Olivia Reiner attempts the NFL scouting combine's non-position-specific drills at Synergy Sports Performance. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
The annual NFL scouting combine takes place in Indianapolis from Tuesday through Monday as the entire league comes together not just to evaluate the 2019 draft class, but also to look ahead to free agency and trades.
New Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur will get his first taste of the national media when he speaks Wednesday. General manager Brian Gutekunst will also speak. Player interviews with the media begin Thursday.
Here is a primer on what to watch for regarding the Packers at the combine.
Players to watch for Packers
The Packers have 10 total picks heading into the draft, including two in the first round for the first time since they took B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews in 2009. The Packers are one of two teams to have three selections in the top 50 (Oakland has four) and have a real chance to upgrade their starting lineup with draft picks.
Here are a few players who fit needs for the Packers and will be worth watching in the first two days of the draft:
Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250)
John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s best tight end, catching 49 balls for 760 yards and six touchdowns. Iowa is known for producing well-rounded tight ends and he is a willing blocker in a scheme similar to what the Packers now run.
Iowa tight end Noah Fant (6-5, 241)
Developed each year and turned in an All-Big Ten season with 35 catches for 519 yards and seven touchdowns. Like his teammate, well versed in the outside zone blocking scheme.
Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite (6-2, 242)
Played only seven games two years ago due to a shoulder injury but came back last year to earn second-team All-America honors with 11 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. Also led the country with six forced fumbles.
Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell (6-4, 265)
A two-time All-American, has produced his entire career. Recorded 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 19.5 tackles for loss last year. In three full seasons with the Tigers, recorded 27 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss.
Delaware defensive back Nasir Adderley (6-0, 200)
Always around the ball, finished career with 11 interceptions. Has played safety and corner. Also returned kicks. Cousin of Hall of Famer and former Packer Herb Adderley.
Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (6-0, 207)
Can play corner or safety. Has experience being used as a blitzer and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Had six interceptions last two years. Also has special teams experience.
Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford (6-4, 337)
Played tackle and guard for the Sooners but projects as a guard in the NFL. Oklahoma ran outside zone blocking schemes, and he’s athletic enough to move as needed.
Washington State tackle Andre Dillard (6-5, 306)
No doubt the Packers have seen plenty of Dillard, as they drafted linemate Cole Madison a year ago. Big and athletic, could be the right tackle in waiting as Bryan Bulaga enters the final year of his contract.
Sizing up free-agent (and trade) market
The entire league descends on Indianapolis for a week. Entire front offices and coaching staffs are wandering around the downtown area, dining with not only one another but agents who represent soon-to-be free-agent players.
Legal tampering for free agents begins March 11 but in reality, the market takes shape this week across tabletops and in the corners of high-end restaurants. Gutekunst and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball — along with free agents such as Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb — will be able to get a firm handle on what the market will be in free agency.
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The salary-tracking website Overthecap.com projects the Packers will be working with about $35 million in cap space this offseason. But the Packers have decisions to make regarding linebacker Nick Perry and tight end Jimmy Graham. Cutting both players would require the club to carry significant dead money in 2019, but it also could free up over $8 million to spend.
Also worth paying attention to is any labor discord leaking out. The league and union are closing in on a work stoppage following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement after the 2020 season. The only veterans the Packers have under contract for 2021 are Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Perry. No doubt the NFL Players Association will be monitoring what kind of contract offers are being discussed. Will they extend beyond 2020? Will teams offer guaranteed money beyond that point? And such parameters will be discussed in Indianapolis.
Expect the trade market for receiver Antonio Brown (and perhaps Odell Beckham Jr.) to really heat up as well. The Packers are in the rare position of having draft capital, cap space and a win-now mentality to make a big move. The Packers may not have landed Khalil Mack last offseason, but they were in the conversation. One would think Gutekunst will be involved in any and all conversations regarding impact players who could be on the market.
The Hendrickson effect
Gutekunst tried to hire Milt Hendrickson away from Baltimore a year ago but was blocked. Now, Hendrickson is in the fold as the Packers’ director of football operations and it will be interesting to see if the club uses his expertise in drafting one or more impact offensive linemen.
A national scout since 2016, Hendrickson was also former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome’s longtime Midwest and mid-regional scout and his specialty was finding “draftable” offensive linemen. The Pecatonica High School and Wisconsin-La Crosse alumnus was credited by the Ravens for the club drafting tackle Rick Wagner (a five-year starter for Baltimore and Detroit) and All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele (a seven-year starter for Baltimore and Oakland).
The Packers have swung and missed on offensive linemen since picking center Corey Linsley in the fifth round in 2014. Last year, they drafted one offensive lineman in guard Madison, but he remains on the did-not-report list for personal reasons. Former general manager Ted Thompson selected Kofi Amichia (sixth round, 2017) and Jason Spriggs (second round, 2016), but only Spriggs has played and the Indiana product has struggled.
In 2013 the Packers picked David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter in the fourth round. Bakhtiari has turned into an All-Pro at left tackle while Tretter signed a three-year, $16.75 million deal to play center in Cleveland.
The Packers have 10 draft picks and needs at edge rusher and, potentially, wide receiver. And they, along with the rest of the league, will not be able to see several prospects work out who could be on their big board.
The NFL originally elected not to invite three players to participate in the combine for indiscretions in their past, but Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson and Colorado State receiver Preston Williams will be in Indianapolis for medical evaluations and interviews. Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons was also not invited, but he then suffered an injury in training that will keep him from the event altogether.
Simmons is the most notable of this group. The 6-4, 301-pound defensive end concluded his collegiate career as a potential top-10 pick, but then tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during pre-draft training. He was not invited to the combine because of a video that emerged in 2016 showing him punching a woman on the ground during a fight involving his sister. Simmons had yet to enroll in college at that point.
Ferguson (6-5, 269), a defensive end who also could be a day one draft pick, was not invited to the combine for being involved in a physical altercation four years ago. Prior to playing for Louisiana Tech but while enrolled in college, he was convicted of simple battery for a fight. Ferguson is the all-time NCAA sack leader with 45, including 26 sacks last season.
Williams, who played for new Packers wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted last year at Colorado State, was not invited because of a 2017 arrest for harassment, tampering and domestic violence. He was arrested a second time for violating a restraining order that was administered after the first arrest. Williams sat out the 2017 season due to NCAA transfer rules and was then suspended by the school for the following offseason. Once on the field with the Rams last year, the 6-4, 210-pound receiver caught 96 passes for 1,345 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Another top player will miss the combine workouts due to an injury, as the NFL Network reported that Alabama safety Deionte Thompson (6-2, 196) had wrist surgery. In three seasons, Thompson had 112 total tackles, three interceptions and 4.5 sacks.
Additional late scratches for the combine workouts include Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury, and Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant, who played last year with a torn pectoral muscle and had surgery in mid-January.
Locals to know
The University of Wisconsin had eight players invited to participate along with Green Bay native Max Scharping (Northern Illinois). In the Big Ten, only Ohio State has more players in Indianapolis than Wisconsin.
The Badgers in attendance are Beau Benzschawel (OL), Ryan Connelly (LB), Michael Deiter (OL), D’Cota Dixon (S), David Edwards (OT), T.J. Edwards (LB), Alec Ingold (FB) and Andrew Van Ginkel (LB).