As the draft dust settles, we move into the desolate period that is the NFL summer—for fans. For players, rookie and veteran, the work has only just begun. The Packers welcome in a slew of new talent this offseason with the hopes of reaching the pinnacle once again. With redemption in mind, here is a positional preview for the 2018 Green Bay Packers.
If this category was based solely on starters, the Packers would have an A+ in this category without a doubt, but because it’s about body-of-work, we had to downgrade a little. With Rodgers returning this season, Green Bay should find themselves right back in the thick of the NFC North race. That is unless, of course, Rodgers were to somehow (knock on wood) get hurt again, the Packers would have two options. The first is Brett Hundley, who showed that after three years in this offense, he probably isn’t capable of running the show. The second is newly-acquired Deshone Kizer, the former second-round pick from the Browns. They would be wise to give Kizer a shot in the event of a Rodgers absence, as Mike McCarthy believes Kizer would have been a first-round pick in this year’s draft.
The Packers are slowly building a solid backfield behind Rodgers. It’s nothing spectacular, but each back brings a unique characteristic. Jamaal Williams took control down the stretch as the go-to back, capable of both busting it up the gut and playing a key roll in the passing game out of the backfield. Aaron Jones faded as the season progressed, but showed promise in two 100-yard rushing games. And the curious case of Ty Montgomery—he missed time due to injury last season, but can be played all over the field when healthy. The Packers did not draft a running back in the 2018 draft, so this is the group that will start the season, with fullback Aaron Ripkowski leading the way.
No matter what happens from this unit this year, there will be a major hole in the absence of Jordy Nelson. It may or may not be production-wise, but he was the fan-favorite and had a great connection with Rodgers. There is, however, a lot to look forward to. Adams (who I believe is now a top-10 receiver) and Cobb return as day-one starters, and Geronimo Allison should see the field more. The Packers acquired three receivers from the draft: J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, and
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, all 6’3” or taller receivers that will give Rodgers threats on the outside. But no addition was as big as the addition of Jimmy Graham. Although he is a little older, he gives Rodgers a tight end presence that hasn’t truly been there since Jermichael Finley.
Depth is always a necessity on the offensive line—especially with the Packers’ injury-riddled group—and they got some through the draft in selecting Cole Madison out of Washington State. If you haven’t see a picture of him, look him up once and you’ll see that this is a guy you want blocking for your franchise quarterback. The line is led by the strong trio of Bakhtiari, Taylor, and Linsley—Bulaga is usually up there, but is coming off a torn ACL so we will see how that heals up. I’m concerned about the experience at guard; other than Lane Taylor, none of them have played more than two years in the NFL. It’ll be interesting to see how offensive line coach James Campen handles the youth inside.
This is a mean group up front. Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels hold down the fort in the middle, the signing of free agent Muhammed Wilkerson will aid the rush even more, and we will see what Montravius Adams has this season after missing time last year with a foot injury. One position I wish the Packers would have targeted more in the draft was that of pass rusher, because not only does that help the d-line, it also helps a secondary that many considered pretty porous last season. The Packers only drafted one player on the defensive line when they took James Looney, a defensive end out of California, in the seventh round. They also signed former Badger Conor Sheehy.
Next year’s draft class is loaded at pass rusher. Picking a star with one of the Packers’ first round picks could push this group to an A+.
Blake Martinez was the only constant in this group last season, leading the NFL with 144 tackles. Jake Ryan is solid in run defense but remains a liability in the passing game. Nick Perry missed four games last season due to injury and Kyle Fackrell is still coming into his own at linebacker. While I gave this group a fairly average grade, I’m excited about what they can bring to the defense this season. Vince Biegel will get his first full offseason with the team and Oren Burks, though somewhat of a shocking pick to Packer Nation, is a freak athlete who is a linebacker/safety hybrid. And the player I’m most excited about? The six-time Pro Bowler, Clay Matthews. Mike Pettine said he is most excited to work with Matthews this season, and that should get Packers fans excited.
Why the low grade for a secondary group that hasn’t had this much optimism since 2015? Because in 2015 we were all optimistic for the combo of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, and we’ve seen how that narrative has panned out thus far. Still, this unit has theoretically gotten significantly better than the “D-” they were last year. The drafting of Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson should give the Packers at least one day-one starter alongside Kevin King this upcoming season, and the Packers brought in a veteran presence in Tramon Williams, who is also a former Packer. As for the safety position, it appears as though Pettine will be rolling with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones after losing Morgan Burnett in the free agent market. We’ll go with “cautiously optimistic” for the secondary this season.