The Green Bay Packers have 21 players on the current 53-man roster who were not on it at the end of last season.
Of those 21, the Packers acquired them as follows:
- Nine free agent signings
- Six picks from the 2017 NFL Draft
- Three undrafted rookies
- One player claimed on waivers from another team (Chris Odom)
- One player signed off another team’s practice squad (Ulrick John, Cardinals)
- One player who spent 2016 on the Packers’ practice squad (Lucas Patrick)
Of those players, however, two stand out among all others as the best newcomers to the Packers’ roster so far in this early season. Those two are the Packers’ top two draft picks, cornerback Kevin King and safety/nitro linebacker Josh Jones.
However, while Jones has been a playmaker in the middle of the defense, playing primarily inside linebacker over the past two games, King’s early emergence as a boundary corner has been critical to the Packers’ success in defending the pass.
For some context, the Packers are currently 5th in passing yards allowed, though their ranking drops to 17th in opponents’ passer rating and they are 15th in pass DVOA. Last season in those three measures, the team ranked 31st, 26th, and 23rd, respectively.
Still, the Packers have faced significant issues at the cornerback position this season, with veteran free agent signing Davon House missing two-plus games with an injury and third-year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins effectively being benched over the past two weeks. Not coincidentally, King has stepped into the starting lineup and since doing so he has largely held his own against a few of the premier wide receivers in the NFL.
After Julio Jones was torching the Packers in the early going during their week two game in Atlanta, King entered the game and shadowed him for much of the rest of the game, keeping him largely in check and not allowing a reception into his coverage. King struggled a bit more when asked to shadow the Bengals’ A.J. Green in week three, but played well against a brutally weak Bears’ receiving corps in week four. Furthermore, APC’s Peter Bukowski found this little nugget which, small sample size aside, is certainly notable:
Packers rookie Kevin King has a better passer rating allowed in coverage than Patrick Peterson, Desmond Trufant, and Marcus Peters.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) October 3, 2017
Meanwhile, the players lining up at the other corner spots have rotated heavily. Randall’s struggles led to his benching against the Bears, meaning Josh Hawkins played every snap in the second half last Thursday. Rollins, meanwhile, was removed from the lineup prior to week three’s game, being replaced as the primary slot cornerback by Morgan Burnett.
Of course, Josh Jones has provided some highlight-reel plays, including a pair of sacks in week three and some notable tackles for loss. However, the Packers’ defense would still be able to function without him lining up in the middle — in fact, they did so for much of the first half against Chicago, moving him around and giving him some rest when they lined up with a pair of more conventional inside linebackers.
Remove King from the equation and the Packers would be down to an injured veteran, two benched third-year pros, a second-year undrafted free agent, and an undrafted rookie who has yet to take a snap on defense in a regular season game.
For that reason, Kevin King earns our vote as the Packers’ best newcomer over the first quarter of the 2017 season.