The Green Bay Packers are a team well-known for sticking to the “draft and develop” philosophy, sometimes to a fault. Former general manager Ted Thompson was so faithful in the process, he’s been willing to let veterans like Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde, among others, leave town in recent years. These departures left gaping holes in the secondary. Once again, Aaron Rodgers had racked up over 4,000 passing yards in 2016. The offense remained at its usual cruising altitude, but the 31st ranked pass defense weighed the team down. Entering last year’s draft, it was painfully obvious that the talent at defensive back needed to be replenished in the early rounds. Green Bay filled the glaring need by selecting cornerback Kevin King with their first pick (pick 33), and safety Josh Jones with their second (pick 61).
Josh Jones and Kevin King Show Potential for Green Bay Packers
Kevin King Scouting Report
When Green Bay drafted Kevin King out of Washington at 33rd overall, they did it with the evolving nature of the league in mind. The game and its players just keep getting bigger, faster, and stronger. Most stud receivers are well over six feet, and defensive backs need to be able to challenge them for the ball at the high point. King has the size and ability to do just that. As NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock put it:
“This young man is today’s NFL corner.”
King stands 6’3″ tall, and he registered a 39.5″ vertical jump at the combine, second best among cornerbacks. The former Husky’s scouting report suggests he’s a good tackler who isn’t afraid to engage at the line of scrimmage. He works receivers toward the boundary, and he can disrupt routes by drifting into his assignment’s running lane.
King did not get all pats on the back from the scouting community, however. One drawback of being so tall is a high center of gravity, which can be a hindrance for quick changes in direction. His feet are a bit sluggish at the line, which allows pro level receivers to get by him at times. Scouts suggested King return his senior year to play more outside corner, a position he’d likely play in the pros.
At Washington, Kevin King put together an impressive senior season. His one-handed interception in the end zone versus Arizona State was one of the best college plays of the year. In the final 101 passes on which he was targeted, King surrendered just one touchdown and boasted a team-best 13 pass breakups. This versatility is what propelled him up the draft boards. He effectively played all four positions in the secondary as a senior, including slot corner.
King’s Rookie Season
When teammate Davon House suffered a quad injury in week two, King was elevated to starter. His first two assignments: A.J. Green and Julio Jones. King held his own in both matchups, allowing zero receptions on four targets to Jones playing the Atlanta Falcons. His debut season was cut short when he succumbed to a long-lingering shoulder injury. He tore the labrum in his left shoulder as a freshman at Washington. Having undergone surgery to repair it, the injury didn’t bother him again until his final year as a Husky. The shoulder became an issue again as soon as training camp, though he battled through it for nine games with the Packers. King ended the season on injured reserve, he’s scheduled to have another procedure to resolve the issue.
Josh Jones Scouting Report
Green Bay executives had their cornerback; next in the draft they needed to move on to fill the next prioritized need of safety. Micah Hyde had since moved on to the Buffalo Bills, so they needed a physical and versatile safety who could play near the line of scrimmage. Josh Jones was available at 61st overall, and the decision was made. At North Carolina State, Jones ranked 11th among FBS safeties in run stop percentage and led the team in tackles with 109 in 2016.
He had a solid combine. Jones was a top performer in four of the drills, including vertical jump and bench press. Green Bay runs defensive packages that require the safeties to function as linebackers on occasion, strength is a must. Jones has all the physical attributes you look for in an NFL safety. He’s over six feet tall, 220 pounds, and runs a 4.41 forty yard dash. He’s strong and he plays that way.
Scouts raved about his ability to shed blocks and accelerate through collisions. His size allows him to cover tight ends, a big plus in a pass-driven league. Jones can disguise his coverage assignment, and then use his top-end speed to make a play on the ball. An anonymous AFC defensive backs coach described his aggression as well as the importance of harnessing it.
“This guy would just as soon hit you as look at you on the football field,” he said. “Hey, it’s fun to watch his tape because he’s already got that NFL mentality to him.” The coach also warned, “You’ve got to rein him in a little bit.”
Jones’ aggression is a double-edged sword; a desirable trait for for big hits, but with the risk of missed tackles. With all the changes going on in Green Bay’s staff, the new defensive coordinator will play a pivotal role in how Jones develops. With proper guidance, he can play with discipline and receivers will fear the middle of the field. He needs to resist the temptation to overpursue and freelance, or he will get burned for big gains.
Jones Rookie Season
As a rookie, Jones started seven games. He ended the season with 56 solo tackles and 11 assists to go along with two sacks and an interception. He made his first impact in week three against the Cincinnati Bengals with a sack of Andy Dalton. As advertised, Jones disguised his intentions on a blitz, coming unblocked off of the edge. This was just the beginning of what would be his breakout performance. Later in the game, Jones lined up in the “nitro” package as a linebacker, and easily beat tight end Tyler Kroft at the line en route to his second sack of the day. He minimized Kroft’s production in coverage as well, holding him to three receptions for 28 yards. In seven starts, Jones has looked the part of NFL safety.
The years of elite quarterback play in Green Bay are limited, everyone knows this. The team needs to take the pass defense seriously in 2018 if another Super Bowl is truly the goal. The Packers offense is good enough to win a championship with Aaron Rodgers, it has been for a while now. The secondary must be upgraded in order to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs. Once the postseason boils down to the best teams, poor defense gets exposed. Based on the front office overhaul we’re witnessing currently, the status quo is about to change. With talented young players like Kevin King and Josh Jones, things are moving in a championship direction in Titletown.