Offensive line. Cornerback. Wide receiver. Defensive line.
These were the Green Bay Packers’ greatest needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. And the Packers spent the three-day draft attacking them.
Green Bay took three offensive linemen and two cornerbacks among their nine draft picks. The Packers also plucked a wide receiver, defensive tackle, inside linebacker and a running back.
“It’s interesting,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “Every year you end up with a bunch of guys and you never really know how it’s going to pan out, but you always usually have a little bit of a feeling how quickly these guys can adapt. And I feel really good about this group.
“I think there’s some guys that are going to help us immediately and I just think that are all suited kind of for long-term success in the NFL. I know that’s very rare and it doesn’t always happen, but I like all these guys’ chances.”
Here’s a look at the good, bad and ugly from a very promising draft for Green Bay.
• Putting it on the line: According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers’ offensive line ranked No. 2 in the league last year. There were major concerns, though, with center Corey Linsley and guard Lane Taylor leaving in free agency, and the release of tackle Ricky Wagner.
In addition, left tackle David Bakhtiari (ACL) is unlikely to be ready for the season-opener.
But the Packers did a terrific job replenishing the talent and depth up front.
MORE FOR YOU
Second round center Josh Myers of Ohio State seems likely to step in for Linsley from Day 1. Fourth round tackle/guard Royce Newman could battle for playing time early, while sixth round tackle/guard Cole Van Lanen has a chance to make the roster.
“Certainly anytime you add talent like we did over the last three days, that versatility is vital to our success as an offense and as a football team,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said.
Throw in the fact Green Bay used three sixth round draft picks on linemen in 2020 and there should be plenty of options to keep the line among the top-10 in football.
• Cornering the market: Green Bay’s secondary has a chance to go from good to elite in 2021.
The Packers used their first round pick on Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, a blazer who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds at Georgia’s pro day. That time is believed to be the fastest by any player at a pro day in the 2021 draft.
“As we went through the process today, he was kind of sticking out like a sore thumb on our board and we didn’t really think he had a chance to get there,” Gutekunst said of Stokes. “We thought maybe when we started, there might be an outside chance, but as the board fell and some of those corners went off early, we weren’t really sure if we were gonna be able to, he was gonna get to us, and we were really excited that he did.”
The Packers brought back their top three corners from a year ago, but Stokes will have every chance to supplant Kevin King or Chandon Sullivan in the lineup. If that happens, Stokes, plus Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander and the dynamic safety duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage will give the Packers one of the top-5 secondaries on football.
“It’s all about competition in this league and certainly we think (Stokes) is a very talented player that obviously has great speed, coverage skills, great length,” LaFleur said. “But it’s a competitive situation. I talked to Kevin (King) yesterday and he realizes that.
“Our goal as a coaching staff is always to get the best 11 out on the field. The more competition you have at every position I think that brings out the best in each individual player, which obviously helps this football team.”
• Winning at slots: Green Bay hasn’t had a difference-making slot receiver since Randall Cobb left after the 2018 season. Third round pick Amari Rodgers from Clemson should change that.
Rodgers caught 77 passes for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. Rodgers finished his Clemson career with 181 receptions for 2,144 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Rodgers is just 5-foot-9 ½, but is a sturdy 212 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds and recorded a 33-1/2” vertical jump.
In addition, Rodgers is expected to give some life to Green Bay’s miserable return units.
“He’s short but he’s not small,” Gutekunst said. “You know, he’s 212 pounds. When you see him, when you get up on him, he’s not a small man. He’s just not tall. So, I do think he’s a little different maybe than some of the other slot guys you see across the league because he’s just built a little bit more like a running back.
“So, he gave me great comfort because I think one of the things he does and I think you have to do in this league is you can’t run by everybody in this league, You’ve got to be able to take contact on and break tackles and he’s certainly one of the kind of guys that can do that.”
“The ability on first and second down to go outside,” Green Bay’s coach said. “He’s got a good build to him. The expectation is on the run downs to be able to dig out whether it’s safeties, corners, to be able to be a premier blocker and when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s pretty dynamic.
“I think you can use him a lot of different ways, whether it’s on jet motions or in the passing games, I think he’s a really good route-runner. He’s just a complete football player.”
• Linebacking issues: The outside world looked at Green Bay’s inside linebacking group — undrafted Krys Barnes, 2019 seventh round draft pick Ty Summers and 2020 fifth-rounder Kamal Martin — before the draft and said an upgrade is necessary.
It doesn’t seem like Green Bay feels the same way, though.
The Packers have largely ignored the inside linebacker spot early in drafts for years now. And 2021 was no different.
Green Bay waited until the sixth round to select undersized Isaiah McDuffie of Boston College.
“I was kind of a Swiss Army knife,” McDuffie said of his role at Boston College. “I could rush. I could check tight ends, running backs in space, play inside, outside the ball.
“I just feel like at the next level I’m here to do whatever a team asks me to do, whether that’s special teams or contributing on defense. I’m just ready to do the gritty jobs and do whatever I can do help the team.”
Gutekunst said Saturday night he’d like to add a veteran inside linebacker. If the Packers hope to improve this positional group, he’ll probably need to.
• Help for Clark: The Packers have one of the NFL’s dominant nose tackles in Kenny Clark. He needs more help up front, though, and Green Bay’s only addition was fifth round, 320-pound nose tackle T.J. Slaton of Florida.
Slaton appears to be a developmental player who might be able to spell Clark from time to time. But Green Bay’s suspect run defense — which ranked 18th in yards allowed per carry (4.5) — doesn’t appear any better than it did in 2020.
“Going up there, playing with Clark, I’m going up there willing to learn, get all the advice that he can give me and see if we can click on the field together and really cause some disruption,” Slaton said.
Considering Slaton was a one-year starter at Florida who’s displaced in the run game too easily, that might be wishful thinking.
• Aaron Rodgers vs. the Packers: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropped a bombshell Thursday when he leaked information through several media outlets that he didn’t want to play for the Packers again.
Gutekunst said later that night, “We’re not going to trade Aaron Rodgers.” And on Saturday, LaFleur said, “I can’t even take my brain to that spot right now. I just want to do everything in my power to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Rodgers has been agitated with management since they traded up in the 2020 draft and selected his expected replacement, Jordan Love. Pro Football Talk also reported, “(Rodgers) doesn’t like anyone in the front office for a variety of reasons.”
ESPN reported that Packers president Mark Murphy, head coach Matt LaFleur and Gutekunst have all flown to California to meet with Rodgers. In all three instances, Rodgers has shown no interest in a reconciliation. Rodgers has also told teammates he won’t return to Green Bay in 2021.
“We’ve been working through this for a little while now, and I just think it may take some time, but he’s a guy that kind of makes this thing go,” Gutekunst said. “He gives us the best chance to win, and we’re going to work towards that end.”
If the Packers are the only party that wants to reunite, though, a divorce is a virtual certainty. And a summer of turmoil seems likely in Green Bay.
Green Bay Packers 2021 draft picks
• Round 1 (No. 29): Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
• Round 2 (No. 62): Josh Myers, C/G, Ohio State
• Round 3 (No. 85): Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
• Round 4 (No. 142): Royce Newman, OT/G, Ole Miss
• Round 5 (No. 173): T.J. Slaton, DT, Florida
• Round 5 (No. 178): Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Appalachian State
• Round 6 (No. 214): Cole Val Lanen, OT/G, Wisconsin
• Round 6 (No. 220): Isaiah McDuffie, ILB, Boston College
• Round 7 (No. 256): Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State