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06/24/2018

Defense, Defense, Defense


There’s no question the Packers will be faster on defense next season. Whether they’ll be better remains to be seen. Friday’s draft picks – Kevin King, Josh Jones and Montravius Adams – posted some of the best 40 times at their respective positions at the Combine, but none of the three looked nearly as good playing football in September as they did running around in shorts in March.

King certainly looks the part of a modern-day NFL cornerback. The former Washington star is blessed with rare size (6’3, 200) and outstanding speed (4.43). Unfortunately, that combination doesn’t always show up on tape. If it did, he never would’ve lasted until the second round. The 21-year-old from Oakland, California isn’t very physical in run support and doesn’t play as fast as he times. He also has some stiffness in his lower body that will allow separation in transition. This is extremely common in tall defensive backs, and it’s one of the – pardon the pun – biggest reasons there have been so few quality corners over 6-foot-2 in the past 20 years.

On the positive side, King has excellent length and overall size. He shows really good footwork and hand placement in press coverage and uses his long arms, body length and leaping ability to take away passing lanes. He’s most effective guarding against deep balls down the sideline and the tricky back shoulder throw.

I want to see King live before giving a stronger opinion on his future with the Packers, but my initial impression isn’t overly positive. He actually reminds me of a taller version of Davon House, whom Thompson drafted in the fourth round in 2011. And while King will almost certainly start in 2017, and he’ll almost certainly be an upgrade from LaDarius Gunter, I simply don’t see a future No. 1 corner. At least not yet.

As good an athlete as King is, Jones makes him look like Micah Hyde. And that’s more of a compliment to Jones than it is a shot at Hyde. The former North Carolina State star ran an unreal 4.41 at 220 pounds at the Combine. And unlike King, he actually plays that fast. So why was such a talented player still around at the end of round 2? Because, like King, he doesn’t always play as good as he looks.

The best thing about Jones – besides his freakish athleticism – is his versatility. He can play any role you need from a safety, whether it’s single-high, in the box or even in the slot. He also has the size to play linebacker in the nickel and dime packages – which is where I see him making his greatest impact as a rookie. Morgan Burnett was expected to man that position in 2017, but that was before last night. Jones is 10 pounds heavier and a lot faster.

The worst thing about Jones is his lack of consistency. While he certainly made his share of eye-opening plays in college, he also gave up too many big completions for someone with so much God-given ability. He’s easily manipulated by quarterbacks. I lost count of how many times he got himself into big trouble by peeking into the backfield or by biting on play-action. Safeties coach Darren Perry will have his hands full.

Jones will need patience and great coaching if he’s going to be more than just a niche player at the next level. I’m encouraged by his potential, but I’m a little troubled that he wasn’t more dominant at North Carolina State. Then again, he wouldn’t have been available at the end of the second round had he been more dominant at North Carolina State. So, at least for one day, everything worked out perfectly for the Packers.

GM Ted Thompson may have saved his best work for last. Adams was a great value pick at the end of the third round. I’m not, however, saying he’s a great player.

The former Auburn star ran under 4.9 at over 300 pounds at the Combine, and that athleticism makes him almost impossible to block at times. Unfortunately, those times are too sporadic. I watched him dominate LSU’s superb center Ethan Pocic for a half and then pretty much disappear for the final 30 minutes. That was the story of his life in college, and it’s why 92 players went ahead of him last night.

Adams is capable of lining up anywhere along the defensive front, although end is probably his best position. That’s because at nose tackle he tends to play too tall and get steered and controlled by the double team. As a pass rusher, his explosive first step should make him an asset in the nickel and dime packages.

It’s rare that a good college player becomes a great pro player, but it does occur once in a while. And while I’m not saying that’s likely to happen with Adams, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. In many ways, he reminds me of Robert Nkemdiche, the former Ole Miss star who was drafted in the first round (29th overall) by the Arizona Cardinals a year ago. That’s what I meant by referring to Adams as a great value pick.

OVERALL ANALYSIS: Thompson continues to stockpile the defense with high picks. In fact, 13 of the last 18 players he’s drafted on days 1 and 2 were from that side of the ball. It hasn’t helped much yet. King will be given every opportunity to start as a rookie, while Jones and Adams should be important rotational pieces.

I opined earlier in the week that Thompson needed to just draft really productive players with his top three picks. His best success this decade has come when selecting the likes of Bryan Bulaga, Morgan Burnett, Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward, Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He hasn’t fared nearly as well when he decided to be a little cute with the likes of Mike Neal, Alex Green, Datone Jones, Khyri Thornton, Richard Rodgers and perhaps Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins (still too soon to know for sure).

King, Jones and Adams would be great additions if NFL games were played in shorts and on fields decorated with orange cones. Thompson and his scouts clearly put a lot of emphasis on what they saw at the Combine and less emphasis on what they saw on tape. That hasn’t always worked so well in the past. We’ll find out soon enough if things will be different this time around. For the sake of the D, they need to be.





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About Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for close to 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2006. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.