Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Perfect Packers 2023 NFL Draft plan: Find playmakers opposite Christian Watson, add at edge rusher and safety

The Green Bay Packers discovered how the majority of the NFL lives in 2022, missing the postseason for the first time under head coach Matt LaFleur. The team had a rash of injuries to a number of key players — back-to-back NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, linebacker Rashan Gary, All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, and cornerback Eric Stokes — that contributed to breaking its three-season streak of 13-win campaigns, the longest such streak in league history. 

The Packers started 2022 strongly, winning three of their first four games, but then lost seven of their following eight games from Weeks 5-12, setting the tone for the down year it was. Green Bay had a brief glimmer of hope following a four-game winning streak against the Bears, Rams, Dolphins and Vikings, but the Detroit Lions dashed those dreams by handing their divisional rival a 20-16 loss at home in the regular season finale. It was a disappointing performance in which the Packers offense couldn’t get out of its own way. 

With an 8-9 record, the Packers were an average team in the first year without first-team All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams, scoring 21.8 points per game (14th in the league). That was expected as Rodgers attempted to gel with rookie wideouts Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, the team’s second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The bigger disappointment was the defense, expected to be a top-five unit with all the first-round picks and money invested in that side of the ball. The unit allowed 21.8 points per game, ranking 17th in the NFL. The Packers own all of their own picks, excluding their sixth rounder, and have a couple extra seventh-round selections thanks to trades. Here’s a look at how they should utilize those selections in the 2023 NFL Draft in order to get back on track.

Packers team needs: WR, TE, S, DT, EDGE, OG  (via Josh Edwards)

Packers 2023 draft picks

Note: Compensatory selections have yet to be awarded












201 (via Jaguars)


210 (via Lions, acquired in trade with Rams)

7 216

CBSSports.com mock drafts

Ryan Wilson

Quentin Johnston



Chris Trapasso

Brian Branch



Josh Edwards

Jordan Addison



Kyle Stackpole

Michael Mayer


Notre Dame

For more extensive draft content, check out our latest 
prospect rankings and mock drafts, as well as our new weekly podcast, “With the First Pick,” featuring former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.

Draft a pass-catcher with their first-round pick

It’s the offseason in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which means it’s time to whip out the draft statistic that makes the rounds every year: Green Bay has not selected an offensive skill position player (running back, wide receiver, or tight end) in the first round since 2002 when it chose Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker with the 20th overall pick. The last time the Packers took an offensive skill position player in the first round, Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man” (the first one) was the world’s top grossing movie.

More than 20 years of drafting and no offensive skill position players is a testament to the front office’s belief that Hall of Famer Brett Favre and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers could do more with less talent at their disposal, and both proved that theory to be correct for many seasons. However, one could argue that the Packers have also squandered some of both Favre’s and Rodgers’ twilight seasons by not surrounding them with more talent as their mobility and other skills slowly deteriorated.

Whether or not Rodgers returns to Green Bay, he or Jordan Love, the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, could use another weapon or two in the passing game to complement Christian Watson, whose nine scrimmage touchdowns were tied for the most among all rookies with Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. Those nine scores from scrimmage were tied for the fourth-most in the entire NFL among all wide receivers with a few of the league’s best: the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, the BengalsJa’Marr Chase, the CowboysCeeDee Lamb, the BrownsAmari Cooper, and the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett. The Packers’ Week 18 slip-up against the Lions showcased the need for another weapon or two, as the Lions double-teamed Watson or bracketed him with a safety nearly the entire game, daring another pass-catcher to beat them. 

TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston, one of the driving forces of the Horned Frogs’ surprise College Football Playoff run;  Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, who led all tight ends in receptions (138) across the last two college football seasons; or USC wide receiver Jordan Addison, the best wide receiver in the 2021 college football season, would all be strong picks at No. 15. Whichever position they don’t address in the first round needs to then be addressed by the end of Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3).

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Add depth at edge rusher

The Packers had the 10th-best pressure rate this season at 34.6% — a strong year from a macro view in terms of bothering opposing quarterbacks. However, that figure is propped up by the first nine weeks of the season when their 39.8% rate was the second-best in the NFL. During that span, linebacker Rashan Gary dominated with 38 pressures, tied for fifth-most in the NFL, and six sacks. Once Weeks 10-17 rolled around– after the 25-year-old Gary went down with a torn ACL – they plummeted with the sixth-lowest rate in the league (29.7%).

Green Bay’s other outside linebacker, 30-year-old Preston Smith, had a solid year as one of 23 players in the NFL with at least 20 quarterback hits and eight sacks, but the Packers defense needs more than just those two, given the pass rush died when one of them couldn’t play. 

Some names to target in Rounds 2-5 could be Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey, whose 11.0 sacks were tied for the fifth-most in college football this past season; Army’s Andre Carter II, whose 15.5 sacks in 2021 were the second-most in the country behind only Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. and also more than current Detroit Lion Aidan Hutchinson; or Ohio State’s Zach Harrison, one of the key pieces of a defense that nearly knocked off eventual national champion Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals. More reliable players in this area will do wonders for the Packers defense. 

Look for a starting-caliber safety in the middle rounds

While the Packers are stacked at cornerback with Pro Bowl selection Jaire Alexander, ballhawk Rasul Douglas — his nine interceptions across the last two seasons are tied for the third-most in the NFL — and third-year, former first-round pick Eric Stokes. That’s not the case with the position group behind them. Adrian Amos, who was one of the best safeties in football in 2020, continued a downward trend in his play from decent to needing to be let go in 2022. Amos surrendered six touchdown passes in coverage for the second straight season after only allowing two in 2020. He allowed a 102.8 passer rating in coverage as the primary defender, the 17th-highest in the NFL among defensive backs to play in at least 10 games. He’s set to hit free agency this offseason. 

Former first round pick Darnell Savage also regressed to the point that he was benched and then inserted back into the lineup to play in a reduced role at the nickel. He lost his safety spot to Rudy Ford, a player the Jaguars kicked to the curb on roster cutdown day prior to the start of the 2022 season. Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson or one of the two Alabama safeties, Brian Branch and Jordan Battle, could be a huge help for the Packers in the Round 3-4 range. 

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