The mock drafts that have the Green Bay Packers picking Marcus Davenport at No. 14 overall just might be on to something.
There’s no knowing how the draft will fall, but the mesh of need, talent and availability make Davenport as good a projection as anybody for the Packers’ first-round pick.
“He’s going to be a good player,” said a front-office executive for an NFC team. “To me, he’s got the highest probability (of the top defensive prospects) of being there at 14. There’s no corner worth taking at 14.”
I’d argue that pass rusher is the Packers’ greatest need, ahead of cornerback, and probably has been for at least two years. The only chance defenses have of slowing down the top quarterbacks in the NFL is pressuring them. If they can’t sack them, they at least have to make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket down after down and force them to get the ball out fast.
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The Packers haven’t had enough outside rushers who can put on that kind of consistent heat. Clay Matthews isn’t as dynamic as he was earlier in his career, and Nick Perry can’t stay healthy. The Packers need a talented, quality outside rusher, and that’s the hardest thing to find in the NFL other than a quarterback. Picking at No. 14 this year just might be their best shot to get one for the rest of Aaron Rodgers’ career.
I talked to a small sample of personnel experts this past week — two NFL front-office executives and a defensive line coach in the league — about the rushers who figure to be in play in the top 15 picks this year. They agreed with the widely reported consensus that North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is the best rusher, and best defensive player, in this draft. Chubb is also likely to go in the top four or five picks, and the cost for the Packers to move up to get him would be steep.
In 2012, the Dallas Cowboys had the same No. 14 pick and spent their second-rounder, which like the Packers this year was No. 45 overall, to move up to No. 6. The price to get into the top five probably would be next year’s No. 1. Any move up to that range could cost even more if one of the top four quarterbacks still is on the board, or if there are multiple bidders.
Let’s just assume Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is unwilling to surrender next year’s first-rounder, which he’d presumably do only if he thought Chubb is a Von Miller-type rusher. I asked the personnel experts if Chubb would be worth giving up the second-rounder to move up to No. 6.
“I possibly would because he’s that dynamic a football player,” one of the scouts said. “The problem is I think he’s gone by 6.”
Said the defensive line coach: “I don’t know if he’ll be a Hall of Famer or anything like that, but I don’t think there’s any way he’ll be a bust. I think he’ll get to double digits (sacks) fast and stay there a long time. He likes football, he’s a (mean guy), he’s smart, he’s got all the measurables. … I don’t know (about trading a second-rounder). Maybe.”
After Chubb, Davenport might be the next-best rushing prospect, though Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is in the running, too. Edmunds didn’t rush a lot while playing mostly inside linebacker at Virginia Tech — he had 10 sacks the last two seasons combined — but he’s versatile and dynamic enough to project to the NFL as a 3-4 outside linebacker. There’s just more guesswork as to whether he’ll be an effective outside rusher in the big leagues.
Edmunds was a disruptive player in college (33 tackles for loss along with the 10 sacks in two seasons as a starter) and has traits – height (6-4½), length (83-inch wingspan) and speed (4.54 40) – to suggest he could be a good rusher in a 3-4.
But all signs also suggest he’ll get drafted in the top 10 to 12 picks, so Gutekunst probably would have to trade up a few spots, at the cost of a fourth- or third-rounder, to get him.
“I just like him on the edge, go create some havoc,” one of the scouts said. “At the end of the day because it’s such a pass-happy league, (it’s) how much pressure can you put on that quarterback? He’s a good enough athlete, you put him on the edge — you can leave him in the middle and blitz him, too; I just feel (play him) outside and let him go.”
Then there’s Davenport, who played against lesser competition at the FBS level for Texas-San Antonio but at the Senior Bowl handled the step up in competition.
Davenport has the build (6-5¾, 264, 80⅝-inch wingspan) of an outside rusher, and while it doesn’t mean he’s as talented a player, his testing numbers at the NFL scouting compared well with Chubb’s: 4.58 40 to Chubb’s 4.65; both had 1.62-second 10-yard splits and 4.41-second short shuttles; a 7.20-second three-cone drill to Chubb’s 7.37; and 22 bench reps to Chubb’s 24.
Davenport’s relatively modest total of 8½ sacks last season is evidence that he’s raw. But the NFL defensive line coach said that with good coaching, Davenport could get eight sacks as a rookie and double digits in his second year.
“I think he’s special,” the coach said. “Everybody says he’s not very thick. He’s a heavy-handed dude now. He can snap you off, his hands are as strong as (heck). I’d take Chubb first, then him. Awesome kid. I think he’s got some real stuff, too.”
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It’s not clear what traits new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine emphasizes in outside rushers. As coach Mike McCarthy put it at the NFL owners meeting, when he asked Pettine during his interview whether he ran a 3-4 or a 4-3, Pettine answered, "Yes." That suggests Pettine can make it work with almost any shape or size of outside rusher, standing up or with hand down.
For what it’s worth, Davenport played mostly standing up in Texas-San Antonio’s 3-4 scheme.
It’s also not a given that Davenport will still be on the board at No. 14, even if those odds are better than those for Chubb and Edmunds.
“Whoever gets (Davenport), they’re licking their chops,” one of the scouts said. “He’s smart, he’s articulate, he learns well, he loves the process of football. It’s a good deal whoever gets him.”
The next-best rushing prospect might be Boston College’s Harold Landry (6-2⅜, 252, 78⅞ wingspan, 4.64 40). He led the country in sacks (16½) in 2016 but had an ankle injury last season that helped limit him to only five sacks in eight games.
Unlike with Davenport and Chubb, the personnel men weren’t in general agreement on Landry. One projected Landry to go between picks 18 and 22 but didn’t think 14 was too high.
“I like his power off the edge,” one scout said. “Good football player, really good football player. … I like Landry (for this year), I’m not sure Davenport won’t have the higher ceiling. Little bit better athlete.”
But the other scout thinks Landry has a good shot at busting.
“Most overrated player in the draft,” he said. “He’s soft. He’s not special.”
It seems a given that Gutekunst will take a pass rusher with an early pick after Ted Thompson chose not to in the past two drafts.
Of the top rushers, Chubb is probably out of reach unless Gutekunst is willing to make a huge move. Edmunds, too, seems unlikely to make it to 14 and likely would cost a more modest trade up to get him.
Which leaves Davenport as good a bet as anybody for Gutekunst’s first pick as GM.