Coming off a 12-4 season complete with a fourth straight NFC North title and a near trip to the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers stand to greatly improve an already impressive team through draft next month.
The Packers were one of 14 teams awarded compensatory picks for the 2015 NFL draft, upping their total to nine selections this year. Green Bay’s extra picks will both come in the sixth round, specifically No. 210 and No. 212 overall, acting as compensation for the loss of free agents last year in center Evan Dietrich Smith, receiver James Jones, defensive end C.J. Wilson, and offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Green Bay is already enjoying a successful offseason, having retained free agents like receiver Randall Cobb and offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga, but the extra selections could also give the Packers some extra cushion for free agency in 2016 and beyond.
Specifically, the Packers will have to plug some holes in the secondary, linebacker and along the defensive front. Who fills in for last year’s interception leader and cornerback Tramon Williams (signed with Cleveland Browns) and cornerback Davon House (off to Jacksonville Jaguars) are major concerns tantamount to maintaining last season’s No. 10 ranked pass defense.
While the late round picks might seem frivolous to some, the Seattle Seahawks have shown what kind of fruit the fifth, sixth and seventh round can bear. Seattle snagged cornerback Richard Sherman and eventual Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively, back in 2011, and took defensive back Kam Chancellor in the fifth round the year before.
Here are several prospects that are projected to be available in the last three rounds of the draft, according to CBS Sports, where they could represent low-risk and high-reward for Green Bay.
Kaleb Eulls, DT, Mississippi State
Defensive tackle is likely to be a high priority for Green Bay, and one they can address in the draft. The Packers were No. 23 against the run last season, and Eulls can provide plenty of extra depth behind a tackle rotation that already includes youngsters like Mike Pennel, Josh Boyd and Bruce Gaston, all with two years of experience in the NFL.
Eulls started for the Bulldogs for all four seasons of his collegiate career, and totaled 118 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks in that time. In 2014, he was part of a Mississippi State defense that ranked fourth against the run in the SEC. He likely won’t help the Packers pass rush, but Eulls could be very effective against the run and act as a form of injury insurance.
Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA
Standing at a staggering 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, McCarthy certainly has the size to play in the NFL. He didn’t start a game last season for the Bruins, which is a red flag, but a compensatory pick seems like a small price to pay for a player of McCarthy’s size. McCarthy was a much-lauded prospect when he got to UCLA and sort of flamed out, but if the Packers can find a way to motivate him he could be a game-changer.
Xzavier Dickson, OLB, Alabama
Green Bay released veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk before the start of free agency this year and next year’s presumed starting outside linebacker Nick Perry will be a free agent in 2016. There have been some questions surrounding Dickson’s level of motivation, and where he’d exactly fit in a NFL defense, but he does hail from the Tide and the tutelage of defensive master and head coach Nick Saban. Dickson recorded nine sacks last season in the SEC, and yet scouts have questioned if he can be a solid pass rusher in the NFL. However, he did show solid speed with a 4.74 40-yard dash at the scouting combine last month.
Shaquille Riddick, DE, West Virginia
Defensive end Michael Neal will be a free agent after next season and the Packers will have to prepare for Julius Peppers’ eventual retirement or release sooner rather than later. Enter Riddick, a 6-foot-6, 242-pound pass rusher who totaled 26 tackles and 6.0 sacks for the Mountaineers last season. A slender frame does mask Riddick’s strength, but he can put on some weight and thus gain more power to complement his speed (4.65 40-yard dash at combine) and help out the Packers.
Damian Swann, CB, Georgia
Other than the losses of Williams and House, starting cornerback Casey Hayward and fourth-year reserve safety Sean Richardson will both be free agents in 2016. The Packers already seem set at safety with former first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix playing very well, along with Morgan Burnett, so cornerback seems to be the main issue right now.
It’s a position that appears quite deep in this year’s draft class, but Swann could be undervalued, given he’s projected to go in the sixth to seventh rounds. That might have something to do with his weight (189 pounds at the combine) and his overall thin frame. But this is the same player who led a Georgia secondary that was No. 1 in the SEC last season, letting up less than 159 passing yards per game. Swann was also tied for fourth in the conference with three of Georgia’s 16 interceptions. Scouts have said he's a "natural corner" so spending a late-round pick on a naturally gifted player seems like a no-brainer.