With the NFL draft now over, these are my three biggest takeaways from what we saw from the Green Bay Packers.
All NFL drafts are important for every team, but this one felt particularly crucial for the Green Bay Packers. After missing the playoffs for the second season in a row, they must return to their winning ways quickly, to maximize the final years of Aaron Rodgers time in Green Bay.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst was very aggressive in free agency with four splash signings and he brought that same mentality to the draft. It is clear that this Green Bay Packers organization is in “win now mode” as they should be.
While we won’t truly know for at least three years whether or not this was a successful draft, based on what they’ve done, we can get a brief glimpse into what the Packers organization may be thinking. With that in mind, these are my three takeaways from draft weekend.
Defense, defense, defense
For the second season in a row, Gutekunst prioritized defense in the draft and for good reasons. At the end of the Ted Thompson era, this Green Bay defense was decimated and lacking playmakers.
So Gutekunst would spend his first three picks in the 2018 draft on defense as well as five of the eight draft picks this year, including both selections in round one.
For much of Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green Bay, it has been the defense that has held this team back. The one time, Rodgers had a top ten defense in the league, they won a Super Bowl. Gutekunst is giving defensive coordinator Mike Pettine all the tools he needs to build this defense into a powerhouse.
While the offense is to blame as well for some of the issues that we saw last season, I think a majority of those problems can be attributed more towards the scheme, rather than the roster. Considering the free agent moves that were made, as well as the draft, it is clear that Gutekunst has confidence in Matt LaFleur to make life easier for everyone on offense.
After overhauling the cornerback group last year, Gutekunst spent big money and draft capital to solidify the back-end of the secondary, as well as the EDGE rushing group in 2019. Both of which were huge liabilities last season.
Just about all the defensive players brought in are highly athletic and versatile, which Pettine will love to have at his disposal as he will be able to move guys around and disguise their defensive looks to confuse offenses.
Last year, we saw some decent improvements from this defense as a whole, but there was still work to be done and Gutekunst has done just about everything that he can to solve those issues.
Lane Taylor is on notice
Even with the free agent signing of Billy Turner and the hopeful return of Cole Madison, there were still question marks around this offensive line unit entering the draft.
One of those question marks is Lane Taylor who is coming off of a down 2018 season in which he allowed eight sacks. Now, the hope is that he bounces back this year, but we don’t know for sure that he will.
There are also some concerns about Taylor fitting into Matt LaFleur’s new offense, particularly in the zone running scheme that requires athleticism and the ability to work well in space, whereas Taylor is more suited for a power running game.
Enter second-round pick, Elgton Jenkins of Mississippi State. During his time there, Jenkins would show off his versatility by playing all over the offensive line before settling into the center position. However, with Corey Linsley at center, there are no intentions of Jenkins playing there in Green Bay, he will likely be a guard.
Jenkins is a very athletic player, scoring a 9.34 on the Relative Athletic Scoring table, which was one of the best amongst interior offensive linemen in this year’s draft class and I expect him to compete for a starting guard spot right away.
Overall, he really just fits well in LaFleur’s system. Jenkins moves well in space and once locked on to a defender, he is able to steer them away from the ball carrier. He will also hold his own in the passing game with solid technique and on film, I’ve rarely seen him miss a blocking assignment.
Much of an NFL player’s success is based around the system that they are in, and it would appear early on, that Matt LaFleur’s offense just fits Jenkins more than it does Taylor.
Confidence in the young receivers
There was plenty of speculation leading up to the draft about the Green Bay Packers selecting a wide receiver with an early pick. And in round two, they had plenty of options including A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, two players that Green Bay had been linked to in the pre-draft process. However, they chose to go in a different direction.
Shortly after becoming head coach, LaFleur said that he really liked the trio of young receivers that the Packers had, and while you take a statement like that with a grain of salt, given how free agency and the draft have shaken out, there was some definite truth to it.
Looking back at last season, it doesn’t take an expert to see that there was a disconnect between Aaron Rodgers and his rookie receivers. With injuries early on to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, they were thrown into the fire almost immediately and had to figure things out on the fly.
Although there were struggles which should have been expected, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown had some big moments as well. MVS would total three games with at least 75 receiving yards, including two over 100. And EQ would have two games of 89 and 94 yards respectively.
While I think everyone can agree that J’Mon Moore had a rough rookie season, don’t count him out in 2019. He may not have seen much playing time last year, but this is a new offensive system and a fresh start for the second year receiver. Scheme matters when it comes to a player’s development and overall success, let’s see how things play out for Moore in the new offense.
Under LaFleur, as I mentioned above, his offense is supposed to make everyone’s jobs easier, it is a big reason that he was brought in. It still remains to be seen how this young trio will adapt to the new system, but I suspect they will and I am anticipating a big jump from all three of them in year two.