Green Bay Packers are in trouble without Kevin King

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 26: Antonio Brown /

As they nearly always do, the Green Bay Packers picked for need at the top of the 2017 NFL Draft.

They selected Kevin King in direct response to their cornerbacks’ lack of size and speed, a problem throughout the entire 2016 season which manifested itself most gruesomely against Julio Jones in the NFC Championship Game.

King just went on injured reserve. Now, as the team gears up for hopefully another improbable run to the playoffs, they aren’t much better off in the secondary than they were a year ago.

Last year, the Packers’ starting cornerbacks in the playoffs consisted of Ladarius Gunter, Micah Hyde, and a gimpy Damarious Randall. The cornerbacks for the rest of this year will be Randall, Davon House and Josh Hawkins. Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown, and Demetri Goodson represent essentially zero depth at the position.

As we see so often when an offensive lineman goes down, the loss of King will cause a ripple effect that disrupts the entire secondary.

The now-healthy Randall is much improved, and House offers more than the athletically limited Gunter. But Dom Capers clearly doesn’t trust Hawkins much.

Against the Buccaneers, Capers elected to cover for King’s absence not with Hawkins, but with an abundance of safeties. Though there were several variations, Capers for the most part used Morgan Burnett at nickel and Jermaine Whitehead at dime, with Josh Jones manning Burnett’s traditional spot at strong safety.

Burnett is unbelievably valuable to this team. He’s able to step in fairly capably as a cover corner in the nickel, and he’s of course excellent in run defense.

The issue, however, is with Jones and Whitehead.

Jones is gifted and should eventually be a valuable piece of the defense. But currently, he’s a big drop-off from Burnett at strong safety. Much of that is due to Capers making a rookie learn two completely different positions.

Whitehead, meanwhile, was used extensively as a dime corner against the Bucs, with 23 snaps on the day. He is clearly not a NFL-level corner, which was most obvious when Cameron Brate burned him for a touchdown down the seam on the opening drive.

Whitehead is a safety, and a backup one at that. It’s perplexing why Capers often elected to use Whitehead over Hawkins, a natural corner with oodles of physical ability.

All of this, of course, is in addition to the fact that the Packers remain without a corner who can match up against the Julio Joneses of the world. The hope was that King could become that guy, and he showed flashes of potential.

But now, the whole plan has gone astray.

The team essentially needs three things to happen: Jones to emerge as a solid strong safety, Hawkins or Whitehead to become a reliable dime corner, and either House or Randall to somehow become able to guard the NFL’s best receivers.

This isn’t impossible. The game against the Buccaneers proved that. The key ingredient there was a productive pass rush, with seven sacks taking much pressure off the defense’s back end.

But it’s still a long shot. There’s really no evidence that this Packers defense is any better equipped than last year’s to contend against elite offenses.

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And if that’s the case, a theoretical heroic playoff charge by Rodgers will end in another playoff embarrassment at the hands of a superstar quarterback.