The last time the Green Bay Packers had a losing season, the subsequent NFL Draft ended up being a major catalyst for a Super Bowl title.
The 2008 Packers went 6-10 and fired their defensive coordinator, Bob Sanders. With Dom Capers installing an all-new 3-4 defense, Ted Thompson drafted B.J. Raji ninth overall, and then traded back into the first round to select Clay Matthews at 26.
The 2017 Packers went 7-9 and fired their defensive coordinator, Dom Capers. With Mike Pettine assuming stewardship of the defense, new general manager Brian Gutekunst faces two gaping defensive holes, just as Thompson did in 2008.
This time, the needs are cornerback and edge rusher, as opposed to nose tackle and edge rusher. Armed with 12 picks, Gutekunst may well see an opportunity to fill both those needs in the first round.
Packaging the 45th and 76th overall picks would be enough ammunition to vault the Packers to somewhere around pick #28, according to the draft trade chart. If Gutekunst wishes to jump even higher, he would need to sweeten the pot with players or additional picks, either this year or next.
Here are five options that Gutekunst may consider trading back into the bottom of the first round for:
At 5-foot-10 1/4, Alexander is a tad shy of the Packers’ traditional height threshold at cornerback (5-foot-10 3/4). Additionally, he also has a below-average vertical jump (35”) and arm length (31 1/8″). But he makes up for that with excellent speed and quickness, as evidenced by a 4.38 40-yard dash.
Alexander had an excellent 2016, with five interceptions and nine passes broken up. But he started only six games in 2017 while battling hand and leg injuries. While his ball skills are excellent, Gutekunst may be hesitant to pick a small cornerback coming off injury.
Arden Key, Edge, LSU
Key is an unusual physical prospect, weighing just 238 pounds at the combine but measuring nearly 6-foot-5. That weight was apparently 270 pounds in the spring of 2017, though, when he took time off from football for personal reasons.
Key had 12 sacks as a sophomore in 2016, but only four last season. His length is a great asset and he’s shown ability to slip past both guards and tackles, but the off-field questions and the lacking 2017 production are concerns.
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Hughes did not test as a great athlete at the combine, running a 4.53 40-yard dash and putting up several other subpar numbers. He also stands just 5-foot-10.
Hughes, though, has been a stellar corner and return man for UCF. He had four interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and three punt/kick return touchdowns in 2017. As an experienced press corner and a playmaker, he might tempt Gutekunst to overlook the mediocre size and speed.
Sam Hubbard, Edge, Ohio State
Hubbard’s MockDraftable profile lists fellow Buckeye Joey Bosa as his closest athletic comparison. He has outstanding size (6-foot-5, 270 pounds), and matched that with some exceptional testing in the three-cone drill, vertical jump and shuttle runs.
Hubbard had 17 sacks over three years at Ohio State. Observers laud his motor, technique and intelligence, but question his flexibility and twitchiness in tight spaces.
Unlike Alexander and Hughes, Oliver more than meets the traditional Packers’ requirements at cornerback. He stands 6-foot 1/4, weighs 201 pounds, and measures in the 88th, 97th and 99th percentiles for hand size, arm length and wingspan respectively.
Oliver also comes from a football family (his uncle and father both played in the NFL), has experience returning punts, and notched 13 pass breakups in 2017 despite injuries. Scouts believe that he has plenty to work on in coverage, but his physical tools and upside should make him a tantalizing target.
Of these five players, Oliver and Hubbard seem the most likely for Gutekunst to target. A first-round combination such as Harold Landry/Isaiah Oliver or Josh Jackson/Sam Hubbard would be an exceptionally promising launching point for Gutekunst’s and Pettine’s tenures.