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2023 NFL Draft: 7 prospects who make sense for the Packers at 17th overall

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2023 NFL Draft: 7 prospects who make sense for the Packers at 17th overall
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three straight wins for Green Bay means a different tier of prospect in the upcoming draft.

The last time I wrote about the 2023 NFL Draft, I gave you six draft prospects who were most likely to be the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft choice. Since then, the Packers have won back-to-back games and have vaulted from the projected 11th pick in the draft to the 17th pick, based on draft order going into Week 17.

As mentioned in the previous article, the 11th pick in the draft is right around where we are expecting the second-tier prospects in the draft to hand off the baton to the third-tier prospects, with the top tier being comprised of the quarterbacks, Alabama’s edge rusher Will Anderson and Georgia’s interior defensive lineman Jalen Carter.

With the recent change in draft position, we figured there’s no better time to touch on the next batch of prospects than now. To identify which players make sense to key on from the Packers’ perspective, let’s set up a couple of guard rails.

  1. Let’s not include any player who is projected to be a top-10 pick on the consensus draft board. If you want to read about these players, the first article I wrote touches on the six who I think make sense for Green Bay. At this point, though, it’s unlikely that they’ll be available in the range that the Packers are projected to pick in.
  2. Let’s rule out quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, off-ball linebackers and cornerbacks as potential first-round draft choices. Offensive linemen might be the biggest stretch here, but the team is expected to have 11 blockers under contract going into 2023 after the massive extension of left guard Elgton Jenkins.
  3. Let’s count out USC receiver Jordan Addison, who is about 30 pounds shy of the minimum threshold that the Packers tend to look at for their receivers in Matt LaFleur’s run-heavy scheme. We’ve written about their receiver profile before in the context of Addison.

Based on the consensus board, this process of elimination leaves us with seven players who are still eligible as potential Green Bay selections in the first round. Here they are, presented in their order on the consensus board:

#17: Michael Mayer, tight end, Notre Dame

We mentioned Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer as a potential dark horse selection even when the Packers were projected to be drafting at 11th overall. Here’s what we wrote at the time:

As I mentioned, there’s a dark horse selection lingering: Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer. If Green Bay wants to add pass-catching talent, they might be better off switching their attention from receiver, especially in this draft class, to tight end. We know they tried to trade for Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller multiple times in 2022, so it’s not out of the question that they would take this approach.

While Mayer ranks just outside the consensus board’s top 15 prospects, he is one of the more polished tight end prospects that we’ve seen come out of the college game. As a true freshman, he out-performed third-round pick Tommy Tremble and now leads the Fighting Irish in receiving yards by north of 450 yards. Over his college career, he’s recorded 180 receptions for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns, monster numbers for a 21-year-old tight end. Beyond that, he’s not a receiver cosplaying as a tight end; He can line his hand up in the dirt and block, as well.

#19: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, receiver, Ohio State

After TCU’s Quentin Johnston and USC’s Addison, the biggest name at receiver in this draft class is Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. As a sophomore in 2021, Smith-Njigba was given All-American honors after recording 1,606 receiving yards in an offense he shared with first-round receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. A massive game in the Rose Bowl led to many expecting another All-American season out of him in 2022, but a hamstring injury limited his campaign to three games, five receptions and 43 yards. Smith-Njigba has declared early for the 2023 draft due to the injury, leading to him opting out of Ohio State’s playoff run. ESPN’s Todd McShay stated that Smith-Njigba could have played in the postseason, but that he’s “protecting himself for the draft.”

#22: Brian Branch, safety, Alabama

Alabama’s Brian Branch isn’t the biggest safety, listed at 6’0”, 193 pounds by the team, but he plays bigger than his frame. Over his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide, Branch recorded 82 tackles and only managed to miss a single tackle over that span per Pro Football Focus’ charting. Through three seasons, Branch posted 23 pass breakups, two interceptions 160 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss at Alabama. As we’ve mentioned before at Acme Packing Company, safety — along with tight end and the interior defensive line — is one of the positions that the team desperately needs to address in the 2023 offseason.

#23: Jared Verse, edge defender, Florida State

One year ago, Jared Verse was playing football for Albany, an FCS school, before his transfer to Florida State. With the Great Danes, Verse was named the Colonial Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2020 and a First-Team All-Conference player in 2021. He hit the ground running with the Seminoles with a 7.5-sack, 14.5-tackle-for-loss debut in 2022. He was named an All-American and All-ACC player for his efforts. He has yet to officially declare for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but is expected to based on how high he is likely to be selected in April should he throw his name into the mix.

#24: Isaiah Foskey, edge defender, Notre Dame

Like Marcedes Lewis, Isaiah Foskey played tight end at California prep powerhouse De La Salle High school. The two-year starter earned All-American honors this season and was named to Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” going into the 2021 season. He allegedly tops out at 21 miles per hour with a reported 6’5”, 265 frame.

#27: Antonio Johnson, safety, Texas A&M

Antonio Johnson is the second safety to highlight in this upcoming draft class. Unlike Branch, size is his calling card. Johnson, listed at 6’3”, 200 pounds, actually played cornerback — primarily in a slot role — up until the 2022 season. Undisclosed injuries led to him playing in just nine games for Texas A&M this year. Despite the less-than-stellar final season for the Aggies, Johnson has declared for the 2023 draft. Over his career, he recorded seven pass breakups, 14 tackles for loss and 164 total tackles.

#29: Nolan Smith, edge defender, Georgia

The final player on this list is former super recruit Nolan Smith from Georgia, who was the top-ranked prospect coming out of the 2019 class, per 247 Sports’ composite ranking. Undersized for an edge rusher at just 235 pounds, Smith’s senior season with the Bulldogs ended early when he tore a pec in October. Smith could have declared for the draft last season and was the biggest returning eligible name for the Georgia defense that is coming off of a national title winning season. Beyond his size, his production — 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss over four years — is a question in his evaluation.

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