D'Amato: Draft is a start for defense, not a cure-all
The last time we saw the Green Bay Packers’ defense, it was all but curled up in the fetal position on the Georgia Dome turf.
So naturally, optimism abounds in Packer Nation after Ted Thompson used his first four picks in the NFL draft to address a whole lot of need. Cornerback Kevin King, safety Josh Jones, defensive tackle Montravius Adams and outside linebacker Vince Biegel could wind up being plug-and-play rookies.
If all four contribute, will the Packers be markedly improved on defense this fall?
Don’t count on it.
Green Bay is coming off a season in which its defense ranked 31st in passing yards, tied for 30th in passing touchdowns and was 22nd in total yards. The Atlanta Falcons exploited every weakness in the NFC championship game, with Matt Ryan going off for 392 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-21 beat down.
It’s hard to fix that kind of ugly overnight, especially with first-year players.
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Unless Clay Matthews sips from the fountain of youth, either Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins pulls his helmet out of his posterior and players such as Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark make the jump from serviceable to special, this will not be a top-10 unit. Might not even be close.
Raise your hand if you think King and Jones will be ready to solve the Ryan-Julio Jones puzzle in Week 2. Even with veteran corner Davon House and safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix helping to fast-track the rookies, it will take time for them to be comfortable with all the calls on the back end.
The Packers let Julius Peppers, Micah Hyde and Datone Jones walk. Peppers was in the fourth quarter of a Hall of Fame career and Jones and Hyde were just OK. But at least they were veterans who didn’t make a ton of assignment mistakes.
Free-agent signees House and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois look like one-year stopgaps.
Where does it all leave the Packers?
Once again, they’re probably going to have to outscore opponents. Fortunately, they’re equipped to do so.
Thompson’s surprising signing of free-agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks allows coach Mike McCarthy to be even more creative with personnel groupings and formations.
The GM’s drafting of wide receivers DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre creates a healthy competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis just got served notice.
Thompson also drafted three running backs and needs only one to emerge as a complement to Ty Montgomery. The Packers will miss human wrecking ball Eddie Lacy, but would he have been able to stay on the field? The Seattle Seahawks will find out.
The offensive line could be problematic. Letting Josh Sitton get away one year and T.J. Lang the next is no one’s idea of addition by subtraction. Thompson and McCarthy, not to mention quarterback Aaron Rodgers, are depending on newly signed guard Jahri Evans to have something left in the tank.
But even with a couple of question marks, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the offense will put up a lot of points. The Packers’ weekly challenge, once again, will be to put up more points than the guys in the other uniforms.