It was a slippery 2017 campaign for the Green Bay Packers, with the third-place finish in the NFC North seen as a direct result of superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone. After five games with Rodgers at the helm, the Packers were 4-1, losing the game against the Minnesota Vikings in which he sustained the injury. He returned in time to potentially save the season and get into the postseason, but the Packers couldn’t defeat the Carolina Panthers with three games to go to enable a playoff berth.
With the end of the Green Bay season coming before the New Year, some long-overdue changes took place with the coaching staff and front office, including general manager Ted Thompson and defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Now, with college scouting expert Brian Gutekunst as the general manager and Mike Pettine coordinating the defense, we can turn to the 2018 NFL Draft to see how the team will take their next step towards getting back into the playoffs as soon as possible. The big name being thrown around for Green Bay’s first round (14th overall) pick is the record-breaking LSU outside linebacker/defensive end, Arden Key.
Green Bay team needs in a tough division
SOURCE: Wausau Daily Herald, via Twitter
Even though the season came to a disappointing conclusion, it ushered in staff room changes that were long overdue, which will hopefully make the team much stronger in the coming seasons. Aaron Rodgers missing much of the season also helped to expose the many cracks in the team that his offensive mastery had been seemingly covering up. One of the last actions of general manager Ted Thompson was a greatly beneficial one to the franchise, with one of the stars of the woeful season, Davante Adams, being given a four-year, $58.75 million contract, per ESPN. With team-leading receiving numbers – 885 receiving yards on 74 receptions with ten touchdowns – despite Brett Hundley manning center for 11 games, Adams cemented his place as a Packer. But the Packers will need more than this to turn their fortunes around in the NFC North.
The fact of the matter is that the Packers’ rivals have quickly become competitive, with the rise of the Minnesota Vikings, the stability of Detroit Lions, and the budding emergence of the Chicago Bears looking like daunting teams to face for any team, let alone one who is to play them twice per season. The Minnesota Vikings are the real scaremongers here, with their hardy defense and surprisingly good offense causing problems for many NFL teams. Finishing the season with a 13-3 record and having defeated the Packers twice in the regular season, the Vikings are, as of January 10 with Betway, second-favorites to win Super Bowl LII at +400. A scary prospect, the Packers need to seal the cracks to hope to contend with the Vikings as quickly as possible. But it’s not as simple as just improving their current crop, as, according to Spotrac, the Packers have a lot of key players running out of contract in 2019.
Coming out of the 2017 campaign, the Green Bay Packers are in clear need of an outside linebacker, with yet another season in the position yielding disappointing results, particularly from Nick Perry, who was very much a boom or bust player and ended the season on the injured-reserve. To add to this, Clay Matthews is one of the big names set to hit the 2019 free agency. What seemed like a shrewd bit of business in the summer, signing tight end Martellus Bennett proved to be a flop on and off of the field. Cornerback could use some reinforcement, but with the team having already picked up Kevin King from the 2017 NFL Draft, they could sit on him for a bit, especially with a better defensive coordinator instated. Finally, with both cap-munching receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson set to hit the free agency in 2019, now looks like the time to draft and blood-in a replacement for one of them.
Packers in the 2018 NFL Draft
SOURCE: The Ten-Yard Line, via Twitter
Given the needs of other teams in the draft, a decent wide receiver and pass-catching tight end should be available after Day 1, with would-be 25-year-old rookie Hayden Hurst or Troy Fumagalli posing as strong tight end options for the Packers after the first round, and the underrated receiver James Washington likely still on the board. So let us turn to the most immediate need regarding team performance over the past few seasons and due to potential player departures, outside linebacker. Look at almost any draft board and the name most closely associated with the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 NFL Draft is the 6’6’’, 238 lb defensive end turned linebacker Arden Key. In three years at LSU, Key stacked up 130 tackles, four forced fumbles, and 21 sacks. His 12-sack season in 2016 set an LSU single-season record, per NOLA. Ranked as one of the best defensive ends in the draft as well as a highly-rated linebacker, Key’s athleticism and versatility would prove to be huge assets to the Green Bay Packers as they move forward. However, there may be a better option on the board.
Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Ogbonnia Okoronkwo received national acclaim after his incredible 2017 season. Standing 6’1’’ and 240 lbs, Okoronkwo has the build and incredible athleticism to be a top-class outside linebacker. His speed and power is one thing, but his intelligence on the field is very special, knowing just how to get to the quarterback as an outside rusher as well as when to drop in coverage. To add to this, Okoronkwo is also incredibly versatile, able to play well at inside or outside linebacker as well as at defensive end. Arden Key is the man with all of the hype around him, setting records for LSU and being a dominant force, but this season was mired by injury, and off-field issues have cropped up. Given the fact that one of the major problems to hit Green Bay’s outside linebacker corps over the last few seasons has been injuries, perhaps a sturdier and better fit as an outside linebacker in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo would be the smarter pick in this draft.