If there’s one thing the Green Bay Packers can always use more of it’s speed, and speed is exactly what the Packers set out to draft last month.
In 2016, the Packers ranked 31st in pass defense, allowed 269.3 passing yards per game and 24.3 points per game. Time and time again, the Packers secondary was exposed by receivers who knew they had a leg up on their opponents’ hobbling defense. While the lack of speed was evident all season, it became most glaring during the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons, when Green Bay allowed 392 passing yards.
The injury to Sam Shields at the beginning of the season left Green Bay scrambling, with second-year defensive backs Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall and LaDarius Gunter ultimately filling the gaps. While Rollins and Randall showed flashes of potential, injuries plagued the season for both players. By the last game, Green Bay was looking to Gunter to cover Falcons’ WR Julio Jones, an obvious mismatch that was doomed from the start.
With that, the Packers 2017 draft selections of cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones plus the return of veteran CB Davon House will hopefully allow Green Bay some versatility on defense.
Now, with a stacked (using this term loosely) roster, the Packers have a variety of defensive backs to choose from and several players could see themselves competing for starting positions. At the cornerback position in particular, there are five guys competition for essentially three spots – Rollins, Randall, Gunter, House and King. In theory CB Demetri Goodson could also be included in that list, although it’s more likely he’ll end up on special teams if he does make the roster once again.
Davon House, Kevin King
The Packers offseason moves both during free agency and the draft show that they are more than serious about fixing the problems in the secondary. Returning Packer Davon House was a big win for Green Bay as the Packers are in desperate need of veteran talent at the CB position.
The Packers’ first selection and the 33rd overall pick Kevin King is just the kind of corner that Green Bay’s defense desperately needs. Not only is he fast, but he stands at 6’3”, a rare height at his position. With King, who has the potential to be a huge impact player for Green Bay if his college talents translate into the NFL, and House as the likely number one and number two guys in the secondary, the Packers are already looking to start off the season strong.
Quickly scanning that list above, the odd man out is LaDarius Gunter. Although he was relatively active in the second half of the season, his lack of speed and general ball awareness were exposed. Unless the Packers struggle with more injuries this upcoming season (which, if history is any indicator is not out of the realm of possibilities) Gunter will likely end up on special teams.
Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall
It seems like it’s almost impossible to talk about either Randall or Rollins without also mentioning the other. Both were drafted in 2015 and both struggled with groin injuries last season. While they are similar in many ways, Randall is much faster and has the potential to be an elite corner if he can stay healthy. Rollins on the other hand lacks speed but has acute ball awareness and overall instincts but shows just flashes of starting potential. The two will likely be competing for the third spot — and likely the primary slot corner job — with health being a deciding factor.
Morgan Burnett, Josh Jones
The Packers 2017 second overall selection, Josh Jones, has already been compared to former Packers defensive back Micah Hyde for his versatility. Hyde, who stepped in to play multiple positions while in Green Bay, was the type of hybrid defensive back the Packers needed. Now, with Hyde gone to Buffalo, Jones brings a similar versatility to the field, which was evident during rookie mini camps last week. Both Thompson and McCarthy have expressed enthusiasm for Jones’ future in Green Bay.
Morgan Burnett, the Packers’ trusted safety since 2011 also saw a transition to a hybrid role on defensive along with Micah Hyde the last few seasons. Burnett, who signed an extension in 2014 that will keep him in Green Bay through 2017, could be competing with Jones for snaps at inside linebacker and thus another contract extension is no guarantee. What’s more, during last season Burnett’s safety spot was filled by Kentrell Brice, an undrafted rookie the Packers signed last season, when #42 lined up at linebacker. Brice at least provides a backup option should the Packers opt to let Burnett walk. Safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, who will be entering his fourth season, is still going strong, and just had his fifth-year option picked up for 2018.
With the NFL becoming more and more pass heavy each season, it’s crucial that the Packers adapt on defense. By adding players in the secondary with more speed to cover elite receivers and developing versatile players like Josh Jones, the Packers could see a significant improvement from their atrocious pass defense ranking last season. Jones, King and House could all be major factors in reviving the Packers’ ailing defense.