The dust has settled on the 2017 NFL draft with each team hoping the additions are what it needed to make the leap to play-off contenders. Most will turn out to be pipedreams, but a few will be the extra edge teams need to ensure their post-season isn’t spent on the couch wondering what might have been.
For the Packers, it’s about making a bigger step. Last season’s NFC final loss to the Falcons hurt; it should do. Losing a final is never a pleasant experience but to lose by 23 points to a team whose victory was narrower in the regular season, cuts deep.
The sixth consecutive play-off defeat since Super Bowl XLV; Green Bay returned to the Conference final for the second time in three years but the x-factor, the difference between champions and also-rains, is missing.
Last season’s defense was a disaster. Ranked 21st overall, it made reaching the Super Bowl harder work than it already is. When the pass defense is the second worst in the NFL, the scope of the problem becomes very evident.
As flamboyant as the offensive game can be, nothing is won with a defense with as many leaks as a colander. The 2017 draft, trades and signings point to a concerted effort to resolve those weaknesses.
This year broke the pattern of one forward, one to the side and one-half back. There was a concerted effort in the signings across the board to address the weaknesses. Was it one last ‘grand hurrah’ at the Super Bowl, or is it the beginning of a new era?
Ages across the roster lend itself to the former; the starters are loaded toward the old end of the range which is ARod at 33 years-old. In soccer, a British pundit, Alan Hansen, famously said, “You win nothing with kids” and while he was proved by the eventual champions, Manchester United, his theory for the large part, is sound.
Young Bucks and Wise Heads
Which suggests the composition of the squad in age terms, is largely right. The experience in the starting line-up is there for ability but also in bringing through the next generation. So, has the off-season produced the balance which will lead to glory.
Typically for the Packers, there was a cost to the benefit. Losing Micah Hyde’s versatility at cornerback and safety needs replacing but will a tightening up across the board come from a mix of the draft and half-a-dozen signings?
Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Davon House, Ricky Jean Francois, Justin McCray, Derek Hart, and Jahri Evans all signed. The draft comprised Kevin King, Josh Jones, Montravius Adams, and Vince Biegel, all of whom could feature regularly during the 2017 regular season. The remainder – Jamaal Williams, DeAngelo Yancey, Aaron Jones, Kofi Amichia, Devante Mays, Malachi Dupre – have rings of insurance policies, the draft picks who cover a dip in form or injury.
Cornerback Kevin King, a likely starter, was first-pick in the draft and underlines a direct approach to solving the pass defense problems. His versatility makes him a comparable replacement for Hyde, versatile along the defensive line from cornerback to safety.
That’s not necessarily the case; second-pick Josh Jones is very definitely the versatile solution. Like King, he has genuine pace and can play safety; three interceptions at North Carolina last year hints at an facet of his game which was missing from the Packers last season, on a regular basis at least.
The recurring theme throughout the offseason is depth. Next season will see more resilience in the Packers back line; the weakness of last time around is, on the surface, not going to resurface.
Tie in the arrival of Ricky Jean Francois, and the bodies are piling up. Montravius Adams as defensive tackle, is just that. Francois, moving from the Colts, 49ers onto the Redskins and now the Packers, his career stats improved last season, getting back to the level of his final Colts season.
All in all, the Packers look stronger now than when the dust settled on Falcons’ defeat. That’s reflected in the odds for the coming season. The Packers, as of May 10th are second favourites behind the Seahawks for the NFC at +500 (odds taken from Bet Way) whilst joint-second favourites for the Super Bowl with the Falcons, Seahawks and Cowboys.
The odds are no guarantee of sporting success but they are a heavy indicator of where a team is headed. Everything is pointing to Teddy Thompson having a strong off-season in vision. The reality of that will manifest after the hard work of the training camps.