Packers Seem Cursed When Drafting DBs

Unit is in annual need of improvement.

Why does it seem as though the Green Bay Packers draft defensive backs nearly every year, often in very high rounds, and yet at the end of every season the position still seems to be a weak spot? 

In the past ten years the Packers have drafted a total of sixteen defensive backs, defined here as corners and safeties.  Nine of them, that’s more than half, were taken in the first or second round.  You would think, with that kind of draft capital invested in the position, the Packers would be set for years in the secondary. 

But here we are heading into another spring draft season and once again there is a glaring weakness on the back end.  This year it is at safety.  There’s not a single one on the current roster that would be evaluated as an above average talent.  It is the unit most in need of an upgrade if the team is to make a serious Super Bowl run next fall.  So it seems, when the Packers go on the clock at the 2024 draft in Detroit with the 25th pick in the first round, they will have to give strong consideration to taking a defensive back......again. 

It’s almost as if Green Bay is cursed when it comes to DB’s in the draft.  Consider their selections over the previous decade.  In 2014 they picked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round with the 21st pick.  They also took Demetri Goodson in round six.  Clinton-Dix made the Pro Bowl in 2016 when he had five interceptions, but mostly he just camped out in deep center field and picked off overthrows.  He always seemed late to the ball and was not always a willing tackler.  In his fifth year he was traded to Washington and faded out of the league by 2021.  Goodson was plagued by injuries and played in just 26 games in three seasons, with three starts.  He disappeared from the league after 2016. 

In 2015 the Packers drafted Damarious Randall in the first round and Quinten Rollins in the second.  The coaches played Randall at corner despite the widely held opinion that he should have been a safety.  After three mediocre seasons, Randall was traded to the Browns, who did indeed play him at safety.  Rollins also lasted three years on the roster, but couldn’t stay healthy.  He missed fifteen games and after his departure never caught on with another team.   

The Packers didn’t draft any DB’s in 2016.  After all, having taken DB’s three times in the top rounds of the previous two years, the  front office figured they were set at the position.  They were wrong.  By the end of that year it was obvious the unit still wasn’t good enough.  So they went with cornerback Kevin King with their first pick in 2017, which was in the second round, and followed that with safety Josh Jones, also in the second round.    The Packers gambled that King’s injury problems in college at Washington were behind him.  They weren’t.  He missed 35 games in five seasons.  He then became anathema to Packers fans when he was blamed for giving up a backbreaking long touchdown pass to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs in the playoffs, a game Green Bay would lose at home by less than a touchdown.  Jones was a bust from the start and was waived during training camp in 2019. 

2018 was the first draft directed by Brian Gutekunst.  He immediately recognized that, once again, secondary was an area of weakness.  He took Jaire Alexander in the first round and Josh Jackson in the second.   At last, the team hit on a DB pick as Alexander became an immediate impact player and was voted All Pro twice.  But this past season his body began to let him down and his flamboyant personality got him in the coach’s doghouse.   He missed nine games due to injury and one after being suspended.  When he did play he was often less than at the top of his game.  The Packers claim to remain committed to him but it remains to be seen if he can return to elite form.  Jackson played three seasons without a single interception or forced fumble and was traded to the Giants. 

So it was back to the drawing board in 2019 as the Packers spent a first round pick on safety Darnell Savage, and a sixth rounder on Ka’dar Hollman.  Savage has teased the team with occasional big plays and aggressive tackling, but after five seasons in green and gold the front office seems ready to give up on him.  He likely won’t be back unless he comes cheap.  Hollman played two irrelevant years in Green Bay and wound up as a reserve with the Texans last season. 

In 2020 the only DB taken was Vernon Scott in the seventh round.  The former TCU star played two years as a deep reserve and his career was over. 

At the 2021 draft Green Bay selected corner Eric Stokes off of the national championship team at Georgia.  It was the fifth time in the past seven drafts that the Packers had taken a defensive back with their highest pick.  Stokes had a very good rookie season, faded badly in year two, and missed fourteen games in year three.  His future moving forward is uncertain.  The Packers also took corner Shemar Jean-Charles in round five.  He played two nondescript seasons in Green Bay and bounced around with the Saints and 49ers this past fall.  

2022 brought Tariq Carpenter in the seventh round.  He lasted one season as a special teams guy and hung on with the Steelers last season. 

Two more seventh round picks were added to the secondary in 2023, Carrington Valentine and Anthony Johnson.  Both were forced into significant playing time because of injuries and the trade of Rasul Douglas.  Both showed enough promise to retain for another season but remain unfinished products. 

Which brings us back to the present and nothing has changed. The Packers have assembled a talented young roster and seem strong and deep in several areas. But yet again the secondary needs upgrading. They have tried to overcome the draft curse by supplementing with free agents such as Rudy Ford, Jonathan Owens and the aforementioned Douglas, but problems persist. The franchise really hasn’t been solid back there since the days of Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Tramon Williams, which, not coincidentally, was the last time they won a Super Bowl. 

Perhaps this is the year their luck changes and it all comes together. Jaire returns to excellence. Stokes finds his mojo. Valentine develops into a solid starter. And the Packers uncover a safety gem or two in the draft. And everybody stays healthy. This team is due for some defensive back good fortune. 

 

   

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

NFL Categories: 
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Comments (41)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Vanghuisher's picture

February 09, 2024 at 12:16 pm

When I first saw this article I thought what are you talking about dude. When he’s on the field, Alexander is great and Stokes isn’t too bad either. Then he ran down the list of players we drafted and it was like I just realized today is Monday not Friday. This sucks and so did those draft picks.

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dblbogey's picture

February 09, 2024 at 12:37 pm

We don't know if Alexander is still great, and Stokes sucked in year 2 before getting a very serious injury which leaves his future a big question mark. But yes, taking Kevin King over TJ Watt still hurts.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:15 pm

It really puzzles me when a guy has a good rookie year (Savage, Stokes) and then goes BACKWARD in year two. Why???

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 11, 2024 at 11:29 am

Film Study by the opponents.

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GregC's picture

February 09, 2024 at 12:32 pm

That was brutal. Absolutely brutal.

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splitpea1's picture

February 09, 2024 at 12:51 pm

Notes:

Both Alexander and Valentine were solid draft picks. Valentine held up pretty well at times for a seventh-round rookie thrust into action. Alexander has made second team All-Pro twice, and hopefully he can continue to stay healthy.

Ford and Owens proved to be good signings for the money.

Sometimes it really helps to use very high draft picks on DBs, but the Packers usually draft in the latter half of the first round. You look at guys like Gardner, Witherspoon, and Hamilton and say "wow!", but we were never close to being able to draft those guys. But it's also important to note that those guys probably won't be the players they are in our previous schemes.

Take the R.A.S. with a grain a salt sometimes with safety prospects. Both Brian Branch and Jordan Battle did not have elite scores, but both made the All-Rookie Team. Branch allowed a completion rate of only 61.5%. I believe Battle was PFF's highest-graded rookie safety, but he did allow 19/21 completions; however, he proved to be an excellent tackler with a miss rate of only 6.6%.

On paper, it seems like Stokes can do nothing but improve with new defensive schemes. Maybe he can get back to his rookie self after he is healed and gets acclimated to longer periods of action. This would be most welcome news, though I'm not counting on anything until I actually see it; it's been such a long time.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 03:40 pm

I don't think Hafley will blitz or run single high nearly as much as he did at BC, that would most likely not end well. But they will be in single high a lot more than they have in quite awhile so athleticism will matter at the FS position. Not RAS so much as the 10 yard split, the 3-cone and short shuttle.

I seen/read three people that wonder if Nubin has the athleticism to play single high. The combine will be important for him in that aspect.

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dobber's picture

February 10, 2024 at 09:32 am

You can get away with single-high in college more than in the NFL, especially at a power conference school where you schedule half your games against overmatched competition and the downfield arm strength and accuracy of opposing QBs is mostly lacking.

"Take the R.A.S. with a grain a salt sometimes with safety prospects. "

I agree. Smarts and instincts can make up for a step or two with safeties. You can run like the wind, but if you can't diagnose or anticipate what's going on around you, you're going to be late to the spot.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

February 09, 2024 at 01:01 pm

It’s sad and ironic that the next-best DB success after Alexander is probably the 7th round Valentine.

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4thand10's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:32 pm

They stole Valentine. He had a great year for a rookie 7th rounder. Seems more than equipped to play Man.

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Coldworld's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:47 pm

If Stokes can regain his athleticism, Hafley sounds like he runs the kind of system that makes him relevant again. He was picked as a tall, rangy CB with speed who shone in tight coverage but had issues playing off. He did as a rookie and he does have those issues.

Stokes was lightning fast in a straight line so has catch up speed, but he was too tight and rigid to do well adapting in space away from the catch. Barry nevertheless decided that’s how we were going to use him and his play dropped off dramatically, except for the one game in 2022 when Barry did play press. In that one game Stokes was good.

If he is still a similar athlete, he might once again be an asset under the schemes Hafley has run. That would be great. I think both Jaire and Valentine also benefit, but with Stokes a much wider swing.

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golfpacker1's picture

February 09, 2024 at 01:41 pm

I really wanted Battle last year. I thought he would be solid in GB. Oh Well. I am really happy with Tucker Kraft. The draft sets up really well for us to get a top Safety this year, especially since OT has decreased in need. Last year we had more a lot more needs and the 2023 Safety draft class was thin.

The fact that we have sucked so badly drafting DBs is another great reason not to trade forward and waste premium picks in order to draft a player that has a 50/50 chance of being good.

I, personally would trade back to early 2nd for extra picks because we can still get a great corner like T J Tampa or Khyree Jackson in the 2nd round.

Our biggest need, Safety, will see the top ones coming off the board in the 40-50ish range, so fits our #41 pick to grab Kinchens or Nubin.. So a trade back, if we could find a partner, would let us fill 6 holes in the first 3 rounds instead of 5 holes filled.

Plus a big group of RBs that would fit GB will start off the board in the 3rd. Braelon Allen, Marshawn Lloyd, Bucky Irving, Dillon Johnson, to name a few. An extra 3rd rounder gets our choice of ILBs Colson-Michigan, Wilson-N C State, or Gray-N Carolina.

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MooPack's picture

February 09, 2024 at 02:00 pm

CB at least could return to a strength if both Alexander and Stokes return healthy AND they are used like they should've been all along as man-man DB's. New DC and new Strength/conditioning coach will hopefully get them right.

CB is the strongest (in the first couple rounds) draft class on the defensive side. Love to see CB/S DeJean fall. Not likely. CB/Slot Rakestraw could be at Packers #25 pick or could fall to the 2nd. I've seen him up and down. TJ Tampa would be a great pick in the 2nd.

This is a weak Safety draft class. I'd be shocked if the Packers took one in the 1st. I think Nubin, Kinchens, Hicks are the best three. One of them should be around by Packers second 2nd rounder.

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jvole's picture

February 09, 2024 at 02:27 pm

Agree; so much of this story is about the endless injuries to high draft picks. I've wondered if the Packers suffered more than the average in this department. Someone has probably produced that data. I would love to see it.

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Brewcity_BearsFan's picture

February 09, 2024 at 02:21 pm

It feels like the Packers have been drafting DB's every year since Randy Moss embarrassed the unit on MNF, as a rookie.

The results, as outlined here, have been far mote miss then hit. They have better results with UDFA, and FA.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

February 09, 2024 at 02:25 pm

As usual, there are several college CBs who might be better as safeties: DeJean, Rakestraw, and even Mitchell as a free/high or McKinstry who I think would fit well at safety.

I don’t like changing players’ positions, but sometimes you hit a home run doing it.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 09, 2024 at 02:32 pm

DBs are half your defense and they're involved in some of the biggest plays of the game. The rules handicap them at every turn. It's a league where QBs are completing 2/3 of their passes.

So if you really think it's important to put a really good defense on the field, you need to be spending premium picks on guys AND hope you also get lucky with some UDFAs and Day 3 guys. Particularly if you want to be a nasty, aggressive, pressing, hard-tackling defense.. You have to spend draft capital there, or you aren't going to have what you want/need, particularly when injuries strike.

If you want to guess how many DBs appeared in games for us last year, the answer is 16. Did you know how many DBs played all 17 games? Owens, Nixon, and Valentine. Owens and Nixon, in particular, were on the field together a lot. Our starting secondary last year, by snap counts, was Owens, Nixon, Valentine, Ford and Savage, and Savage missed 7 games!! IOW, Nixon, Ford,Owens and Valentine were on the field a lot. It would have been helpful if Alexander, Stokes, and Savage could have been on the field more.

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dobber's picture

February 10, 2024 at 09:40 am

The only position group that sees nearly as many snaps per game than the DB group is the OL, and most people agree that you need to throw draft/UDFA/FA bodies at the OL every year...somehow most people don't take the same approach with DBs. Most teams carry 9-10 OL on the active roster...they carry 5-6 CB and 4-ish S.

DBs take a beating--they're little guys who get pounded on the edges by OL in the run game (especially since they can't go low to take out blockers anymore) and are asked to start/stop on a dime play after play. Your final paragraph is particularly telling.

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Razer's picture

February 09, 2024 at 03:08 pm

You can't argue with the results. We don't do a good job at drafting secondary players and defensive players in general. I get it that we want athletic players but we have been doing so at the expense of true football players. Someone in our front office must know the difference between a track athlete and a smart football player. Find that guy and tell him to pick a couple of studs. Either way Gutekunst has way too many misses on this front and tends to reach on these defensive "diamonds in the rough".

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Bitternotsour's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:28 pm

What does that even mean - athletic players rather than true football players. Do you suppose we aren't drafting football players, I've gone back and checked and everyone drafted played college football and pretty much excelled at it. Who are these mysterious "true football players", do they come with some sort of birthright tatoo that said "born to play football"?

Your premise is absurd. That they draft guys who ALSO have an athletic profile speaks to the intelligence of our front office. Can you imagine a meeting of scouts where they list a player's skillset and say, yeah, the guy is really slow, but he made a lot of tackles and his form is excellent. There's a reason slow guys play in division 3.

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Bitternotsour's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:46 pm

The guy you're describing is Blake Martinez, average speed at best, a tackling machine, unfortunately never made a play behind the line of scrimmage and a good number of his "sure tackles" were 7 to 9 yards downfield. Yeah man, let's draft some more of those guys.

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dobber's picture

February 10, 2024 at 09:45 am

I can't get over this "tackles 7-9 yards downfield" criticism of LBs.

First: many of those times the play is run away from your tackler and he needs to fight through OL and chaff to get there.
Second: offenses target your key tacklers and try to take them out of plays. They want to be putting their RBs in space against non-physical DBs and not LBs.
Third: if the play is 7-9 yards downfield nobody else made that tackle.

Yes: there are plenty of LBs who take bad angles, get caught up in play action or misdirection, but there are a lot of factors that are a function of good offensive execution and bad DL play that lead to those downfield tackles.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

February 10, 2024 at 11:57 am

Good comment

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:33 pm

I'd like it if they sign a FA SS like Julian Blackmon and then have a draft like this.

34.
Jackson Powers-Johnson
OC Oregon
trade icon

58.
Edgerrin Cooper
LB Texas A&M

61.
Calen Bullock
S USC
trade icon

73.
Bralen Trice
EDGE Washington
trade icon

91.
Khyree Jackson
CB Oregon

103.
Javon Foster
OT Missouri
trade icon

108.
MarShawn Lloyd
RB USC
trade icon

137.
Tykee Smith
S Georgia
trade icon

162.
Aaron Casey
LB Indiana
trade icon

171.
Jay Stanley
S Southern Miss
trade icon

180.
KT Leveston
OT Kansas State
trade icon

203.
Joe Milton
QB Tennessee

215.
Micah Abraham
CB Marshall

2025 DET 4th

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Coldworld's picture

February 09, 2024 at 04:58 pm

Signing a starter level FS in free agency would unlock this draft considerably in my view. I don’t know the market, but the box first role doesn’t seem to be the most difficult to fill. Blackmon would be a nice acquisition, but where is single high guy coming from when we play that? We need a guy who excels against the pass and they are the hardest to find and most costly. I don’t see Blackmon as that. Perhaps one day Johnson might be, but not yet.

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stockholder's picture

February 09, 2024 at 10:21 pm

The only guy you could sign is Savage. - No Thanks.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 11:46 pm

I'd sign Blackmon as a SS/split safety and use a rookie deep. Strong safety FAs are cheaper. Draft a FS with a lot of single high experience and coach them up. A single high FS FA is going to run around $10 million a year.

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CoachJV's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:05 pm

We haven't had a true stud at Safety since Nick Collins... nor a true CB who can do it all since Woodson.
I hope there's a Nick Collins in the draft... He would have been the best had he not broke his neck.

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11Bravo1p's picture

February 09, 2024 at 09:17 pm

I think Collins was the only high draft pick out of the 2008- 2010 era. Woodson was a free agent signing , Harris came over in a trade, Shields and Williams were undrafted free agents, Bigby was a street free agent. I think there were also a couple late round draft picks too

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stockholder's picture

February 09, 2024 at 10:50 pm

I only have to look at the DCs to know why.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 09, 2024 at 11:12 pm

Too painful a list for me to finish reading
Think I was ill after Goodson. Well that's all behind us now!

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 11, 2024 at 11:32 am

Q.Rollins chosen with a Two Pick? A basketball player for your FS ?

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MitchAnthony's picture

February 10, 2024 at 02:48 am

That was a nice and sobering write up there Ken. I guess 10 years was a good round number and to go back to the 2014 draft. Just to make history not look quite so bad, in 2013 Micah Hyde was grabbed in the fifth round. Micah Hyde has had quite an NFL career.
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But that 2013 season was a bit of a stinker. By the end of week 13 the Packers were 5-6-1 and things weren't looking good. I do remember that all the pundits and prognosticators had Ha-Ha Clinton Dix as a lock for not only being a first rounder, but a first half of the first rounder. Everyone, and I mean just about everyone at that time thought Clinton Dix was the sure thing need for the Packers and if the season kept stinking, they might just get the guy they needed. Best safety in the draft they said. Can't miss, right?
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Green Bay played a bit better down the stretch and went 3-1 on the remaining regular season games to finish 8-7-1. I do recall a friend of mine being seriously pissed that the Packers were playing themselves out of a chance to get Clinton Dix in the upcoming draft. How bout that, he fell to the 21st pick and they got him. And you accurately pointed out his history. He didn't seem so overrated right from the start but he never lived up to all that hype.

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ArlenWilliams's picture

February 10, 2024 at 04:03 am

Fine article and comments, but as safeties go, the Packers need a slot corner. ;-)

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fthisJack's picture

February 10, 2024 at 07:40 am

I think that we need to go all in on Winfield Jr. That would take care of the single high safety and then add one of the top safeties in the class that can probably be had in round 2. Round one add one of the crop of good CB that should be available. This would go a long way to fixing the secondary for next year. Do this instead of getting a few second tier guys that won't be game changers unless you get very lucky.

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dobber's picture

February 10, 2024 at 09:52 am

I think that 2025 is really the target year--which means I'd be trying to maximize draft picks to fill holes, preserving cap, and looking for that stud player or two with a healthier 2025 cap to finish off the roster.

That said, I don't see Antoine Winfield getting to the open market.

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@Kumps76's picture

February 10, 2024 at 07:58 am

I believe Gutekunst will approach the secondary similar to the way he restocked the edge room in ‘19. Through the draft I think they’ll come away with 3-4 db’s (FS, Box, CB) with one or two FA additions—not big names. The 2nd and 3rd rounds are excellent spots to be looking at safety’s this year and we’ve got 4 picks in those rounds alone. Gute has positioned the team incredibly well for the ‘24 season and has the draft capital and ability to clear cap space to completely revamp the back end of this defense with players specific for this new scheme.

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Since'61's picture

February 10, 2024 at 08:32 am

The Packers need to rebuild their Safety position group for 2024 similar to how they rebuilt their position WR and TE position groups for 2023. I think /gute will sign a safety in FA, I don't know who? Then he will take a Safey in the draft and retain the best out of Savage, Ford and Owens.

This could be a 2 season process. Maybe 'cute waits for the salary cap issues to be resolved in 2025 before signing a big name FA at Safety. Given the current salary cap situation and the fact that this does not appear to be a strong year for Safeties in the draft the Packers may not have any choice but to take small steps in 2024 before getting players who can make an impact in 2025. We'll see.
Thanks, Since '61

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Fubared's picture

February 10, 2024 at 11:30 am

I still question, was it Capers, Pettine and Barry being so so or did they have crap to work with. I mean why come up with and elephant scheme if you have top guys in key positions? Plus you were using line backers as pass rushers saving the big bucks not drafting defensive ends who commanded money. Thus you got cheap ball going on, with less then top end D coordinators, late first and second round picks due to your record and we should have ended up with the defenses we deserved.
We all seen it only takes one or two dominant pass rushers to make a defense look very good or shut down corners who can tackle and break up passes. We havent had neither for a long time.

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Bitternotsour's picture

February 10, 2024 at 11:36 am

You write the most ridiculous crap. Alexander is a shutdown corner, and fearless in run support (ask your guy Adam Theilen) the Smith's averaged 10+ sacks each, and Gary is a game wrecker. Go back to the Vikings board.

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MooPack's picture

February 12, 2024 at 09:09 pm

Ken,
Here is your answer.

Which positions have historically been the most difficult to hit on?
All positions aren’t created equally with cornerback at a 64% miss rate far and away being the position with the highest bust rate, followed by safety, pass rusher, and receiver.

https://phillycovercorner.com/2023/04/first-round-draft-success-rates-wh...

I'm more inclined to draft one of the safest positions, if not most when you take into account volume.
The OLine.
RB, LB and TE are very slightly higher, but few are drafted in the 1st.

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