The most widely agreed point is that the Green Bay Packers need to add defense. The Packers have a strong offense and maybe the best quarterback playing right now. The Packers want to pass first and they have assembled one of the best passing offensive lines in football. With Jordy Nelson returning to form after a massive knee injury, the receiver corps still looks strong and deep. Even the addition of Ty Montgomery to the backfield seems to have given the team some options in terms of the running game. The Packers off-season needs are still primarily defense.
Green Bay Packers 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Pass defense was the most obvious hole in this defense. The Packers ranked second to last in passing yards per game. Add to this rankings of 26th in opponents quarterback rating (95.9). 25th in opponents completion percentage (64.8%), and last in yards per attempts (7.6).
Sam Shields was going to anchor this defensive backfield for another few years. That all changed when a concussion kept Shields out for the entire season. Now the release of Shields signals a massive change. There is no veteran leader among the corner backs. Damarious Randall, Quentin Rollins and Ladarius Gunter now lead a very young group. While adding a corner in the draft might be useful for depth, it would be far better for the Packers to add a free agent veteran.
Sure, “free agent signing” is not a news headline frequently seen in Green Bay, but it does happen at key moments in key positions. Someone like Logan Ryan would be a great add, but the more likely names would be Prince Amukamara or Morris Claiborne. Amukamara and Claiborne could be in that second tier of guys where the price tag might be more reasonable. Both have experience and are guys more likely to want the possibility at a championship.
Now, pass rush was something the Packers did well last year. The Packers were sixth in the NFL in sacks (40) and actually 11th in sacks per drop back (5.99%). Most of these sacks were from edge rushers Nick Perry (11.0), Julius Peppers (7.5) and Clay Matthews III (5.0). Julius Peppers will likely be gone before next year. The value on his performance is not likely enough. He had to take a lot of time off early in the year to ensure he was still fresh for the end of the season.
This is a position where the Packers will want to add young talent. The Packers stretched on Kyler Fackrell last year, but he was a 25-year-old rookie. Takkarist McKinley is one of the top names brought up so far. McKinley is an edge rusher from UCLA. He is strongest at the pass rush, but will have shoulder surgery right after the combine. Missing five to six weeks is going to be a hard thing to accept. Still, the Packers will be starting Matthews and Perry so this is more about depth. Tim Williams out of Alabama would be another strong alternative here. The fan favorite would be T.J. Watt, and if he is around in the second round, then it would be a good draft pick.
This starts getting debatable. The Packers might want a young, pass catching running back more, or some defensive line depth. These three needs fall in a similar tier, but more weight should be given to this position. The Packers have three inside linebackers who get solid playing time: Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas. Thomas is the guy the Packers leave in for sub packages and dime defense. Martinez has also shown some ability in pass coverage, but on the whole, these are average coverage guys with middle-of-the-road athleticism.
The Packers have good defensive linemen up front and good safeties on the back end. If the Packers can address the edge rush and shore up their pass coverage outside, then an athletic inside linebacker could drastically improve this defense. Ryan and Martinez are sure tacklers and have good skills at reading the offense, but both have average speed and both need to improve at getting off blocks. Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) has some interesting skills for a possible second or third round pick. Great coverage skill and speed, but he might be a bit undersized. Perhaps a more interesting add would be Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan. McMillan has better size and would be more suited to playing between the tackles, but still has the speed to make plays. Packers have not drafted an inside linebacker in the first three rounds since A.J. Hawk in 2006. This might be the year.