So far, this off-season’s free agency hasn’t brought any outside help for the Green Bay Packers. General manager Brian Gutekunst did re-sign their top running back, Aaron Jones, to a new deal. Other than that, it has been pretty much crickets coming from the offices at Lambeau Field. There is still a chance Gutekunst and vice president of football operations Russ Ball still adds a bargain or two from outside the organization. But the chances of them doing so seem slight at this point. Presumably, with the Packers turning away from free agency, the focus turns to this year’s NFL draft. The Green Bay Packers draft needs heading into this year’s draft are plentiful.
Three Positions Will Top the Green Bay Packers Draft Needs List
This off-season has a Ted Thompson-type feel to it. Thompson, the Packers former general manager, was never much of a player when it came to signing outside free agents to the Packers roster. Thompson was always a proponent of building through the draft and developing the core of their roster through that process. It seems that Gutekunst and Ball are taking a page out of Thompson’s book.
Unlike with Thompson, part of the reason Gutekunst and Ball are focusing on the draft instead of free agency is because of this year’s tight salary cap. But that isn’t the only reason. It can be assumed that Gutekunst and Ball feel that the Packers current roster, minus their All-Pro center Corey Linsley who signed with the Los Angles Chargers this off-season, is strong enough to make another run at a Super Bowl in 2021.
Many have questioned that line of thinking. The Packers have fallen one game short of the Super Bowl the past two seasons. It can be argued that the Packers would be helped out by adding a free agent or two to propel them to the Super Bowl. However, it appears that isn’t the approach that Gutekunst and Ball are going to take, right or wrong.
So, it will come down to this year’s draft to add talent to the Packers roster. The Packers draft needs are long, but there are three positions that Gutekunst and company need to address if the Packers are truly going to be considered Super Bowl contenders.
The Situation at Offensive Tackle
If you were to ask a Packers fan which Packers draft need is at the top of their list many would say, cornerback. However, we believe that there is another position that should leapfrog that position.
Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari was lost for the season late in 2020. The knee injury he suffered was severe enough that his return date for 2021 is up in the air. Billy Turner, the usual starter at right tackle, moved over to Bakhtiari’s spot to finish 2020. It is expected that Turner will be the starter on the left side to start 2021 and will hold that position until Bakhtiari’s return.
The dilemma for Gutekunst and company will be who to replace Turner with on the right side. The Packers cut Ricky Wagner this off-season in a cost-savings move. While the move did save the Packers some money, it was also a move that left the Packers gas station toilet paper-thin at right tackle. Wagner was the only proven tackle who had extensive experience at right tackle. Without him, the Packers now find themselves in need of a tackle who not only can play right tackle but could also backup Turner at left tackle.
Prospects in the First Round
Currently, on the Packers roster, there aren’t many options to fill the starting right tackle position. They could move starting left guard Elgton Jenkins over to right tackle. He played some there last season and proved capable of doing so. However, with the departure of Linsley, it is expected that Jenkins moves over to replace him.
If Jenkins moves to center, they could start out with Yosh Nijman on the right side opposite Turner. However, that would be a very risky move. Nijman, an undrafted free agent, has never played a down in his NFL career. To expect him to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers at a level he deserves would seem like a pipe dream. So, that would leave the Packers to find a replacement through the draft.
The Packers select 29th in the first round of this year’s draft. Many of the top offensive tackles will be gone by the time they are on the clock. However, there are a few prospects that could still be available for the Packers and could help during their rookie season.
Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, Texas’s Samuel Cosmi, and Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield all could still be on the board late in the first round. Another possible choice that could be available in the second round is Alabama’s, Alex Leatherwood. All players who could contribute in their rookie season.
Eventually, the Packers need to address the tackle position. Bakhtiari and Turner are the only tackles on the roster that currently can play at an NFL level. It is time Gutekunst addresses the position.
Cornerback Position in Need of Talent
If the offensive tackle position is the number one Packers draft need, cornerback is 1A. Jaire Alexander is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but opposite of him, well, it isn’t good.
The Packers re-signed Kevin King this off-season. For many, that isn’t a good thing. The numbers don’t lie, King has been a major disappointment since being drafted in the second round. Re-signing King doesn’t do anything to improve the cornerback position.
The options on the Packers current roster aren’t very good. Josh Jackson, another disappointing second-round pick, is running out of chances and hasn’t done anything to earn more playing time. Chandon Sullivan is coming off a disappointing season and it is doubtful that the Packers can rely on him on the boundary. The Packers are high on Ka’ar Hollman and Kabion Ento, but both have barely seen the field.
With the Packers sitting out free agency, they will have to look for help in the draft. While we think tackle will be addressed high, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers use their first-round pick on a cornerback.
This year’s draft has some quality prospects, some that might be available late in the first round. Northwestern’s Greg Newsom II, Georgia’s Eric Stokes, and Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. all could be prospects the Packers target. Also, keep an eye on Caleb Farley from Virginia Tech. He has an injury concern that could cause him to fall in the first round. He might be available when the Packers are on the clock.
Depth at Defensive Line
The Packers have one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL in Kenny Clark. To go along with Clark on the defensive front is Kingsley Keke. Keke had four sacks last season in limited duty and should be able to build off of that success.
Dean Lowry, it appears, looks to be returning. Lowry has been a disappointment since signing a big-money deal in 2019. It is a bit of a surprise that he wasn’t a salary cap casualty this off-season. While he does return, if his play doesn’t improve, it could and probably should be his last season as a Packer.
It is expected that cornerback and offensive tackle will be the Packers top two choices. With that in mind, the Packers could look to the third round to get some help on the defensive line.
Possible prospects that could be available for the Packers in the third round are Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa, and Louisiana Tech’s Milton Williams.
Whomever they select, the Packers need to find an interior defensive lineman who can help stop the run. Under former defensive coordinators Dom Capers and Mike Pettine, the Packers defensive line struggled at stopping the run. Don’t expect new defensive coordinator Joe Barry to have a magic spell to stop the run, his track record isn’t overly impressive in doing so. Getting him more help to work with might help with this issue.
Time to Select for the Present
Those three positions are at the top of the Packers draft needs list. However, there are more that weren’t listed in this article. The Packers have had two very impressive past two seasons. They have won a lot of games and made back-to-back NFC championship games. But while winning games is great, winning championships is what it’s all about.
Yes, the Packers hands were tied, to a point, this off-season from signing outside free agents. Still, for all the accolades Ball gets for being a “salary cap wizard”, you would have thought he could have found a way to shore up cap space to sign a player or two who could help the current Packers roster.
But, that is the hand the Packers have been dealt and that has left them searching for immediate help from this year’s draft. With that in mind, Gutekunst doesn’t have the benefit of selecting players who are best for down the road and not the present.
Gutekunst used the Packers top three picks in 2020 on a quarterback of the future, a running back who will be a backup for the present and possibly immediate future, and a tight end/h-back/fullback.
The Packers are blessed to have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. A quarterback who put up an MVP season in 2020. With not signing any help this off-season, it is time to get some players who can propel the Packers to the Super Bowl. Gutekunst is under the spotlight and he needs to make sure to get help, for the present. This year’s draft will be a crucial one, for the current Packers, Gutekunst, and Ball.
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