By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The echoes from an epic Super Bowl LII scarcely stopped reverberating throughout US Bank Stadium when Packers fans came back to earth, to reality, to the truth …
Green Bay could select a top-end pass rusher with the 14th overall
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The Packers, at 7-9, have plenty of work to do in a lot of areas.
To complicate matters, the NFC shows no signs of being the weakling that it had been once-upon-a-time. That’s when life was as uncomplicated as the Bears’ offense, as unwieldy as the Vikings’ injury report, and as bedazzling as the Lions’ knack for consistently underachieving.
Those days appear to be at an end.
The Vikings came within a game of being able to toot their blasted horn as the NFL’s first team ever to host and play in the same Super Bowl. Good grief. The fact that Minnesota came so close is enough to make Packers’ fans want to retch.
The Minnesota Vikings’ vaunted defense is here to stay. What’s worse it’ll enter the 2018 season with an axe to grind. Regardless who quarterbacks the Vikings it’s pretty clear the Packers will have their hands full with them.
The Lions and the Bears boast several things in common. Each has a new head coach, a talented quarterback (one old, one young) and a front office that has its stuff together.
The Bears’ Matt Nagy and the Lions’ Matt Patricia are the NFL’s first two head coaches named “Matt” in history. Alas, neither appears to be labeled, “Door Matt”.
The Bears and Lions also have decent rosters and a chance to fill any void vacated by the Packers in the NFC North’s pecking order.
So what are the Packers to do?
Clearly, they are rolling up their sleeves and getting after it with a new front office structure, a new GM, a re-energized (seemingly) head coach, and a stated desire to explore every avenue to improve the roster, including free agency.
For my money, two clear needs in free agency are an edge pass rusher and a tight end of some accomplishment. Tight end is too demanding a position to leave to a rookie, regardless of which round they were drafted in. A veteran, pass-catching tight end is a must.
Also, a team can never have too many pass rushers, and that’s an accusation that couldn’t be leveled against the Packers in recent memory.
Simply put, Nick Perry needs to get healthy, Clay Matthews needs to play more inside linebacker, and the Packers need to add a pass rusher through free agency AND the April 26-28 NFL Draft.
Frankly, I’d be an advocate of a veteran receiver in free agency, too.
In terms of the draft, ESPN’s dynamic (and often at odds) duo of Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. agree which player the Packers will select with the 14th overall pick.
Both believe Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst will draft defensive end Marcus Davenport of UT-San Antonio. Davenport (6-5 ½, 259) brings the talent necessary to make a quick impact.
According to Andy Coppens of talkingten.com, Davenport is a really interesting prospect that jumps off the field at you.
“I’ve seen him several times and he’s really, really good,” Coppens told me during a Friday interview on 107.5 The Fan. “He’s super-quick, lean and lanky with long arms and stronger than you’d think. He’d look really good in a Packers’ uniform.”
He may be a rangier, but not as powerful (at least not yet) a pass rusher as the Bears’ Leonard Floyd or the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter.
Other possibilities at pass rusher, according to McShay, include N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb, Virginia Tech OLB Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith.
The No. 1 priority for the Packers this offseason is replenishing the defensive talent. The obvious and necessary place to start is pass rusher. Beyond that, I would only consider a quarterback (you’d have to love him), a receiver (he’d have to be an immediate impact type pick) or a cornerback (he’d have to be the second coming of Kevin King, only better).
That doesn’t leave much room for debate.
Let’s be real: If the pass rush does its job, the defensive backs look a whole lot better. Also, if the quarterback is great (and Aaron Rodgers is that), merely good receivers can be amazing (see Greg Jennings, James Jones, et al).
Therefore, the Packers should select a pass rusher at No. 14 if one is available that they love. The only other possibilities would be a quarterback, again, only if they loved him, or a sudden-impact play-making receiver.
My guess is a pass rusher. My hope is the Packers can recreate not-so-distant history and acquire not one but two players the caliber of B.J. Raji at No. 9 and Matthews at No. 26 in 2009.
Now that would be nice.