Versatile offensive lineman from Ole Miss has started at left guard and right tackle the past two years Mike Spofford
GREEN BAY - In the early rounds of this draft, the Packers were making it a point to find premier-program talent.
They took a Southeastern Conference cornerback from Georgia in the first round who had covered multiple first-round receivers from Alabama, LSU and Florida.
Then they took an Ohio State offensive lineman and a Clemson receiver in the second and third rounds who had competed for national championships.
The trend continued in the fourth round Saturday with the Packers' first pick on Day 3, offensive lineman Royce Newman of Mississippi, another SEC product.
"Obviously it's easier to judge the talent when they're playing against premier competition," co-director of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan said. "All things even, we prefer to take guys from big schools who have played against formidable competition."
Coming from Ole Miss, Newman (6-5, 310) has done that, at multiple positions no less. He started 12 games at left guard in 2019 before switching to right tackle and starting 10 games there in 2020.
Sullivan said he even took some reps at center at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January. The versatility makes him a classic Packers pick on the offensive line, and in time the team will see where he fits best.
"We'll get him with the position coaches and get him going," Sullivan said. "There's no need to try and pencil him into one or the other today, but regardless of where he ends up, we feel good about it."
Newman's body type strikes Sullivan initially as that of a guard, which in some ways made his play at tackle last season all the more impressive. According to his bio on the school's website, he allowed only two sacks in 430 pass-blocking snaps in 2020.
The transition wasn't easy, but it's experience that should serve Newman well wherever his career goes from here.
"In the interior, it's a lot of huge, 330-pound guys who have pretty quick twitch, so (you focus on) just kind of getting your hands on them," Newman said. "You've got a little more room with the center help or the tackle help or something like that.
"Then when I moved out to tackle, I was kind of on an island all by myself and just really had to know how to set square, get more technical, and get used to the speed guys instead of the real big guys."
With some uncertainty up front for the Packers heading into 2021 due to All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari's return from ACL surgery, Newman could get a chance to stay at right tackle and play right away.
Or, he could compete at guard, while the Packers' more experienced (and equally versatile) linemen hold the fort at tackle. Second-round pick Josh Myers from Ohio State is considered a possibility at both center and guard, and the Packers have three interior linemen from last year's draft in the mix as well.
"We like the options," Sullivan said. "Big guys are hard to find. Everybody knows that. You don't have to be in the scouting profession to know finding big guys who are worth their salt and can go play winning football, that's tough. That's hard to do.
"We felt like we needed to add some depth, add some competition. We're really excited about the guys we got."
Particularly when they're from proven college programs, and as "blue-collar" as Newman is - "tough, gritty, kind of your typical offensive lineman, if you will," Sullivan said.
Newman solidified his status as a mid-round target with a solid week at the Senior Bowl amidst high-level draft prospects, an important aspect to the Packers' scouting process as well.
He reinforced the versatility he displayed the last two years and proved he belonged.
"You watch how they compete," Sullivan said of going to the Senior Bowl. "We thought he handed himself down there well. He went hard every day. He held his own against some of the better players in college football."
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