Based on the changes that the Green Bay Packers made in not only their front office, but also on the coaching staff, one could say that the 2018 NFL draft will be very important for the team’s success in 2018 and in the near future.
Just to give you an illustration about how much work that the Packers have to do to get better and also to have playoff aspirations in 2018, take a look at the overall grade NFL scout Chris Landry gave the team in 2017 when he graded each player on his fine site:
OVERALL GRADE (D-minus): Green Bay had the look of a contender early in the season. The Rodgers injury showed that was a mirage, though. The roster needs an infusion of talent – either through the draft or free agency – meaning the new general manager has a lot of work to do.
The new general manager who Landry speaks of is Brian Gutekunst. Landry talked to me in early January and said that Gutekunst would be the best choice to replace Ted Thompson as GM if the team went in-house.
Landry also talked to me about the hiring of Gutekunst and the other changes the Packers made in this piece.
Back to the draft now. As Landry notes, the roster needs an infusion of talent. It appears that Gutekunst will use free agency more liberally than Thompson did in his tenure in Green Bay, but the draft is always the key building block for teams in the NFL to be successful.
That’s why the 2018 draft is so important to the Packers, who will have as many as 12 picks in the draft, at least according to OverTheCap.com. The Packers will have their own pick in each round of the draft, plus have an additional seventh round draft pick because of a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
Plus, Over The Cap estimates that the Packers will also have four compensatory picks, which will include one in Round 3 and three in Round 5.
That’s 12 picks overall, which will give Gutekunst and the Packers plenty of ammunition to add some nice talent to the squad in the draft.
The Packers have a number of needs. It’s almost like almost every position could use an upgrade of some sort, at least in terms of quality depth, like at the quarterback position behind Aaron Rodgers.
But some position areas have glaring needs. The outside linebacker or edge-rushing position is one of those areas.
Landry always tells me that the tape doesn’t lie. Speaking of that, this is the grade he gave the linebacker position of the Packers after watching that position on tape:
LINEBACKERS (D-plus): Starters – OLB Clay Matthews, OLB *Nick Perry, ILB Blake Martinez, ILB Jake Ryan. Backups – OLB Ahmad Brooks (UFA), ILB Joe Thomas, OLB Kyler Fackrell, OLB Vince Biegel, OLB Chris Odom, OLB Reggie Gilbert, *David Talley.
This unit is expected to produce the big plays in the 3-4 defense Green Bay has employed since 2009. In 2017, the group failed miserably. Matthews (8.5) and Perry (7.0), the two highest paid players on the defense, both missed time with injuries and combined for 15.5 sacks. With little depth at the position, Green Bay needed double-digit sacks from both players. Martinez tied for the NFL lead in tackles (144), but struggled in pass coverage. Others like Fackrell, Ryan and Biegel look like backups, at best. Green Bay needs an infusion of talent for this group in April’s draft.
Another thing that doesn’t lie is statistics. The key for the 3-4 defense to succeed is putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. As Landry noted, the Packers really struggled in that area.
In fact, beside being the the 22nd-ranked defense in the NFL in 2017, the Packers were only tied for 17th in sacks with 37. That lack of pass-pressure led to Green Bay being ranked 23rd in pass defense in the NFL and 31st in the opposing QB’s passer rating.
The Packers allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 30 touchdown passes versus just 11 picks for 3,789 yards. That adds up to allowing an embarrassing passer rating of 102.0. The Packers were one of only three NFL teams (Cleveland and Oakland were the other two) which allowed opposing QBs to have a passer rating of over 100.
That’s a big reason why Dom Capers was fired as the defensive coordinator by head coach Mike McCarthy.
The man that McCarthy hired to be the new defensive coordinator has a great track record of success in the NFL. That man is Mike Pettine, who coordinated the defense for the New York Jets under Rex Ryan for four years and then the defense of the Buffalo Bills under Doug Marrone.
From 2009 through 2012, the Jets ranked 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th in overall defense. In 2013, when he ran the Bills defense, Buffalo finished 10th in total defense.
The Pettine defensive system is pressure-based. Both the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense will be used, which means players must understand each concept.
That is why the Packers must get some help in getting some edge-rushers who will put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Not only in getting sacks and possibly causing fumbles, but also in getting the quarterback off his spot while he is throwing the football which causes incompletions and also interceptions.
With the Senior Bowl set to be played this Saturday, I thought it would be a good week to talk to Landry again about three edge-rushers who might be available when the Packers select in round one at pick No. 14.
I had a chance to talk with Landry this past Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.
I wanted to get Landry’s take on Marcus Davenport of UTSA, who is also playing in the Senior Bowl, Clelin Ferrell of Clemson and Arden Key of LSU.
Davenport has definitely created a buzz at the Senior Bowl practices this week and has definitely helped his stock in the draft.
In his career at UTSA, Davenport had 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and six forced fumbles.
Ferrell also had a nice career at Clemson, where he was part of the team which won the national title in 2016. In his career as a Tiger, Ferrell had 111 total tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Key has both helped and hurt himself during his time at LSU. In his career as a Tiger, Key had 129 total tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
Landry first talked about Ferrell and Key.
“Ferrell is a little bit stronger at the point of attack,” Landry said. “Arden Key has been a guy who has had some off the field issues. He’s really kind of hurt himself in that regard. He played out of shape and overweight [in 2017]. If he gets his head right, he could be a good value. I think if he is completely in shape, he’s probably one of the top 15 players in this draft. But he really did not do a very good job this year overall and has hurt himself.”
Landry than turned his attention to Davenport.
“He’s got really good edge-rushing speed out of Texas-San Antonio,” Landry said. “He’s a really good player and I think he’ll be a very high pick.”
Landry also wrote this about Davenport on his site about his performance at Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice:
Primarily lined up at defensive end. Looked super quick and very athletic. Quick with his hands and explosive and flashed impressive lower-body power. Struggles once engaged in a block and was manhandled by Alex Cappa on one down.
This was Landry’s report on Davenport after watching Wednesday’s practice:
Another solid practice for Davenport. He is an imposing figure and can be tough to handle. Davenport plays with great balance and body control and is never off his feet. He held his ground against double-team blocks and besides the power, showed excellent speed.
Landry also wrote about another edge-rusher who could definitely be a possibility for the Packers in Round 1, depending on how the board looks at the time of their selection.
That would be Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of Oklahoma.
This is what Landry wrote about the former Sooner regarding his performance at the Senior Bowl practices:
He’s not the biggest guy (6013, 243 pounds, 34.5″ arms) but the man simply knows how to win on the edge. A twitched up pass rusher, Okoronkwo spent the week running circles around the offensive tackles. While that wasn’t unexpected, his ability to play the run truly popped. Despite less-than-ideal height and weight measurements, Okoronkwo held his own setting the edge and squeezing gaps.
Okoronkwo proved that he has every down ability in Mobile which will go a long way in helping his draft stock.
Looking at Landry’s analysis, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, both Davenport and Okoronkwo could be definite possibilities for the Packers at pick No. 14 based on their performances this week at the Senior Bowl practices.
Picking Ferrell at No. 14 would appear to be a reach for the Packers at that point of the draft, while Key certainly has the talent to be selected there, his baggage off the field says that he’ll picked later in Round 1 or even early in Round 2.
Plus there is still time for edge-rushing prospects to improve their draft stock, both at the NFL Scouting Combine and at their respective pro days.
You know that Gutekunst and his scouting staff will be on hand to analyze each player and to see if they would be a good fit for the defense that Pettine will deploy for the Packers.