GREEN BAY – At the risk of simplifying things too much, the Packers’ primary accomplishments in the 2017 NFL Draft can be boiled down to these.
They made themselves potentially more dynamic on defense, and they loaded up at running back.
When Green Bay added outside linebacker Vince Biegel with the first pick on Saturday in the fourth round, it was a fourth consecutive selection on the defensive side of the ball, which needed the most attention following last season’s run to the NFC title game.
As a Wisconsin native and alum, Biegel will be an immediate fan favorite in Green Bay. More important, the impressive homegrown talent gives the Packers two developmental edge-rushing prospects, along with 2016 third-round Kyler Fackrell, to help replace the 1,100 snaps handled last season by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones.
“His play style jumps off the video at you,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Biegel. “He’s a really good leverage player. You look at his background, the wrestling and so forth, he’s an excellent fit at that position.”
The Packers’ first two picks on Friday in the second round, defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones, sport all the size-and-speed measurables that have a chance to make Green Bay’s secondary look different in 2017 – both in terms of physical attributes and X’s and O’s.
“We need to play more DBs,” McCarthy said. “These are the things that came out of our offseason studies. Having multiple sub-packages is something we’re definitely leaning towards.
“We want to make sure we’re giving these guys chances to play 2-3 positions, create targeting problems for the offense, and with that we’ll give these guys more chances to make plays.”
McCarthy added he envisions the bump-and-run King and the versatile Jones possibly assuming the roles of the departed Sam Shields and Micah Hyde in the back end.
Along with third-round defensive lineman Montravius Adams and Biegel, the defense is expected to improve.
“We sure hope so. We do feel like we got better,” said GM Ted Thompson, suggesting again as he did on Friday the additions will make Green Bay’s defense more creative and flexible.
“We have a chance to grow and kind of spread our wings a little bit. Sometimes you can get a little stale in the roster.”
There’s been nothing stagnant about the Packers’ running back position since last season, and it continued to evolve on Saturday with three draft picks added to the mix.
While McCarthy declared Ty Montgomery the definitive leader of the bunch – “He will be our starter,” he said – the head coach believes BYU’s Jamaal Williams, UTEP’s Aaron Jones, and Utah State’s Devante Mays “can play three downs.”
More to the point, the increased depth and competition were absolute necessities.
The Packers were caught short last year when Eddie Lacy and James Starks both went down with injuries, accelerating Montgomery’s conversion from receiver and leading to waiver-wire additions and practice-squad promotions throughout the year.
That shouldn’t happen again.
“The more the merrier,” Thompson said. “This is a tough business. This is an awful tough position to play.”
Thompson didn’t confess to the stockpiling in the backfield being intentional, but trading back twice to boost his weekend haul from eight to 10 selections was calculated. He said the roster needed “a little more juice.”
The three running backs, chosen in the fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds, were part of a six-player draft run on offense to fill out Green Bay’s class, following the four defensive picks to open.
The offensive additions also included sixth-round South Florida lineman Kofi Amichia, who’s expected to convert from tackle to guard, and a pair of receivers in Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey and LSU’s Malachi Dupre, taken in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively.
Thompson referred to Yancey as an “all-purpose guy” and Dupre as a “home-run hitter,” while the first trait McCarthy recognized with both was their large catching radius.
“There’s a lot to work with,” McCarthy said of the new receivers. “In the draft, I look at these guys as prospects. How far can we take them?”
The more poignant question might be how much farther can this new draft class take the Packers?
“The goal is, to start the process, to be two wins better than we were last year,” McCarthy said.
“We’re excited about these new guys coming in here. Let’s see what they can do.”
2017 DRAFT TRACKER