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How Well Did Packers’ Drafters Plug the Holes?

The consensus going into the 2017 draft was that the Green Bay Packers had an unusually high number of holes in the roster that they needed to try to somehow fill with their eight scheduled draft picks. Some of the holes concerned starting positions, while others called for adding competent backup players to the depth chart – to account for inevitable injuries.

Through some good trading, the Packers wound up with 10 draft selections. Let’s examine how well they did on strengthening the roster.

Cornerbacks

The Packers’ top need was for a starting-quality cornerback. By picking Washington’s Kevin King with the 33rd overall pick, the Packers arguably plugged that big hole. I forecast the opening game starters to be Devon House in Sam Shields’ old spot on the defensive right side, Damarious Randall still starting on the defensive left side, and Ladarius Gunter starting (on about 80 percent of the plays) at nickelback.

King should be locked into a head-to-head competition with Randall, and should win the starting job by mid-season, unless Randall somehow can put 2016 behind him. I see Quinten Rollins as being Gunter’s not-very-adequate backup.

Pass Rushers

Last year’s 40 sacks ranked the Packers tied for the sixth-best pass rush team in the league, but the stat is misleading. Most opposing quarterbacks had oodles of time to pick out open receivers, and the good QBs picked the Packers’ defense apart. The Packers sack attack isn’t diversified: it came last year from edge rushers Nick Perry, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers. Unless Matthews rebounds from an injury-plagued season, we’re in store for fewer sacks this year.

The only attempt to plug this hole via the draft is Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel. He needs seasoning, and hopefully will be adding weight and muscle to his 6’3-5/8” frame. Other than that, he’s fast and explosive. When Matthews’ huge contract is up in 2019 — if not before — he should be ready to take over for Clay.

Whether the pass rush can hold its own depends in large part on whether Clay can stay healthy – and if his shoulder wasn’t permanently damaged last year. Mike Daniels provided a good inside rush in 2016 despite his lack of sacks.

I’m high on Vince Biegel, but not as a solution to this year’s problems.

Running Backs

Most fans felt the Packers were thin at running back. The Packers’ braintrust obviously agreed, as they selected running backs at overall picks 134, 182, and 247. Alas, quality rushers were lacking by that time, so it appears that the one pick who could see significant playing time (in the event of injuries) is BYU’s Jamaal Williams, a round 4 choice. I’m relying mainly on others here. CBS Sports has suggested that Williams will be a 1,200-yard rusher at some point. However, the feeling at Rotoworld, and I tend to agree, is that Williams was “exposed as a sub-par athlete” at the NFL Combine.

I’ve previously indicated I have high hopes for the Eddie-Lacy-like pick, Devante Mays. However, he’ missed most of his senior year and has never played at the BCS-level of college football, so I would think he needs at least two years of development, as is typical for seventh-rounders.

I have little enthusiasm – and no one else seems to either – for UTEP running back Aaron Jones, taken late in the fifth round.

My assessment is the team waited too long to choose a back that could help substantially in 2017. I hope I’m wrong about Jamaal Williams, but I just can’t find any upside to him.

Guards

A need was created when the Packers made the unpopular move of letting T.J. Lang go. His right guard spot was adequately filled, however, prior to the draft, by the acquisition of 34-year-old six-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans. If more help is needed there’s fourth-year man Don Barclay, second-year man Kyle Murphy and former undrafted free agents Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick.

Veteran Evans should beat out Barclay for the starting spot opposite Lane Taylor. I also have high hopes for the Packers only o-line draftee, South Florida’s Kofi Amichia. This guy is a wonderful athlete, who should be able to fill in at either tackle or guard.

Yes the hole was adequately plugged pre-draft, but the Packers have gone downhill for two consecutive years by letting two fine guards go. They are sure to pay a double price for it, in poorer pass protection and run-blocking in 2017.

Wide Receivers

Backing up Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams, the Packers didn’t have much going into the draft. They came out of the draft the same way. Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey in round 5 and LSU’s Malachi Dupre in round 7 aren’t my idea of hole-pluggers. Of the two, I give Dupre the best chance of having some NFL success, as he left college as a junior and never got much of a chance to excel at LSU and its run-first offense.

You might want to start praying that the Packers’ starting receivers will stay healthy, for a change, this year.

Defensive Line

While Letroy Guion is suspended for four games, Kenny Clark will probably be the nose tackle, but that still provides some opportunities for the third-round pick from Auburn, Montravius Adams.

Though he’s undersized and lacks strength, he’s only 21, and could develop into being a starter. He is considered quick and explosive. Since the Packers mostly start only two down linemen, barring injuries and as long as Clark continues to improve, he and Mike Daniels can hold down the fort.

Safety

The Packers were already strong at safety with an on-the-rise Kentrell Brice backing up two capable starters. Now, by way of second-round pick Josh Jones, they’ve potentially added a future star to the mix. There weren’t any particular holes at safety in need of plugging, but it’s now perhaps the team’s deepest position.

Inside Linebackers

The Packers got no draft help at inside linebacker, leaving them with three average-at-best starters and precious little backup. Green Bay failed to even draft an inside linebacker for future development.

The Remaining Positions

The Packers didn’t need any help at quarterback, tight end or tackle.

Conclusions

Thumbs up regarding cornerback, defensive line and safety. Pass rush: neither up nor down. Thumbs down are running backs, wide receivers, and inside linebackers – all three of which needed backup help, but got precious little of it. I’ll have more to say soon about that safety pick.

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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18 Comments

  1. Jimbo May 4, 2017

    I will be surprised if Gunther makes the team. Rollins, Randal, House and King will battle for starating spots.

  2. Deepsky May 4, 2017

    I would say outside linebacker is probably still a big need as we know Matthews will get injured at some point. I’m hoping Kyle Fackrell has added some strength and size. Fackrell was a better OLB prospect than Biegel coming out of the draft, his only big weakness being he wasn’t very strong.

    The next big weakness is receiver. Last year they were all healthy, the year before they were almost all injured. Jordy Nelson turns 32.

    One would hope that at least one of the running backs drafted would stand out.

    Cornerback, I expect either Rollins or Randall to bounce back after a bad season.

  3. Gil Thorp May 4, 2017

    Regarding King I’ll go with Bob McGinn’s assessment:

    “Let’s hope the Packers don’t play silly games and make King “earn” the position. The holdovers earned nothing by their play a year ago. King should start from Day One.”

    1. PF4L May 4, 2017

      I disagree, i think positions should be earned. If someone is playing better, he’s the starter. Regardless of where drafted, or how much money a player makes. Otherwise you have an unmotivated team. Maybe the lone exception is Rodgers, but then again, i doubt there are many players in the world who could beat him out. I remember Brett Favre wanting nothing to do with competing with Rodgers for the starting job.

  4. Gil Thorp May 4, 2017

    The Packers got plenty of help at inside linebacker. Jones will almost certainly be the nickel and dime linebacker and is a huge upgrade over Joe Thomas.

  5. MJ May 4, 2017

    Counting the seconds till PF4L appears and remembers us that the guard position is by no means well off. Did you think you were getting away with that one from him, Rob?

    1. PF4L May 4, 2017

      You remembers just fine. How’s that GED coming along?

      1. MJ May 4, 2017

        Quite well, since it took you this long to spot that English might have not been my first language. Should have used “reminds us”, but my first language slipped through.

        1. PF4L May 4, 2017

          It’s your world Sparky, paint the sky any color you’d like.

  6. Kato May 4, 2017

    It is difficult to cover needs and depth in one draft. You act like they had 8 picks in the first three rounds. Not to mention they are picking at the bottoms of rounds. I course it can be argued that TT created this problem through bad drafts and poor free agency decisions. Overall on the surface it seems like a solid draft although we have to wait for the pads to come on and games to be played. I think Kenny Clark could end up being a pretty good player, I wish pass rush would have been addressed earlier, but they must have been counting Kyler to take a big step forward this year. They already have a developmental ILB in Martinez.

    Does anyone think Randall will rebound? It was noted late last season that he was rounding off movements and lacked sharp, quick cut movements. A groin injury will play a large role in movements like that, I just wonder if he was playing late last year more do to necessity rather than him actually being healed. Rollins will be the nickel or dime, he is much better suited playing inside than outside.

    1. PF4L May 4, 2017

      ….”we have to wait for the pads to come on and games to be played”.

      I originally thought the question in the headline of the article was a trick question. Kato was the only one to get it right.

      You haven’t plugged any holes merely by drafting players. Packer fans should know this better than anyone (other than Brown fans). As far as i can tell the last 6 years, drafting players doesn’t automatically plug holes. They still have to show it on a NFL field, that’s the hard part, and that’s still 4 months away.

      Good post Kato.

      1. Kato May 4, 2017

        I am not a total idiot

        1. PF4L May 6, 2017

          Well, i guess that’s one way to take a compliment.

  7. John D May 4, 2017

    The writer should have included the free agents added to the team to this article. House and King will be the starting CBs by the 4th game. I also doubt that Rollins ever becomes successful after that head, neck and back slam down he received last year that took him out for the year. I think it freaked him out for good. Also, the D line added 2 very strong replacements; one through the draft and the other is a veteran from Washington. Mike Daniels is stoked to have these two added to his line. Guard is my only concern, but I feel they now have the guy, just need camp to decide who gets the gig.

  8. Howard May 4, 2017

    Good article Rob. A few comments as follow:

    Hopefully the corner position will improve with House and King. I do think Gunter would struggle as a slot corner, but who didn’t last year except Hyde.

    I have to question this whole pass rush thing as being on the edge rushers. To me until the Packers get some interior rushers that can produce some sacks, and immediate pressure up the middle, the pass rush will not be as productive as needed for the edge rushers. Last year the interior pass rush was not were it needed to be. Clark had no sacks. Guion was missing. Ringo, Pennel, and Price showed no rush. The only lineman who did show pass rush qualities as the season went on was Lowery. I am suprised there is no mention of Lowery as a rusher or D lineman? The team needs more pass rush from the D line to free up the edge rushers. I have brought this up before. The interior pass rush is the key. When the lineman can push the middle of the offensive line it can force the guards and center to double team or be pushed back into the QB. This frees up the edge rushers from double teams and inside blitzers. QB’s hate quick pressure up the middle. Among over things it forces the QB back into the path of edge rushers, and does not allow the QB to step into throws. Adams may be a good interior rusher, but Lowery had the same 40 time, and was far better in all the explosive, agility, and strength combine drills than Adams. Lowery is the guy early in the season. Adams has some work to do, but may help as the season goes on. Hopefully Clark with an off season will show more pass rush ability. To me the D line needs to be putting up at least 12 sacks to help this pass defense improve.

    Interior pass rush brings me to guard and center. In 2015 the team was deficient at WR and offensive tackle. Many noted in the preseason the obvious lack of quality or proven backups at offensive tackle. The main concern being Barclay. It was a miracle that Barclay and others did not put Rodgers on IR. It is wishful thinking that things will go well at the guards and center position when they are one play away from having Barclay, a proven deficient pass protector be a starter. How many NFL regular season plays have Patrick or Murphy had at guard?

    1. Kato May 4, 2017

      Fucking great post. Interior pass rush is so important because it puts outside guys into more favorable positions. Interior pass rushers are at more of a premium now. For a reason. Short got paid big time by the Panthers for a reason. Same with Malik by the Jaguars

      1. Howard May 5, 2017

        Thanks. The first part of the attached article has some interesting content about interior defensive lineman and how scouts and some teams value them. Brooks must have read some of my previous comments about interior defensive lineman and their value as pass rushers. ;-).

        http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000801752/printable/kawann-shorts-contract-signals-trend-the-alex-smith-question

  9. Icebowler May 5, 2017

    Due to his speed, I think the Packers will at least try Josh Jones at CB in training camp.