Dougherty: 'Explosive hitter' Devin Bush makes sense for Packers
When the Green Bay Packers’ first draft pick comes up at No. 12 on Thursday night, general manager Brian Gutekunst might be sitting in a good spot.
He very well could be choosing from among a top inside linebacker prospect (Michigan’s Devin Bush), a highly regarded outside pass rusher whose stock might be slipping because of health (enlarged heart/arrhythmia) and character concerns (Mississippi State's Montez Sweat), and at least one of the top three tackle prospects (Florida's Jawaan Taylor, Alabama's Jonah Williams and Washington State's Andre Dillard).
“That would be a good problem to have,” said a high-ranking scout for an NFC team that picks in the bottom half of the first round.
Gutekunst has plenty of needs, so he’s in position to take whichever player he likes best. The guess here is he ends up with Bush, who could be the explosive (4.43-second 40) three-down coverage linebacker the Packers’ defense has been missing since, well, forever.
The hard part in predicting the pick, as always, is forecasting who’s likely to be on the board when the selection comes up.
For the Packers at No. 12, it’s a strong bet that six players will be gone: Kyler Murray, Quinnen Williams, Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Devin White and Ed Oliver.
From there, the biggest wild card is how many quarterbacks other than Murray will be among the top 11 picks. Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones are the others in play, and my best guess is that at least one and possibly two of them will be taken by the time the Packers pick.
That’s at least seven players off the board. I’m guessing Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson and at least one of the tackles will be gone, too.
That’s nine. The other two probably will come from a group consisting of Sweat, Bush, the other two tackles and a quarterback.
Sweat is a wild card, as well, because of the potential medical risk.
At the NFL scouting combine, doctors discovered he has an enlarged heart/arrhythmia. He was allowed to participate in the combine physical testing and was looking like a top-10 selection until reports this week that he could be slipping because of concerns about the heart issue.
Just last year, Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst was diagnosed with a similar issue and was prohibited from working out at the combine, then cleared for Michigan’s pro day in March. He went from being a likely second-round pick to getting selected in the fifth round, then played for Oakland last season without a hitch.
One source said Sweat’s condition was discovered when he arrived at Mississippi State in 2017. He was cleared to play and had no issues in his two seasons there.
It’s hard to know what to believe around draft time, but this week several reports said some teams have lowered Sweat’s grade or taken him off their board, while others haven’t. It also was worth noting that Sweat had accepted an invitation to appear at the draft in Nashville but this week changed his mind. He cited family reasons, but it also could have been because he was concerned about sliding down draft boards.
Two scouts I spoke with this week said their teams didn’t consider Sweat’s condition an undue risk and hadn’t docked his grade. But it’s conceivable other teams have removed him from their boards, in part because of liability concerns.
One of the scouts said that from what he’d heard, enough teams might have concern to where Sweat might drop from a top-10 pick to between Nos. 15 and 20 in the first round. But the other predicted Sweat will come off the board before 12.
There are also some concerns that Sweat was kicked off the team at Michigan State for marijuana use before transferring to Mississippi State.
The Packers, in fact, brought Sweat in for one of their 30 draft visits. They should have inside information on him, too, because their quarterbacks coach, Luke Getsy, was Mississippi State’s offensive coordinator last season.
As for Sweat the football player, he followed up a good season in 2018 (12 sacks and 14½ tackles for loss) with a standout practice week at the Senior Bowl and stunning workout at the combine (4.41 40).
“Sweat’s one of my favorite players,” one scout said. “Everything about him has been good. He had a really nice season at Mississippi State. He went to the Senior Bowl, wowed everybody there, by far one of the best players at the Senior Bowl. He went to the combine, had a great combine. This is not a sometimes player. I think we’re looking at a 12- to 14-sack-a-year guy here.”
In the end, my best guess is that Sweat will get selected in the first 11 picks. If not, then it simply depends on how great the Packers consider the medical risk. They generally skew conservative, but you never know what they think in any particular case. If he’s on the board and they pass, you can bet it was a medical decision.
There are no such medical or character concerns with Bush, a junior entry and two-year starter at Michigan. The only knock on him is height (5-11). At the NFL owners meeting, Gutekunst confirmed that like his predecessor Ted Thompson he considers the NFL a big man’s game.
Still, Gutekunst surprised last year by using his first-round pick on an undersized cornerback (Jaire Alexander). And when it comes to legit three-down linebackers it might be next to impossible to find a tall one, because anyone who’s 6-2 or taller and as explosive as Bush (4.43, 40½-inch vertical) is a pass rusher in today’s game.
“Really like him,” one of the scouts said. “Sounds like he’s kind of a riser, which doesn’t surprise me. … He’s 5-11, 235, that’s what linebackers are now. I don’t think he’s a reach at all at 12, I think that would be a good pick.
“He can cover. He plays big, he’s an explosive hitter. Good instincts. Supposed to be a really good leader. There’s not a lot of holes in there.”
Among the other possibilities for No. 12 are any of the three tackles, and Hockenson if he’s still on the board. Though my guess is that if Bush is available, or Sweat is on the board and medically cleared, the Packers would pick either ahead of the tight end or any of the tackles.
The Packers don’t need a starting tackle, but right tackle Bryan Bulaga was in and out of the lineup because of injuries last season and is entering the last year of his contract. The Packers also have to deal with Chicago’s Khalil Mack rushing their right side for several more years.
Williams is the most versatile of the three and might be able to play all five positions on the line. Taylor is a right tackle. Dillard is the best pass blocker of the group and a natural left tackle, though he might fit at right tackle with the Packers because their outside zone run scheme emphasizes athleticism over power.
The Packers also have the No. 30 pick. Just about any position could be in play, though it’s doubtful Iowa’s other highly ranked tight end, Noah Fant, will still be on the board.
The Packers need a starting free safety, so they very well might use pick No. 30 or their second-rounder (No. 44) at that position. Among the possibilities are Delaware’s Nasir Adderley, Maryland’s Darnell Savage, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill and Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
The Packers also need a running back, so Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is a possibility if he’s still on the board, though he more likely than not will be gone.
A tackle who could be available at 30 is Mississippi’s Greg Little.