Packers may have landed biggest steal of entire NFL Draft on Day 3

Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst
Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Twelve months ago, Kalen King was viewed as a future first-round pick and potentially the top cornerback in the 2024 class. On Saturday, the Green Bay Packers selected him in Round 7 with their final selection.

A disappointing season and NFL Combine performance caused King's draft stock to plummet.

"This whole experience definitely was one of the toughest things I've had to endure in my life, but I feel like today was a blessing and a curse," said King after the NFL Draft.

Don't count him out. King was emotional in his introductory interview with the Packers. He cares about where he got drafted and is determined to prove himself. There's a reason why King was so highly rated only one year ago. It's up to the Packers to help him unlock that potential.

If King reaches that level, look out.

What draft experts were saying about Kalen King a year ago

King wasn't just viewed as an early-rounder, but one of the premier cornerback prospects. In January 2023, ESPN's Matt Miller named King his top-ranked cornerback for the 2024 NFL Draft.

"He's my top-ranked player at the position heading into the 2023 college season, thanks to great ball skills, quickness and a sturdy 5-foot-11, 188-pound frame," Miller wrote. "He's silky smooth in transitions and punishes quarterbacks who throw in his direction."

And Miller wasn't alone. Pro Football Focus had King going 15th overall in their way-too-early 2024 NFL mock draft, published on May 1, 2023.

"Even on a team with Joey Porter Jr., King was the true star in Penn State's secondary," wrote PFF's Max Chadwick. "He led all corners in the country with a 93.3 grade and 18.3 passer rating allowed in single-coverage."

So, what happened?

Why did Kalen King go from first-rounder to almost undrafted?

King was outstanding in 2022, which is why he received such high praise last summer. He broke up 18 passes and intercepted three, posting some of the best numbers in all of college football. King was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded cornerback entering the 2023 season.

However, his play declined dramatically last year. King struggled in matchups with Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. and finished the season with only two pass defenses and zero interceptions.

His drop-off in production hurt his draft stock, and it wasn't helped when he ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and struggled at the Senior Bowl.

Even then, falling all the way to the bottom of Round 7 was surprising. But none of that matters now.

Can Packers get the best out of Kalen King?

Green Bay is the perfect landing spot for King. General manager Brian Gutekunst has found tremendous success drafting players who had previously performed at a high level but struggled in their final season in college. Recent examples include Jordan Love and Dontayvion Wicks.

Last year, seventh-round rookie Carrington Valentine emerged as a key member of Green Bay's secondary, making nine pass defenses in 12 starts. King will get an opportunity.

Two-time first-team All-Pro Sauce Gardner was surprised to see King fall so far in the draft.

So was Packers wide receiver Jayden Reed.

The Packers have seen King's upside. It's now about helping him rediscover that level of play. And there are zero concerns about his motivation.

"It put a chip on my shoulder, a permanent chip on my shoulder that I gotta keep there," said King. "I felt like the Packers are going to get one of the most competitive guys in the country, a tough corner, physical corner who's going to give 100% effort around the field at all times."

New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley is an experienced defensive backs coach who can get the best out of him, and King also gets to work alongside All-Pro corner Jaire Alexander.

The key is determining his best role.

Some draft analysts believe a move to safety could benefit King long-term, where speed is less of a factor and could play to his strengths as a playmaker. Packer Report's Ross Uglem believes his skill set could be best suited as a slot corner.

"I think there is zero reason Kalen can't be a 10-year nickel in this league and a very good one. Zero," writes Uglem.

With a chance to develop, get coached, and potentially find a new role in the secondary, there's hope King can become a contributor in Green Bay's defense. Few seventh-round picks come with as much upside as the Penn State product.

There's a reason why he was once viewed as a first-round talent. King is motivated, and he now gets an opportunity to prove himself. If he can rediscover the form that made him one of the top-rated college cornerbacks a year ago, the Packers will have landed the biggest steal of the entire draft.

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