After reviewing more mock drafts than I want to admit to, at least one thing has become clear. Most NFL pundits predict the Packers to address the defensive side of the ball once again with their first pick (14th overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. The question remains at what level – DL, LB, CB or S? Let’s take a closer look into each position groups.
Defensive Line – With the splash plays from Dean Lowry, emergence of Kenny Clark and continued success of Mike Daniels, the Packers probably feel as though the DL is the strongest unit on the defense. Kenny Clark is extremely young at 22 years of age and he has an excellent ceiling. Clark has shown quickness of the ball and violent hands to become more of a force in the inside pass rush. Couple this with the mentoring of Pro Bowler Mike Daniels and the inside of the DL looks very promising. Another player to look to make a big jump this offseason is Dean Lowry. Lowry is sneaky athletic for his size and seems to be around the ball enough to make plays. The arrow is pointing up for the DL and I look for the Packers to select another compliment to this unit in the mid to late rounds.
Linebacker – One of the Packers to make the biggest jump this year was middle linebacker Blake Martinez. The Packers have loaded up the roster with west coast, Pac-10 talent and here is no different. Martinez is a Stanford graduate so the intellect is definitely there. Ironically, this year was different from the standpoint that Martinez looked like he was playing more freely as if maybe he’d been thinking too much his rookie year. Martinez was near the top of the NFL in total tackles this season and, barring injury, I fully expect to see similar results this year. The one area where he can get better is getting depth in pass coverage for the tight ends that stretch the seams. Teams able to utilize the TE in this way have consistently hurt the Packers over the years. The aging Clay Mathews and Nick Perry need to find the ability to stay on the football field. Nagging injuries consistently hamper their production but, when healthy, both are solid contributors to the Packers pass rush. Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel are other depth players that should increase their snaps and get into the rotation. Biegel is intriguing because he showed improvement every game and has a good motor for the position
Cornerback – The Quentin Rollins experiment may have run its course. He showed some promise early in his career but his play has tapered off dramatically. Not only is he often injured, he also lacks strong tackling fundamentals, failing to break down and get in good position to make the play. Damarious Randall was in and out of the doghouse this year and his play has been up and down as well. Since the Chicago Bears episode where he was told to go to the locker room during the game, he really stepped up. Look for the Packers to pick up the 5th year option on his contract and for Randall to continue to play well in a contract year. Finally, Kevin King is truly the diamond in the rough. Like I mentioned in a previous article, King basically played with one arm this year and needed postseason shoulder surgery. I like Kevin King and think he is the real deal. He is as tough of a competitor that’s on the roster and he wants to line up against #1 receivers. It seems like he has a short memory, which is ideal for cornerbacks, and he likes to step up in run support. Ask Ezekiel Elliott.
Safety – Safety is an intriguing position for the Packers. HaHa Clinton-Dix seemingly took a step back this year. Often playing too deep off the line and almost never around the ball, unlike his usual ballhawking style. Packer fans can only hope that this year was an exception and not the rule. Morgan Burnett is a free agent this year so it’ll be interesting to see if the Packers decide to bring him back. His age has to be a factor but he has shown durability and a willingness to lead this defense with communication and his play. Teammates rave about Burnett’s ability to keep the defense lined up correctly. I think the Packers will get something worked out with him. Another interesting player for the Packers is Kentrell Brice. He’s a hard-charging, big-hitting safety. As his snaps increase, I believe his explosive ability to make plays will as well. Like any position, depth is key and Brice certainly provides it for the green and gold. Finally, Josh Jones will be looking to make the second year leap. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits into Pettine’s defense but his intangibles are very impressive. He’s got the nasty streak you want infused throughout the defense but played too slow and out of position. You only hope that gets much better in year 2, however, a new scheme with new terminology is probably going to slow down that process.
Prediction – I see the Packers going with a LB with the 14th pick in the draft. My thought process is fairly simple. An average secondary can look much better if the pass rush is ferocious. On the flipside, the teams who feature a solid shutdown cornerback and above average complimentary cornerback on the outside will still struggle if the pass rush doesn’t get home to the quarterback. You can only cover for so long. With that, the Packers will likely bolster their pass rush by taking the best OLB available at pick #14. I absolutely love Arden Key from LSU as well as Harold Landry from Boston College. Another sleeper pick to watch, and Mel Kiper’s current pick for the Packers, is Marcus Davenport from the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Robert Martin bleeds green and gold despite living in North Dakota, where many cheer for the purple. He is currently a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @robertmartinPHD.