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Packers Friday Musings: Looking ahead to the draft and remembering lost players

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The Packers might be missing one of their former fan favorites as a surprisingly down season nears its finish and draft talk heats up.

Green Bay Packers v Oakland Raiders

It hasn’t been such a beautiful week in Aaron Rodgers’ neighborhood, as the Green Bay Packers have made not just one but two coaching changes since last Sunday’s loss to Arizona.

In such a week that has left many fans feeling like the organization is spiraling out of control, Green Bay also lost another key player to injured reserve as the season nears a welcome finish. Rather than diving into the endless abyss of coaching rumors, I felt inclined to review three non-staff thoughts for the week, including a final more optimistic one.

Have the Packers missed Aaron Ripkowski?

Count me as one who thought the Packers could benefit from straying away from keeping a fullback during the final cuts of preseason. However, a part of me is beginning to re-think that notion.

I’m not saying that he would have entirely solved the Packers’ special teams woes this season, but Ripkowski appeared in over 46% of Green Bay’s special teams plays in 2017. That level of experience, along with the fact that Ripkowski never logged a special teams penalty in a Packer uniform, may be something the Packers have missed in a year of errors.

Offensively, Ripkowski committed just one penalty in three seasons with Green Bay as well and was instrumental as a pass blocker on third downs. Although the Packers have lined up Lance Kendricks in the backfield this season in the H-back role without Ripkowski and have also used Jamaal Williams in pass protection, there’s a possibility that Aaron Rodgers has lacked the comfort in the pocket that players like John Kuhn and Ripkowski have provided over the years. Rodgers and the Packers have had far too many struggles on third down to list Ripkowski as a savior of the offense, but there stands a chance that his role in both the running and passing games on that down has been missed in 2018.

For what it is worth, fullback Danny Vitale, who was a promising special teams player in his first two years with Cleveland, was recently promoted to the active roster and had eight special teams snaps last Sunday, as well as three offensively. Under Joe Philbin, will the Packers return to using a fullback more prominently?

Not being able to see the full depth of the Packers’ cornerback group has been a disappointment

Jaire Alexander is a stud at cornerback and a real bright spot for the Packers moving forward. Josh Jackson has been picked on, but there is still plenty of optimism that he will overcome rookie mistakes and learn from opponent tendencies as he grows. Jackson’s relative inexperience after bursting on to the scene as a junior at Iowa is often forgotten, as is the fact that he was a wide receiver just three years ago as a freshman. These last four games of the season are great opportunities for Jackson to work on his craft and get meaningful regular season snaps alongside Alexander to grow together.

But it sure would have been nice to see Alexander and Jackson growing with Kevin King on the field as well. As the Packers’ first picks of each of the past two drafts, Alexander and King have loads of athleticism and potential to contribute to the defense. That they have only played four games together all season is a disappointment. King closing the season on injured reserve for the second consecutive season is not only disappointing but concerning. The King versus TJ Watt debate will likely be an ongoing one, but there’s no doubting that King was a player the Packers needed at that time and still do. Sadly, it’s been a lost season.

While Tony Brown looks promising as a cover man after joining the Packers as a former undrafted free agent, the addition of Bashaud Breeland was supposed to be one that gave the Packers extra talent. At the time, Breeland’s signing looked like an absolute steal after signing for one year at just over $740,000 after his three-year, $24 million deal with Carolina was nullified by a failed physical in spring. But by playing just three games for Green Bay since then, Breeland has been a relative non-factor.

If the Packers had King and Breeland on the field right now, the Packers’ cornerback crew of the five names listed above might be more of a talking point around the NFL than what it has been.

Packers have a chance to beef up their lines with first three picks

As of now, Green Bay is in line for the 10th pick of the first and second rounds in addition to a late-first selection from New Orleans. That provides the Packers with plenty of ammunition to address the outside of both the offensive and defensive lines.

On offense, a pair of standout SEC tackles in Greg Little of Ole Miss and Jonah Williams of Alabama could be early first-round targets if they declare for the draft as juniors. Little is no way to describe Greg Little, a 6’6,” 325-pound specimen who is athletic in pass protection and gets to the second level quickly as a run blocker. With NFL coaching on technique, Little could be a quick insert at right tackle with the status of Bryan Bulaga and Jason Spriggs in question. If nothing else, Little would be an insurance option at left tackle while being groomed to eventually take over a starting role.

For a team that has lacked impact edge rushing this season, the Packers figure to have options throughout the first and early second rounds if underclassmen declare as expected. Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Florida’s Jachai Polite, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, and Florida State’s Brian Burns each would give Green Bay the bendy, speed rushing prospect they have a high demand for. It’s very possible the Packers could grab two defensive linemen/edge rushers with their first two picks and, in that case, don’t count out an interior player like Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons, who has the strength, motor, and versatility to be a dynamic multi-faceted defender.

Personally, I find this upcoming draft to be exceptionally intriguing. It is not often the Packers have three picks in the top 45 (at least a decent chance of that happening) and the crop of talent available offers many day one starters.