Biggest Needs Heading Into Draft

After an uneventful free agency, the Packers will go into this week’s draft with the same holes on the roster that they had a couple of months ago – plus a new one in the middle of the offensive line after the Chargers made Corey Linsley the highest-paid center in the league. The following is a position-by-position look at the needs, from the biggest to the smallest (the number at the end of each positional analysis represents the level of need (8.0-10 is a top priority; 6.0-7.9 is a mid-level priority; under 6.0 is the lowest priority):

1. CORNERBACK –  The one negative to having a second-team All-Pro like Jaire Alexander is the pressure it puts on the other starting corner and the nickel back. If those two players aren’t good, quality veteran quarterbacks will find them and pick them apart all day long. Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady did just that to Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan in the NFC championship game. No defense can be elite with both of those players on the field for 700-plus snaps in a season. The need at this position becomes even greater when you consider that King and Sullivan are in the final year of their respective contracts, and there don’t appear to be any young corners ready to step up. (8.75)

2. DEFENSIVE LINE – This position has been ignored for too long. The Packers have drafted only one D-lineman in the first two rounds since 2013. Aside from Kenny Clark, there’s not another player who would be guaranteed to start elsewhere. While at least Kingsley Keke has some upside, journeymen Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster are as good as they’re going to get. Fans have been rightfully griping about the inside linebackers for years, and the best way to make youngsters Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin better is to improve the talent in front of them. (8.50)

3. OFFENSIVE LINE – This position would be less of an immediate need had All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari not suffered a torn ACL on New Year’s Eve, but it still would’ve been a need. While third-year pro Elgton Jenkins is already a star, the rest of the linemen are a collection of mediocre veterans (Billy Turner and Lucas Patrick) and unproven youngsters (Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan Jr., Jake Hanson, and Simon Stepaniak). Adding a rookie who could start immediately would go a very long way in helping the offense survive the games it might have to play without Bakhtiari. Jenkins’ unique versatility will allow the Packers to select the best prospect regardless of position. (8.25)

4. WIDE RECEIVER – Things look OK for the upcoming season, but future replacements will be needed with Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Devin Funchess, and Equanimeous St. Brown all eligible for free agency next March. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to add a smaller and quicker player to the mix. The offense could’ve used someone like that against Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game. The jumbo-sized receivers favored by Gutekunst had a difficult time getting open in the red zone against a quartet of pretty good corners.  (7.75)

5. INSIDE LINEBACKER – The Packers didn’t have a Pro Bowl-caliber inside linebacker last decade, and it’s no coincidence they also didn’t have a top-10 defense. That’s what happens when Oren Burks, who is coming off yet another forgettable season, is the only player drafted at this position in the first three rounds since 2006. That’s hard to believe. It’s also why inside linebacker is once again a need, even with Barnes and Martin showing some promise last season. That it’s down at No. 5 tells you just how many other holes there are on the current roster. (7.50)

6. EDGE RUSHER– With the All-Pro Za’Darius Smith, former No. 1 pick Rashan Gary, and veteran Preston Smith, this position is fine for now – although finding a better No. 4 outside linebacker than Jonathan Garvin or Randy Ramsey would be a good idea. But with the Smiths scheduled to count a whopping $48 million against the salary cap in 2022, the Packers will have to cut costs in the very near future. Preston Smith is as good as gone after the upcoming season, but if Gutekunst uses an early pick on the right player, it will give him more options when it comes to Za’Darius Smith, whose age (29 in September) and cap hit ($28 million in 2022) aren’t a good match. (7.00)

7. SAFETY – This could be a bigger need than it seems if new defensive coordinator Joe Barry is thinking about using Darnell Savage more as a slot corner. But even if the ascending former No. 1 pick from Maryland remains a full-time safety, adding a reliable backup should be a priority. Special teams standout Will Redmond has played way too many snaps in the secondary the past two seasons, and youngsters Vernon Scott and Henry Black are unproven. Because of all this, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this position addressed either late on day 2 or early on day 3. (6.75)

8. TIGHT END – Robert Tonyan is a free agent next March, Marcedes Lewis is close to getting his AARP card, Jace Sternberger has shown very little in two seasons, and Josiah Deguara is recovering from major knee surgery. This position is a need; it’s just a smaller one than most. After taking Sternberger and Deguara in the third round of back-to-back drafts, it’s unlikely that Gutekunst would use a pick at this position before Day 3. But if and when he does, finding a replacement for Lewis and his blocking would be wise. An athlete can only hold off Father Time for so long.  (6.50)

9. RUNNING BACK – The Packers have potentially the best 1-2 punch in the league with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a player to compete with unproven youngsters Dexter Williams, Mike Weber, and Patrick Taylor for the No. 3 job. As always, there will be some talented runners available in the middle rounds. (5.75)

10. QUARTERBACK – By going with unproven backup Tim Boyle for the past two seasons, Gutekunst has been unbelievably fortunate that Aaron Rodgers has been able to play every meaningful snap of every game. It appears he’ll roll the dice again. Boyle is now in Detroit, and while Jordan Love has the potential to be a successful QB in the NFL, it would be asking a lot of him to win games in 2021. Acquiring a veteran like ex-49er Nick Mullins to be the No. 3 would make sense, but it’s far more likely that Gutekunst will go with either a late pick or an undrafted rookie. (5.50)

11. SPECIAL TEAMS – Hunter Bradley and JK Scott – both drafted on Day 3 in 2018 – have been inconsistent and need to be challenged in training camp, but there’ll be plenty of good long snappers and punters available after the weekend. If Gutekunst is going to use the draft to improve the special teams, it’ll be to find a returner. (5.25)

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Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.
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