Predicting how Packers will upgrade biggest needs in 2024 NFL Draft

How does free agency impact the Packers' draft plans?
Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst
Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The Green Bay Packers entered the offseason coming off a stunning playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys, followed by a battle to the final minutes with the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

A team with as much youth as the Packers, and now with as much steam heading into next season, losing any key players in the offseason would create a slowdown if not adequately addressed. But in a surprise to many, they ended up being one of the loudest teams this offseason.

It was necessary, though, as the team parted ways with veterans David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Darnell Savage, De'Vondre Campbell, Jonathan Owens, Rudy Ford, and Jon Runyan.

But working in the Packers' favor was the free-agent market in front of them. With a top safety (Xavier McKinney) and top running back (Josh Jacobs) on the open market, general manager Brian Gutekunst did not hesitate to add premium talent to upgrade the roster.

While adding Jacobs and McKinney will pay dividends for the Packers in coming seasons, Gutekunst surprisingly neglected the linebacker and offensive line rooms. Most notable free agents at both positions signed contracts for less than $3 million, making it strange that cheap veteran talent wasn't in the cards to help the Packers' most depleted units.

For a team that doesn't often draft for need in round one, it will be interesting to see if the Packers adjust their approach from best available to drafting for need. Ideally, a player is available who fits both categories. Depth is always critical, but the lack of addressing specific gaps in free agency creates a need to fill those positions before prioritizing depth or rotational pieces, even if those players aren't necessarily 'best available' on the Packers' draft board.

How will Packers' free agency moves change their draft strategy?


As it stands now, the Packers have three options for inside or off-ball linebackers. However, despite the promise shown by Quay Walker and Isaiah McDuffie, both remain inconsistent, and the Packers are desperately hoping that new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley can get the lights to turn all the way on for both. Outside of them, the Packers have no options at off-ball linebacker that fans should be excited about.

The Packers need to address the linebacker room early in the draft, but with the 2024 class lacking a surefire, top-overall talent at inside linebacker, it's safe to write that position off the Packers' draft board in round one. Especially sitting at pick 25, recent history has shown that unless an inside linebacker is drafted inside the top 17 picks while also being widely considered a top-20 talent, the return is not worth the first-round draft capital. Walker, so far, is the latest example.

With 11 total picks going into the draft, including five inside the top 100, it's unlikely the Packers will reach for a position where they can find similar value a few rounds later. Players like Junior Colson from Michigan, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. of Clemson, or Trevin Wallace out of Kentucky are not far from being considered the top off-ball linebackers in the class but will go at least a round later than top choices Edgerrin Cooper and Payton Wilson.

Wilson comes with injury baggage, while Cooper brings a similar skillset as Walker, with similar deficiencies. Both are not ideal first-round picks, but both could be gone before the Packers are on the clock in round two.

Draft projection: Rounds 3-4


Moving to a more realistic first-round option, the Packers' only meaningful move in free agency was to re-sign Keisean Nixon. Nixon struggled to maintain consistent play last season, registering a measly 59.0 PFF grade while being the most targeted slot cornerback in the NFL.

Jeff Hafley seems intent that his scheme can put Nixon in a better spot to make plays, but that doesn't change the fact that the Packers have no other option to fulfill slot cornerback duties should he sputter or get hurt.

That all being the case, if a player like Cooper DeJean from Iowa falls into the Packers' lap, who can plug in as a slot corner or move to safety to start immediately, there's a good chance he could be the top player on the draft board while also filling a significant need.

DeJean gives the Packers a player who can roam the secondary without a dedicated position that Hafley can align to best accommodate the situation. Like former Packers and Bills safety Micah Hyde, DeJean's hybrid ability to man up in the slot, play up at the line of scrimmage in run defense, and then excel in zone coverage is an element not many defenses get from one player.

Cornerbacks like Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell, who similarly could thrive in the slot, will likely be off the board unless the Packers trade up for them.

Others like Kool-Aid McKinstry and Nate Wiggins, both exclusively outside cornerbacks, create even more murk in an already tricky spot the Packers are in. With Eric Stokes's fifth-year option coming due this offseason, and despite only one season of extremely promising production without significant injury, Green Bay may want to prioritize giving Stokes a chance to earn back the starting perimeter role across from Jaire Alexander before passing the torch to Carrington Valentine or a rookie.

Valentine has earned a chance in his own regard after leading all Packers rookie defenders in snaps and only allowing a single touchdown in coverage last season. Drafting a perimeter corner creates healthy competition but ensures two talented players will ride a lot of bench, one of which was a recent first-round pick (Stokes).

While McKinstry and Wiggins should be considered upgrades from Stokes's injuries, and Valentine still no sure bet, it's again unlikely either falls to the Packers. Even if they did, it doesn't read as a priority to add another perimeter corner in the first round to a group of mainly perimeter corners with two recent first-round picks and an over-performing late-round pick.

Draft projection: Rounds 1-2


When it comes to safety, DeJean would likely transition to a hybrid safety role if Green Bay selects him. After all, Iowa only removed him from his hybrid responsibilities in 2022 to accommodate a depleted cornerback room in 2023.

Other top safeties in the class, like Tyler Nubin, Kamren Kinchens, Javon Bullard, and Cole Bishop, are fit for round two unless a team is willing to slightly reach towards the end of the first round. While the Packers have deviated from drafting players with top-end Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), Nubin (2.91 RAS) and Kinchens (2.11 RAS) are considered top safeties in the draft but had historically low scores. It's unlikely the Packers will prioritize either in round one.

That said, Nubin may still be the best fit to complement McKinney, and his tape passes the eye test with flying colors. McKinney's talent shines in both coverage and against the run, but Nubin's ability to play up in the box and against the run could allow Hafley to move McKinney around the defensive secondary freely.

Bishop brings a similar game to Nubin and would be a sensible pairing with McKinney. Bullard would also be a strong addition to the Packers in his own regard. However, he ranks below Nubin because his game more closely mirrors what McKinney will already be doing for the Packers, whereas Nubin thrives in the box safety role that Green Bay still needs to address. Kinchens presents a similar problem of specializing in a role that McKinney will mostly be filling.

Don't be surprised if the Packers look to double-dip at safety in the draft since their depth is extremely thin. Mid-round prospects like Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, Malik Mustapha, and Kitan Oladapo would also be good additions to the Packers' defensive back group.

Draft projection: Rounds 2-3

Offensive line

Arguably the top need the Packers must address early in the draft is the offensive line.

There's an open starting right guard spot, and depth has been reduced to Royce Newman, Caleb Jones, and Luke Tenuta across the line. Besides Elgton Jenkins and Zach Tom, no current Packers starting offensive lineman should feel secure in their starting role. Sean Rhyan showed improvement last season, but he has no business being given the keys to the starting right guard job without serious competition, nor has he earned it yet.

Rasheed Walker played well at left tackle last season and proved to be a top overall pass-blocking tackle in the business, but time will tell if he can maintain his starting status. Regardless, the Packers have a competition problem. None of their starters would be challenged to earn their jobs if the season started today, so Gutekunst has a lot of work in the draft to land premium talent and more depth pieces.

Offensive line is also a position the Packers historically shy away from in the first round, but they've had tremendous success developing mid-round picks into top-end starters. Not since Derek Sherrod in 2011 have the Packers gone offensive line in the first round, but their needs heading into next season, along with the amount of first-round talent at the position, could change that trend.

The priority should lean toward drafting a player who can immediately fill right guard duties but ideally has positional versatility to be a quality starter at tackle or center should the occasion arise. While tackle is viewed as the more premium position, both guard and tackle depth are running dangerously low, but the Packers at least have strong choices to start at tackle next season (Walker and Tom).

Drafting a player in the first round who might initially be a rotational piece isn't a horrible idea, except in the case of the offensive line, where there are very few rotating players in or out.

So, allocating Walker or a first-round pick to mostly ride the bench next season is an inefficient use of a first-round pick, especially when a team like the Packers has always had success finding and developing starting-caliber offensive linemen after the first round.

It's even less attractive considering other roster gaps that a first-round pick could plug in as a starter on day one without benching a player coming off one of the top seasons at their respective position.

That being the case, players like Graham Barton, Jackson Powers-Johnson, and Troy Fautanu should all be considered home-run picks for the Packers in round one. All should immediately provide a massive upgrade at right guard and be able to plug in as starters elsewhere on the line. Barton and Fautanu provide starter-quality depth at tackle, while Powers-Johnson could overtake Josh Myers at center.

Regardless, look for the Packers to allocate a few of their top picks toward the offensive line in an effort to keep Jordan Love upright. Undoubtedly, they will draft another tackle and guard early after neglecting both in free agency.

Draft projection: Rounds 1-2

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