The Green Bay Packers needed an infusion of defensive talent after ranking 26th in scoring defense and 22nd in total defense last season. The Packers also had a major hole at tight end, while its group of receivers needed a boost.
The Packers fixed a few problems, but many more remain.
Green Bay’s biggest move in free agency was signing 31-year-old tight end Jimmy Graham. From 2011-14 while playing in New Orleans, Graham averaged 89 receptions, 1,099 yards and 11.5 touchdowns.
Graham was traded to Seattle in 2015, where his numbers dipped. But Graham did have 65 catches for 923 yards in 2016 and followed that up with a 10-touchdown season in 2017.
The Packers’ biggest addition on defense was the free-agent signing of lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who wore out his welcome with the New York Jets and was released on March 5.
Wilkerson, the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft, should be highly motivated and has plenty to prove after an up and down career with the Jets. Wilkerson started from Day 1 and became one of the better defensive ends in football by 2015.
In July, 2016, Wilkerson signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Jets. Wilkerson collected $37 million of that, but when his play dipped and he became a problem in the locker room, the Jets released him.
Green Bay also addressed its backup quarterback situation by trading for Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer. But they gave away their best cornerback — Damarious Randall — in the deal.
Here is a closer look at where the Packers are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 3rd NFC North (7-9)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 305.7 (26th)
RUSHING: 107.8 (17th)
PASSING: 197.9 (25th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 348.9 (22nd)
RUSHING: 112.1 (17th)
PASSING: 236.8 (23rd)
- Cornerback: Opponents had a passer rating of 102.0 against Green Bay in 2017 — the worst mark in franchise history. Opposing quarterbacks also completed 67.8 percent of their passes, which was also the worst mark in franchise history. Amazingly, the Packers have done very little to improve the position. Randall was traded for Kizer and 35-year-old Tramon Williams was signed in free agency. Otherwise, the same cast of characters could be back in 2018. Yikes!
- Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will count more than $22 million against the salary cap next season. Even with that duo — who both rank among Green Bay’s top-five paid players — the Packers ranked 17th in sacks (37.0) in 2017. The biggest reason is injuries. Matthews missed nine games over the last two seasons, while Perry has never played 16 games in his six NFL seasons. Holdovers Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel have a lot to prove, meaning an infusion of youth and talent are imperative on draft weekend.
- Wide receiver: Jordy Nelson was released and signed with Oakland. That should be addition by subtraction. Jeff Janis also signed with Cleveland. That leaves the Packers with Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and not much else. Green Bay needs to add speed to this group in the worst possible way. The Packers also need better depth than the current group of Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and DeAngelo Yancey. Former Packers general manager Ted Thompson was a wizard at drafting wide receivers. We’ll soon find out if new general manager Brian Gutekunst has the same magic.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.
–TE Jimmy Graham: UFA Seahawks; $30M/3 yrs, $11M SB.
–QB DeShone Kizer (trade Browns).
–DT Muhammad Wilkerson: FA Jets; $5M/1 yr, $1.5M SB.
–CB Tramon Williams: UFA Cardinals; $10M/2 yrs, $4.75M guaranteed/$3.25M SB.
–S Morgan Burnett: UFA Steelers; $14.35M/3 yrs, $4.25M SB.
–WR Jeff Janis: UFA Browns; $1.25M/1 yr.
–WR Jordy Nelson (released).
–CB Damarious Randall (traded Browns).
–TE Richard Rodgers: UFA Eagles; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–LB Joe Thomas: Not tendered as RFA/Cowboys; $3.6M/2 yrs, $600K SB.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 14 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College. With an aging roster that still ranks among the best in the NFC, new general manager Brian Gutekunst may be looking to make a splash with his first selection. Landry’s numbers plummeted in 2017 after ranking among national leaders in sacks, tackles for loss and fumbles as a junior but his burst and bend off the edge is unparalleled in this class — attributes that Gutekunst may find appealing with Clay Matthews Jr. and Nick Perry each struggling with durability concerns.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB, Texas-San Antonio. Green Bay needs to add fresh talent on the edges and Davenport has all the traits to develop into a NFL sack artist. He is still rough around the edges but is only scratching the surface of his immense ability.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.