Aaron Nagler and Pete Dougherty discuss the Packers selections from Day 2 of the NFL draft and how things look heading into Day 3. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Anyone wondering whether Ted Thompson was in denial about what ails his Green Bay Packers need wonder no longer.
His early picks in the draft Friday night said it all: Thompson is fully aware the Packers needed to get more explosive on that side of the defensive side of the ball.
Five straight years of spending his first-round pick on defense hadn’t come close to doing the trick, as was painfully obvious after watching the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. blow coordinator Dom Capers’ defense off the field last January to win a spot in the Super Bowl.
So Thompson, after trading out of the first round of the draft on Thursday night, spent his top two picks, both in the second round Friday night, on players with rare combinations of size and speed: Washington cornerback Kevin King at No. 33 overall, and North Carolina State safety Josh Jones at No. 61 overall.
King is the Packers’ tallest cornerback in recent memory. On top of that, he immediately became their fastest defensive back (4.43 40). That is, until they drafted Jones. At 220 pounds, Jones now is their heaviest player in the secondary and their fastest (4.41 40).
This has all the look of the start of a makeover of the Packers’ defense.
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“This is not our grandfather’s football that we’re playing in this day and age,” Thompson said after Friday’s second and third rounds. “Everybody’s fast, everybody’s explosive. I think that’s what we’re trying to get at.”
It’s safe to say both rookies will have to help the Packers this season, at least if this defense is going to be any better than it was in 2016.
It’s almost a given King will be one of their top three cornerbacks. The Packers don’t have anyone close to his talent at that position now, even if he is on the raw side after moving from safety to cornerback for only his final two seasons at Washington.
My early guess is the nickel will have him, Davon House and Damarious Randall as the cover men. But maybe LaDarius Gunter or Quinten Rollins will make that group instead.
Either way, King’s combination of size and athleticism is rare and something the Packers have to get on the field after watching their secondary give up play after play last season. If he’d been that productive a player at Washington he would have been a first-round pick, but his performance at the NFL scouting combine really was exceptional.
MockDraftable.com has combine data going back to 1999, and King’s short shuttle (3.89 seconds) and three-cone drill (3.89 seconds) were in the 96th percentile for cornerbacks, and his vertical jump (39½ inches) is in the 88th percentile. That would be great for a guy who’s 6-0.
“Are you kidding me? 3.89 is like a guy that’s 5-9,” a scout from an NFC team told me last week when asked about King. “This guy is 6-3. His movement skills, that’s not an issue.”
The scout ranked four cornerbacks in the draft ahead of King: Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, LSU Tre’Davious White and Ohio State’s Gareon Conley. All four went in the first round; King went on the first pick of the second.
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“(They) right now are better man-cover guys than Kevin King,” the scout said. “Kevin King’s a better athlete than all those guys, and I think Kevin King has the higher ceiling. I interviewed him. Very sharp young man.”
Jones will have a harder time getting on the field. His best chance might be when Morgan Burnett moves from safety to inside linebacker in one of the Packers’ nickel packages. They started using that package more as last season wore on, and coach Mike McCarthy has said that trend will continue this year.
Until the Jones pick, the best candidate to fill in for Burnett was Kentrell Brice, an undrafted rookie last year who flashed some explosiveness. But now you have to think Jones is the frontrunner even though he’s a rookie.
But there’s also a chance the Packers see Jones as a possibility for the linebacker role Burnett’s been playing. Jones is — he’s 6-1 3/8 and 220 pounds, to Burnett’s 6-1 and 209 — so he’s built for the more physical play in that area. And the league is trending that way, because a safety at linebacker can better match up against the spread-out passing games that dominate the NFL.
“(He’s) 6-1½, 220, 4.4 (40). That’s impressive in its own right,” said Brian Gutekunst, the Packers’ director of player personnel. “But then you watch the tape and he backs it up. He’s not one of those guys that tested well and then you don’t see the athletic traits on the tape. You see it. Yeah, we’re excited.”
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Two positions Thompson didn’t address Friday were outside rusher and running back. That made the pick of Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams (6-4, 309) a little bit of a head scratcher, though it suggests Thompson was following his draft board and continued the emphasis on defense.
It’s also worth noting that his 4.87-second 40 is exceptional (91st percentile for defensive tackles), so he’s explosive for his position. But like the rest of the group, we might not know for two or three years whether he’s a good player.
I still think the Packers’ pass rush is a problem, and we’ll see whether Thompson can pluck a diamond from the draft’s final four rounds on Saturday. But you can’t say he’s in denial about what ails his team.
Aaron Nagler and Michael Cohen discuss the selection of safety Josh Jones and what it means for the secondary going forward. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin