Packers' draft picks: Projecting 2018 first-rounder, late-round sleepers

The Packers have the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and new GM Brian Gutekunst needs to get Aaron Rodgers some help. SN breaks down a pivotal draft for Green Bay.

The Packers have the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. This is a pivotal draft for the franchise after a 7-9 season led to some organizational changes.

Coach Mike McCarthy is entering his 13th season, but he has two new coordinators in Joe Philbin, who returns for a second stint, and Mike Pettine, who takes over the defense. New general manager Brian Gutekunst needs to nail this draft and give the Packers more talent around star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

With that in mind, Sporting News breaks down the Packers' 2018 NFL Draft outlook, including needs, first-round picks, Day 2 and Day 3 plans and a few sleepers.

MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Packers go defense in Round 1

Packers 2018 NFL Draft picks

Round 1 No. 14
Round 2 No. 45
Round 3 No. 76
Round 4 No. 101 (from CLE)
Round 3 No. 133
Round 5 No. 138 (from CLE)
Round 5 No. 172
Round 5 No. 174
Round 6 No. 186
Round 6 No. 207
Round 7 No. 232
Round 7 No. 239

Packers 2018 NFL Draft needs

Secondary: Some things never change. The Packers allowed a 102.0 QB rating to opposing passers last season, second worst only to Cleveland. Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall are gone, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is under contract through 2018. Green Bay brought Tramon Williams back, but corner remains a position of need.

Offensive line: The Packers had a lack of depth up front last season, and that hasn't changed given Bryan Bulaga (ACL), Jason Spriggs (kneecap) and Kyle Murphy (foot) all ended last season on IR. Green Bay needs better protection for Rodgers.

Edge rusher: Clay Matthews and Nick Perry combined for 14.5 sacks last season, and the tandem of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark combined for 9.5 sacks from the interior. Still, another solid edge rusher would allow Matthews, 31, to move inside some with Blake Martinez. A team can never have enough of a pass rush.


First-round plan

No. 14: Derwin James, CB/S, Florida State

MORE: How did a Central Ohio suburb with a population of 20,000 produce six active NFL players?

This might lead some old-school Packers to groan about Terrell Buckley, but James should be available at No. 14. Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ohio State's Denzel Ward would be options if available, too.

James could play the same role Charles Woodson did as a hybrid safety/corner in his final years with the Packers. If Green Bay comes out of the first round with James, Fitzpatrick or Ward, that's a win.

Second-guessing that plan

Green Bay can't count on any of those players being available, so if none are there, the Packers would take a cornerback like Joshua Jackson or, in a more likely scenario, a pass-rusher. Boston College's Harold Landry, who had 21.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and UTSA's Marcus Davenport, who had 15 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss in that stretch, are candidates for the pick.

NFL DRAFT 2018:
Do Packers need to select a QB?

Don't act surprised if ...

The Packers make a play for Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson if the guard falls into the double-digit picks. Nelson is the best offensive lineman in the draft, and that would get Rodgers' attention. Green Bay hasn't drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since Derek Sherrod in 2010, but Nelson would be a perfect fit. Could the Packers get new Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Kramer to announce the pick?


Day 2 plan

The Packers can add another tight end or receiver, and Penn State's Mike Gesicki, a freakish tight end who would pair well with new acquisition Jimmy Graham, or Oklahoma State's James Washington, the Biletnikoff Award winner who averaged 19.8 yards per catch for his career with the Cowboys, would be options. Auburn guard Braden Smith also should be on the Packers' Day 2 radar.

Day 3 sleeper

Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State

Sam missed most of the 2016 season with a foot injury, but he bounced back last year with 127 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. The 6-2, 240-pound linebacker would be a nice late-round addition.

MORE: Jimmy Graham must unlock efficiency at tight end for Packers, Aaron Rodgers

Packers NFL Draft 2018 final thought

The Packers haven't entered a draft the year after missing a postseason since 2008, the aftermath of Rodgers' first season as starter. That draft landed Pro Bowlers in Jordy Nelson and Josh Sitton, along with tight end Jermichael Finley. Those pieces helped Rodgers' career take off. Now, the Packers need to find some new pieces to give Rodgers a few more Super Bowl shots.