A thought experiment with the Packers and their NFC North rivals
If the Packers can take one player from an NFC North rival besides the obvious choice, which one should they select?
We've reached the point after the draft where the NFL (mostly) quiets down other than the odd extension or minor signing. That doesn't mean teams have gone idle, as conversations between personnel executives and agents remain ongoing up to and through training camp. The Green Bay Packers might not project urgency in this regard, but discussions will continue in the coming weeks. More on that below.
Thank you for reading and supporting our coverage. You can also support our work by following us on Twitter:
Jason B. Hirschhorn: @by_JBH
Peter Bukowski: @Peter_Bukowski
The Leap: @TheLeapGB
Thanks for making The Leap a part of your day.
The Packers can take one player from the roster of an NFC North rival. Who should they select? Oh, and the pick can't be Justin Jefferson.
Jason B. Hirschhorn: With Justin Jefferson off the board, no other wideout on an NFC North rival holds sufficient appeal to the Packers. Adam Thielen has already played his best football, Amon-Ra St. Brown looks promising but remains somewhat unproven, and the Chicago Bears' only intriguing wide receiver (Darnell Mooney) overlaps too much with those already in Green Bay.
Adding a tertiary pass rusher would make sense for the Packers, but their options within the division come with questions. Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in April, has yet to play a snap in the NFL while Danielle Hunter has played just seven games over the past two seasons. The Vikings' other top option, Za'Darius Smith, comes with health concerns of his own. As for the Bears, they traded away their best pass rusher, Khalil Mack, earlier this year and Robert Quinn does not provide the down-to-down impact that 2021's 18.5 sacks suggest.
With those candidates dismissed, another pass catcher would make enough sense for the Packers to consider. T.J. Hockenson, the athletic, do-everything tight end for the Lions, checks a lot of boxes for the Packers. He can hold his own as a blocker and slide into the Y role right away and, at only 24, he still has room to grow physically and as a player. He would also allow Green Bay to slow play Robert Tonyan's recovery and not risk exposing him too early. Hockenson might not give the same shot in the arm that Jefferson could, but he would provide a significant boost nonetheless.
Peter Bukowski: I like the Hockenson answer (as well as the stipulation that it can’t be Jefferson because clearly that’s the obvious choice), but I think this question cuts to the core of the issues the rest of the NFC North has against the Packers: there just isn’t that much talent on these rosters outside of Green Bay.
If we’re taking age and contract into consideration, Hutchinson makes perfect sense. It would be nice to snag an interior pass rusher from one of the teams, but the Packers used a first-round pick on Devonte Wyatt who provides as much upside as anyone I could take in this exercise.
If we are talking about the guy who can come in this season and make the biggest impact, I’m going with Harrison Smith. He’s getting up in age, but he’s as smart as any safety in the league, and his ability to disguise his role, recover and make plays are suis generis in the league. I can’t rely on Quay Walker in Year 1 at a position where he’ll he will have so much on his plate. Being able to move around three outstanding safeties, play light boxes and lose nothing in either coverage or run support would be outstanding value.
Has Giannis Antetokounmpo surpassed Aaron Rodgers as Wisconsin's most popular athlete? Some have argued he has.
JBH: Giannis Antetokounmpo has certainly gained considerable ground on Aaron Rodgers in recent years after winning multiple MVPs and a championship for the Milwaukee Bucks. In a league that effectively relegates teams in non-major markets to the basketball equivalent of college football's G5, Antetokounmpo deserves every plaudit for making the Bucks champions for the first time since before Lou Alcindor took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But as anyone who has spent time in Wisconsin knows, football reigns supreme. Even after Rodgers splintered his fan base with 2021's standoff with the Packers and subsequent polarizing statements, he remains one of the most popular athletes in the country. That holds especially true in the Packers' home state where he has delivered a championship, four MVPs, and near-constant title contention.
At least until he departs, Rodgers has the belt.
PB: I had this very discussion on Locked on Packers with Locked on Bucks host Frank Madden (which you can find on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get podcasts), and I thought Frank summed it up perfectly: Giannis has the highest approval rating in Wisconsin, but Rodgers is still more popular.
Everyone likes Giannis. He’s dominating on the field and in the court of public opinion the way Rodgers did early in his career. As Jason points out, some of that changed for myriad reasons, but the Packers popularity reigns supreme in Wisconsin. Even if Rodgers isn’t as purely "approved,” among fans, he’s still a beloved figure in the sports landscape and I’d guess your friend/relative who doesn’t know sports is still more likely to know Rodgers compared to Giannis because football is football.
Still, these are two careers that are far from mover and I don’t think it would be that surprising to see Giannis overtake Rodgers before No. 12 hangs up his cleats.
What we're hearing/seeing
JBH: As the Packers continue to eye the veteran-receiver market, at least one of the top free agents has not drawn as much interest as the public believes. Many assumed that Will Fuller, a veteran deep threat who has struggled to remain on the field, would end up with the Cleveland Browns and former teammate Deshaun Watson.
However, league sources tell The Leap that the Browns do not have any plans to pursue Fuller, at least not at present. Barring a change in approach, the team prefers to run with their current receiving corps of Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, and rookie David Bell. That would leave Fuller without an apparent landing spot a month after the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Packers, of course, could provide Fuller with an alternative location. Fuller's combination of speed and availability concerns mirrors that of Sammy Watkins, the veteran signed shortly before the draft. However, Fuller has more recently produced like a No. 1 receiver, averaging a hair under 80 yards per game and 16.6 yards per reception over 11 games in 2020. His familiarity with Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur from their shared time at Notre Dame doesn't hurt matters either.
PB: Let me piggyback on Jason’s keen reporting here on Fuller because Brian Gutekunst has a history of pursuing players the team previously pursued whether publicly or privately, including players like Za’Darius Smith whom the Packers reportedly tried to trade for before acquiring in free agency back in 2019.
Two seasons ago, the same week the Packers played the Texans, Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur raved about Fuller and spoke at length in meetings about what a dangerous player he was according to a team source. The two were together at Notre Dame during LaFleur’s brief coaching stint there.
At that trade deadline, the Packers attempted to deal for Fuller but compensation talks reached an impasse and Houston held firm. Fuller was shortly thereafter suspended for the rest of the season for violating the league’s policy on banned substances.
This could set up similarly to when Gutekunst pursued Robby Anderson at the trade deadline, then attempted to sign him in free agency only to be outbid by the Carolina Panthers. The difference is it looks unlikely a team would “outbid” the Packers for Fuller at this point in the offseason.
JBH: No. Not now. Not ever.
PB: Touchdown/INT ratio is a flawed stat, but my god Aaron Rodgers.