McGinn: King could meet Packers' biggest need

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers can trade up, they can trade down or they can stay where they are and exercise the 29th selection on Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft.

Former Washington cornerback Kevin King could give the Packers' secondary a boost.

Maybe it will be on opening night. Or maybe it will be in the second round and third rounds Friday night.

No matter how you slice it, the Packers must come away with a No. 1 cornerback for the 2017 season.

There are no alternatives or excuses. For the Packers to win the Super Bowl, they need a massive upgrade at cornerback.

General manager Ted Thompson missed badly on two players, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, with his opening choices two years ago. They should be top-notch starters now. The Packers have little choice but to make confidence-enhancing statements regarding the two players, but with Randall’s lack of competitiveness and Rollins’ lack of speed their careers could be over in a year or two.

The Packers easily qualify as desperate. They even signed Davon House, a move to bring back a player once deemed expendable that no team prefers to make, and have been calling on and investigating every veteran that became available.

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Thompson had to bid farewell to concussed Sam Shields, his former No. 1. He also decided that Micah Hyde wasn’t in the plan.

Green Bay enters the draft with an unseemly number of voids (four) for a team that is and always will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender as long as Aaron Rodgers is performing at a high level. The voids are running back and right guard on offense, and inside linebacker and cornerback on defense.

Only cornerback, however, has the potential to undermine the entire operation if Thompson doesn’t clean up the mess that he made atop his draft in 2015.

In the eyes of personnel people, LaDarius Gunter, Randall, Rollins and House all are No. 3 or No. 4 cornerbacks. The Packers really can’t afford not to take a cornerback in the first round, but even beyond that they need to draft another corner some time before the sixth round.

Fortunately for the Packers, it’s a bountiful year at the position. A record seven might be taken in the first round, meaning the fifth- or sixth-ranked cornerback on many teams’ draft boards is a much better prospect than in previous years.

Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore will be long gone. Depending on the club, the next seven almost could go in any order. Remarkably, every one has first-round capability.

Based on Journal Sentinel polling of personnel executives this month, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey ranked second, Ohio State’s Gareon Conley ranked third, Washington’s Sidney Jones ranked fourth, Southern California’s Adoree Jackson ranked fifth, Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White ranked sixth, Washington’s Kevin King ranked seventh and Florida’s Quincy Wilson ranked eighth.

Sources say the Packers are extremely high on King. If the draft unfolds as predicted, and that’s a massive if, King stands the best chance of being their pick at No. 29.

Conley most assuredly would have been gone had it not been for the allegations of sexual assault made against him by a woman during their encounter at a hotel in Cleveland this week. In a statement released Wednesday, Conley strongly denied the accusations.

In the last 24 hours, executives from two teams told the Journal Sentinel that they still expected Conley to be selected in the first round. Another team executive projected Conley would drop into the second round; a personnel director from another team indicated he’d fall out of the top 100.

There were indications that the Packers might have King ranked even higher than Conley. If not, and Conley becomes available at No. 29, would the Packers draft him?

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Several people employed by the Packers now and in the past say Thompson generally has taken a strong position against players with domestic-violence issues. Also, Conley hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Jones, who suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in mid-March, might not be ready as a rookie and probably won’t be picked until Friday.

Jackson (5-10, 186) is the shortest of the leading players but is well admired by the Packers. So is White (5-11, 192), who along with King (6-3, 198) is the only senior.

Wilson (6-1 ½, 211) has tremendous size, as well, but his 40-yard time of 4.56 seconds didn’t even compare to King’s stunning 4.45 clocking at the combine.

Before Indianapolis, King generally was regarded as a second- or third-round pick. After a great workout, the vibe changed to where one could see him being taken 12 to 18 picks ahead of Green Bay.

“If you look at tape, he’s not a first-round pick,” said one personnel man. “If you look at the combine, he’s a top-10 pick.”

With his incredible height and 39 ½-inch vertical jump, King could be the type of cornerback able to go up and compete for the ball with the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones. After a sophomore season at free safety, King played extensively as a bump-and-run cornerback in both man and zone systems. Strangely, he played a lot in the slot, too.

“He’s a finesse press corner,” said one personnel man. “I don’t know if he’s physical enough for Ted. But he is long, and I like long.”

White probably is the better player than King right now, according to scouts, but some worry that his speed (said to be anywhere from 4.47 to 4.53) could be an issue over time. The Packers have high regard for the LSU stalwart, but the towering King represents a chance for greatness that apparently has won them over.

Should Conley drop out of the first round, it would move King forward on some boards and reduce the chances that he’ll be there for the Packers.

Now, if running back Dalvin Cook of Florida State should slip to their position based on non-football issues, he’s such a special player that the Packers probably would draft him.

Barring the unexpected, Cook will be off the board and the Packers will draft their running back later.

On Wednesday, the Packers made a rare unrestricted free-agent signing in guard Jahri Evans, 33. With his once-stellar career nearing the end, he went back to New Orleans in 2016, lost some weight and played 1,139 of 1,153 snaps.

“Tough and strong and limited movement,” an AFC personnel man said Wednesday. “Not a fit for a zone scheme, but he can anchor and plays tough. Stopgap.

“His signing indicates to me that they are a little nervous about the interior situation, which they should be.”

The Packers still need to draft an interior player. They wouldn’t have needed Evans or to take away a selection from what should be an almost total defensive draft if they had re-signed T.J. Lang any time in the last eight months.

Probably without question, the Packers would like to draft any of the three impact inside linebackers: Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida’s Jarrad Davis and Temple’s Haason Reddick.

They’ll likely be taken, however, so the other defensive position of first-round interest is outside linebacker.

Clay Matthews is being paid $13.2 million per year, and Nick Perry’s new contract averages $12 million. They need to play in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the snaps, and Kyler Fackrell was drafted in the third round last year to be an eventual starter.

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The Packers have enough bodies at inside linebacker, and probably will add another in the draft. Matthews is more valuable playing outside on early downs and roaming at times in sub-packages.

It does Matthews and the defense a disservice to switch him back yet again to the inside in the base defense.

No 3-4 team can ever not consider an outside linebacker, but the degree of need there compared to cornerback can’t be compared.

Thompson can see that, of course, but only he can decide if he wants to take Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt to join the group at outside linebacker.

Sources say Thompson loves everything about Watt, both as a player and person. There’s much to admire, from his outstanding final season to his exceptional combine workout to his pedigree and to his many similarities to Matthews.

If Watt isn’t selected in the first round, it would be a surprise to see him last beyond the first 20 choices of the second.

Nevertheless, Thompson is somewhat of a lone wolf on Watt, at least on the basis of my interviews with 13 personnel men this month.

Ten of the 13 said Watt wasn’t a legitimate first-round pick, two said he was and another called him a possible first-round choice.

“I don’t think (Watt) can get in there (first round),” said an AFC executive. “It would shock me if he did.

“He has the injury history. This is really his only year of production. But, you can’t deny what he did this year.”

When an executive from another team was challenged about his good-not-great evaluation of Watt, he replied, “There’s no (expletive) way if you watch the film. I think (Vince) Biegel is better than him. He’s a better workout warrior than football player.

“There’s no way Ted would do that. If he does that he’s lost his mind.”

Missouri’s Charles Harris is widely regarded by scouts as a better player than Watt. If he reaches the 29th slot, the Packers would have to consider him.

If Thompson trades up, it would be for the 10th time since being hired in 2005. He struck it rich doing it with Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett but doesn’t have much to show, at least not yet, for the other seven players that he felt compelled to go get.

It makes sense for Thompson to trade down for additional picks because the Packers’ pre-draft roster might be at an all-time low. He has traded back 19 times in his career.

If King is the choice, he would become the fifth player from the Pacific-12 Conference to be drafted in the first round by Green Bay in the last six drafts. The others were Kenny Clark, Randall, Datone Jones and Perry.

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