As free agency approached, the Green Bay Packers gave hints they were planning to make major, and possibly expensive splashes, on the open market rather than follow general manager Ted Thompson’s tried-and-true system of building through the draft.
Yet, other than tight end Jared Cook and retaining the services of running back James Starks and linebacker Mike Neal, the Packers didn’t really flash a ton of dollars in free agency.
Instead, the Packers once again seem intent on carefully addressing the needs through the draft. Thompson, among the best in the business on draft day, once again has plenty of picks. The last time the Packers had less than eight picks was in 2010.
After the NFL handed Thompson two compensatory picks last month, Green Bay currently has nine total selections in this year’s draft, including three in the fourth round. The Packers own the No. 27 overall pick in the first round, No. 57 in the second, No. 88 in the third, No. 125, 131, and 137 in the fourth, No. 163 in the fifth, No. 200 in the sixth, and No. 248 in the seventh.
Thompson has work to do to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl. Green Bay could use some some youth at linebacker, and a nose tackle and dual-threat running back would also help.
Every year since 2012 Thompson’s spent his first round pick on defense, and it's paid off. The most recent examples being Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall the last two seasons, and both stand as excellent young cornerstones for Green Bay’s secondary.
The rush defense ranked No. 21 overall last season, which is probably the most urgent concern. Meanwhile, Thompson will probably also have free agency in 2017 in mind, when running back Eddie Lacy, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, left tackle David Bakhtiari, as well as linebacker Julius Peppers and defensive end Datone Jones all hit the open.
With all that in mind, here are three somewhat unheralded players Thompson should carefully consider when the draft begins on April 28.
Mitch Mathews, WR, BYU
One of five players scheduled to make an official pre-draft visit to Green Bay, Mathews isn’t even projected to be drafted, according to some draft boards. However, he has the size and speed that make him a potentially desirable target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. At 6-foot-6, Mathews ran a 4.49 40-yard dash time at his Pro Day. He might be a nice fit in Edgar Bennett's system. It's possible Thompson can wait until No. 200 to land this under-the-radar talent.
Noah Spence, OLB, Eastern Kentucky
Once a star prospect at Ohio State before running into off-field troubles (failed drug tests), a number of teams are in pursuit of Spence after he turned things around at Eastern Kentucky for 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss. The Packers usually don't take chances on players with questionable reputations, but with Peppers getting older and Jones up for a new deal, Spence has a ton of reward with mostly minimal risk depending on where Thompson selects him. The Ravens are reportedly interested in Spence, but he might be available at No. 57 if Baltimore balks at No. 36 and other teams consider him too risky.
Kyle Steuck, OL, Northern Michigan
A local product who played at West De Pere High School, Steuck is massive at 6'3 and 317 pounds. He started all four years in college and showed tremendous versatility by playing all over the Wildcats offensive line. A lineman with size and experience at every position is rare, which means he could be an ideal replacement should a starter miss time. It wouldn't be surprising if teams overlook Steuck and he ends up available at No. 248. Adding depth to the offensive line always seems wise.