Silverstein: Packers could join in first-round trade frenzy

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst conducts his pre-draft news conference at Lambeau Field on Monday, April 23, 2018, in Green Bay.

GREEN BAY – There’s no use in trying to predict which teams will select which players in the 13 selections that proceed the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

There is as much uncertainty around the NFL in the top half of a draft as there has been in many years.

One general manager predicted there would be eight trades in the first round alone and that there would be more teams trying to move back than teams trying to move up. Most of those moving up are chasing one of the five quarterbacks who are expected to be taken in the first round.

There was a consensus among personnel executives, coaches and agents interviewed Wednesday that only four quarterbacks would be selected before the Packers pick at No. 14.

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In trying to figure out who would be available to the Packers should they stay put, one area scout for an NFC team said subtract from the pool the first nine non-quarterbacks you think will be taken and the remaining players are in play for the Packers.

Don’t waste your time trying to match picks with teams, he said, because trades will shuffle the draft order and the scramble for quarterbacks will change the landscape.

“This one is very unpredictable,” said a personnel executive for another NFC team. “With so many teams needing QBs – Cleveland, New York Jets, Buffalo, Arizona, Denver -- I can definitely see four QBs going in the top 13.

“But honestly who knows?  We try to predict as well and I can tell you it's tough.”

The one thing you can take to the bank is that quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield will be off the board before the Packers pick.

Cleveland, with the Nos. 1 and 4 picks, will take a quarterback. (One coach said he believed GM John Dorsey would take running back Saquon Barkley with the first pick and then choose between whichever quarterback fell to him at No. 4.)

The New York Jets will grab one at No. 3. Denver, which has the No. 5 pick, could take a quarterback or trade its pick to Buffalo (No. 12) or Arizona (No. 15) so they can take a quarterback.

It’s even possible that New England with picks Nos. 23 and 31 could find a way to get into the mix for one of the top four quarterbacks.

The more quarterbacks taken the better it is for the Packers, whose needs, in order, are probably cornerback, edge rusher, guard/tackle, tight end and receiver. You can scratch guard and tight end from the possibilities at No. 14, even though more than one scout said it’s possible Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey may join guard Quenton Nelson as the only linemen taken in the first half of the round.

The Packers need a right tackle and right guard, but they can address those needs later in the draft and more than anything need a dynamic defensive player. Gutekunst spent a lot of time watching Arkansas guard Frank Ragnow, but No. 14 would be too high a spot to take him.

So, who are the players that will be off the board for certain before the 14th pick?

Few scouts would argue with a prediction that running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end Bradley Chubb and Nelson won’t be available. Ditto for inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds.

Together with the quarterbacks, that’s nine players off the board.

According to one general manager, Florida State safety Derwin James and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward will be gone also. Not many others interviewed for this story disagreed, although one personnel executive said he thought Ward might not go as high as everyone thinks.

Among the top prospects that leaves Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, Texas-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport and Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley.

“That is their sweet spot,” the area scout said. “It’s Davenport, Ridley and one of those DBs.”

The Packers would be thrilled if Fitzpatrick were available at 14. He could fill multiple roles in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense, possibly the way Charles Woodson did for Dom Capers.

But one NFL source said Oakland (No. 10) and Miami (No. 11) both have their eyes on Fitzpatrick. He said he doubted very much that Fitzpatrick would make it to No. 14.

If Fitzpatrick is gone, Gutekunst would probably take a pass rusher or receiver over a nose tackle and so it might come down to Davenport or Ridley.

One personnel executive said that there was no way Gutekunst would take Davenport because there’s too much risk given his small-school experience and the potentially long apprenticeship he’ll need in the NFL. He also said there was no way Gutekunst would consider Boston College’s Harold Landry, who is a true boom or bust talent and not worth taking that high.

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There’s no question that Gutekunst would like to come out of this draft with an impact player. If he sits at No. 14, it’s likely he misses out on one of the three defensive backs – James, Ward and Fitzpatrick –  who could potentially make a big difference for him in 2018.

So, he’s probably going to have to chase whichever one slips to within a reasonable distance from the No. 14 pick since any of the three could step in as a starter or major nickel player right away.

Among the trading partners Gutekunst should have are the Oakland Raiders (No. 10), Miami Dolphins (No. 11) and Buffalo Bills (No. 12).

Let’s look at possible scenarios:

Oakland – Why would Gutekunst’s former colleague and fellow general manager Reggie McKenzie want to trade out of his spot? The Raiders could definitely use an inside linebacker like Smith or Edwards, but they also recently signed Breno Giacomini to be their right tackle, meaning their two tackles heading into the season will be a combined 67 years of age. McKenzie might be willing to move back and take McGlinchey at 14 while adding an extra third-round pick.

Miami – If the Dolphins don’t trade up, they might get aced out of a quarterback. Moving up to Denver’s No. 5 spot or Indianapolis’ No. 6 spot would get them a crack at one of them. If Miami stays put it would probably be looking to draft defense, possibly Fitzpatrick, Smith/Edmunds or Vea. The Packers would have to entice them with their third-round pick and hope to get something else back in return. The Dolphins, having been aced out of a quarterback, might feel they're better off getting an extra pick they can use to address other weaknesses.

Buffalo – The Bills will try to move up for a quarterback and if they’re successful, this pick could belong to Denver or Indianapolis. If they don’t, they’re in need of offensive linemen and might be willing to move back knowing they could get McGlinchey at 14. If it’s Denver, the Broncos need help at wide receiver and running back and might feel they could still get Ridley or LSU running back Derrius Guice at 14. The Packers would offer the first pick in the fourth round, but they might have to beef up the offer to get it done.

As for the three defensive backs, some ascribe to the thought Tampa Bay will take James at No. 7. But it could come down to whether the Buccaneers prefer Fitzpatrick over James. They need offensive line help, but this is way too early to take a tackle.

Two personnel people were split on whether Ward would last any further than No. 10. One felt 10 was the threshold and another said he could slip beyond that.

Fitzpatrick is kind of the wild card because he’s versatile enough to play safety and cornerback but he isn’t the best player in the draft at either position. He just may be the most versatile of the three.

If Gutekunst doesn’t like his options at 14, he could trade back, maybe looking to add Ragnow or an offensive tackle. But he would have to find a trading partner, possibly someone looking to draft Ridley or Davenport.

Whatever the case, Gutekunst may wind up being as surprised as everyone else the order in which picks come off the board. But if he has done his homework, he should know early what will be available to him at No. 14 and whether he needs to light up the phone lines of other teams.

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