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Dougherty: Packers positioned for another Jordy Nelson draft scenario

Pete Dougherty   | Packers News
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GREEN BAY - In the 2008 NFL draft, Ted Thompson traded from pick No. 30 in the first round to pick No. 36 early in the second round.

The former Green Bay Packers general manager picked up an extra fourth-round selection for the move back, and when his turn came up at the fourth pick of the second round he landed the top-ranked receiver on his board, Jordy Nelson.

Might Thompson’s successor, Brian Gutekunst, do something similar with the same No. 30 pick this year?

Anyone who has followed the draft closely knows these things are almost impossible to predict. You never know what a given team thinks about particular players relative to the rest of the draft board. Few even know a GM’s game plan going into the draft.

But outside looking in, it’s not hard to envision scenarios in which Gutekunst could identify a player, maybe even a receiver, early in the second round he liked as much or more than a player he could land at No. 30.

If he made the trade back, he’d then have more capital to work the board for a player he covets in the second or third round.

Gutekunst’s greatest needs, at least from where I sit, haven't changed after three modest free-agent signings: Receiver/tight end, inside linebacker and tackle, in no particular order. That doesn’t mean it’s a given he’ll take one of those positions with his first pick, whenever that ends up being. You can’t rule out a defensive lineman, or even a running back or cornerback for that matter. And though quarterback looks like a super long shot, hey, you never know.

But a good reason to wonder if a move back might be in the cards is this year’s uncommonly deep receivers class, which reportedly includes prospects with starter-level grades who could go as late as the third round.

When Thompson traded back in ’08, he did it specifically with Nelson in mind, according to a source familiar with Thompson’s thinking at the time. That receiver class was the opposite of this year’s, uncommonly weak. When Thompson’s pick came up at No. 30, not one receiver had been drafted. Thompson was sure he could get his top-ranked receiver, Nelson, at No. 36 overall, so he made the trade with the New York Jets.

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Two receivers came off the board to start the second round, Donnie Avery at No. 33 and Devin Thomas at No. 34. But Thompson was right, Nelson was there for him at No. 36.

There are so many quality receivers prospects in this year’s draft that you never know which one or two Gutekunst might prize. As we sit here a month before the draft, the best guess is that four will be out of his reach at No. 30: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and LSU’s Justin Jefferson.

Among those who might be there at No. 30 or into the second round, at least three jump out based on physical traits that Gutekunst covets: Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool and Clemson’s Tee Higgins.

It’s obvious by now that Gutekunst has a huge preference for big receivers. Mims, Claypool and Higgins are all big men, and Mims and Claypool have good speed to go with it.

Mims measured 6-2 7/8 and weighed 207 pounds at the NFL scouting combine, and scorched a 4.38-second 40 along with a 38½-inch vertical jump. That’s an impressive size-to-speed ratio and could mean he’ll come of the board as early as the mid-20s.

Claypool is a huge man with almost tight end size at 6-4¼ and 238 pounds. He ran a brisk 4.42 40 and jumped 40½ inches. He appears to be more of a solid second-round prospect.

Higgins has the size (6-3 5/8, 216) and could end up being the first of these three taken after a prolific career at Clemson that included 25 touchdown catches the last two seasons and a 19.1-yard average per catch last year. But after skipping the workout at the NFL scouting combine, he also ran a less-than-impressive 40, reportedly in the mid-4.5s. You do wonder if Gutekunst would see him as redundant on a roster that includes Allen Lazard and Devin Funchess.

But after loading his roster with big receivers the last couple years, maybe Gutekunst prefers to add a different body type, a shorter, quicker player he might be able to get in the second round. Among the many possibilities are Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk (5-11 5/8), Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. (6-0 5/8) and TCU’s Jalen Reagor (5-10 5/8).

Of course, what Gutekunst does with pick No. 30 depends on who’s on the board. Would he pass on inside linebackers Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma or Patrick Queen of LSU if either is still available? Or does he like Wisconsin’s Zack Baun just as much and think he can get him after a trade back?

Same for tackle, where any from among Houston’s Josh Jones, Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland and USC’s Austin Jackson could be targets at either No. 30 or early in the second round.

The point is, a trade back might allow Gutekunst to pick a player he liked as much as anyone he could get at No. 30, while adding a selection (probably a fourth-rounder) that he can leverage for a trade up later. In ’08, Thompson packaged his own fourth-rounder with the fourth-rounder from the Nelson trade to move 11 spots and select outside linebacker Jeremy Thompson.

Gutekunst might see a chance to move up earlier, either from pick No. 62 in the second or No. 94 in the third for a player he particularly wants. A fourth-round pick probably would get him anywhere from six to 10 spots.

We’re at a point in the draft season when Gutekunst can start putting together his plans. A deep class at a position of acute need (receiver) just might give him the flexibility he needs to maneuver around the draft board in the first two or three rounds.

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