With the Pro Bowl in the rear-view mirror, and the Super Bowl almost here, Packers fans are already looking forward to the 2018 draft. There are many reasons to for excitement and optimism but also concerns for a team that has some gaps to fill, question marks, and a brand new GM who will be running his very first draft. While Brian Gutekunst has plenty of experience in draft situations, and has learned from one of the most thorough GM’s in the league for years, this is still a new experience and also a very important draft for the Packers who are moving forward with a much different coaching staff. One subtext that I am hearing so far in the press conferences that is one that was largely avoided during the Ted Thompson era is the way in which “team needs” may fit into the draft process under Gutekunst. Both he and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have touched (ever so slightly to be fair) on the topic of team needs in their press conferences. This hints that perhaps team need will be a larger consideration moving forward in Packers’ drafts. And while I believe that Ted Thompson was right in saying that a team is mistaken when it takes a lesser player just because that player is at a “position of need”, I also think the counterbalance argument is that a team is mistaken to take a slightly better player who will not even have a chance to see the field for several years barring injury or perhaps on special teams.
So what are the Packers’ biggest draft needs right now? This is my list of 5 and I will try to factor in the possibility of free agent moves/decisions.
5. Wide Receiver
I know a lot of people would have wide receiver much higher on their list, with Jordy Nelson’s production dropping and Randall Cobb commanding a lot of money too. The talk in Packer Nation is that Jordy and/or Cobb should restructure because they are not worth what they are currently paid. I have made the argument before and will continue to hold that Jordy Nelson is not just a touchdown machine but he is still a field stretching threat when the protection is good. The injuries on the O-line and the young offensive backfield take away Jordy’s double move (which is still as good as it gets folks) and his touchdown count was not just good but great until Aaron Rodgers went down. Randall Cobb is younger but also probably more easily replaced except for his versatility which is key. But as far as we know right now, neither of these guys are going to be cut and while I think the conversations about restructuring are a good idea, I have to do this list as it stands now. So since I am expecting both these guys to be on the team this year, I have wide receiver at number five. Now, I know that playing wide receiver in McCarthy’s system is a concept-based scheme in which each receiver is cross-trained to all positions which means it takes time for them to really know the system so if best player available is significantly better than then need pick (one of the four above), and that player is a wide receiver, I say, go for it. But I just don’t have wide receiver quite as high.
4. Offensive Line
The placement of O-line on my needs list is largely dependent on the hope that Jahri Evans will come back for a year. If he does, I think the line will be OK. Now, I know that Brian Bulaga has become an oft-injured player for the Packers but the experience that the 2017 season brought the Packers line should help. Evans is an old school guard and I think should be spelled during the season to preserve him down the line (tricky), but if he comes back and Jason Spriggs, Murphy, and the gang don’t take a step back we will be fine. Again, protecting Aaron Rodgers is top priority but if Evans will be back and there isn’t an O-lineman who is a significant upgrade, I think the Packers have bigger needs.
3. Tight End
Three offensive needs in a row on the top 5 list? Well, the Martellus Bennett debaucle is not the only problem the Packers have at the position. Lance Kendricks was largely a no-show and while Richard Rodgers is a sporadic asset in the passing game, he is a consistent detriment in the blocking department. Much of my excitement for the 2017 season had to do with the fact that Aaron Rodgers would have a tight end that was big, strong and could block. We have seen the success the Packers’ offense has had when they were able to run the ball effectively and what a boost that threat alone gave to the passing game. A dual-threat tight end would be a huge boost to this offense and help our our young corps of running backs as well, which, in turn, makes Aaron Rodgers all the more dangerous.
I’ve been torn on this one. I know there are those out there who have cornerback as the number one draft need yet again for the Packers. I still have pass rusher as number one (cat out of bag) But I can totally understand why people could flip these two. There are so many parallels between the need at cornerback and at pass rusher. We have injury problems to vets (Davon House/Nick Perry), young unproven players who have been injured (Kevin King/Vince Biegel), players who have had time in the system…flashed…but overall have shown little (Rollins/Fackrell). But to me, the fact that our two best rushers are the largely unavailable Nick Perry and the far-from-former-glory Clay Matthews, combined with the attacking defense that Mike Pettine is wanting to install, make me put cornerback in the second position. In a base 3-4 there is need for depth at OLB, but in a nickel league there is need for depth at DB and we have seen that we don’t have enough at either position. I guess with the way King played for the few snaps that he was healthy, Joe Whitt Jr. moving up on the coaching staff, and they way Damarious Randall improved have me thinking that if Davon House is signed and we get a pass rush, we will be good. I also see more possibility of picking up a cornerback in the free agent pool than a significant pass-rusher. I have cornerback at number 2.
I know Joe Whitt has said that if you have a quarterback and cornerbacks, you have a chance. But I have to slightly disagree if choosing only two positions. Quarterback I agree with and Mark Tauscher is absolutely right when he says the quarterback position is key to sustained success in the league. But I would choose pass rusher as the second key position for exactly that same reason. While a cornerback covers receivers, a pass-rusher directly affects the quarterback. Elite quarterbacks fit balls in tight windows over great cornerbacks and yes, they also avoid or outsmart great pass-rushers. But to me, the fact that a great pass rush stops the ball from being delivered, demoralizes and offense, causes negative plays, and nullifies the opposing offense’s most important player puts pass rush on top. Due to injury, age, and unproven players (and at times scheme but hopefully that has been resolved with the hiring of Pettine), the Packers pass rush has not been top notch. The other side of this is that it is easier to put a player with the right body type and skill set out on the field as a rookie pass rusher and tell him “go get the quarterback”, even if that quarterback is Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, than it is to send a rookie cornerback out on the field and tell them “Man coverage, shut down Julio Jones”. So my thinking in that is that if the Packers get Kevin King back healthy, and develop some of the guys they have, they can bring in a top pass-rusher and get immediate gain and long-term impact.
Well, those are my thoughts on the top 5 draft needs of the Packers. From what I have read, this list may be similar but in significantly different order than others think. But what do you think? Put down your comments below or back on the Facebook fan-page and let the discussion begin!