Packers need help at several positions

Draft, trades, free agents provide opportunities for Green Bay to shore up offense, defense
By: 
Jacob Westendorf
Green & Gold Express

The Green Bay Packers’ offseason has been a roller coaster ride.

The 2023 season ended after the Packers outplayed the San Francisco 49ers for the better part of three and a half quarters.

Unfortunately, the game is four quarters long, and the Packers house of horrors stung them again as they went home with a 24-21 loss.

The future, however, looks bright. Jordan Love played like an MVP candidate down the stretch of the 2023 season, establishing himself as not only the Packers’ quarterback of the future but one of the best players in the sport at his position.

Love and his band of pass catchers should have the offense feeling like they’re in a good spot for the future if they can fortify some depth on their offensive line.

One key to overcome will be the loss of Aaron Jones. Merely weeks after Brian Gutekunst called Jones the heartbeat of the football team, he cut the heart out of the team.

Jones was released after refusing to take a pay cut for a second consecutive season and signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Jones was replaced by Josh Jacobs, who the Packers reportedly agreed to terms with hours before Jones was released.

Jacobs is younger and won the rushing title in 2023. The question will be how the Packers fill the leadership void that Jones filled so admirably during a tumultuous time in Green Bay.

Jacobs will be flanked by AJ Dillon, who the Packers surprisingly were able to re-sign after his market was limited in the offseason.

The offensive line also said goodbye to its best player when David Bakhtiari was released before the start of the new league year, ending a three-year saga of unfortunate knee injuries that have wrecked what could have been a Hall of Fame career.

On the defensive side of the ball, the big additions were at defensive coordinator, and safety.

Jeff Hafley was tabbed as the man to replace Joe Barry, who was let go after the team finished in the bottom third of defensive rankings for the third year in a row.

LaFleur’s hire was certainly outside the box. Hafley was not listed as a primary candidate after Barry was fired, but he brings an attacking style defense that should better suit some of the players that the Packers have on the roster.

One thing they did not have that Hafley needed was a game-changing safety.

The Packers did what they rarely do and dipped into the top end of the free agent market to give him one.

Xavier McKinney was signed to a four-year contract worth $68 million to stabilize a position that was in flux throughout all of 2023.

The work to improve the team is not done. The Packers have late stages of free agency, the draft or trades to still try and improve a roster that according to everyone in Titletown, is ready to win a Super Bowl right now.

Here’s a look at some of the needs they still need to address.

Offensive line

The offensive line has gone through some change this offseason. Bakhtiari, Jon Runyan Jr. and Yosh Nijman have all moved on. Nobody has been brought in as of yet to replace them.

If the season began today, Sean Rhyan would replace Runyan Jr. at right guard. Royce Newman would be the team’s primary backup on the interior of the offensive line. Caleb Jones would be the swing tackle.

Of the team’s current players on the roster, only Newman has played snaps as a reserve lineman.

Rhyan had a better second season than rookie year, but that was a low bar to clear. He still struggled and never fully grabbed hold of the starting spot at right guard despite competing with Runyan Jr. throughout the back half of the season.

Rhyan is far from a slam dunk as a starter. Josh Myers has been inconsistent and is entering a contract year.

Both players could be replaced as soon as the 2024 draft, if not the 2025 season, should a replacement be selected in this year’s draft class.

The Packers could also elect to go the veteran route at that position. Dalton Risner remains available, and he’s played a lot of snaps in his career, most recently with the Minnesota Vikings.

There are still question marks at tackle as well. Zach Tom looks like a building block at right tackle. He was the team’s best player on offense in 2023.

Rasheed Walker finished the season strong but also struggled mightily early in the year after being pressed into duty following Bakhtiari’s injury.

Walker’s strong finish has overshadowed the fact he was still rotating with Nijman as late as the week before Christmas.

He could be the team’s left tackle of the future but likely would not prevent Brian Gutekunst from taking an offensive tackle early in this year’s draft class.

Safety

McKinney is going to lead the safety room for years to come. The issue for now is there is nobody around him. That is nearly a literal translation.

Anthony Johnson Jr. Benny Sapp III and Zayne Anderson are the only other safeties under contract right now. Johnson Jr. is a former seventh-round pick. Sapp and Anderson were both primarily used on special teams.

McKinney is a good start to fixing the safety room, but they’ll need more help back there. That could mean a bargain free agent and a draft pick. They need bodies.

Whether it’s Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Washington State’s Jaden Hicks or Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin, Gutekunst will likely be in the market to add at least one player to that group via the draft.

Cornerback

On paper, the cornerback group looks OK. Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes have both played good football in the past. Alexander is a two-time All-Pro selection.

Closer examination, however, reveals this group’s stability is tenuous, at best.

Alexander has struggled with injuries and bizarre behavior from a season ago that resulted in a suspension for the team’s penultimate game of the season.

Alexander and the team have said that situation has been put in the past, and Alexander did play well in the team’s final three games of the season. When he’s on the field, he’s a game changer.

Stokes has struggled with injuries and spent two separate stints on injured reserve a season ago. When he did play, he really struggled. There’s questions as to whether he’s lost some athleticism as well due to the lower body injuries he’s sustained in his career.

This could be a position where the Packers use yet another high pick to protect themselves in the event that Alexander and Stokes both struggle with injuries, and Carrington Valentine’s strong rookie season turns into a mirage.

Running back

Yes, the Packers brought in Josh Jacobs and were able to re-sign AJ Dillon this offseason. This is the same regime that selected Dillon in the second round when they had Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams both on the roster.

Both Jones and Williams were on expiring contracts at that time. Dillon’s contract will expire. Jacobs’ contract is essentially a one-year deal with three team options.

The Packers need to find a young running back for the future. With Jacobs and Dillon both being more powerful runners, this is a position group that could stand to add some speed.

Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright, Florida State’s Trey Benson or Texas’ Jonathan Brooks are all players that could fit that sort of mold.

If Gutekunst wanted to pair similar styles to Jacobs, Michigan’s Blake Corum or Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen could be options as well.

The Packers theoretically could stand to add two players to this group as well in the event that Jacobs and Dillon both move on after the 2024 season.

Linebacker

Of all the spots on the roster, linebacker might be the thinnest group at the moment. Quay Walker will return for his third season, but he has been inconsistent through his two years as a pro.

Isaiah McDuffie is set to start, and he has the benefit of having played for Hafley before at Boston College.

Those are the only two linebackers that have played significant snaps on the roster. De’Vondre Campbell was released and went to San Francisco this offseason.

Kristian Welch and Eric Wilson are around to play special teams.

The veteran linebacker class was picked over during free agency, leaving that group as thin as the draft class. The Packers have hosted Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper on a top-30 visit for draft picks.

Would the Packers be willing to use another premium draft asset on an inside linebacker? That remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Gutekunst needs to add at least one or two players to this position group.