After an eventful couple of months that saw a handful of minor additions, three key re-signings, and two significant departures, Green Bay goes into this week’s draft with a surprising number of needs for a team coming off another 13-win season.
The following is a look at the defense, from the biggest to the smallest need (the number at the end of each positional analysis represents the level of concern (8.0-10 is a top priority; 6.0-7.9 is a mid-level priority; under 6.0 is the lowest priority):
1) EDGE RUSHER: This is a pretty big need even though Rashan Gary and Preston Smith were among the best duos in the league last season. That’s because defensive coordinator Joe Barry likes to get his backups on the field for at least 15 to 20 snaps per game, and with former All-Pro Za’Darius Smith in Minnesota and Whitney Mercilus retired, depth currently consists of youngsters Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, and Randy Ramsey, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Garvin and Galeai were OK a year ago, but both are better suited to be one spot lower on the depth chart. Whether it’s through free agency or more likely the draft, GM Brian Gutekunst needs to find a player who can provide consistent pressure when the starters are on the bench and who could step in and play 50 snaps in case of an injury. (8.0)
2) DEFENSIVE LINE: The addition of free agent Jarran Reed should help, but this position could really use another talented young player. While Pro Bowl nose tackle Kenny Clark is a stud, end Dean Lowry shouldn’t be the second-best lineman on a defense that wants to be great in 2022. Former Packer Kingsley Keke’s shocking descent from the starting lineup in December to the waiver wire in January didn’t help a position that Gutekunst has pretty much ignored for the past four years. T.J Slaton is the only promising young player on the current roster, and he’s just as capable of busting as he is of booming. With seven picks in the first four rounds, it’s hard to imagine a defensive lineman not being one of them. (7.0)
3) SAFETY: This is a bigger need than many people realize. Both starters could be free agents next March. Adrian Amos’ contract will be up, as would Darnell Savage’s if the Packers don’t pick up his nearly $8 million option by May 3. There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen considering how the former No. 1 pick from Maryland struggled late last season. The surprising decision not to tender Henry Black leaves Vernon Scott as the most experienced backup heading into the draft, and he’s played 90 snaps. It’s unlikely that Gutekunst would spend a very high pick on this position, but you never know. The right player could help immediately in the dime package and then move into the starting lineup in 2023. (6.5)
4) INSIDE LINEBACKER: From unemployed in June to the All-Pro team in January, De’Vondre Campbell was a godsend for the defense in 2021. And while Krys Barnes improved in his second season, the Packers should be looking to upgrade. The former undrafted free agent from UCLA is smart and more physical than his size would suggest, but he’s a limited athlete who struggles in coverage and tends to be late to reach the perimeter against the run. Even if Gutekunst eschews taking a potential starter in the early rounds, he certainly needs to add talent on Day 3. The current backups are journeyman Ty Summers and unproven Isaiah McDuffie, who didn’t play a single snap as a rookie. Ray Wilburn flashed in training camp before spending the season on the practice squad. He’s worth keeping an eye on. (6.25)
5) CORNERBACK: Re-signing Rasul Douglas gives the Packers arguably the best trio of corners in the league. Jaire Alexander was an All-Pro in 2020, and Eric Stokes enjoyed an impressive rookie season. But there’s no depth on the current roster, and that’s a problem considering the No. 4 corner is always just an injury away from becoming a quasi starter. As of today, that player is Shemar Jean-Charles, who showed very little last summer after being picked in the fifth round a year ago. There’s always a chance the Packers could re-sign Kevin King, but that can’t be an appealing option. It’s unlikely that Gutekunst will select a defensive back in the first round for the third time in five drafts, but never say never. As Hall of Famer player and legendary GM Ozzie Newsome once said, “you can never have too many corners.” (6.0)