The Packers have a history of putting plus players in the wrong position. Micah Hyde in the slot, BJ Raji at defensive end, Clay Matthews at edge toward the end of his career. While there probably aren’t any players who need full-blown Packers position changes that need to happen right now, there are several who could be used in other spots as a change-up. I’d like to see AJ Dillon at fullback, Quay Walker rushing off the edge, Rasul Douglas at safety, and even Christian Watson in the backfield.
Let’s start with a caution. I don’t mean that any of these players need to make full-time moves. AJ Dillon looked like he regressed last season and still had one of the best PFF rush grades in the league. He will still provide more value overall to the team as a running back. But why not get him in at fullback some too?
The league is evolving into using heavier sets on offense and using every player as a potential pass threat. Josiah Deguara is alright as a fullback, but would you rather have him leaking out on play action or AJ Dillon? Would you rather hand the ball to him on misdirection or AJ Dillon? Would you rather have him in split backs while Aaron Jones motions out into the slot or AJ Dillon?
Dillon has said he doesn’t want to be a fullback, but he has the blocking ability and size to be enough of a threat at fullback that if the opposing defenses lines up light the Packers can just run the ball down their throats. Picture a line-up with Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Tucker Kraft. You can go from a tight I-formation to a spread out one-back set right before the snap. You can pass out of the tight formation and run out of the spread set. It’s about introducing more variability to the defense.
The Packers used Walker, who has the athleticism profile of a top NFL edge, on the edge a little last year, especially after Rashan Gary went down, and he didn’t quite light up the league like Micah Parsons did a few years ago. But the important part is that he has the athleticism profile.
It’s one thing to be thrown in the game against a 320 lb tackle with no experience in your rookie year and another to practice on the edge starting in training camp.
Putting Walker on the edge gives the team the type of burst rushing the passer that none of their other edges possesses. Use him as a change-up to speed rush when a tackle has just dealt with 8 straight Rashan Gary bull rushes. Put him on the edge in the Penny package and drop him off into the flat 5 plays in a row before rushing him on a stunt inside.
Again, it’s about introducing variability to the opposing team.
This one is probably the most popular on Twitter and Reddit. The Packers have about 7 “just-a-guy” safeties and they’re all better closer to the line of scrimmage. Douglas practiced a little bit at safety last year and has the instincts and size to potentially be a plus safety.
There’s also the problem that if Eric Stokes comes back healthy, the team has three outside corners. I’d rather swap out a safety for Douglas than keep Stokes on the bench. Especially because at least three of those safeties (Savage, Moore, Gaines) are better in the slot, so you might as well get all of them and Nixon in the game at some point and see which one is the best.
Unless Barry starts doing some sort of funky inverse cover-2 where Douglas starts at an outside corner and ends up covering a deep half, this move wouldn’t really be about being more multiple/variable, it’s more about getting the best 11 guys on the field.
OK, this one isn’t a position change really. An ongoing trend, which was started by the Mike McCarthy Packers with Randall Cobb, is putting a dynamic wide receiver in the backfield. How does the defense respond? Do they match him up with a linebacker who risks getting burned easily on a deep route? Do they bring a corner into the box to follow the WR where he has no clue what he’s doing? If they do the latter, will the offense just run the ball with the WR and let the corner get creamed by an o-lineman (or AJ Dillon…)?
Putting Watson in the backfield should send a shiver up any defensive coordinator’s spine. He might not be running the ball up the middle, but there’s no way anyone can cover him on a wheel route from the running back spot. And think about the toss play the team majored in last year. Get those athletic tackles on the edge lead blocking and once Watson get’s a spec of daylight, he’s gone.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.