The Green Bay Packers’ chapter of the 2018 NFL season has closed and 2019 has already ushered in a new era with Matt LaFleur named the organization's 15th head coach. LaFleur will inherit a roster that began a transition under new General Manager Brian Gutekunst a year ago and is still seeking additional reinforcements.
In the spirit of both looking ahead to LaFleur and looking back at the 2018 season that was, today begins a two-part sequence of assessing the Packers’ positional priorities with the offseason right around the corner. Today’s list features the team’s lowest priorities, including one position group that took a much-needed step forward behind several young prospects.
Without further ado, here are positional rankings 7-11.
When you lock in a franchise quarterback for the long haul, chances are your priority list won’t revolve around the position. Aaron Rodgers’ progression will be closely monitored under LaFleur and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the new partnership. But even outside of Rodgers, the Packers appear to be in much better shape at the position that they were last year when questions surrounded Brett Hundley’s backup status.
Green Bay invested in DeShone Kizer via trade last offseason and the former Cleveland Brown showed flashes in the final week against Detroit despite Green Bay failing to score (however, they went for a number of fourth downs in the red zone). Kizer’s natural ability looked more promising than Hundley’s stint in 2017 and the Packers surely hope to continue grooming Kizer, just a two-year veteran. Tim Boyle also will stick around for training camp and figures to see competition from a late-round draft pick or undrafted player for a third spot on the roster.
LaFleur specifically mentioned that he wants a “sound” and “aggressive” special teams that takes advantage of personnel mismatches. But there’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Packers’ special teams units as a whole were disastrous in 2018.
However, kicker Mason Crosby isn’t going anywhere and punter J.K. Scott should get at least one more season after being drafted in the fifth round of last year’s draft. The wildcard here is Hunter Bradley at long snapper, who was inconsistent as a rookie. Bradley should have competition from the undrafted ranks in camp. From a returns standpoint, Trevor Davis spent almost the entire 2018 season injured and missed a golden opportunity to cement his role in both the kick and punt return games. Jaire Alexander, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Bashaud Breeland, if re-signed, could bring some value there, but an outside competitor could surely be added to make the special teams more dangerous.
9. Running Back
When healthy, Aaron Jones has been a dynamic playmaker for the Packers’ offense and the coaching change should really help the team take advantage of his strengths. Pass blocking remains a work in progress for Jones to see more third-down action, but his slashing style and speed in the open field gives Green Bay a weapon.
Jamaal Williams has had share of promising moments in Jones’ absence over the past two seasons. More reliable than Jones as a blocker, Williams had a big game against the New York Jets late in the season, accounting for 158 yards from scrimmage. His short-yardage, grind-it-out style is a good complement to Jones. The duo isn’t quite Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara yet, but they’re a strong point of the team. Green Bay still could add a third back in the offseason.
Placing this position eighth almost feels weird. The Packers have searched for dependable cornerbacks for the better part of the past decade without much luck. But with rookies Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Tony Brown, in addition to a possibly Breeland re-signing, Green Bay has a nice young nucleus forming. If Kevin King can stay healthy, cornerback could actually be a team strength in the very near future.
Much depends on Breeland’s contract status, but the Packers could potentially move Tramon Williams to safety more fully in 2019 with improved depth at corner. The Packers could bring in some depth, but a premium draft pick or free agent is not likely this year.
7. Defensive Line
On the inside, Green Bay remains in excellent shape for next season. Muhammad Wilkerson probably won’t be back in Titletown, but a healthier Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels will be. Tyler Lancaster really blossomed over the course of the season as an undrafted free agent and Montravius Adams, a former third-round pick, also showed some signs of his potential as a role player in increased snaps during the second half of the season. Fadol Brown could also challenge for a roster spot next season.
On the ends is where Green Bay could still stand to improve. Although Dean Lowry has been a steady player for the Packers, the team could use a pass rusher from that position comparable to Cullen Jenkins of the last title run. Still, defensive end is not Green Bay’s biggest need and the defensive front as a whole is in good shape for LaFleur’s first season at the helm.
Stay tuned for part two!