NFL Draft: Mel Kiper Jr. Predicts Green Bay Packers Take a ‘High-Upside’ 2nd-Round Steal to Replace Za’Darius Smith

Aaron Rodgers is coming back for 2022, which is cause for optimism with the Green Bay Packers. Just about everything else that happened this offseason, though, is a little problematic. From the Davante Adams trade to defensive leader Za’Darius Smith signing with the rival Minnesota Vikings, the Packers seem weaker now than at the end of last season. However, that can all start to turn around in the NFL draft, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper believes the team will get a steal in Round 2.

The Green Bay Packers need a pass-rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft

Za’Darius Smith is a seven-year NFL veteran pass-rusher. The fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens spent four years with his original tea before moving to Green Bay in 2019.

After putting up a respectable 18.5 sacks in Baltimore, Smith went on a tear in Wisconsin and recorded 26.0 sacks in two seasons and making the two Pro Bowl appearances.

Unfortunately for the Packers, Smith played just 18 snaps in Week 1, per ESPN, before going out to have back surgery. Smith missed the rest of the regular season, and this offseason, the club decided to let him go.

The Packers’ NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings signed Smith to a three-year, $42 million deal with $11.5 million guaranteed in 2022. This leaves Green Bay with a solid edge-rushing tandem of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, but not much behind that.

Adding an edge player isn’t the Packers’ top priority during the 2022 NFL Draft, but it is a need the organization should address on Day 2 or 3.

Mel Kiper Jr. has the Packers taking Cincinnati DE Myjai Sanders at No. 59

As luck would have it, ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. concurs with the assessment that the Green Bay Packers need an edge-rusher in the 2022 draft and has one with ‘high upside’ falling to the franchise in Round 2.

Myjai Sanders played for seasons for the Cincinnati Bearcats, compiling 13.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for a loss. In his final season, he only recorded 2.5 sacks, but he was the best rusher on the first non-Power Five team to ever make the College Football Playoffs. That garnered him a lot of attention.

Sanders started the 2022 NFL Draft process as a borderline first-round pick. However, he struggled at the combine, showing well underweight due to an illness.

However, for the Packers, this just means they can get a great value in the late second round, as Mel Kiper Jr. explains in his latest mock draft:

Sanders weighed just 228 pounds at the combine and reportedly had lost weight because of a stomach bug. He should settle in the 240-range in the NFL, and he might be best suited as an outside linebacker. But he has some explosive traits off the edge, and he could be an interesting high-upside pick on Day 2. The Packers have to add young edge talent in this draft.

Mel Kiper Jr. on Cincinnati DE Myjai Sanders

If the Packers do indeed get Sanders, it would be a coup for a franchise that could transform itself on the fly with an infusion of young talent in this year’s draft.

The 2022 NFL Draft could be franchise-changing for Aaron Rodgers and company

Cincinnati Bearcats defensive lineman Myjai Sanders lines up for a play. Sanders could be a Round 2 target of the Green Bay Packers in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Myjai Sanders | Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFC last regular season, but they disappointingly lost in the Divisional Round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs.

As good as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were last season, there were some glaring issues. Rodgers tended to get locked in on Davante Adams (see the playoff game vs. San Francisco 49ers).

The Packers took one step to alleviate this problem, trading Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders. Step two could be drafting multiple wide receivers early in the NFL draft. Mel Kiper Jr. has the organization drafting North Dakota State WR Christian Watson at No. 22 and Myjai Sander’s Cincinnati teammate, WR Alec Pierce, at No. 53.

Kiper also has the Packers upgrading the offensive line in front of Rodgers with Boston College guard Zion Johnson at No. 28 and then addressing the defense with Sanders at No. 59.

The Packers have a staggering seven picks after they make these first four. If general manager Brian Gutekunst can hit on these top four and a few of the last seven, it could transform last year’s veteran-heavy squad into one of the youngest and most exciting teams in the lead, all while still having the back-to-back NFL MVP at the helm. 

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference

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