With limited play in the NCAA this year, where will the Green Bay Packers look for talent in the 2021 NFL Draft?
The news broke earlier this week that the Big Ten and PAC Twelve conferences will be postponing competition due to the pandemic, and that may extend through the ‘20-‘21 school year. There’s still plenty to be excited about for the 2020 NCAA football season.
Shortly after the news from the Big Ten and PAC Twelve, the Big Twelve ensured us that they will, in fact, play an in-conference schedule this year. The Big Twelve has produced plenty of talent the past few years. In the 2020 NFL Draft, TCU led the conference with five players selected.
Jalen Reagor, wide receiver (Eagles) and Jeff Gladney, cornerback (Vikings), were both first-round selections while Ross Blacklock and Lucas Niang were both day-two picks. In the seventh-round the Green Bay Packers selected the safety Vernon Scott.
Even after losing those five players, TCU returns plenty of talent. Ar’Darius Washington, JD Spielman, and Garrett Wallow all look like perfect fits for the Green Bay Packers.
Ar’Darius Washington, Safety
Ar’Darius Washington plays like a big cat stalking its prey. He may be just 5’ 8”, 179 pounds but he has top-notch explosiveness and athleticism and is all over the field. A member of Bruce Feldman’s preseason “Freaks List”, Washington might have the highest vertical jump of any player in the NCAA and that shows up on his film.
You see Washington’s burst when he closes in the run-game. The redshirt-Sophomore makes up ground quick and drives through the ball-carrier. At his size, I wouldn’t trust him to consistently hold a run-fit but Washington has plenty of value as a playmaker against the run.
Washington’s burst also shows up in both man and zone coverage. When asked to play underneath zone, Washington drives on the ball and meets the receiver as the ball arrives. His vertical jump is on display during downfield, contested situations where Washington consistently beats taller receivers.
Though Washington plays safety at TCU, I doubt his downfield win-rate translates to the NFL, given his small frame. He may not be a liability as a deep safety, but he’ll likely be better suited for the slot corner position where he’s already had success in his limited reps.
The coming season will be very telling for the Green Bay Packers at the slot corner position. Chandon Sullivan, Ka’Dar Hollman, and Josh Jackson will all be vying for reps at that spot. There may be reason for excitement but right now, I’m not overly confident in any of them, individually.
If none of the trio perform as we hope, slot corner may be a position of need during the 2021 offseason for the Green Bay Packers. Players that are pigeon-holed to slot corner are not highly regarded as draft prospects, though their effect on the game is almost equal to that of an outside corner.
There’s a real chance that Washington slips to the late second round because of his size (or lack thereof) and the Green Bay Packers might be slotted to that area of the Draft. The Packers have a history of passing on short corners but that was the old regime.
Jaire Alexander was the Packers’ first-rounder in 2018. He’s under the 5’ 11” threshold the Packers used to operate under but is one of the most talented young corners in the game. If Ar’Darius Washington is available in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers should consider selecting him.
JD Spielman, Wide Receiver
JD Spielman transferred from Nebraska to TCU during the 2020 offseason just prior to his Senior year. Below average play from the quarterback position likely played a role in that decision. TCU’s pass-game wasn’t great in 2019 but we can only hope that it takes a step forward this year.
During Spielman’s time at Nebraska he operated mostly out of the slot which, at 5’9, 180 pounds, is where his game translates best in the NFL. Like all college wide receivers in a spread offense, Spielman displays a hitch in his get-off but it will be an easy fix with an adjustment to his stance.
Ball control has been an issue for Spielman. He’s been plagued by both drops and fumbles in the past. Most of his drops can be attributed to the fact that he doesn’t turn his head for the ball quick enough. When Spielman is ready for the ball, he’s sure-handed and makes catches away from his body.
Spielman’s feet make him one of the most dangerous route runners of all college slot receivers. He’s unbelievably sudden, has a great double move, and displays great game speed. He has surprising contact balance for a man his size, which helps him on timing routes.
Spielman offers more than slot-receiver ability. He’s also a gifted ball carrier and return man. Spielman sees the whole field and creates openings with eyes. He operates best in space but is still effective without it.
Spielman will be an all-purpose player and slot receiver in the NFL. He hasn’t developed his skills yet as a receiver, but he has natural talent and another year to display it. If JD Spielman takes the next step with TCU, he should be on the short-list for the Green Bay Packers.
Garrett Wallow, Linebacker
Garrett Wallow splits his reps between inside and outside linebacker, though he doesn’t have the strength to play over the ball consistently in the NFL. At 6’ 2”, 230 pounds, Wallow is thin in his lower body. He’s more of a space linebacker than a downhill thumper; a common theme of today’s box defenders.
In a TCU defense that plays a variety of packages and personnel, Wallow, a senior, is the quarterback. He’s cerebral and instinctive, though he can fall for play fakes and doesn’t always have the best vision into the backfield.
Wallow has a bad habit of spinning off of contact between the tackles which puts his back toward the play and takes his eyes off the ball-carrier. If he were a more powerful defender, he’d be able to take those blocks head-on. Far too often, Wallow is the victim of powerful run-blockers.
While Wallow isn’t the most responsible in his run fits but he plays very well in space. He has great lateral mobility and almost always takes the proper angle. When Wallow is un-blocked in the box, he looks like a running back.
He does a great job of hiding himself behind his linemen, waiting for the hole to open, then hitting it hard. We’d like to see him drive through the ball-carrier rather than catching him, but still, Wallow is a sure tackler.
He doesn’t offer much value as a pass-rusher but he’s a great QB spy where his instincts and athleticism serve him well. Those traits also help him in coverage. In the underneath zone, Wallow is solid. He doesn’t make enough plays on the ball but quarterbacks don’t throw at him often.
In man coverage, Wallow displays good feet and enough length to defend college tight ends, though he has average long speed. Still, Wallow is arguably the best coverage linebacker returning to the Big Twelve.
During the 2019 season, it was obvious the Green Bay Packers lacked a nickel/dime Linebacker that could shut down play-making tight ends, running backs, or slot receivers. While Wallow doesn’t have many reps in the slot, he displays the athleticism necessary to be effective there.
Wallow isn’t being talked about as an early selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, likely because of his lack of power in the box. However, his abilities in coverage makeup for his downfalls. Wallow is a day-three pick right now but if he displays more power against the run, he could work his way into the day-two discussion. Still, his value in coverage makes him a good fit as a nickel linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.
Texas Christian University hasn’t been at the same level as Alabama or Ohio State when it comes to producing NFL-caliber talent and they probably never will be, but they’ve taken steps forward over the past decade.
Ar’Darius Washington, JD Spielman, and Garrett Wallow will continue the trend during the 2021 NFL Draft. Each of them can increase their draft status with improved play during the 2020 season and fit perfectly with the Green Bay Packers. We’ll be keeping an eye on them at Game On Wisconsin.