MILWAUKEE (AP) A new general manager is in charge of making the picks in the NFL draft this year for the Green Bay Packers, who are stocked with new faces on the coaching staff.
So many changes this offseason and yet the Packers will have familiar priorities when the draft starts Thursday night.
Think defense, again.
The secondary could use a cornerback or versatile safety. The pass rush could use another athletic presence off the edge.
”There will be some different people sitting in some different chairs. But I think it’s going to be exciting,” GM Brian Gutekunst, who replaced the retired Ted Thompson in the offseason, said at the NFL combine.
”But what matters is building the board,” Gutekunst said. ”On draft day you kind of trust yourself, you watch it fall and then make the best decision you can.”
There are a few holes to fill on a team that finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers back this fall, the Packers hope to regain their postseason swagger in 2018.
It makes this year’s draft especially important for a team that normally doesn’t pick so high in the first round. At No. 14, the Packers have a shot at selecting an impact starter on defense.
Damarious Randall, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2015, was traded to Cleveland for backup quarterback DeShone Kizer, to shake up the cornerback position again.
Veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House came back on free-agent deals and figure to join Kevin King, a second-round selection in 2017, atop the cornerback depth chart.
But another young cornerback certainly won’t hurt in a pass-happy league. Prospects such as Ohio State’s Denzel Ward or Central Florida’s Mike Hughes might be first-round options.
Or the Packers might look at safety after versatile veteran Morgan Burnett left as a free agent for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another 2017 second-round pick, Josh Jones, seems poised to replace Burnett.
But another talented safety from the draft, such as Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Florida State’s Derwin James, could give new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine more speed and valuable flexibility.
Clay Matthews, who will be 32 next month, hasn’t eclipsed double-digit sacks since 2014, though he was asked to play middle linebacker during part of that time. Nick Perry had seven sacks after being limited to 12 games because of injury in 2017, his first after signing a contract extension. UTSA edge rusher Marcus Davenport could be a tempting first-round option with his explosiveness and potential.
Jordy Nelson is gone and Randall Cobb is entering the last year of his contract. Davante Adams is the new No. 1 receiver and under contract until 2021. Geronimo Allison, who has 35 catches and two touchdowns in his first two years in the league, could earn more playing time. The Packers could target a receiver or two in the early rounds of the draft to replenish depth.
ON THE O-LINE
There are questions on the right side of the offensive line, enough so that it wouldn’t be a surprise if Green Bay saw value in taking a top prospect early. Veteran Jahri Evans, who was solid in his one season at right guard, turns 35 this summer and remains a free agent. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his right ACL last season, and top backups Jason Spriggs (knee) and Kyle Murphy (foot) are also coming back from injury.
HITS, MISSES AND BARGAINS
The Packers had a productive first couple rounds in 2014 with Thompson in charge, taking safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round and Adams in the second. The 2016 draft brought three defensive starters in lineman Kenny Clark in the first round, along with a pair of fourth-rounders in lineman Dean Lowry and inside linebacker Blake Martinez.
Cornerback Quinten Rollins, a second-round pick in 2015, has been slowed by injuries through his career. Kyler Fackrell, a third-round pick in 2016, hasn’t produced enough to ease depth concerns at outside linebacker.
The Packers got two bargains on the offensive line after taking left tackle David Bakhtiari in the fourth round in 2013 and center Corey Linsley in the fifth round a year later. More recently, the 2017 draft brought value at running back with fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams and fifth-rounder Aaron Jones.
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