Packers upgrade defense for Jeff Hafley in latest Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft

Green Bay Packers, Jeff Hafley
Green Bay Packers, Jeff Hafley / Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin /

Mel Kiper Jr. recently dropped his third 2024 NFL mock draft.

Kiper had two popular Green Bay Packers mock draft picks being taken at No. 23 and No. 24, with cornerback Cooper DeJean and offensive tackle Tyler Guyton being taken by the Vikings and Cowboys, respectively.

With the Packers on the clock at No. 25, he speculated about the potential for them to take an offensive tackle in light of David Bakhtiari's departure.

Instead, Kiper upgraded the Packers' defense.

Latest Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft has Packers landing pass rusher

Kiper had the Packers taking former UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu at No. 25 overall. He highlighted Latu's "elite pass-rushing skills."

"I wonder if this is a landing spot for the best pure edge rusher in this class. Sure, it drafted Lukas Van Ness a year ago in Round 1, but he's more of a power rusher and run-stopper than a true double-digit sack machine," Kiper wrote.

Latu began his collegiate career at Washington. He spent two seasons with the Huskies, before being forced into medical retirement after suffering a neck injury in practice. Being determined to continue his football career, Latu subsequently entered the transfer portal. He committed to UCLA ahead of the 2022 season and was cleared to play by the team's physicians.

The rest, as they say, is history. Latu made an immediate impact, logging 65 pressures in his first season with the Bruins. That led the team and was tied with Alabama's Will Anderson for the second most in the Power Five.

Latu continued to produce throughout 2023 and once again logged the second-most pressures amongst all Power Five defenders. He finished the year as a Unanimous All-American and was the recipient of both the Ted Hendricks Award and Lombardi Award.

As a prospect, Latu is renowned for his technical refinement and deep arsenal of pass-rushing moves. Yahoo's Nate Tice described Latu as "a technician."

"Switching between fighting styles like Neo being uploaded kung fu, Latu adapts his attack as the game goes along, constantly working and picking at weaknesses or lapses in protection," Tice wrote.

Aside from the medical history, the one big concern with Latu's game is his lack of length. With 32.6-inch arms that rank in just the 16th percentile, he does struggle to consistently deconstruct blocks in the run game. This can also leave him vulnerable when faced with larger offensive tackles.

Where does Laiatu Latu fit for Packers?

As Kiper points out in his mock draft, the Packers are pretty well set at edge rusher. They have Rashan Gary locked into a big-money deal and recently restructured Preston Smith. They also took Lukas Van Ness in the first round of last year's draft, and the coaching staff no doubt see him as a big part of their defensive line moving forward.

So how does Latu fit in? If the Packers take him, it is likely that he would initially form part of their pass-rushing rotation behind Gary, Smith, and Van Ness. Whilst that might mean he does not see a ton of playing time as a rookie, there is certainly a path to the field in the long run.

Smith is set to turn 32 next season, and with the way his contract is structured, the Packers could move on from him as soon as next season. Latu can then compete with Van Ness for the starting spot opposite Gary.

The two are very different players stylistically, and having Latu on the roster would allow new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley to kick Van Ness inside, something he excelled at during his time at Iowa.

Only time will tell as to whether the Packers want to revisit the edge rusher position in the first round, but there is no doubt that Latu would add some real juice to an exciting young defense.

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