The best week of the NFL Offseason (at least in terms of football) is here at long last. To top it off, we get Game 6 of the Bucks’ playoff series against the Celtics at the same time. Thursday should be fun. There’s a lot to digest during draft week, but hopefully we can sift through what to watch for together. As with all the “What Do I Know’s,” let your opinion be heard! Agree? Disagree? Good. Let us know why
1. Gutekunst’s First Rodeo
Of the many storylines heading into the draft, this is the most important for Packer fans. Most general managers in the NFL have a distinct style that makes it incrementally easier to predict what they’ll do on a given year. For instance, Ted Thompson was notorious for saying “best player available.” It’s that kind of mindset that delivers players like Aaron Rodgers when there isn’t a need at a position, but it’s also that kind of mindset that can leave a team with crater sized holes at other positions, depending on how the draft shakes out. Will Gutekunst be aggressive or simply stay put? We’ll find out. Judging on how free agency was handled, don’t be surprised to hear about the Packers being in talks with several teams and linked to several players. They’ll get in on several discussions but may only end up making a few key moves.
2. More Holes than a Cheesehead
The second factor impacting the Packers’ draft is the number of needs the team has. Realistically, they could draft an offensive lineman, wide receiver, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, cornerback, or safety, and have the player address a need. Most draft analysts have predicted the team taking an outside linebacker or cornerback with the 14th overall pick, but if the likes of Quenton Nelson (offensive lineman from Notre Dame) slides down or many of the top defensive prospects are off the board, the team could go in another direction.
3. Defense Wins Championships?
Perhaps the boldest claim of the offseason was that of Mike McCarthy a few months back when he said, “The defense needs to be better than the offense. I mean, that has to happen.” To call that goal lofty is to undersell it. The Packers’ offense has carried them since 2011, bringing the team to multiple NFC Championship games and the playoffs year in and year out (save for last year, sans Rodgers). But, to quote dads everywhere, defense wins championships.
So, how do the Packers accomplish that goal? They took a few steps towards it by signing Muhammad Wilkerson in the offseason and re-signing Davon House and Tramon Williams (after a three-year hiatus). However, they lost Morgan Burnett and didn’t do much of anything to improve the pass rush. Fortunately, the return of injured players such as Kevin King and Quinten Rollins will improve the defense along with the development of players such as King and Josh Jones. The last step is adding quality defenders in the draft. Will that be enough? Barring Gutekunst hits gold and drafts a few defensive pro bowlers or half the current defense has career years, the D has a snowball’s chance in hell at outperforming an Aaron Rodgers led offense. But they should be better than in years past, and that’s at least something.
4. Blue Chippers
For those of you unclear with the vernacular, blue chip players in the draft are the cream of the crop. Often, the term gets applied to only 10 or so players in a single draft. As things stand, Green Bay is in blue chip territory for the first time since drafting at number nine overall in 2009. Who are the relevant players? For starters, Denzel Ward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Roquan Smith, Bradley Chubb, Derwin James, and Trumain Edmunds are the primary defenders who are considered blue chip players. Additionally, Josh Jackson, Marcus Davenport, and Harold Landry are right on the border of that consideration. Being able to land one of those players at 14 (maybe even two if they trade back up) would be a huge boost to the defense from day one and for years to come.
5. Trade, please
I mentioned this in the last “What Do I Know” as well. With 12 picks in this year’s draft, the most of any team in the league, Brian Gutekunst would be a fool not to trade up. The odds of 12 drafted rookies even making the final roster is quite the stretch, and the team has nothing to lose by giving up a few picks to move up and take another key player, be it an offensive or defensive talent. Ted Thompson rarely traded up high in the draft, save for moving into the first round to select Clay Matthews in 2009 and trading into the second round on a couple of occasions. Given the needs on the team and the “win now” mentality, it makes sense for the team to trade a few picks in this year and possibly next year’s draft to get another prospect in the first three rounds. If one of the aforementioned players drops past 20 and the Packers don’t trade up you’ll be able to find me pulling an Andy Bernard from the office, as seen below.
6. Don’t forget the Undrafted Fellas
More players get signed as undrafted free agents each year than get drafted. Last year the Packers signed 21 undrafted free agents, and they’ll likely sign a similar number this time around. While many of those players don’t end up making a name for themselves, there are always a few diamonds in the rough found by a few teams. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are perfect examples from the Packers. Pay attention to the names that come across in the days after the draft, as they could be every bit as important as those called out on draft day.