Packers' 2017 draft class: 5 players who need to leap into their second year

-- It's still too early to form too substantial of judgment on the Green Bay Packers' 2017 draft class, but expectations are, well, expectantly high.

Roughly 15 months have passed since the Packers added three running backs, two defensive backs, two wide receivers, an offensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive lineman to their roster.

To this day, only one of those players -- LSU's Malachi Dupre, a wide receiver -- is no longer with the team.

While most of the Packers' rookie class last year contributed in some way, shape or form, some of them did so under the ailment of either previous injury or an injury sustained during training camp.

Cornerback Kevin King played through a shoulder injury that stemmed from his collegiate career at Washington, eventually requiring surgery.

Linebacker Vince Biegel suffered a foot fracture during the team's offseason program and missed all of minicamp, training camp and the preseason, not being activated from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list until November.

Defensive lineman Montravius Adams suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the first week of training camp and didn't make his rookie debut until late September. Even so, playing so soon off of surgery would keep most -- if not all -- players from achieving peak performance.

While there were bright spots such of the draft that provided a positive outlook into the future in the form of running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, there were also some low points, i.e., running back Devante Mays, receiver DeAngelo Yancey.

If the Packers are going to grasp and sustain success in 2018, a large part of doing so is going to require a second-year jump from the following five players (in order).

1. Vince Biegel, OLB

The Packers didn't address the outside linebacker position in April's draft until their No. 248 overall pick (Kendall Donnerson). Whether that's because of the faith general manager Brian Gutekunst has in his new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, or because of the talent on the roster, remains to be seen.

If Biegel can stay upright, get through a healthy training camp and put the learning he stashed under his belt all last summer into motion, he'd be a fine rotational piece behind Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. Potent, consistent pressure does nothing but makes the jobs of your defensive backs that much easier.

Between Biegel, Donnerson, Reggie Gilbert, Kyler Fackrell and others, there really isn't much to fawn over when it comes to the Packers' depth here. This is where that aforementioned faith in Pettine and his abilities to manufacture pressure via his defensive schemes could come into play. 

2. Josh Jones, SS

When Morgan Burnett signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency this offseason, the Packers lost a multi-faceted player who had been a staple of their secondary for the most part of the last seven seasons. Being able to play a multitude of different positions -- and play them well -- all while sporadically handling communication duties makes his void all the more irreplaceable.

Jones, who played almost exclusively in the box during his rookie season and established himself as a hybrid safety/linebacker, may need to branch out and begin the process of tackling a new position full-time.

Especially now that the Packers have linebacker Oren Burks, who they drafted in the third round (No. 88) of April's draft, they'll have a little more flexibility to rotate Jones where they please. Hard-hitting, instinctive safeties hawking the middle of the field never hurt anyone -- except the offense.

3. Kevin King, CB

Had the Packers not doubled down on Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson -- two of the premier cornerbacks in the 2018 draft class -- this spring, then King likely would've been a lot higher on this list. However, that's not the case. Alexander will likely be the starting nickel cornerback come September, with either King, Jackson or the returning Tramon Williams cycling in to cover whichever perimeter.

Shockingly enough considering where this defense was in December, the Packers' cornerback position isn't laced with a sense of familiar urgency -- and neither is King's uprisal.

With young, talented playmakers added to the roster this offseason, along with two veterans returning in Williams and Davon House, there's less dependency on King being forced into a role he isn't comfortable in. You'd have to think that now, with his shoulder surgically repaired, being relied on wouldn't be too much of a burden for the 6-3 corner.

4. Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, RBs

This is more of a two-way answer. The Packers need that same spark from both of their running backs that they got last season -- only with Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking the offense for a full 16 games so the opposition can see what Green Bay's skilled backfield can truly bring to the table. There doesn't need to be a "jump," from either of these two, per se, but more so a carry-over into their second seasons.

With Jones already docked for a two-game suspension to start the regular season, Williams is already going to have to open his second year shouldering the running game alongside Ty Montgomery against two divisional opponents: the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, both at Lambeau Field. If Rodgers is back under center -- and healthy -- then the reliance on the running game decreases. Maybe not significantly, but there's less of an emphasis there as opposed to how the offense operated with Brett Hundley last season.

Both Jones and Williams brought their own unique traits to a Hundley-friendly offense in 2017, but they both suffered knee injuries at different points in the season. While Williams' knee injury didn't cause him to miss any games, Jones missed two with a sprained MCL. Their health isn't detrimental to success, but you would have to think they're both going to be featured players in offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's re-imagined scheme this season.

5. Montravius Adams, DT

Adams missed a large chunk of training camp and didn't do much during the regular season when he was given the opportunity to play -- and he was definitely given those opportunities. Adams played 65 defensive snaps, which isn't much, but more opportunities are earned with production, and for the most part, Adams didn't provide much of that.

His second-year jump, if successfully cleared, wouldn't sway many people's opinions on the Packers' defensive line. Not after they went out this offseason and signed former New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to pair with Pettine, his former coordinator.

With Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Pettine likely to provide the Packers' front-four, a second-year improvement for Adams at this point would be the best-case scenario for a sense of stability behind the starting interior defenders, Daniels and Clark.

Marty Kauffman of The Packers Wire formulated a similar list last week, which you can read here

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (20)

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Tarynfor12's picture

July 06, 2018 at 10:01 am

Wasn't long ago when we looked and hoped for one to step up, now we look and hope that five step up.
What ever happened to that mantra..don't expect anything from players until 3 years especially on defense.
The desperation is evident though many still fail to acknowledge how far this team had fallen and needs to climb to truly be considered a threat. Since 2011 season of 15-1 and the disastrous playoff performance, we have ignored what they had become.... the boulder that others knew that had to be remove from their path to February, to what is now a pebble that is simply tossed aside like a skipping stone on the lake with diminishing pride of Division Titles.
I hope the whole team steps up and in double time speed to beat the tick-tock of the Rodgers clock going completely silent. : )

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porupack's picture

July 06, 2018 at 05:10 pm

yeah, its pretty much consensus that GB didn't have 3 years of consecutive slam dunk drafts, and furthermore, less than Lombardieque coaching, and 50% chance it could improve this year. Statistically, the high rates of injuries should lead to some lucky years of good health. So, I see we're all optimistic that 5 step up and the ticking is toward the lake and we hope we can skip stones faster to the season opener. I pebble can wait and proud of the team as it steps up doubly silent.

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Ferrari Driver's picture

July 07, 2018 at 09:32 pm

None of us on this football forum wants to be mean or disrespectful, but please stop posting non-football items here.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 06, 2018 at 10:07 am

I remain hopeful for VB, Fackrell and Gilbert but don’t expect much from them. Even after working out with Clay, Matthews recently remarked that there was not much depth behind him. What does that say about VB and the rest? Gilbert was not considered good enough to bring up from the PS until late in the year and got stuck behind Fackrell for crying out loud. As far as Adams, I predict that he will be a bust but remain behind an improved DL.

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Rak47's picture

July 06, 2018 at 06:26 pm

"Gilbert was not considered good enough to bring up from the PS until late in the year and got stuck behind Fackrell for crying out loud." Gilbert was only behind Fackrell for on reason and that is because Fackrell is a 3rd round pick and that is the only reason why. McCarthy has publicly stated that the staff debated every week on whether to bring Gilbert up. But the fact that TT spent a high draft pick on Fackrell meant he had to be given time to develop or the pick would be wasted. While it may be football, as with any business, politics is always going to have a say in it's dealings. I certainly expect improvement from Biegel and Gilbert but have my doubts about Fackrell. He was 24 when they drafted him and one would think at that age he would be physically matured and developed already like most NFL players that age. To expect him to be a really late bloomer may be a bit much to ask imho.

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Packer_Fan's picture

July 06, 2018 at 10:30 am

Yup. These are the key 2nd year players that need to step up. Running ba

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Handsback's picture

July 06, 2018 at 10:41 am

A good list and if they stay healthy....a very good draft!

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Bret Iverson's picture

July 06, 2018 at 11:16 am

I don't disagree with the list. What amazes me is when you get the chance to be a player in the NFL go all out on every play. I feel a lineman or walk on will step up as well. We need the FA's to step up because it has been a few years. No one mentions Pickett but with Woodson and the draft. The defense went from below average to above. TE and WR needs to improve for the offense to win without the defense and against good defenses you need the defense to keep the game close for our OF to win.

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Oppy's picture

July 08, 2018 at 02:26 pm

Pickett gets a nod from fans.. like, "Yeah, Pickett, he was a decent Packer."
It's a shame, because Pickett was a down-right dominant NT. Easily twice the player that BJ Raji ever was at Nose. I'm excited about Kenny Clark, looks like he might be able to carry the torch that hasn't flickered since Ryan "Grease" Pickett left.

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michael562's picture

July 06, 2018 at 02:06 pm

"With Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Pettine likely to provide the Packers' front-four"

I didn't realize that Pettine was going to play, also.

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porupack's picture

July 06, 2018 at 03:43 pm

now that's leadership when the DC gets goes in on sub packages to show how its done.

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Rak47's picture

July 06, 2018 at 05:10 pm

So Biegel is your top prospect to make a second year jump? Seriously? I truly like Biegel and truly hope he can show some promise this season, but can we please take off the made in Wisconsin rose colored cheese head glasses for a moment and come back to reality. Reality is in fact that neither Biegel or Adams has yet to show they can even play in this league and be effective. On the other hand King, A. Jones, Williams, and J. Jones have all shown they have the talent and ability to thrive if each can remain healthy, especially in A. Jones and Kings case. So if Biegel is your to pick to make a second year jump then Adams should be a close second based on the fact that any production from either of them can considered a second year jump. No disrespect intended but you should probably go check out Andrew Herman's piece on Josh Jones making a second year jump which he illustrates on film. I would challenge you to show me the same on Biegel, give us reason other than your personal feeling towards a homegrown talent to show why you would put Biegel at the top of your list.

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Snake Plissken's picture

July 07, 2018 at 09:55 pm

Rak is correct.

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EddieLeeIvory's picture

July 06, 2018 at 05:11 pm

Whoever knocks the head off of Viking #55 in week 2 will be the next jersey I buy.

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Charvid's picture

July 06, 2018 at 07:10 pm

I don't expect much from Biegel--never really was very high on him. Gilbert, on the other hand, could make a leap. Just my opinion, but I have way higher expectations for him than VB.

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Michael Hughes's picture

July 07, 2018 at 05:50 am

So basically pretty much the top 5 picks of our draft. A lot of thought went into compiling that list.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 07, 2018 at 11:51 am

Yes, those 5 are easy to pick based on being drafted. How about Michael Clark with limited WR experience and being younger than this year draft choices Moore and Scantling? St. Brown at 21 years of age is the baby. Clark is 22 while Moore and Scantling are 23. One to two years difference at this age can be a big deal, particularly for men of this height as they physically grow into their bodies and mature. Going to be very fun watching these four young WR's this year.

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Nerd's picture

July 07, 2018 at 08:43 pm

The RBs could take a get step forward in pass protection, especially with Brandon Jackson coaching them up.

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Snake Plissken's picture

July 07, 2018 at 09:57 pm

You're right,.... when Jackson came into the league he was a whiff master in the backfield,.... by the time he left he was great at picking up the blitz.

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Nerd's picture

July 08, 2018 at 02:47 pm

Wouldn't mind seeing Cobb get back to what he used to be either.

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