The 2023 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away. As of now, the Green Bay Packers have the 15th overall pick in the first round and the 45th overall pick in the second round of the draft. More early round picks could be added if the trade of Aaron Rodgers is completed before or during the draft.
This is the next in a series of articles looking at players the Packers may be interested in selecting in the early rounds of this year’s draft. The only players listed here are realistic possibilities for the Packers to pick in the first or second round of the draft or who fill specific needs for the team right now.
Today we will examine edge rushers. To see our analysis of wide receivers, click here.
The Packers have two quality starters on the edge in Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, but Gary is recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered in Week 9 in Detroit and may not be ready to start the season on time.
The depth behind the starters is lacking and their contract situations mean GM Brian Gutekunst will need to fortify this position early in the draft. Kingsley Enagbare showed flashes in his rookie campaign and has the potential to take on a bigger role in his second season, but he is not a proven starter at this point in his NFL career. Jonathan Garvin and Justin Hollins are also returning. Hollins provides more pass rush than Garvin who is mostly a special teams player.
Clearly, the Packers need more talent and depth here. An early round pick is likely. Ideally, a player who can also defend against the run would be the best fit long term. If the rookie pick doesn’t start, they could also be a situational pass rusher in year one.
So here is a list of possible edge rushers the Packers may take early in the 2023 draft. They are not listed in any particular order:
Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Wilson has long arms and uses them to his advantage to shed blockers both against the run and when trying to rush the passer. He’s quick and has a variety of different moves when rushing the quarterback. The fact that Wilson can play well against the run makes him even more valuable to the Packers.
The downside for Wilson is his habit of playing upright too often which can allow blockers to get leverage on him. He will need some coaching to improve in this area.
His wingspan, quickness and moves make him a great fit for the Packers, but will he still be on the board when they pick at 15?
Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
Van Ness is intense and has long arms and great quickness. He has enough speed and drive to chase down plays on the other side of the field. He also uses his hands well to gain an advantage on blockers. He’s also very strong and even has the nickname “Hercules” for his physique and his strength is an asset.
At times, Van Ness is a little too intense and he can lose his temper which limits his effectiveness. He also needs to coordinate his quickness and hand movements better but that can be improved with coaching.
The Packers would do well by adding Van Ness at 15 if he’s still on the board and he could give the team an outstanding pass rush as soon as he’s ready to play a big role in the defense.
Nolan Smith, Georgia
The Packers seem to love players from Georgia and Smith would be another strong addition to go along with Eric Stokes, Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker who they’ve added in the last two years.
Smith is undersized at 6”3 and 240 pounds which may hamper his ability to defend against the run. Against the pass, Smith is one of the most explosive players off the snap of the ball in this draft class. His first step is outstanding, and he does a great job of timing the snap of the ball which gives him an early advantage against pass blockers.
Smith is also very coachable and has great football intelligence.
Is Gutekunst willing to overlook Smith’s lack of size and his vulnerability against the run to benefit from his explosiveness off the ball and pass rush ability? If the answer is yes, Smith is a possible first round pick for the Packers this year.
BJ Ojulari, LSU
Ojulari is a heady pass rusher who plays chess with blockers, understands what they’re trying to do and sets them up accordingly. He has long arms and great quickness. At 6’3” and 245 pounds, he lacks the bulk to take on blockers if they run right at him, but he has the ability to chase down plays when teams run away from him.
If Ojulari gains the edge, he has the burst to close on the quarterback and collect sacks. He had more than 100 quarterback pressures in two years as a starter at LSU which is very impressive.
Ojulari would likely be a pass rush specialist especially early in his career, but he has the potential to be a very good one if he continues to develop his game.
Derick Hall, Auburn
Hall may be available in the second round if the Packers opt to address another position in the first. The Auburn alum is 6’3” and 255 pounds and has the long arms scouts look for in edge rushers. He has experience in college playing as an outside linebacker or lining up as a defensive end although his lack of bulk would make it difficult for him to do that often in the NFL.
He needs to improve his run stopping and ability to stop the run. He’s good in pursuit and can run down running plays that are going away from his half of the field. He will have to work on some secondary pass rush moves but that can come with coaching and experience.
Hall would be a solid day two pick for the Packers to boost their strength at edge.
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