Needing a depth charge on their offensive line, the Green Bay Packers started Day 3 of the NFL Draft on Saturday the way they’d started Day 2 — by taking a big offensive lineman who they can only hope will turn out to be as good of a player as some other Day 3 linemen the team has unearthed in recent years.
In the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Royce Newman, the Packers would be thrilled to have another top-flight blocker in the tradition of T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton and franchise left tackle David Bakhtiari — all of whom made multiple Pro Bowls after being picked in the fourth round.
In Newman, the Packers believe they have a versatile lineman who can help them everywhere, co-director of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan said.
"We like the options,” Sullivan said. “We think he can play winning football at guard, at tackle. He could probably even kick inside to center if that was needed.
“He's a smart kid, he's bright. So that allows him mentally to move up and down the line of scrimmage."
Newman, a former high school tight end and basketball player in Nashville, Ill., was a two-year starter at Ole Miss, including last year at right tackle. He has long enough arms (33 1/4 inches) to stay at tackle but they length could be an advantage inside as well.
With roster holes still on their defensive line and their secondary, the Packers got help there with both of their fifth-round picks, taking Florida defensive lineman Tedarrell Slaton and Appalachian State cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles Saturday.
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Slaton would be the biggest defensive lineman on the roster if he makes the team this summer in training camp. He said during a Zoom call with reporters that he’d like to get down to 320 pounds by then, after weighing as much as 350 pounds earlier in his college career. But his speed and athleticism at that size do make him an intriguing prospect.
Slaton, who started his college career as an offensive lineman, ran the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds — fast for a man his size — and showed strength with 27 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
He didn’t start until his senior season in Gainesville, where he finished with 1.5 sacks, 37 total tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last year.
“Oh, man, it was like surreal,” Slaton said in his Zoom. “All the waiting I was doing. I was just waiting. When they called me, it was just a rush of excitement. I just couldn’t wait to be picked. Then, when they picked me, it was just an adrenaline rush. I just can’t wait to get up there.”
The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Jean-Charles, meanwhile, was the first player from a non-Power Five school that the Packers selected during the three-day draft, but his production at Appalachian State cannot be denied. In two years as a starter, he intercepted two passes but was a machine when it came to breaking up passes, finishing with 27 breakups in two years — including 17 last year, the most in the country.
“A lot of that comes from my preparation,” he said. “My football IQ’s very high, a testament to a lot of my coaches and mentors that I was around in the offseason. Just being able to understand offenses and understand what I’ll possibly get before it happens, it allows me to play just a little bit faster. At the end of the day, I have athletic ability but, once you grasp that mental aspect of the game, it makes it so much slower and makes it so much easier to go out there and just do what feels natural.”
When Cole Van Lanen’s cell phone rang Saturday afternoon, it told him not to answer it.
“This one came up as ‘Spam likely,’” the former Bay Port High School and University of Wisconsin offensive lineman said.
He decided to answer it anyway, and it turned out to be the call he’d been waiting for his entire football life — general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur informing him that Van Lanen’s hometown Green Bay Packers were picking him in the sixth round.
“I’m just very, very excited and humbled. I really wasn’t expecting it to happen when it did. I’m just beyond excited,” Van Lanen said during his Zoom call with reporters after the pick. “That’s all I can say.”
Van Lanen was back home for the draft, hanging out at his parents’ house in Suamico, which is less than 15 minutes from Lambeau Field. He said the first Packers game he could remember attending was a preseason game in the 2000s against the Atlanta Falcons, while Michael Vick was still Atlanta’s starting quarterback.
At 6-foot-4 1/4 and 305 pounds, Van Lanen might be a guard in the NFL after playing tackle for the Badgers, including five starts during the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season.
With Van Lanen in the sixth round, Josh Myers in the second round and Royce Newman in the fourth round, the Packers took three offensive linemen in the draft for the second consecutive year. Last year, they took three interior linemen — Michigan’s Jon Runyan, Oregon’s Jake Hanson and Indiana’s Simon Stepaniak — in the sixth round.
After taking Van Lanen, the Packers added Isaiah McDuffie, an inside linebacker who had 107 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss and an interception for Boston College last season after missing much of the 2019 season with a knee injury.
“This was always my dream, since I touched a football when I was 7 years old,” McDuffie told Wisconsin reporters via Zoom. “All the hard work finally paying off is just super exciting.”
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound McDuffie played for his father, Steve, in high school and said his dad continues to have a big influence on him.
“It was great. My dad is my biggest critic but my biggest fan,” McDuffie said. “He was my high school coach, so I never got anything easy. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be here without him. It was a great experience, him being my high-school coach, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Kylin Hill, the Packers' final selection of the day, garnered national attention with a Tweet that helped lead the state of Mississippi to remove the Confederate emblem from its state flag. Having watched his senior season go down the drain because of a suspension that eventually led him to opt out, it was the best thing he did last year to garner headlines.
Now, the former Mississippi State running back would like to get back to football, having admitted that the Tweet had its “pros and cons” in terms of the reaction it received.
Hill appeared to be a rising star in the SEC after rushing for 734 yards as a sophomore in 2018 and 1,350 yards as a junior in 2019. But after carrying only 15 times for 58 yards in the first three games of last season, new head coach Mike Leach suspended him for the Texas A&M game in October, reportedly after an outburst following the previous week’s game against Kentucky. After that, Hill opted out of the remainder of the season.
“I got a real chip on my shoulder right now. I’m ready to show everyone what I can do,” Hill said during a Zoom call with Wisconsin reporters after the pick. “I’m ready to show Packers fans what I can do and produce on the field.”
The 5-foot-10, 214-pound Hill ran his 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (67 career receptions) makes him an intriguing potential third running back behind starter Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who moves into the No. 2 spot after the free-agent departure of Jamaal Williams. Dillon was a second-round pick last year.
Before Packers quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy came back to Green Bay two years ago, he was the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State and made an important connection with Hill, who also played with Packers Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins in college.
“Coach Getsy is my guy,” Hill said. “We’ve got a real good relationship. It goes deeper than football.
“I’m ready to get everything started.”
This story will be updated.