The Green Bay Packers definitely needed some help in their secondary after what occurred in the 2016 regular season, as well as the NFC title game versus the Atlanta Falcons.
As a unit, the Packers were ranked 31st in pass defense in 2016, as they allowed 32 touchdown passes, while only picking off 17 throws. Opposing quarterbacks had a robust 95.9 passer rating against the secondary of the Packers.
In addition to that, the Packers gave up 58 plays which netted 20-plus pass yards and also allowed 11 plays which netted 40-plus pass yards.
The Packers were fine at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett manning that position, but the Green Bay cornerbacks really struggled last season.
It really became very apparent in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers were definitely exposed for their weakness at cornerback, as Julio Jones had nine catches for a ridiculous 180 yards and two touchdowns, as the Falcons beat the Packers 44-21.
The problem started in the very first game of the 2016 season when the best cornerback on the team, Sam Shields, suffered a season-ending concussion. A history of concussions forced the Packers to release Shields this offseason.
It didn’t help that second-year cornerback’s Demarious Randall and Quinten Rollins both suffered groin injuries last season and both players did not play anywhere near expectations, especially after each player had a promising rookie year.
To add to that, the Packers saw one of their unsung heroes in the secondary, Micah Hyde, sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
The Packers used free agency themselves to add a cornerback, as the team brought back Davon House, who played the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, after being with the Packers from 2011-2014.
Then in the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers used their first and second round picks to further improve the secondary.
With pick No. 33 (along with pick No. 108) that the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for pick No. 29, the Packers drafted Kevin King of Washington.
King was a three-year starter in the very talented Husky secondary, where he started at safety in 2014, before starting at cornerback in 2015 and 2016.
In his career with Washington, King had 165 tackles, 28 passes broken up, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The 6’3″, 198-pound King put on quite a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. King ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56).
Then with pick No. 61, the Packers brought in some more size and speed for their secondary, as they drafted Josh Jones of North Carolina State.
The 6’1″, 220-pound Jones ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 20 reps in the bench press drill, which was tied for first among all safeties. In addition, Jones had a vertical leap of 37.5 inches (third) and a broad jump of 11 feet (second).
In his career at North Carolina State, Jones matched his workout prowess with his play on the field. In three years with the Wolfpack, Jones had 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 17 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.
I wanted to get some input on the new and improved secondary of the Packers by speaking once again to NFL scout Chris Landry.
I was able to speak with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.
I first asked Landry about the additions of King and Jones and also about the status of Randall and Rollins.
“One of the things that Ted Thompson learned and Ron Wolf was a believer in, was if you have a need or have a problem, flood the area [of concern],” Landry said. “You don’t know who is going to make it or what’s going to happen. So take as many of those guys as you can who you have high enough grades on to try and make that position better.
“I think King is a big, tall and rangy guy, who is more straight lineish. But he’s got some Antonio Cromartie in him and has the potential to be a really good player.
“Josh Jones is the guy who is going to play the Micah Hyde role. Good player. Physical in the box. Is an inconsistent tackler, but he’ll come up and be physical. With those two [King and Jones], they have two good players, two good prospects.”
Landry then talked about the overall secondary.
“They are in good shape I think with [Morgan] Burnett and [Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix,” Landry said. “They have two good guys there. But they need to have more versatility. You got to have in this league, three starting caliber safeties and three starting caliber cornerbacks. At least.
“You have to play with six guys and they have to be interchangeable. If you don’t, you are going to be short-handed. Then you start to get an injury and you are down to five or four and then you are really in trouble.
“It’s really important that you address that, and certainly they are going to need [Damarious] Randall and [Quinten]Rollins to come back and play healthy to allow them to play at full strength, which as you mentioned, they were not even close to that last season.”
The secondary is obviously a key in the pass-happy NFL now and I also mentioned that to Landry in closing.
“You have to be able to match up,” Landry said. “That’s the difficult part of it. You have to be a good enough tackler in nickel, because when people make you small they run against you. You have to be physical enough to tackle against the run.
“But you have to be able to also match up against a big slot, a small slot, a quick guy, an outside guy, a X, a Z, or a wide-flex tight end. You’ve got to have different types of guys to match up. You have different type slot receivers, big guys and small guys. You’ve got to have guys like that on defense who can match up with them.
“As you see the number of guys at receiver take up a lot of spots on the roster, you’ve got to have an equivalent number on the defensive side to match up with those guys.”