In case you hadn’t heard, the Packers defense didn’t have a great year in 2016. The secondary had all sort of issues and, on the whole, they were just bad, giving up 388 points. The Falcons were the only team with a winning record to allow more points, but they also scored 540, and when you do that it means you can pretty much give up as many points as you want and still win (unless you give up 25 points in the last 17 minutes of regulation in the Super Bowl).
The only notable Packer free agent signings on defense are a journeyman role player on the line and a corner that was just cut by the Jaguars (two years after we let him go). They tried a waiver wire pickup who’s missed 27 consecutive games due to injury, but he failed his physical (shocker).
There’s a wide swath of opinions on what kind of impact these moves will have. Davon House is a washed up bum who got benched by Jacksonville or Davon House is going to bring back press man coverage and be CB1. We’re going to draft a shutdown corner in a deep corner draft or Ted is stupid and will squander the pick.
Could the draft bring help? Sure. We could find an immediate starter like Ha Ha, but we could also end up with a never-will-be like Justin Harrell. That’s the nature of the draft. Of course, we usually get a guy with potential like Kenny Clark, whom we’re not quite sure what to expect of yet.
All in all, it’s clear that we shouldn’t expect offseason pickups to fix everything.
Looking back at the Packers during Ted Thompson’s tenure, we can find free agents and rookies who had an instant impact, guys like Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews, but most of the year-over-year improvement the Packers realize each season comes from development. You know, the second part of draft and develop.
The Packers have a very good coaching staff. Let’s pause on critiquing McCarthy’s play-calling and look at how guys like Jordy Nelson, TJ Lang, and Mike Daniels developed through experience. These guys didn’t immediately jump into starting roles and actually looked like JAGs their first year or two.
Now look at them.
Ted doesn’t draft for need (isn’t that right?) and he doesn’t draft for immediate impact. He drafts guys for long-term potential. It sure paid off in guys like David Bakhtiari.
Look around the league. What did free agency grand master AJ Bouye do his first few years in the league? Jack, that’s what. It usually takes a few years for these guys to assimilate into the game – even the great and powerful Aaron Rodgers wasn’t ready to start as a rookie.
Even if you draft seniors, these guys are still physically maturing and they are learning about the NFL and dealing with the flux of distractions (endorsements, women, 78 cousins asking for money).
It takes time to realize their potential.
The good news for the Packers is that their defense if chock full of young guys ready to take the next step.
The ages of the starters and primary reserves for the defense are:
Daniels – 27
Guion – 29
Clark – 21
Lowry – 22
CM3 – 30
Perry – 26
Jayrone – 25
Jake – 25
Blake – 23
Joe Thomas – 25
Randall – 24
House – 27
Rollins – 25
Gunter – 24
Ha Ha – 24
Burnett – 28
Brice – 22
No one over 30. One at 30, one at 29, one at 28, two at 27, one at 26, and everyone else is on their rookie deal. That’s silly youth.
Now, a lot of people claim that Dom Capers’s complex scheme is hard for young players to pick up. I’m not saying there’s no merit to that, but every one of these guys has experience in Capers’ system. Physical development aside, these young guys should benefit greatly from another offseason to learn the system.
Don’t bank on the draft to provide an immediate hit. Almost everyone on defense is still an ascending player. This is where the improvement will come from.