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Packers’ 2018 offseason priorities at the midway point of the 2017 season

With the 2017 season far from over, here’s an assessment of three positions the Packers could upgrade this offseason.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In no way, shape, or form is the Green Bay Packers’ 2017 season over with nine games left to play. A bye week can work wonders for a team in the position that the Packers are with injuries and a young quarterback.

But nearly crossing the midway point of the season, the biggest positions of need are beginning to reveal themselves. Evan “Tex” Western got the ball rolling on Monday with a look at the tight end position in the wake of Martellus Bennett’s retirement plan. Today, we look at three more areas for improvement and options in free agency and the draft to address those positions.

#1: Cornerback

No surprise here. The Packers have tried to solidify the cornerback position with the drafting of Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Kevin King in recent seasons, while also adding Davon House in the offseason and working a number of undrafted free agents into the mix. Despite having one to two years left on their contracts, it’s possible that neither Randall nor Rollins are on the team next season after slumping the past two seasons. Green Bay doesn’t have replacements that strike fear into the heart of an NFL quarterback. It’s time to ride the merry-go-round again.

In occasional doses, King has shown the potential to be a starter-caliber player. Meanwhile the veteran House has stepped in and been reliable when healthy, but his current contract is just a one-year deal. Unfortunately, the slot has been a recurring problem area since Casey Hayward’s injuries and ultimate departure. The Packers could benefit immensely from adding a corner with the speed, size, and versatility to play both inside and outside this offseason, though this has proven difficult in recent history.

Potential Free Agents

Vontae Davis

Davis is approaching age 30, which is usually the age in which Ted Thompson and company become leery of signing a player for the long term. But if the deal is right, which is possible considering Davis has intercepted just one pass in the last 19 games, Green Bay could lock in Davis and grab a player capable of being a short-term starter for a contending team. The Indianapolis Colt is a high-character player and a two-time Pro Bowler, who may have lost a step from when he first entered the league but remains a solid player. His nagging groin injury may be a concern to a Packers team decimated by injuries, but Davis’ experience trailing number one wide receivers would be a welcome addition.

Kyle Fuller

Fuller is an interesting prospect because, in many ways, he still is a prospect. The Chicago Bears declined to pick up Fuller’s fifth-year option after drafting him in the first round in 2014. After missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, Fuller has had an excellent year in 2017 and may end up forcing the Bears’ hand this offseason. Though he has not intercepted a pass this season, Fuller leads the team with eight pass breakups and has displayed physicality in coverage and as a tackler. At 5’11, Fuller has enough size to continue playing on the outside and has shown glimpses of being a playmaker with six interceptions in his first two seasons.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Potential Draft Pick

Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

The Packers have preached about adding size, speed, and length to the defense. They drafted those traits with Kevin King last year and could do so again with Oliver. At 6-1, Oliver isn’t as tall as King, but has the athleticism teams covet at the position. Mel Kiper recently listed Oliver 21st on his big board and the junior cornerback has received very positive reviews from Pro Football Focus when analyzing the numbers of passes thrown against him. Watching his tape against UCLA earlier this season, Oliver locked down his man throughout the game and displayed an abundance of physicality in fighting off blocks from receivers on screens to make tackles. Josh Rosen, a top potential prospect in this year’s draft, rarely looked Oliver’s way and that says a lot about Oliver’s talent.

#2: Pass Rushers

The Packers certainly may have the pieces to transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 in the offseason, as APC’s Peter Bukowski has noted. But whether it sticks with a defense that utilizes 3-4 hybrid rushers or moves to a 4-3 defense with disruption from defensive ends, Green Bay must add pass rushing help.

Like cornerback, the Packers are usually on the market for such players. They have not seen much of an impact from in-season free agent acquisition Ahmad Brooks and seemingly struck out on draft picks Datone Jones and Kyler Fackrell. With Clay Matthews aging, Vince Biegel not yet NFL-tested, and Nick Perry often injured, Green Bay has little choice but to continue investing draft picks and free agent money to land an imposing pass rusher.

Potential Free Agent

Demarcus Lawrence

The edge rusher market this offseason is not a special one. Green Bay could take a flier on former top ten pick Barkevious Mingo who has not lived up to his pre-draft hype, or they could try to get a year or two out of the aging, but productive Connor Barwin. But if I’m Green Bay trying to win a title, I would chase Lawrence, who has had an outstanding year for the Dallas Cowboys and will command a significant financial commitment. With 10.5 sacks this season, there’s a very good chance Dallas doesn’t let the 26-year old get to the open market. This season doesn’t appear to be a one-year wonder for the Boise State product, as Lawrence tallied eight sacks in 2015. At 6-5, 265, Lawrence has been playing defensive end for the Cowboys, but may have the athleticism to transition to a 3-4 linebacker for the Packers.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Potential Draft Pick

Bradley Chubb, NC State

When all is said and done, Chubb may be a top five pick in the 2018 draft. Green Bay may not be picking that high, but Chubb is a difference maker. Watch the first ten plays on this clip of the Louisville game and you will see a 6-4, 275-pound menace that beats the offensive tackle with swim, speed, and bull rush moves and even drops into coverage. NC State has not had an impact player on defense like Chubb since the days of Mario Williams and he is a major reason why NC State is having an impressive season. Chubb could fit into either defensive system in Green Bay.

#3: Offensive Tackle

It’s admirable how well the offensive line has held up considering the injuries and depth concerns coming out of preseason. Justin McCray has become a versatile lineman, but he still isn’t a reliable right tackle. Whether Kyle Murphy is a better tackle or guard remains to be seen with his limited amount of regular season action. Likewise, Jason Spriggs is still a relatively unproven commodity coming off a questionable preseason and a stint on Injured Reserve during the first half of this year.

McCray and Lucas Patrick would seemingly be options at center if Green Bay chooses not to re-sign Corey Linsley in the offseason. In that case, interior depth becomes a bigger concern. For now, the Packers must add talent at tackle in case of additional injuries to Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. However, that does not require a high-end draft pick.

Potential Free Agent

LeAdrian Waddle

This year’s offensive tackle group in free agency is exceptionally weak and realistically, Green Bay won’t make a move for a player on the market. But if they did, a player like Waddle would make sense. Originally an undrafted free agent, Waddle made spot starts at right tackle for Detroit as a rookie before suffering a knee injury the following year. On a two-year deal with New England, he has played sparingly, but is just 26 years old with good size (6-6, 315) for the position and won’t break the Packers’ bank for a tackle with starting experience.

Potential Draft Pick

Ike Boettger, Iowa

The Packers have gone to Iowa City for talent before, especially at the tackle position. After tearing an Achilles in the second game of his senior season, Boettger’s stock has dropped and could be available to Green Bay in a later round. When healthy, Boettger was a second round talent that had the athleticism for the left tackle position having been a former tight end. Now beefed up to around 6-6 and 300 pounds, Boettger can hold his own in both the run and pass game, as evidenced by his strong play against players such as T.J. Watt in 2016. He would be worth the late round chance if medical tests prior to the draft are positive.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports