This week has been a rough one for Green Bay Packers fans so far. Coming off a listless loss to the Detroit Lions on Monday night, Packers fans can be forgiven for being down on the team and their chances in 2017.
Therefore, our Walkthroughs this week decided to take a look to the future. Our writers’ prompt this time around was to find specific players or things around the team that give us hope for the team in 2018 and beyond.
Here’s what we came up with.
Shawn Wagner: Kevin King
Green Bay’s pass coverage has been abysmal in 2017. One of the few bright spots in the secondary for the Packers has been a healthy Kevin King. The chances that King continues to reach his enormous potential and Green Bay is able to find a capable starting cornerback opposite King this offseason provide me with at least a small glimmer of hope.
Coming into Monday night’s game, the Packers’ rookie was allowing just 2.33 yards per route covered, according to Pro Football Focus. That was good for fourth among NFL starting cornerbacks, and significantly better than former picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. There are few corners in the league with the size, speed, and length combination of King. Even fewer are able to put the full package together. But King, who is also a high-effort tackler, continued to show the flashes that made him a second day draft pick against Detroit, and he’s shown little reason why he can’t develop into the team’s number one corner quickly. I look at the Atlanta game in particular, in which Green Bay’s secondary as a unit was atrocious but King didn’t allow a completion in four passes thrown his way.
King and the next cornerback investment this offseason hold the keys to stabilizing the Packers’ cornerback position for 2018 and years to come.
Paul Noonan: Aaron Rodgers
Hey, collarbones aren’t that bad, and Aaron will be 35 next season, which isn’t that old really. Aaron makes everything better and covers up a lot of the bad that does exist. The silver lining to this season is that it is making very clear what works on this team and what doesn’t. Had Rodgers played all season and set the offensive world on fire, we may have ignored the huge problems on defense. Now we get to see who on offense benefits most from Aaron, and who seemingly can play without him. We get an unvarnished scouting view of the team.
Now the Packers have to do something about it, and that’s perhaps the biggest outstanding question. Will they move on from Capers? Will they bail on Hundley? Will they actually become a more modern, creative team? They have two choices going forward. They will get Aaron back in 2018, and they can choose to do the same old thing and be good. But they have the opportunity to take a look at themselves and make some hard choices to make the team even better.
Peter Bukowski: Young defensive talent
The real answer is Paul’s. Green Bay can win the Super Bowl with the APC staff playing defense because it has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
But for the first time maybe ever in the Aaron Rodgers era, Ted Thompson has built an exciting young core of talented defensive plays and they’re at every level of the defense. Kenny Clark has become one of the best interior defenders in football.
Blake Martinez is going to the Pro Bowl thanks to a breakout season and looks like a pillar of this defense for a decade.
Josh Jones came through with some outstanding plays again Monday against the Lions and has shown more than enough in man coverage to get me excited about his future.
And perhaps the most talented of all, Kevin King has been everything we thought he’d be: he’s long, athletic, can tackle in the run game, and will make mistakes. He’s a rookie corner. Only quarterback is a harder position to play as a first-year player.
This team finally has young defensive players to anchor a good defense. Now they have to actually go be one.
Evan “Tex” Western: More Vince Biegel and some Reggie Gilbert
I agree with Shawn and Peter above on the young defensive players, and since I am now pretty much resigned to the stance that this is a lost season, I’m choosing to tweak the prompt here to discuss what I need to see in the next few weeks to feel hope for 2018 and beyond. That is an infusion of new blood in the pass rush, particularly at the outside linebacker position.
If the Packers continue losing games while giving Kyler Fackrell 20-30 snaps, I will be not only despondent, but extremely frustrated with that lineup decision. The first thing I want to see is Vince Biegel taking over Fackrell’s reps as the primary backup edge rusher behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry (at least while Ahmad Brooks remains out). Obviously, Biegel was drafted as an athletic pass-rusher with a high motor. His sack numbers as a Badger are impressive, and he showed some good ability in run support during his NFL debut on Monday night. If this defense is going to be bad, let’s at least put young players on the field and find out what they can do -- rather than continuing to give snaps to players who have demonstrated that they’re not very good.
Along those lines, I also want to see Reggie Gilbert get called up from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and get an opportunity to play on defense. Gilbert was excellent in the preseason -- admittedly against primarily second-string offensive linemen -- but he absolutely showed an ability to get to the quarterback. He could take the roster spot expected to be vacated when Bryan Bulaga goes on injured reserve (especially since most of the other Packers’ linemen are healthy, so they can probably make do with eight on the 53). Give him 12-15 snaps per game as well and at least see if he can hold up against starting NFL linemen.
At this point, with a pass rush that has struggled to be productive off the edge with its top three options, what harm can it do to plug the young guys in?
Jon Meerdink: Kenny Clark
Kenny Clark has a reasonable claim as the best defensive lineman on the Packers this season. Sure, Mike Daniels has been limited at times by injury, but outside of that, the difference has not been all that great. As the season wears on, we’ve seen Clark disrupt opposing running games and push the pocket against the pass with increasing regularity, proving that his breakout performance against Dallas in the playoffs last year was no mirage.
Clark has been 22 years old for only slightly over a month, and he may just be scratching the surface of his apparently prodigious abilities. That’s hope if I ever saw it.