Packers’ Trade-Up Aimed at Securing Dynamic Playmaker: Report

JSN Aaron Rodgers Trade

Getty The Packers could be getting Jordan Love a new pass-catching weapon with their new No. 13 pick.

The Green Bay Packers managed to move up two spots in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft as part of the compensation for trading Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets, and the draft-week buzz is suggesting general manager Brian Gutekunst has a specific target in mind for the No. 13 overall pick.

According to Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network, he has been told by a “number of people” that the Packers’ trade-up move from 15th to 13th in the first-round order is in “hopes it will be easier to secure Jaxon Smith-Njigba,” the dynamic former Ohio State star who is widely expected to be the first wide receiver draft from the 2023 class.

The Packers have not drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 2002, but Smith-Njigba could be the prospect to change that narrative if he is still available at No. 13. For what it’s worth, the Packers also nearly got a receiver in the last year’s first round, but the Minnesota Vikings were unwilling to trade away the No. 32 pick. Instead, the Packers waited until Day 2 and then shipped both of their second-rounders to the Vikings for the No. 34 pick, using it to take the North Dakota State standout.

The Packers have three selections inside the top 50, including their original second-round pick (No. 45) and their newly acquired second-rounder from the Jets (No. 42).

Packers Need More Weapons for Jordan Love in 2023

Smith-Njigba has been considered one of the most electric pass-catchers in the 2023 draft class since his breakout season with Ohio State in 2021, when he finished with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns and beat out 2022 first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson as the Buckeyes’ leading receiver. While a hamstring injury did limit him in his final season in 2022, he is a refined route-runner and a hard-to-beat separator who would fit nicely with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.

The Packers also need more weapons for Jordan Love as he prepares to make his maiden voyage as an NFL starting quarterback. They are losing Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan Jr. and Marcedes Lewis from last year’s pass-catching arsenal, and while Watson is an outstanding talent and Doubs has plenty of untapped potential, they would be walking Love into a rough situation if they left the room untouched.

If the Packers cash in the 13th pick on Smith-Njigba, though, they would effectively be setting up Love for long-term success similar to how the organization did things when they passed the baton from Brett Favre to Rodgers. Rodgers had Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson for his first campaign as a full-time starter in 2008 with the Packers using their first pick of that year’s draft on Nelson.

One could argue things would be even better for Love if the Packers carried a trio of Watson, Doubs and JSN into the 2023 season, largely because all three of them would be playing out the next three seasons on rookie deals. If the Packers truly believe Love can be the long-term successor to Rodgers, stacking the deck in his favor makes sense.

Packers’ Other Draft Needs Could Overrule JSN Pick

The Packers certainly have other draft needs that could tempt them in the first round. They are extremely thin at the tight end spot after deciding not to re-sign either Tonyan (now with Chicago) or Lewis (still a free agent), leaving Josiah Deguara — who has 39 career receptions — as their primary starter at the position. There is also a pressing need for their safety room, which lost Adrian Amos and returns both Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford on one-year arrangements.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst also tends to look beyond the immediate needs in the first round. He drafted Rashan Gary in 2019 after signing Za’Darius and Preston Smith in free agency. He traded up to get Love with Rodgers still under contract for multiple seasons. It is a pattern and one that has generally served the Packers well despite how much Gutekunst’s critics have bemoaned his choices.

If Gutekunst takes that approach again in 2023, a first-round offensive tackle or edge rusher could make sense for the Packers. They have David Bakhtiari and Yosh Nijman set to return as starting tackles in 2023, but neither has a long-term future solidified with the team. The same goes for the edge rusher spot. While the Packers are surely trying to work out a multi-year extension with Gary, it seems unlikely that Preston Smith will play out the rest of his contract through the 2026 season.

Now, none of this is to say the Packers don’t have needs at wide receiver. They return Watson and Doubs — both 2022 starters — but it doesn’t change the fact that three of their top four receiving options were Day 3 picks last year. The Packers could always pursue one of the still-available veterans on the market to add more experience, but adding an NFL-ready starter in the first round would present a long-term solution.

Then again, few teams have been as successful as the Packers at drafting wide receivers in the second round with Watson and Davante Adams being two of their most recent success stories. With two picks in the 40s in their pocket, the Packers might prefer to stick to their tried-and-true strategy of adding pass-catchers on Day 2.

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