee the following year and missed all but two games. Came back strong last year and declared early for the draft. Should be able to play multiple positions in the NFL, including box safety and nickel corner. Projected: 1st day.
» OG Dejon Allen, Hawaii, 6-2, 295 pounds (4.97, 30½, 29) Came to Hawaii as a defensive end but switched to guard during redshirt season. Started 23 games at right guard and one at left guard his first two seasons and then played 25 at left tackle his final two. Extremely long arms allowed him to succeed at tackle despite his height, but he projects to guard or center in the NFL. Will need to continue to gain weight and build strength. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» CB Donte Jackson, LSU, 5-10½, 178 pounds (4.32, no vertical, 7) Has Sam Shields-like size and speed but lacks the same arm length that made Shields such a good press corner. Started 11 games at corner as a sophomore and then played corner, free safety and slot corner as a junior. Despite his size, he’s not afraid to tackle and he can get to the quarterback in a flash blitzing from the slot. But durability will be an issue. Ran track in high school and at LSU. Projected: 2nd day.
» CB Mike Ford, Southeast Missouri State, 5-11, 194 pounds (4.47, 40, 13) Was a running back in high school, but moved to defense during his redshirt year. Became a starter in ’15 and had 12 pass break-ups and five interceptions. Has the size and speed to play outside and the hands to accumulate some interceptions. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» OLB Kendall Donnerson, SE Missouri State, 6-1, 245 pounds (4.44, 40, 20) Had an off-the-charts pro day that caused teams to draw interest in him. Started his final two seasons and had 10 sacks, which is not eye-grabbing, but guys who play the edge and can run the 40 in 4.4 seconds are worth considering. Will need time to develop and might wind up being just a workout warrior. But someone could be pleasantly surprised. Projected: Free agent.
» CB Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida, 5-10, 189 (4.53, 35½, 20) Played quarterback in high school before moving to corner as a senior. Played one season at North Carolina, but fell out of good graces with the coaching staff after an off-field altercation, according to news reports. He left the program, spent a year at a junior college and then transferred to UCF. Had 49 tackles, 15 pass break-ups and four interceptions in ’17. Also averaged 16.6 yards per punt return and 31.8 per kickoff. Projected: 1st or 2nd day.
» C Nico Falah, USC, 6-4, 301 (5.13, 32, 21) Was center for Jake Rosen in high school and Sam Darnold in college. Solidified a young offensive line at USC. Started out as a tackle but wasn’t playing much, so switched to center and wound up starting his final two years. First major amount of playing time came against UCLA where he battled Kenny Clark all day long. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» ILB Oren Burks, Vanderbilt, 6-3, 233 (4.59, 39½, 18) Started out as a free safety, then played a rover position and then finished as an inside linebacker. He played all over the field at Vanderbilt and had 82 tackles, including seven for loss and a sack as a senior. Another player with speed and long arms who should be able to function in various roles. Projected: 3rd day.
» LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech, 6-4½, 253 (4.54, no vertical, 19) At just 19 years old, Edmunds has a ton of upside. His 83-inch wingspan and running back speed make him a potential terror on defense. He was extremely productive in college, with 32 ½ tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his final two seasons. Declared early with the knowledge he’ll be a top draft choice. Projected: 1st day.
» DL Vita Vea, Washington, 6-4, 347 (5.10, no vertical, 41) Only a full-time starter for one year, but he still managed 12 tackles for loss and 8½ sacks in his final two seasons, winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in ’17. Has drawn comparisons to NFL nose tackle Haloti Ngata and may have more pass rush ability. Can play any of the three spots in a 3-4. Projected: 1st day.
» ILB Jack Cichy, Wisconsin, 6-2, 238 (No 40, 33½, 18) Hasn’t played a game since October 2016 because of a torn left pectoral and a torn right ACL (Aug. 2017). Could have returned to UW but chose to cast lot in NFL. He’s expected to be ready for training camp, but teams are lining up to look him over. Lack of experience and inability to put on weight might hurt him. Projected: 2nd or 3rd day.
» FB Austin Ramesh, Wisconsin, 6-1, 251 (4.78, 32, 24) Played in 40 games and started 18. Carried 34 times for 147 yards and five touchdowns. Follows in footsteps of other hard-nosed UW fullbacks such as Derek Watt, Bradie Ewing, Matt Bernstein and Cecil Martin. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» WR J’Mon Moore, Missouri 6-3, 204 (4.6, 38, 21) Totaled 1,000 yards receiving in each of his last two seasons. Earned second-team all-SEC in each of those seasons. Had some trouble with drops both during his junior season and at Senior Bowl practices. He’s big and powerful but will need a lot of seasoning after playing in a relatively simple scheme. Projected: 3rd day.
» WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, South Florida, 6-4, 206 (4.37, 30½, 15) Started out at NC State, but transferred after two seasons reportedly because he was unhappy with his role in the offense. After sitting out a year, averaged 18.9 yards per catch in ’16 and 16.6 in ’17. Caught 75 passes and 11 touchdowns during those two seasons. Has track speed but will need to broaden his route skills. Projected: 3rd day.
» S Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin, 5-10½, 201 (4.40, 35½, 25). Started as wide receiver, then cornerback and then safety. Could be a hybrid player on the next level, but will have to show he can play man coverage. Extremely strong and could be a force on special teams. Among the teams he visited were the Lions, Texans, Saints, Bucs, Titans, Seahawks and Chargers. Projected: 3rd day.
» S Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii, 6-0, 208 pounds (4.58, 39½, 10) Became a full-time starter as a sophomore and totaled 63 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. Missed junior year with a torn ACL, but came back and was extremely productive his final two seasons. Good, steady player who will have to work his way up through special teams. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» WR Dante Pettis (via ESPN.com), Washington, 6-0½, 186 pounds (4.47, 36, 11) Lean frame, but has the ability to line up at any receiver position. Had a breakout year in 2016 with 53 catches for 822 yards and 15 touchdowns. Elite punt returner with nine career touchdowns, which is an NCAA record. Averaged 13.7 per return overall. Averaged 13.8 yards per reception. Father is former major league baseball player Gary Pettis. Projected: 2nd day.
» OT Connor Williams (via NFL Network), Texas, 6-5, 291 pounds (5.05, 34, 26) A three-year starter who made 28 starts at left tackle but some teams are looking at him as a guard. Missed most of his junior year with sprained ligaments in his knee. Was considered a big-time NFL prospect after his sophomore year, but the injuries and average performance have caused teams to take a much harder look. Projected: 1st or 2nd day.
» DT Connor Sheehy, Wisconsin, 6-3, 295 (5.26, 32, 21) Started 33 games for Badgers and finished with 95 tackles (13½ for loss). Played multiple positions in UW’s 3-4 and may have to put on weight to play over the nose in the NFL. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» TE Deon Yelder, Western Kentucky, 6-3, 251 pounds (4.74, 33, 18) A late bloomer who walked on rather than play at a smaller school. He wasn’t put on scholarship until his senior year after playing mostly special teams. He caught 52 passes for 688 yards and seven touchdowns in his final season and caught the eye of scouts. Has 10-inch hands and an almost 80-inch wing span. Projected: 3rd day or free agent.
» OLB Mike Love, South Florida, 6-3, 255 (No 40, 35, 24) Late-blooming edge rusher who had 28 tackles, including 11 for loss, 5½ sacks and three pass break-ups during his senior season. Finished with 9½ sacks and 19½ tackles for loss in 36 games. Projected: Free agent.
»QB Tim Boyle, Eastern Kentucky, 6-3, 226 (4.75, 35½, no bench) Played three seasons at UConn before transferring to Eastern Kentucky. Was the first true freshman to start at QB for the Huskies. Played for three different head coaches and in 27 games threw for just one touchdown with 13 interceptions. Completed 61.5% of his passes for 2,134 yards and 11 touchdowns with 13 interceptions at EKU after a redshirt season. Projected: Free agent.