The 2015 NFL Draft was a disastrous one for the Green Bay Packers. Only one member of that draft class completed his four-year rookie contract with the Packers, and even that individual spent his final season on injured reserve. The other players in the class were all either traded or released by the middle of the 2018 season.
The question about what happened in one of Ted Thompson’s final drafts is valid, and the setback that this poor draft caused for the following four years was significant. But as part of “What If” week at SB Nation, Acme Packing Company will take a look at what the best possible Packers draft class in 2015 could have looked like.
For this analysis, we will look at each pick in turn and will re-draft the Packers’ selections with the vast benefit of hindsight. The pool of players available will consist solely of the players taken after the actual Packers’ pick being analyzed, but before the next time Green Bay went on the clock.
One final note: this draft saw the Packers trade up in round five to select Brett Hundley. While it would be possible to consider both picks that the Packers used separately, for the purposes of this analysis we will look only at the Hundley pick as if the Packers were trading up regardless.
Get ready to be disappointed, especially when you see how many of these re-drafted picks come from a certain purple team.
After the NFC Championship debacle in Seattle and the departures of two key cornerbacks in free agency — Tramon Williams to the Browns and Davon House to the Jaguars — this pick ended up being Damarious Randall. After lining up mainly at free safety at Arizona State, the Packers played Randall at boundary corner, a move that eventually showed him as being miscast out on the island. He ended up departing to Cleveland himself via trade during the 2018 offseason after wearing out his welcome in Green Bay.
As one would expect, there were several very good second-round picks available here who likely would have made a better impact in Green Bay.
Each of these players could have had a more significant impact in Green Bay. Collins would have joined his old college teammate Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but the Packers still had a solid Morgan Burnett on the back end with him. Smith is tempting as a depth edge rusher, particularly with Clay Matthews shifting inside for the 2015 season. But the Packers could have kept Clay on the edge had they picked one of the two athletic inside linebackers, or pairing him with Kendricks would have ensured that the Packers had a better player there in 2015 than former 7th-round picks Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer.
A starter since day one in the middle of the Vikings’ defense, Kendricks deservedly earned his first Pro Bowl appearance and an All-Pro nod in 2019. He is an ideal modern middle linebacker, equally adept in coverage and run support, and might have solved many of the Packers’ woes in defending the middle of the field over the past half-decade.
A point guard-turned cornerback who turned in a great year in his only season of college football at Miami University, Rollins played a large role as a slot corner in his first two seasons, but landed on injured reserve in 2017. After being released on cut-down day in 2018, he bounced around to the Cardinals and 49ers from then through final cuts in 2019.
There are some intriguing options here, especially in the offensive backfield and on the edge. Johnson could have been an exciting tandem with Eddie Lacy, who was coming off a great year two, but it’s tough to imagine the Packers using another second-round pick on a running back that soon.
A second straight Vikings pick hurts. While Clark has put together a great career in Seattle and Kansas City and Johnson was a great playmaker in Arizona, Hunter would have been a tremendous fit as an athletic edge rusher for the Packers. Even as a rotational player in year one, Hunter would have provided a great push along with the group of Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, and Mike Neal, and his development into a perennial Pro Bowler would have helped offset the loss of those players later on.
Originally, the Packers put Montgomery at wide receiver, making him a yards-after-the-catch specialist. In today’s NFL, he might have been tagged in a Deebo Samuel role, but even just five years ago he was a bit pigeonholed into more of a conventional receiver slot before moving to running back full time in 2016. However, the Packers traded him in 2018 after he lost carries to 2017 draftees Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and he took a kickoff out of the end zone in a defiance of orders and fumbled away a chance for a comeback.
The Packers reportedly liked Z coming out of Kentucky, so let’s make him the pick here. Flowers would be a nice selection as well as a bigger EDGE, but while he has arguably been more consistent, Z’s steady improvement over the past few years — peaking with 13.5 sacks in 2019 — has been fun to watch. Imagine the Packers’ defenses over the past five years with Smith and Hunter terrorizing quarterbacks.
Ryan is the only player from this draft to remain with the team to the end of the 2018 season, though he lost out on his final year in Green Bay with a torn ACL. He looked like a capable starter at least for a while, but was hardly an impact player.
I’m very torn on this spot. Like Preston Smith and Za’Darius earlier, I’m tempted to take Amos, knowing the impact that he made on the secondary. Even in 2015, Clinton-Dix and Burnett would have been tough to unseat as starters. Mason would have provided some early depth and eventually a solid starting presence at one of the guard spots, locking down either position after the departure of Josh Sitton or T.J. Lang.
But the real pick here is a third Vikings selection, Diggs, who has racked up over 4,600 receiving yards in his NFL career. Last season was arguably his best, as he posted a tremendous 17.9 yards per catch average with a career-high 1,130 yards in fewer than 100 targets.
Diggs was a major contributor in 2015 as a rookie as well, with 52 receptions for 720 yards and four touchdowns. He could have eased the challenges in the 2015 offense when Jordy Nelson went down with a blown ACL and formed a formidable 1-2 punch with Davante Adams thereafter.
The Packers traded a seventh-round pick to move up for Hundley, who would back up Aaron Rodgers for a few years before being traded to Seattle during training camp in 2018. But let’s look down the board at who else was available instead.
These appear to be the best options remaining between this pick and the Packers’ first of three sixth-rounders. Ajayi had some early success as a runner, even making a Pro Bowl for the Dolphins in 2016, a year when the Packers could have used a running back. Waller started out in Baltimore as a tall wide receiver, but bulked up to become a tremendous receiving tight end for the Raiders, posting 90 receptions and 1,145 yards in 2019.
My pick gives the Packers back-to-back Diggs, however. (Diggses?) That would be unheard of, but it would give the Packers a contributor in the secondary, one who had a nice start to his career as a slot corner in Detroit before moving to safety in 2018 (and eventually being traded to Seattle, where he began to excel as a deep safety in 2019). Think about the knock-on effects here as well: if the Packers don’t draft Randall and Rollins, they probably end up starting Casey Hayward on the boundary, where he showed that he could excel once he landed with the Chargers as a free agent. Diggs could have fit in nicely with Sam Shields, Hayward, and Micah Hyde to form a versatile secondary.
The Packers took the Oklahoma fullback with a late pick in round six, but had just three more selections between that one and their next pick, a compensatory selection.
None of these players ever did much, and Ripkowski played more than three times as many games as any of them. Stick with the fullback and special teamer.
Another quick turnaround, the Packers went on the clock again in round six after just two more selections. Ringo kicked around a bit as a depth piece on the line, but never really caught on in Green Bay or elsewhere.
A defensive end at Miami, Chickillo has carved out a nice role as a rotational edge rusher and special teams player, earning a two-year $8M contract with Pittsburgh after the conclusion of his rookie deal. The Steelers waived him this offseason, but he had a better run than any of the other options here.
The Packers picked a tight end late in Backman, who played 48 combined snaps as a rookie and had a few brief practice squad stints before his football career came to an end.
There are a couple of useful players whom teams found in the late sixth and seventh round of the 2015 draft, including a few defensive linemen, but the notable ones are a pair of offensive tackles selected late.
A mountain of a man, Brown would have backed up David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga in Green Bay. Instead, he started for the 49ers for two seasons on the right side but was traded on draft day 2018 to New England. There he protected Tom Brady’s blind side in 2018 en route to a Super Bowl ring before signing a massive four-year $66M deal with the Raiders last year and making the Pro Bowl on the right side.