Packers: 3 defensive players needing big seasons

Green Bay Packers

This has been an offseason of change for the Green Bay Packers, and rightfully so. Green Bay has missed the playoffs for the second season in a row and the window on Aaron Rodgers’ career continues to shrink.

In response to the inconsistent play that we have seen on the field, General Manager Brian Gutekunst has brought in a new coaching staff, made some splash free agent signings, as well as some aggressive moves in the draft.

The primary focus over Gutekunst’s tenure as General Manager has been revamping the defensive side of the ball. However, amongst all of the changes that have taken place, these three defensive players that were already on the roster are in need of breakout seasons if they hope to help the Green Bay Packers maximize their potential and return to their winning ways.

Mike Daniels

In what has otherwise been an injury free career for the most part, Daniels would play in only ten games last season and find himself on IR to end the season.

During those games, Daniels would total two sacks, 1 tackle for loss, five quarterback hits, and 18 total tackles. Even with the missed games, he was still on pace for a down season compared to what we have seen from him in the past.

With that said, Daniels presence along the defensive front goes much deeper than what the stat sheet will show. He often times takes on double teams which helps to free up his teammates to go and make plays.

As mentioned above, there has been plenty of change to this defense over the years, but Daniels has been a stabilizing force on an under performing defensive front. However, as he finds himself in the last year of his 4 year, $41 million deal, some are already speculating whether or not he will be back in 2020.

What Daniels has going against him is the Packers newfound depth at the interior defensive line position. Kenny Clark has taken over as the premier player along the front, both Rashan Gary and Za’Darius Smith have the ability to kick inside when needed, and fifth-round pick, Kingsley Keke is likely to get some snaps as a rookie and could be a nice rotational player with Dean Lowry.

In today’s NFL, the name of the game is getting interior pressure on the quarterback to help combat the quick passing game that we see so often nowadays. For the Packers to wreak havoc up front like we hope they can, they will need the Mike Daniels of old. And given the depth that Green Bay has, if Daniels hopes to come back in 2020, he will need to make some noise this season.

Kevin King

As of now, when Green Bay Packers fans think of Kevin King, they think of the guy that Ted Thompson took instead of T.J. Watt. Since the 2017 draft, Watt has blossomed into a very good player for the Pittsburgh Steelers and King has spent much of his career injured.

Over the first two seasons of King’s career, he has missed 17 games and a third injury-plagued season could be the end for King in Green Bay.

When healthy, we have seen the player that King can be and we saw him take that step forward between year one and year two. However, as they say, your best ability is availability.

On paper, I really do love this cornerback group, but there are still some concerns. Jaire Alexander is a fantastic player and has the makings of being a shutdown corner in this league. However, Tramon Williams is up there in age and likely in his last season in Green Bay. Josh Jackson struggled in press coverage and led the team in penalties last season, while Tony Brown has a tendency to give up the big play.

For this cornerback group to truly be as good as many hope they will be, King will play an important role in 2019 and moving forward. It almost feels as if the 2019 season is now or never for Kevin King.

Oren Burks

Other than the highly reliable Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, it is a position with a number of questions for this Green Bay Packers team in 2019.

In addition to Martinez and Burks, the Packers have James Crawford who was primarily a special teams player in 2018 and seventh-round pick Ty Summers. Both of which are still unproven and unlikely to step in and play meaningful snaps this season.

After trading up for Burks in round three of last year’s draft, the Packers are hoping that the move will pay off and he can be that starter next to Martinez for the foreseeable future.

An injury before the season started derailed Burks’ rookie season as he would miss the first two games of the year and never get on track. In the 14 games he would play in, Burks would make 24 total tackles and not fill in any other column on the stat sheet.

My concerns with Burks is that he would only play in 11.47 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps in 2018. Even when the Packers were out of playoff contention he rarely saw the field. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine clearly didn’t trust him enough as when on the field Burks would struggle with coverage assignments as well as with diagnosing plays.

Burks is a former college safety who’s athleticism will be a welcomed addition to the inside linebacker position, but he needs a better grasp of what his responsibilities are.

Hopefully, with another offseason under his belt and another year of being in Pettine’s system, we see that year one to year two jump from Burks because the lack of reliable depth at this position is a bit concerning.

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