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The first round of the 2021 NFL draft is nearly here. What will the Green Bay Packers do on Thursday night?
General manager Brian Gutekunst isn’t without options. He holds the 29th overall pick, complicating the process of knowing what players will be available, but he can move up or down the board or stay put and make a selection if he wants.
Here’s a closer look at the most likely scenarios for the Packers in the first round:
Draft an offensive lineman
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
This is a strong draft for offensive linemen, and it's an especially strong draft for the types of offensive linemen the Packers typically target. Keep in mind, the Packers lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley, swing tackle Rick Wagner and Week 1 starting guard Lane Taylor this offseason. Offensive line is a clear need, and the Packers should have several players capable of filling the need available to them in the first round. Having Elgton Jenkins, who can probably play all five positions along the offensive line, should give the Packers freedom to target an offensive tackle or interior lineman based on fit and talent. With a 37-year-old quarterback and otherwise talented roster overall, solidifying the offensive line should be a priority. Getting help with a first-round pick – like Teven Jenkins or Alex Leatherwood – could provide a Day 1 starter. https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2021/04/29/early-round-offensive-linemen-big-board-for-green-bay-packers-in-2021-draft/
Trade up for a player
Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) defends against Alabama during the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
The Packers won 13 regular-season games but lost in the NFC title game during each of the last two seasons. General manager Brian Gutekunst did a lot of work to keep his talented roster together and make another run in 2021. This should create an opportunity to get aggressive and move up for a specific player. This draft class might be light on true first-round prospects, and the Packers won't want to miss out on getting a potential difference-maker. And, of course, Gutekunst has traded up in the first round each of his first three seasons as the general manager. With seven Day 3 picks, the Packers can be aggressive.
Take a cornerback
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Picking at No. 29 could be a tricky spot for the Packers to target cornerbacks. The top options (Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn) will almost certainly be off the board, the wild card (Caleb Farley) has a major medical red flag, the ideal target (Greg Newsome II) could go in the early 20s, and all the other candidates have a size or testing issue and look like borderline second-round options. Maybe Newsome falls into range, or the Packers clear Farley's back injury and gamble on his talent. If Gutekunst is comfortable deviating from some past tendencies, Asante Samuel Jr. and the two Georgia cornerbacks (Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell) could be options. There will probably be a talented cornerback on the board for the Packers at No. 29, but will he be the best player left? https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2021/04/29/early-round-cornerback-big-board-for-green-bay-packers-in-2021-draft/
A certain type of wide receiver
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman (0) stands on the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Purdue, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 34-31. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
The backend of the first round looks like a potential sweet spot for the wide receiver run. And the Packers could easily become one of the teams to join in on the fun. The question: what type of receiver do the Packers want? A traditional option like Rashod Bateman or Terrace Marshall Jr. is possible. Both fit the Packers' mold. A slot and gadget weapon like Elijah Moore and Kadarius Toney is also possible. Both could be tremendous in the Matt LaFleur offense. This could be the year the Packers finally dip into the wide receiver market in the first round. More and more, it's looking like the best available player will probably be a pass-catcher. https://packerswire.usatoday.com/lists/heres-who-the-packers-are-taking-in-final-mock-drafts-of-2021/
The wild card: Edge rusher
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The Packers brought back Preston Smith and restructured Za'Darius Smith's deal, but they've created a salary cap hole they'll need to dig out of 2022, and the financial situations for both Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith will need to be addressed next offseason. More than likely, Preston Smith will be gone. This is just a long way of saying edge rusher is a sneaky need for the Packers in this draft, and the end of the first round could provide attractive options for addressing it. What if one of the many edge rushers projected in the mid-to-late first round is the Packers' best available player at 29? Would Gutekunst pass on his board's best player at a premium position? Unlikely.
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Gutekunst has never traded out of the first round, but his predecessor, Ted Thompson, did it often. If the board doesn't fall right and the Packers don't have a first-round talent left on the board at No. 29, a trade down becomes a real scenario. Gaining a couple more mid-round picks – and stockpiling ammo for moving up the board on Day 2 – could be a smart way to get the most out of the second and third rounds. Of course, it takes two to tango, and there's no guarantee a team would want to move back into the first round, especially if the class really is lacking a high number of true first-round talents.