Packers should prioritize secondary, middle linebacker in first round

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 4: A. J. Turner /

The 2018 NFL Draft is just under three weeks away. The Green Bay Packers have needs all over their roster, and will need to make a calculated decision at number 14 overall.

Brian Gutekunst and the rest of the Packers‘ shuffled front office checked a couple needs off of a long list during free agency. Muhammad Wilkerson will give the defense some interior pass rush, and Jimmy Graham gives the team a starting tight end who can wreak havoc in the red zone.

Tramon Williams was also brought in merely to give the Packers a body at cornerback. Prior to his arrival only Kevin King, Quinten Rollins and Herb Waters comprised the cornerback depth chart. King is coming off of a season-ending injury, while Rollins is a touchdown dispenser with a helmet.

The addition of Williams is helpful for the depth of the unit, but he is not the long term answer to the seemingly eternal question in Green Bay: Who can the Packers put on the field that won’t get eaten alive repeatedly even by average receivers week after week?

After brutally whiffing on both Damarious Randall and Rollins in the first two rounds, the Packers are again looking for help at cornerback. King had a decent rookie season that was cut short by injury, while Rollins’ season was mercifully ended with a torn Achilles he suffered against the Vikings.

At number 14, it is unlikely that either Denzel Ward or Minkah Fitzpatrick will be available. But Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander, and possibly Derwin James will be. The majority of this year’s draft is top heavy defensively, which bodes well for Green Bay.

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The Packers have visited with Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is the most well-rounded linebacker in this year’s draft, and while Roquan Smith from Georgia took home the Butkus award, most of the NFL seems to agree that Edmunds is the better player. Both will likely be picked in the top 15, giving the Packers a chance to walk away from the first round with either a premier corner or a sideline-to-sideline linebacker.

A lot has been made of the need for pass rush in Green Bay. Many mock drafts have the Packers taking defensive end Marcus Davenport out of UTSA, a move that would unquestionably help get a better push towards the quarterback. The problem with selecting a pass rusher at number 14 is that they are simply too thin in the secondary, and there just isn’t much the Packers can do at this point to improve their pass rush.

For one thing, the addition of Wilkerson sucks up a starting spot at defensive end, and in a 3-4 scheme, Mike Daniels will likely be manning the other spot. Drafting a backup defensive lineman while the secondary rots away is not a productive move, and doesn’t give the Packers any immediate improvements. Wilkerson is a talented pass rusher, and upon being reunited with Mike Pettine, will help the team’s defensive line considerably.

Drafting an edge rusher would also essentially be a contingency plan for the eventual departure of Clay Matthews. Matthews has declined sharply and Nick Perry can’t be relied on to stay on the field. While adding a capable body at the position is important, there are other avenues for the Packers to explore to accomplish this task.

Green Bay should pass on an edge rusher at number 14, and look to move up to select Arden Key out of LSU in the second round. Key’s stock has fallen some after it was initially believed that he would be scooped up in the middle of the first round. Key will now be a high second-rounder, with an outside shot of being a late first-rounder. The Packers are picking at number 45 in the second round, and have the ammunition to move up to grab Key.

Green Bay received four compensatory draft picks after its free agency exodus last year, and also owns the first picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds after trading Randall to the Cleveland Browns. A jump into the first couple slots of the second round is a legitimate possibility for the Packers who can plug a pass rusher behind their two starters while grabbing a cornerback or versatile linebacker.

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There are also some options in what is left of free agency. Junior Galette has missed considerable time with injuries over his career, but is still a gifted defender off the edge. He would be an upgrade for the Packers from what they got from Ahmad Brooks, who was the primary backup between Matthews and Perry. Even Elvis Dumervil could be worth a look.

The Packers have needs all over their roster. As currently constructed, they need a third receiver, a younger tight end, a contingency plan at right tackle, a linebacker with some athleticism, and at least two cornerbacks. The Packers need to be aggressive in filling out their depleted roster and can begin to do so by taking either a premier coverage man or inside linebacker at number 14.