A few weeks before the draft, we wondered if the Packers were embracing a new defensive philosophy. There have been a number of moves, at every level of the defense, pointing in this direction. The Packers let go of elephant ends Julius Peppers and Datone Jones (after previously moving on from Mike Neal). In recent years, they also moved on from plugger defensive linemen like BJ Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Howard Green, in favor of more versatile linemen like Dean Lowry and the more recently-signed Ricky Jean-Francois. Inside linebacker hasn’t been invested in heavily, but there were more experiments like using Sean Richardson (until his injury) and Morgan Burnett in the box.
All of these moves could be part of a greater shift towards the faster, more versatile defenses like the one the 2016 Falcons found success with (up until the last 20 minutes of the season). The last remaining variable was the draft and how it would be used. In 2009, when the Packers moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the draft was a big part of it.
Now it seems another change could be coming to the defensive philosophy. The first four picks this year were on defense it speed and versatility seemed to be at a premium.
Kevin King was the first pick the Packers made and as soon as he was drafted, he became the fastest corner on the team. King’s reign as fastest Packers CB lasted all of a few hours – when they made their second pick, Josh Jones, he immediately became the Packers fastest cornerback.
Speed was clearly a key commodity, but King being the tallest corner in the draft at 6’3″ probably figured into his value and Jones’s versatility almost certainly did. Jones, at 6’1 220 has the size to play the hybrid safety-linebacker role, but also possesses the speed to play slot. The Packers staff compared him to Morgan Burnett, who also played in the box, and external draftniks compared him to Deone Bucannon, who was at the forefront of the hybrid movement.
Aside from the fact that the secondary needed help, these guys will allow for a lot more flexibility in the scheme, as will the two selections that followed.
Montravius Adams, who I wanted the Packers to pick, fits the new defensive trend, too. He’s big, but he’s not a two-gap guy. He’s quick and disruptive and can move along the line. This pick, along with the RJF pickup, signal a definitive end to the old way the Packers approached their defensive line. Even their current nose tackles, Kenny Clark and Letroy Guion, can play defensive end.
In the 4th round, the Packers selected local favorite Vince Beigel. He’s an effort energy lineback that fits the new, hustle-based scheme much more than Datone Jones did (even though Jones will fit the Vikings scheme and we shouldn’t get all worked up when hes successful there). Carl Lawson, also available when Beigel was picked, was rated higher by many (and looks like a much bigger bad#ss), but his strong game does not fit the new defensive approach.
In the coming months, camps will start to bring this together and the preseason should be very interesting as we get to see the new scheme gel. By the end of the year, we should have a defense that looks vastly different than the one we saw in January.
Let’s just hope it’s an improvement.