It’s Time to Get Kenny Clark Help

The Packers must address the defensive line this offseason. 

 

If we learned anything from watching this year’s Super Bowl, it’s how important it is to be stout up front. When the offensive line and defensive line are shored up, everything else becomes easier. When you look at the Green Bay Packers, they have done a good job on the offensive side, but the defensive line has been less successful.  

This offseason, the Packers must set out to find help for defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Clark may be a Pro Bowler, but he can’t be relied on as the only source of resistance up the middle, however, that is exactly what has been the case for the two years. We saw how bad it impacted the Packers in 2019. Now is the time to take some of the weight off his shoulders.

The problem started when Green Bay didn’t have a good contingency plan for replacing Mike Daniels. They released Daniels after a foot injury took him out for the second half of the 2018 season. Cutting Daniels was a tough call for Gutekunst. He was a former Pro-Bowler approaching age 30 and coming off a significant injury. Clearly, Gutekunst felt it had to be done but that was only the tip of the iceberg.

In a corresponding move, the Packers extended Dean Lowry the day before releasing Daniels. Initially, the move was somewhat perplexing. Sure, Lowry had a solid year in 2018, but it was overstating to believe he was ready to take over for Daniel’s. If it worked, it could have been a savvy move.

Meanwhile, they were also grooming Montravious Adams. Adams was drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft after a productive career at Auburn. Unfortunately, he missed most of his rookie year with foot injury, but he did play in all 16 games the next year. Perhaps, the Packers thought he would overcome his consistency issues and show he was ready for a larger role in 2019. That didn’t happen, as Adams would be plagued with the stability concerns that had plagued him his first two years. In year three, he would only make 11 tackles in 14 games.

Green Bay did attempt to bolster their defensive line during the 2019 offseason by selecting Kingsley Keke in the fifth round.  However, as a rookie, Keke played just 9 percent of the snaps on defense. Meanwhile, Adams played 18 percent and Lowry was responsible for 61 percent. This was actually a decrease from Lowry’s career-high of 66 percent in 2018.

Instead, the Packers leaned more on undrafted free agent Tyler Lancaster over both Keke and Adams. Lancaster is a decent stop-gap, but other than being a big body that is tough to move, he doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. They finished 2019 with the 23rd ranked run defense. This was the same run defense that would lead to their demise in the NFC Championship.

However, Green Bay really didn’t address this issue heading into last season. No one was drafted and they didn’t sign someone, someone being Damon Harrison, until the regular season was basically over. Harrison was never expected to be the imposing run stopper he once was, but he did look decent in the finale against the Chicago Bears. The Packers could have eased him into more snaps as they went into the playoffs, but for whatever reason, it didn’t pan out that way.

Statistically, their run defense did make noticeable strides in 2020, however, the interior of the defensive line remains an issue as we look ahead to next year. Heading into the offseason, the general consensus is that Lowry will either be cut or restructured. Adams will be an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Green Bay with Clark, Keke, and potentially Lowry.

The Packers did the right thing in paying Clark. They could also go the route of bringing back Harrison on a short-term deal, but that would only go a short way toward solving the problem. At this point, Harrison is probably nothing more than a rotational player. What this team needs is another force.

Gutekunst needs to think long and hard about spending a significant draft pick or signing a notable player who can provide steady assistance for Clark. If he does, Clark would face fewer one on ones and their shortcoming at linebacker wouldn’t be so obvious. Ultimately, seriously addressing the defensive line in 2021 has the potential to have a dramatic impact on this defense.

 

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (53)

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freddisch's picture

February 12, 2021 at 03:14 pm

Excellent article, Captain Obvious

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PatrickGB's picture

February 12, 2021 at 03:28 pm

Considering what other teams have done to bolster their defensive line, what the Packers have done is sad at best. Props to Clark for putting up with the front office has not done is commendable. Perhaps the new DC will have some influence on the draft process.

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Guam's picture

February 12, 2021 at 05:45 pm

I wonder how much Pettine had to say about D-line help? He certainly never seemed to value D-linemen very much given his proclivity for two man D-lines (preference or just the talent available?). I hope Joe Barry is very vocal about how valuable the Rams D-line was and how much he needs more DTs like Clark.

Given the examples of SF two years ago and TB this year, it should be obvious to all concerned that a good D-line is the foundation of a good defense.

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Minniman's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:35 pm

Amen.

It’s been said before - Games are won and lost on the line - The skill positions just work out by how much.

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:10 pm

You just don't get it do you. TB played D very similar to the Packers. 2 DL, Suh and Vita Vea along with JPP and Barrett. The difference was that Suh and Vea were substantially better than Clark and Lowry. And Honestly JPP and Barrett were better than the Packers offering of P and Z Smith, with Gary mixed in.

Now if the Packers could add JJ Watt to Clark, preferably with some Snacks Harrison mixed in as a run stuffer, it might be very similar

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Guam's picture

February 13, 2021 at 08:18 am

You might want to actually read a post before you respond to it ("You just don't get it do you"). I wasn't advocating for a 4-3 or necessarily using more defensive lineman - I was advocating for more talented D-linemen to play along side Clark. Which I believe is the same point you were making about TB's D-line being more talented.

And the primary point of my post was how much input the DC has on draft needs. I don't know if Pettine was asking for more D-line talent or not but given the dearth of draft choices and/or free agents in that area, it would appear Pettine was not asking for help. I hope Barry does ask for more help along side Clark. After three years of play, its pretty obvious Lowery, Lancaster and Adams are not the answers.

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Stroh's picture

February 13, 2021 at 05:20 pm

You said given "a proclivity for 2 man DL! I was pointing out the TB, just like the Packers, use a 2 man DL. If you criticize the Packers for doing it, but you OK that TB does?.

When the Packers drafted Gary I was advocating drafting Jeffrey Simmons to get help for Clark! 2 YEARS AGO. Not just recently like you!

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Guam's picture

February 13, 2021 at 05:49 pm

Did you notice the parentheses after the 2 man DL? The ones that said "preference or just talent available?"? I don't know if Pettine had the talent available to play much more than a one man D-line (Clark) because of the remaining D-linemen, I'm not sure any of them should be starters (maybe Keke if he continues to develop).

Which led me to my point that the Packers need more D-line talent. And I was advocating taking a DL last year with the #1 pick instead of a WR much less Love (go back and check my posts if you aren't sure). I am not a recent convert to advocating for better a DL.

Yes, I get it and have for a while.

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TXCHEESE's picture

February 12, 2021 at 03:29 pm

Adams and Keke, both steadily improved this season, and hopefully will come back motivated to make it to a bigger payday at the end of next season. As for Harrison, if the Packers can get him on a cheap prove it deal, great, but please nothing over 1 year. I only say this half jokingly, but you can pretty much put the draft eligible DLmen for OSU, Bama, and Clemson on a dart board, shut your eyes, and hit someone that at least has all the physical tools for the NFL. Lowry needs to take a pay cut or get cut. Lancaster, I love his story, but he'll only be a rotational player at this level.

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Guam's picture

February 13, 2021 at 08:39 am

Adams improved??? He played very little this year, in part due to injury, and showed nothing. Keke improved significantly.

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Stroh's picture

February 13, 2021 at 05:38 pm

Adams sucks as much now as he did as a rookie. He's absolutely terrible. Might be some hope for Keke, but I wouldn't count on it, he's been here 2 yrs. He needs to make a huge jump this year or he can join Adams on the junk heep! Harrison is on his way to retirement, but might have some value as a part time role player. He's not capable of being a full-time player anymore.

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:05 pm

"If we learned anything from watching this year’s Super Bowl, it’s how important it is to be stout up front."

We, obviously are excluding the Packers FO, who have obviously self excluded themselves for whatever reasons that the 'we' fans have obviously screamed about for since 2011, and not just this recent SB.

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KenEllis's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:32 pm

Are you trying to persuade us that JERRELL WORTHY, DATONE JONES, KHYRI THORNTON, and MONTRAVIUS ADAMS were not all quality defensive lineman that Ted used 1st-3rd round picks on between 2012-2017?

Man, next you're probably going to try and convince us that HaHa, Randall, Rollins, King, and Josh Jones were not all worthy of being selected in rounds 1-2 between 2014-2017.

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 12, 2021 at 05:38 pm

Why yes, and if one was to look through the archives, I'm sure you'll see me speaking against those selections.

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Swisch's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:26 pm

Would J. J. Watt be willing and able and effective in taking some snaps as an interior lineman, in addition to doing work on the outside?
Maybe that's a ridiculous question, but please don't rough me up too much. Hoping for good discussion.
I'm wondering if at this point in his career, Watt may be suited to a role inside to a greater or lesser extent.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:37 pm

Interesting thought, but I have another. Could he be a 3-4 elephant and be a guy who mostly brings interior pressure on a modified 4-5 man front?

Seems like he could do either, but the injury history is concerning, as is the potential price tag for what could be a rotational player.

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Minniman's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:45 pm

Advancing your line of thought here.

If he had the opportunity to join essentially a good front (missing really 1 or 2 pieces) in that Elephant role then would he be interested?

For the affirmative - he’d no longer have to be the one man band guy that takes on the double teams and oppositions best o-lineman all the time and gets beat up and injured for it. It may just help prolong his career (like it did for Julius Peppers).

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Archie's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:42 pm

Invest R1 pick in DT and sign Watt. Then add a quality young CB. Then get an OT/RB in R3/4. If you can sign Linsley, git-r-done. OL/DL/CB and of course QB is the name of the game in the NFL.

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Swisch's picture

February 12, 2021 at 06:29 pm

Sounds like a good plan to me overall, Archie.
I agree that we wouldn't sign J. J. Watt instead of drafting one or more defensive tackles, but in addition to drafting one or more tackles.
I also appreciate the comment by matt, which seems to be considering whether or not Watt could also be an effective inside linebacker.
In general, if Watt could be an inspirational leader for the defense of the Packers, it seems like a good idea to think creatively about how he could be used on the field.
As has been pointed out, we already have Z. Smith and Gary as outside linebackers; and while Watt could still fill in for them to a degree, he would be even more valuable if he had some flexibility to play other positions on defense.
I don't know what Watt has left as far as power and endurance and skill, or what kind of contract he would request; but I hope we look into all of these things with enthusiasm.
The more flexibility Watt has on defense with his current ability and willingness, the more it makes sense to find a way to pay him -- especially if he is realistic about his injury history and would take an incentive-based deal.
For this to happen, both the Packers and Watt have to be highly motivated to at least explore all of the possibilities for making it work as a win-win for both sides.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:04 pm

Watt played for $15.5M in 2020. Houston declined to pay him his scheduled $17.5M. PFF gave Watt an elite 85.5 grade, with grades of 89 and 90 in the two prior years. Watt had 29 pressures, 5 sacks, 12 QB knockdowns, 17 QB hits, 14 TFL, 52 tackles (incl. 36 solo) in 1,013 snaps in 2020. Watt will be age 32 in 2021. Lowry had 10 pressures in 601 snaps and Keke had 12 in 414, a combined 1,014 to Watt's 1013. IDK. Still need a CB big time, maybe two CBs.

Chris Jones: 44 pressures, ave 26 QB hits, just 8 and 3 TFL last two years. 704 snaps/yr ave.
Watt >>> Jurell Casey
Tuitt: 36 pressures, 11 sacks, 45 tackles, 10 QB hits in career year.. However, Tuitt was signed for $12M AAV but signed in 2017 when his stats were lesser. Signed on stats of 12, 14, 12 QB hits, 6.5, 4, and 3 sacks, 7, 8, 8 TFL, plus perhaps upside.
Cam Heyward Ave. 29 pressures, ave 8.5 sacks, 20.5 QB hits. Signed Sept, 20 age 32 for $16.4M.

IDK. Heyward might be a little better and a lot more durable. So perhaps something between $12M and $16M minus something for his injury history minus whatever the discount is for the weird 2021 UFA market, though for the most part elite players seem to be getting paid roughly as usual. Watt played less than 469 snaps in 3 of the last 5 seasons, so a discount for that? Watt is pretty complete. Even if his pass rush is down lately, it hasn't disappeared and isn't far off from Heyward's.

If Watt is $14M, the cap would have to be a lot more than expected and it might be that GB would be better off spending what money they have if the cap is higher than $175M on some solid mid-tier players who are undervalued by a depressed market.

It is going to be interesting!

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Swisch's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:27 pm

It is a tough call, TGR.
I'm hoping Watt would take a lot less than $14 million, but I'm not all that good with figuring salaries.
At age 32, and with a significant injury history, what about Watt at $5 million, with an opportunity to make up to $10 million with incentives?
That may be crazy -- but if it's a lot higher, then I start to wonder, like you do, whether we could better use the money on some lesser-known players who are solid performers with healthy track records.
Watt could be a big addition to our defense in bringing a motivational presence as well as some still considerable skills. His signing could actually lift the whole team.
At the same time, it seems likely the price would be too high.

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Minniman's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:57 pm

“IDK. Still need a CB big time, maybe two CBs.”

Apparently not anymore in the playoffs TGR - a team now only requires a fast hoodlum who can’t keep hIs hands off of opponents...... I say this tongue in cheek but there’s an element of truth here to chew on!

Looking back at the saints, packers and chiefs games, the damage got done up front with QB pressures.

Vita Vea proved why he was a draft crush of mine a couple of years ago and JPP looked like a man re-invigorated (his best season in 5).

A starting D front 5/6 that included Watt, Clark, Gary and Z would be imposing - you can’t double team them all.

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:17 pm

Absolutely. JJ can play 3 tech next to Clark easily. He would be similar to Aaron Donald as an interior DL. He actually might be best at 3Tech at this point in his career, since he may have lost some ability on the edge. Plus the Packers are going to be using the exact Defense that allows Donald to move around and dominate. He is a true 34 DL more than he is an edge rusher

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Swisch's picture

February 13, 2021 at 09:32 am

Thanks, Stroh, for your thoughts on this intriguing possibility.
If Watt still has much of his power but has lost more in terms of his speed, maybe he could excel in a different role on defense.
This turned out to be a good discussion overall for me.
I think we as fans can have some good questions and insights and opinions when we brainstorm together.
Even if we don't know exactly what's Watt, and admit to our limitations as outsiders, we can still come up with some thoughts that would be worth considering by Packers management and coaches.

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Lphill's picture

February 12, 2021 at 04:36 pm

JJ Watt maybe?

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Coldworld's picture

February 12, 2021 at 07:14 pm

Not really a big run stuffer

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Minniman's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:59 pm

That may be where snacks comes in?

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:35 pm

He's finished.

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:21 pm

JJ may not be a true run stuffer but he's a excellent DL against the run! Donald tho very different in body type and JJ are very similar in play style and ability (tho JJ has lost some effectiveness).

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blacke00's picture

February 13, 2021 at 08:27 am

Where are you going to get the money for a JJ Watt?

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:46 pm

Fire low-Ball and get creative. They can push Bonuses forward and delete at minimum 6 players and their contracts. Refi Rodgers and get a push on Bhaktiari's deal since he may only show for 1/2 the season.
The Ten Year Plan has failed.

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Stroh's picture

February 13, 2021 at 05:48 pm

Gutey said he plans to create cap space, not only to get below the cap, but tobe able to get some FA, that become available at reasonable cost. Watt falls into that category, as he might only get 1/2 or less his previous contract.

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ricky's picture

February 12, 2021 at 06:17 pm

The idea of Watt is an interesting idea. Last season he was paid $17.5 million. Unless he was motivated to take a very large "hometown discount" in an attempt to get his home state team a SB, I don't see it happening. Besides, there is already a team in the NFC that has a QB that has been to ten SB's; has an outstanding defense, where Watt could be a rotational player, rather than an every down presence; and he would be living in another state that doesn't have a state tax (from Texas to Florida). So, if you were Watt, would you realistically choose GB over TB?

Oh, and Brandon. kudos to you and the rest of the CheeseheadTV staff for doing their best to still generate content when the pickings are getting increasingly slim.

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:23 pm

At this point in his career JJ probably won't get 10m per. Age and significant injury history drives his price down significantly

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Coldworld's picture

February 12, 2021 at 07:13 pm

Problem started with Mike Pettine fighting to keep a second big man off the field. Remains to be seen if Barry feels differently.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 14, 2021 at 10:59 am

His two man front was a joke, but I would say he needed to keep the third and fourth man for his fronts.

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canadapacker's picture

February 12, 2021 at 07:38 pm

First off I am going to stay out of the JJ Watt issue - probably not happening and probably not what we really need. The Smiths did not play the run that well and they are not supposed to although Z made some nice impact plays and they ran into Preston a couple of times. But if we need to beef up the Dline to help Clark hopefully Winn Rush and even Adams might improve to bulk up the middle. I would rather see our draft picks especially since we are starting so low spent on some skilled players not just on beef. We need speed linebackers/ strong safety hard hitters and sure tacklers. And if it takes using 2 or 3 picks to get a winner so be it . Interior middle defense needs to be the focus and they need to work in tandem - and we probably need to replace King. And dont forget a 3rd or maybe 4th rounder on a running back. Now we are done unless people still think that we need a receiver as well.

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splitpea1's picture

February 12, 2021 at 08:34 pm

I'm with you on J.J. Watt. But I'd like to clear the clutter, so to speak, on the defensive interior; just too many guys are either mediocre, injury-prone, or past their prime. The problem is that the draft, once again, is supposedly thin as far as D-linemen are concerned, and it takes them a little while to develop, anyway. But it doesn't matter: now is the time to invest in the future for this particular position group with an appropriate draft choice, or at the very least, a high fourth-rounder. And maybe do it again if they see fit.... Oh, and make sure we get a great CB prospect by at least the second round.

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:26 pm

You don't think the Packers have a need for JJ?! Are you serious? He's a very similar player to Aaron Donald for christs sake!

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canadapacker's picture

February 13, 2021 at 10:19 am

need him - yes we need him - but you decide how much cap space that is going to take up. Now home town discount - not likely even though he is a Wisconsin boy. Be on a winner to end his career - maybe a few bucks less -but at what cost to the rest of the roster. Can he replace Preston - yes and that would provide a dual threat along with Z - but we definitely need to upgrade the interior linebacker corps and we need to get somebody ( or rejig) in the free safety /strong safety who can make tackles and cover tight ends and we need to replace King. And as we saw with Houston - he has lost a step and cannot play the number of snaps that a younger player can.

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dobber's picture

February 13, 2021 at 11:16 am

JJ Watt played 91% of the snaps in Houston last season and he rated as a top 10 edge defender. He's still capable, but I agree: if you sign him in GB, you (1) have a stronger supporting cast so he dosen't need to play 91% of the snaps, and (2) limit his snaps to keep him available for a playoff run.

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Starrbrite's picture

February 12, 2021 at 07:44 pm

I think JJ Watt can do for the Packers what Julius Peppers did; let’s roll the dice and find out?

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Stroh's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:29 pm

Damn right. JJ would be used in exactly the way the rams use Aaron Donald. He'd be great in that role. People seem to think he's an edge rusher, but he's a perfect 3 tech, similar to Aaron Donald!

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stockholder's picture

February 12, 2021 at 10:48 pm

Gute needs to do everything possible for this DL. Everything Possible! Sign JJ and Draft. Period. Looking at the value boards. Double draft it. ! and 2. Take the Comp for Adams. Sign Lancaster. Dump Lowrey. Scouting report; Barmore AL top 20. Davion Nixon - speed -Top 50. Jay Tfele has Pad level mid 50. Marvin Wilson- Past Injury/ recovering. Was top 15 now 60. (NFL Body) If JJ watt does come to Green Bay, it shouldn't stop Gute from drafting it. This position has talent. And should be a lock at #29. For those who want a CB first. The value of this draft is at cb. There are 20 names in the top 100. Gute could easily go DL, DL, Cb/OT, RB, C. And get all starters. Re-sign Taylor.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:55 pm

If they sign JJ, they will not need Barmore. They can hunt a FA or go in the fourth rd. I like Zaven Collins to replace
P.Smith and bag a CB in the second. Find an OT in the third or a fast, quick twitch slot WR if they feel Bhak will return sooner and Wagner can hold his body together for another season. I think Runyan can be the RT.

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 13, 2021 at 09:12 am

The Packers have obviously decided in the past that they can get by with mostly mediocre DL and ILB play. If you look at the 3 DL positions (yes, I know, they mostly play two) and the 2 ILB positions (yes, I know, they often play one) only one player in those two groups was drafted in the first two rounds or given a top-10 contract at their position. And it has been that way for years. The most the Packers have ever invested in the core of the defense for the last decade was when you had a young Clarke lining up with a well-paid Mike Daniels. And still, those two were pretty much the story and it didn't last long. You are who you choose to be.

I've been arguing since before MLF was hired that the path to another Super Bowl with an aging QB is the same path that Denver took with Elway and Manning. (I won't put Tampa and Brady because that category because that team is just an aberration on a lot of levels.) Defense. Ground game. Let your star QB pull off the magic plays less frequently. I think this is what the Packers are doing. I think it is working. But if they really want to create a great defense they are going to have to invest more in the core of the defense. And that means ILB too.

I expect a major cut or two this year. Jones won't be back. I don't expect any splash signings. This team can still get better if they focus on the right positions in the draft.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:32 pm

That's how Pettine played it--he's gone. Best to go with a 4-2 flex and remove some of the dead weight fit for the 3-4. Barry knows both versions. Get some better players

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:39 pm

I'm not familiar with a 4-2 flex. Happy to hear about it.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 05:17 pm

Spags plays it in K.C. and Todd Bowles uses it with Barrett up and down just like Gary or ZA.

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Since'61's picture

February 13, 2021 at 09:25 am

I like the idea of signing Watt but I doubt that we can afford him unless he is willing to play for a lot less $$$ in the hopes of winning an SB with Rodgers and the Packers. Even in a rotational role he could go a long way to shoring up the Packers DL until a draft choice or 2 develop during the next 2 seasons. Chuck Lowry, Lancaster and Adams.

Whether or not Gute signs Watt we need to draft DLs in this draft. There is really nothing besides Clark and hopefully Keke on our DL. Thanks, Since ‘61

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canadapacker's picture

February 13, 2021 at 10:32 am

I agree that we probably cannot afford him unless it is a big home town /be on a winner discount. We definitely need to help out the big guys in the middle - playing in tandem with Clark - we were better when Daniels was playing well there. Right now we have Z, Gary and Clark - and Martin and Barnes developing - so we need some impact pieces and I still believe that if we focus this draft on linebackers and strong /free safety types. We have enough weight in the middle in Winn /Adams and Rush to hold the fort while the rookies develop. That is why you have a 53 and a taxi squad and hide players on injured - so that they can develop. You only have so many draft picks and so much salary cap room - and we are picking at 29 again.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2021 at 04:30 pm

Move the money forward just like the accountants do it to push losses forward and backward on the ledger sheet. Get it done. Win It. They can clear quite a bit of non-producers and their salaries. Watt should be a primary target this week.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 14, 2021 at 11:18 am

It’s really all very simple. We have no push up the middle other than Clark. When we do everybody’s job on the outside will be that much easier. And we still need a fast menacing hard hitting inside linebacker. And King needs to be replaced asap. As we found out , it all falls apart if you leave the back door open for a big play.

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