News broke on Tuesday that the Big Ten will begin their season in a couple of weeks. Let’s celebrate by taking a quick look at three of the top 2021 NFL Draft prospects in the conference.
The Green Bay Packers will have a handful of needs to address during the 2021 offseason. Defensive line, the right side of the offensive line, linebacker, and wide receiver will be at the top of the list, while tight end and secondary will probably be ‘secondary’ needs.
The Big Ten has plenty of talented prospects that could help satisfy those needs in the first-round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Pat Freiermuth, Chris Olave, and Aidan Hutchinson may all be targets for the Green Bay Packers.
Pat Freiermuth – Tight End, Penn St, Junior
Not many players can boast the blend of blocking and receiving ability that Pat Freiermuth can. At 6’ 5”, 260-pounds, he has an NFL ready frame. He doesn’t have elite long speed or explosion, but he has great feet.
Though he has plenty of natural gifts, the word that I keep coming back to when I watch film on Freiermuth is “patience”. We see it in every aspect of his game. He’s patient against the zone and is a consistent outlet for his quarterback. He’s patient as a blocker and has the vision to reach defenders at every level of the field. He’s also patient with the ball in his hands, sifting past defenders with minimal effort.
As a receiver, Freiermuth shows soft hands. He isn’t explosive as a route-runner but he’s smooth. He hasn’t shown much ability to separate at the intermediate and deep levels of the field but he’s a dangerous red-zone threat. He has a huge catch radius and won’t be bodied off the ball.
Freiermuth is also a beast after the catch. Given his size, we expect Freiermuth to run through defenders, which he does, but he shows a real knack for making defenders miss.
Freiermuth is one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the NCAA, though he still has room for improvement. He has the acceleration and agility to get to the spot but hasn’t done a great job finishing blocks.
He doesn’t make an explosive initial pop and doesn’t do a great job of grabbing cloth and driving the defender out of the spot. Freiermuth is more of a finesse blocker right now but his film shows a few whiffs as a trapping and pulling blocker.
Freiermuth’s lack of long speed and explosiveness will limit his value in the NFL but he makes up for it with his short game route-running and tackle-breaking ability. Add in his blocking ability and Freiermuth is arguably the top tight end in this draft class.
Freiermuth has shown late first-round value but doesn’t have much ground to make up. There’s a chance that some of the other more athletic tight ends pass Freiermuth with a successful 2020 season, making him available for the Green Bay Packers toward the end of the first.
The Packers could choose to snatch him up. Marcedes Lewis is closer to 40 years old than 30. Robert Tonyan is an overachieving UDFA but isn’t the long-term answer at the position, while Jace Sternberger has yet to land a significant role. Josiah Deguara is an H-back playing a totally different position. The Green Bay Packers’ future at tight end is murky. Freiermuth could help clear things up.
Chris Olave – Wide Receiver, Ohio St, Junior
After watching Chris Olave’s film, we don’t really see any dominant traits. At 6’ 1”, 188-pounds, he doesn’t have elite size, nor does he have elite speed but he’s solid at everything. He’s sure-handed, a smooth route-runner, and a contributor in the run-game, both as a blocker and a ball-carrier.
Every team would like to have a Chris Olave. He’ll be a dependable number-two receiver in the NFL. He’s seen most of his production in the intermediate and deep levels of the field and has been productive in the red-zone. With KJ Hill and Benjamin Victor both graduated, Olave is destined for the number-one receiver role with the Buckeyes. He’ll see plenty of reps against press coverage from the line of scrimmage.
Olave has had success against press-man in the past. He has quick feet and just enough strength to beat and separate from college corners, though I doubt he can do it at the NFL level with his current build. He should add 5-10 pounds to improve his contact balance and upper body strength.
When Olave has a free release, he really shines. His quick feet and loose hips allow him to separate from defenders out of his break and he has a keen sense of how to beat zone-coverage schemes. Olave isn’t very physical after the catch. He may not have the physical traits of a number-one NFL receiver but he’s sure to shine in a number-two role.
Olave is exactly what the Green Bay Packers’ offense needs right now. Allen Lazard looks destined for the slot role in Matt LaFleur’s offense and Marquez Valdes-Scantling doesn’t have the consistency to be more than a risky deep threat. The Packers need a number-two receiver to partner with Davante Adams. Chris Olave will be on the Packers’ radar for their first-round selection, come April.
Aidan Hutchinson – Defensive Line, Michigan, Junior
Aidan Hutchinson has been designated by many as an edge-defender but that doesn’t tell his entire story. The Wolverines have asked him to play up and down the defensive line, from outside the tackle all the way to nose tackle. He hasn’t been asked to bend the edge much and I think he’s better suited for an interior defensive line role in the NFL
At 6’ 6”, 269-pounds, Hutchinson is more effective against the run than the pass right now. He does a great job utilizing his length and keeping blockers off his body, allowing him to keep his eyes in the backfield. Hutchinson does a great job of simultaneously reading the offensive line and the backfield. He’s quick to diagnose and consistently finishes plays near the line of scrimmage.
Hutchinson is explosive and agile, making him very useful on stunts. He looks to have decent top-end speed and takes good angles. He’s great in pursuit. Hutchinson is also a strong tackler but misses a few in space. That’s likely due to his lack of flexibility, which affects his pass-rushing as well.
Up to this point, Hutchinson hasn’t shown the ability to consistently bend the edge. He doesn’t profile as a dynamic pass rusher but has an effective bull-rush. Hutchinson has power, length, and explosiveness and can push tackles into the quarterback’s lap. He affects the pass-game more with his ability to bat down passes, where his length and vision help him significantly.
Hutchinson would fit in perfectly with the Green Bay Packers, who are desperate for help along the defensive line. Hutchinson would likely step into a starting role right away in 2021, and he’d be next to one of the most talented nose tackles in the game, Kenny Clark. This would allow Hutchinson time to develop his skills as a pass-rusher, while he contributes as a run-stopper.
Hutchinson is a second-round prospect right now, with the potential to be much more. If he can show improved pass-rush ability, he has the potential to jump into the upper half of the first-round, which would likely take him off the board before the Green Bay Packers make their selection. If Aidan Hutchinson is available in the first, the Packers could use his run-stopping services.
Pat Freiermuth, Chris Olave, and Aidan Hutchinson are three of the top prospects in the Big Ten that could satisfy needs on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. All three will be juniors during the 2020 season but have already shown enough on the field to justify selecting them at the end of the first-round.
Now that the Big Ten has elected to begin play the weekend of October 23rd-24th, we know we’ll see them on the field in 2020. The Green Bay Packers and the draft team here at Game On Wisconsin will all be watching