With Head Coach Matt LaFleur now calling the shots in Green Bay, the Packers will begin looking to the offseason to mold a roster to their new coach’s liking.
Continuing a two-part series on the offseason priorities of the Packers by position, today’s article will feature rankings one through six. Several of those groups are offensive positions that LaFleur will oversee as a playcaller. However, Green Bay’s top offseason priority once again lies on the defensive side of the ball, though it’s not the cornerback unit as noted in yesterday’s part-one piece.
We begin with the men in the middle of the defense.
6. Inside Linebacker
Much of the needs at this position will be assessed based on the defensive system employed by the Packers next season. Assuming for now that Mike Pettine returns, Green Bay has a solid middle ‘backer in Blake Martinez, who has become a more polished tackler and blitzer by the year. Jake Ryan’s injury in July hurt the team’s depth, but the Packers used a medley of safeties in the box on passing downs to offset that loss.
Whether Josh Jones eventually becomes a full-time linebacker remains to be seen, but it could be an option for the Packers’ defense. Third-round pick Oren Burks had trouble finding defensive snaps as a rookie and his first full offseason will be a critical one in his growth. Green Bay could have its solutions for more consistency already on the roster, but it’s hard to ignore the instant impact a high-end prospect (such as Roquan Smith) can bring to the position.
5. Wide Receiver
The young trio of receivers, along with Jake Kumerow, have some considerable upside and their development is key to the position both next year and beyond. The ability for just one to eventually emerge as a number two receiver to complement budding star Davante Adams would be a major victory, but it might not happen next year. A healthy return of Geronimo Allison also could help Green Bay significantly in 2019, as his loss was felt almost immediately with Aaron Rodgers.
With Randall Cobb’s contract off the books, the Packers will have freed-up money to invest back into another receiving weapon. A dynamic slot receiver would really help the offense’s third-down woes and potentially create more plays of 20-plus yards. Green Bay has had great success with second-round receivers in the past, but a more established veteran could bring a quicker impact if the right value can be found in free agency.
4. Tight End
For the past several seasons, the Packers have attempted to sign a bona fide receiving tight end to the roster with minimal results. No matter who was signed, the additions either disappointed or were used incorrectly within the offense. With LaFleur, hopefully some of these lingering issues at tight end can be corrected in Green Bay.
One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle is Jimmy Graham. Green Bay must choose whether to go forward with Graham or cut him loose after just one season. My initial thought is that he remains in Green Bay. However, the Packers will have plenty of holes to fill at the position regardless. Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis are hitting free agency and Robert Tonyan is an exclusive rights free agent. This position group will look very different next season and the Packers should search all avenues to acquire talent. But they do need to add young blood in the system to groom for the future.
3. Offensive Line
The starting left side and center of the offensive line is in good shape for Green Bay heading into 2019, but the right side raises question marks. Really, the unit’s depth as a whole is a major concern.
The right guard position must be upgraded this offseason after Byron Bell, Justin McCray, and Lucas Patrick combined to provide stopgap solutions in 2018. Although it may not be popular, a high-level guard early in the draft could be just what the doctor ordered to give Green Bay a plug-and-play lineman for the next five-to-ten years. Similarly, the right tackle position will enter another limbo year after rumors of Bryan Bulaga taking a paycut proved false last offseason. When healthy, Bulaga still grades out well among NFL right tackles, but injury history is always a concern. The depth behind him also is alarming with Jason Spriggs showing limited improvement and Kyle Murphy missing the entire season on IR. The 2019 NFL Draft appears relatively weak in terms of tackle prospects, but a few quality developmental players are needed.
Yes, Green Bay has chosen a defensive back in the first two days of the draft in five of the past seven years. But most of those players have been cornerbacks and one of those highly-chosen safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, was traded. After various struggles from incumbents Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice and in-season pickups Ibraheim Campbell and Eddie Pleasant, it’s time for Green Bay to address its issues in the back end of the secondary.
Campbell did show promise before a season-ending injury and may have a chance to earn a role again next season, but Jones could be a better fit in the box at linebacker and Brice was severely inconsistent in coverage and as a tackler. The group will receive a makeover, but just how much will be something to watch. It is not far-fetched to believe Green Bay will draft a high-round safety and/or add a proven standout, especially with the safety market undervalued last offseason.
1. Edge Rusher/Outside Linebacker
Improving the team’s edge rushers, if the Packers maintain a 3-4 defense, is a consensus top priority this spring.
Whether the Packers’ defense maintains its 3-4 scheme or changes systems next season, the outside linebacker position is expected to have a new feel to it. A Clay Matthews return is possible but not guaranteed, while Nick Perry’s injury issues and long stretches of ineffectiveness the past two seasons may affect his long-term status with the team. And though Kyler Fackrell surprisingly hit the double-digit sack mark in 2018, Reggie Gilbert failed to stand out after a stellar preseason.
Green Bay needs several new bodies at the position next season after curiously avoiding upgrades at the position a year ago. It would not be shocking to see multiple edge rushers taken in the 2019 draft and more than one in the first two rounds. There is some hope that the Packers can land a premium free agent like Jadeveon Clowney, but it would command a serious financial investment even if Clowney gets out of Houston. No matter which direction the Packers take to try to improve the position, the bottom line is that they will.
What should the Packers’ number one positional priority be in the 2019 offseason?
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