Matt Ryan to Julio Jones for a 73-yard touchdown. Ryan to Jones again for a 5-yard TD.
Ryan to Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman for scores. Even Ryan with his feet, running for a 14-yard TD.
The NFC Championship Game three months ago was one of the more embarrassing performances in Green Bay Packers history. Atlanta piled up nearly 500 yards of total offense, Ryan threw four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, and the Falcons hammered the Packers, 44-21, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
“We didn’t stop them at all defensively,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward.
If Green Bay harbors any hope of winning the next Super Bowl, it must upgrade its defense. Immensely.
The Packers have one of the poorest collection of cornerbacks and need help at outside linebacker. Fortunately for Green Bay, those are positions of strength in this draft.
The Packers’ first pick is at No. 29. Here are six players Green Bay could potentially select to help a defense that remains an Achilles heel.
CB, Florida (6-1, 211)
Cornerback is the greatest weakness on Green Bay’s roster and Wilson could provide immediate help.
Wilson is big, physical and has ideal size to play cornerback now, and potentially move to safety down the road. Wilson ran a mediocre 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and had 14 reps of 225 pounds.
Wilson, who left Florida after his junior season, had three interceptions in 2016 and returned one for a touchdown. Wilson also had 33 tackles, 31/2 tackles for loss.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson played 735 snaps in 2016 and allowed just 16 receptions on 46 targets (34.8%). That ranked first in the SEC and fifth nationally.
“I feel like I’m the best, without a doubt. No question,” Wilson told reporters during Florida’s pro day last month. “What sets me apart is they’re looking for bigger guys now and I feel like I have the best combination of fluid hips, agility, all of that, speed all put together in one. I feel like there’s guys that run faster, 4.3, 4.4, but they don’t move how I move or did what I did on film this past year.”
OLB, Wisconsin (6-4, 252)
Remember when Clay Matthews wreaked havoc on a weekly basis. Many believe Watt — who has a motor comparable to Matthews — can do the same thing as early as 2017.
Watt (6-4, 252) is bigger than Matthews (6-3, 240) was coming out of USC in 2009. Watt also has slightly larger arms (331/8 vs. 321/4) and substantially bigger hands (11 inches vs. 91/2).
Matthews edged Watt in bench press reps (23-21) and 40-yard dash time (4.67 vs. 4.69). But Watt held the edge in the three-cone drill (6.79 seconds vs. 6.90), the 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds vs. 4.18), the vertical jump (37 inches vs. 35.5) and the broad jump (128.0 inches vs. 121.0).
“It’s great. Anytime you get compared to a great player like that it’s a great comparison,” Watt said of being compared to Matthews. “I personally don’t shape my game after anyone else.”
Watt played just one full year at outside linebacker at Wisconsin and went wild with 111/2sacks, 151/2 tackles for loss and 63 tackles. Watt then decided to join brothers J.J. and Derek in the NFL and left Wisconsin after his memorable junior season.
“What I bring is just my work ethic,” Watt said during the NFL combine in February. “I know it’s a cliché, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop. I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give the team that takes me everything I have.
“To be honest with you it doesn’t matter where I’m drafted or who I’m drafted to. Obviously it would be great to be a first-round draft choice, but second, third, fourth it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter where I go. Wherever I go I’m going to keep my mouth shut and just work as hard as I can and play ball.”
CB, Washington (6-3, 200)
King has rare size for the position, and his length makes it extremely tough for receivers to win 50-50 balls at their high point.
King had the top times of anyone at the NFL combine in the three-cone drill (6.56 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (3.89 seconds). King ran the 40-yard dash in a sizzling 4.43 seconds, but many scouts insist his play speed isn’t nearly as good as his timed speed.
King lifted 225 pounds just 11 times and needs more strength to compete at the line of scrimmage. King also played for ex-Packer Hardy Nickerson at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland.
“Not too many guys are used to having that constant pest on them, nasty and long,” King said at the NFL combine. “And I’m going to get the ball. When the ball’s in the air, that 50/50 ball isn’t really 50/50. There are bigger guys in this league, and you’ve got to go up and get the ball.”
CB, Colorado (6-0, 202)
Awuzie has an impressive combination of size, speed (4.43), athleticism and foot quickness. Awuzie’s tackling has been questioned by many scouts, but he can play inside or out and has also excelled on an island.
Awuzie also has a unique ability to get to quarterbacks, posting nine career sacks at Colorado, including eight in the last two seasons.
“I’m just a ballplayer,” Awuzie said. “I always have the mentality of ‘See ball, get ball.’ No matter where I’m lined up, whether it’s sacking the quarterback: get the ball, I’m going to tackle him. If the ball’s in the air, I’m going to tackle him on a play. And that’s the way my mentality is.”
DE/OLB, Missouri (6-3, 253)
Harris had 301/2 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in the last two seasons. Harris has decent speed (4.82), but has gotten too easily engulfed by larger tackles.
Harris, a former basketball standout, didn’t begin playing football until his junior year of high school and seemingly has a high ceiling.
“I feel like my natural ability, my upscale (upside) is just amazing,” Harris said. “I feel like I’m still raw at the game, I’m young at the game. I think coaches all know that I’m yearning to learn more, I’m eager to be better. I’m eager to be great.”
CB, LSU (5-11, 192)
White was a four-year starter at LSU, a school with a long history of producing top-shelf NFL corners.
White is one of the top cover corners in the draft, but lacks run-support physicality. White runs well (4.47) and followed No. 1 receivers for much of his time at LSU.
“I have a great mindset,” White said. “The way I approach things just knowing the position I play is all about short term memory. I have that. You’re going to get beat. But I’m going to win more than I lose.”
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