Packers pick three defensive players
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--Presented with trade overtures for the second time in less than 24 hours, the Green Bay Packers in the end made sure that Kevin King would not escape their clutches.
King, a cornerback from Washington coveted by the personnel and coaching staffs, was the Packers’ selection atop the second round Friday night in the NFL draft.
One night earlier, general manager Ted Thompson rolled the dice in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, acquiring the first pick in the fourth round but giving the teams drafting 29th, 30th, 31st and 32nd opportunity to steal King from the Packers.
His gamble paid off when four other players, none a cornerback, were selected.
On Friday afternoon, it was reported by ESPN that the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 38), the New York Jets (No. 39) and Tampa Bay (No. 50) all had called Green Bay expressing interest in No. 33.
The Jets reportedly were dangling defensive end Shelton Richardson, the league’s defensive rookie of the year in 2013.
Instead, the Packers held firm and took King, who without question will be given every benefit of the doubt to start as a rookie and bail out one of the NFL’s poorest collections of cornerbacks.
Eliot Wolf, the club’s director of football operations, said the Packers regarded King as having the potential to be a No. 1 cornerback.
“It was interesting to see how the phone calls heated up at the end,” said Wolf. “All along, we felt we’d be able to get a good player, and we were fortunate enough to do so.
“No one really came in to give us what we felt was good value. It might have cost us the player. Kevin was a guy we didn’t want to lose.”
Wolf wouldn’t certify that King would have been the choice at No. 29.
“He’s a guy we really liked, and would have considered,” he said.
Inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who went 31st, is regarded as a major medical risk (shoulders, stingers, concussion). Patrick McKenzie, the team’s doctor, leans toward the conservative side when it comes to categorizing NFL physicians, according to sources.
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, the 30th choice, was one of Thompson’s favorite players in the draft but played a position of far less need than King.
Presumably because decisions were being made regarding possible trades, it was worth noting that the Packers used almost all of the seven-minute time limit before King’s card was turned in at draft central in Philadelphia.
In the second round, the Packers used the 61st pick on safety Josh Jones of North Carolina State, another rangy player with tremendous speed. He has strong-safety dimensions but also experience covering down in the slot and playing as a linebacker in some passing situations.
“Definitely taller, and maybe a little faster,” Brian Gutekunst, the team’s director of player personnel, said of the reinforced secondary. “Versatility now in that room is going to really help us. There’s high expectations for those two guys, no doubt about it.”
One of the players admired but eventually bypassed by the Packers was Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who went 41st to Minnesota.
In the third round, the Packers used the 93rd choice on Montravius Adams, a defensive tackle from Auburn.
King, 6 feet 3 inches and 198 pounds, was the tallest of the top 15 cornerbacks in the draft. Height can be an invaluable asset when trying to deal with superstar receivers like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but height without flexibility is worthless.
“It’s always good to have guys with size,” Wolf said. “That’s something we’re cognizant of.
“The unique thing about him is the ability to bend for such a tall guy. Sometimes the taller guys show a little bit of stiffness. We didn’t see that. We actually saw that as a strength for him.”
Starting the night, the Packers’ seven-man depth chart consisted of Quinten Rollins and Demetri Goodson, who as collegians played more basketball than football; Damarious Randall, a converted safety; Herb Waters, a converted wide receiver, and LaDarius Gunter, Davon House and Josh Hawkins.
Gunter (6-1½) and House (6-0½) are the only players standing 6-0 or better.
King joins Michael Hawthorne (6-3) as the tallest cornerbacks in Green Bay over the last 30 years. Hawthorne started seven of 30 games in 2003-’04.
Other corners Gunter’s height or taller were Mike Hawkins (6-1½) in 2005, Tyrone Bell (6-2) in 1999, Keith Crawford (6-2) in 1995, Lenny McGill (6-1½) in 1994-’95 and Jerry Holmes (6-1½) in 1990-’91.
The selection of King was an attempt by Thompson to correct his mistakes in 2015 with Randall and Rollins atop the draft.
King, a starter at free safety in 2014 and cornerback the past two years, was rated a fourth-round draft choice by the National scouting combine before his senior season. He showed improvement but still wasn’t viewed as first-round material until his tremendous workout at the combine in late February.
His times in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56) led all defensive backs in Indianapolis.
“If you look at tape, he’s not a first-round pick,” an executive in personnel said. “If you look at the combine, he’s a top-10 pick.”
On the same day, King ran 40 yards in 4.46 seconds, a vast improvement from his spring clocking of 4.57.
“One of our goals this year was to try and get faster,” Wolf said. “I think we got the tallest corner in the draft and a guy that runs really fast and a guy that can make plays on the ball.”
Given King’s length, it was somewhat surprising that the Huskies played King extensively inside. All teams, including the Packers, value versatility for defensive backs.
King was the sixth cornerback selected. Two more, Washington’s Sidney Jones and Florida’s Quincy Wilson, were taken with the 43rd and 46th picks.
Jones (6-1½, 221), a fourth-year junior, was the ninth player selected from what some executives called possibly the best and deepest safety group in years. Three safeties went in the first round and five more in the second before Jones.
Among the players on the board at the time were guards Dan Feeney, Dion Dawkins and Taylor Moton; running backs Alvin Kamara and Samaje Perine; inside linebacker Alex Anzalone; outside linebackers Tarell Basham and Jordan Willis, and cornerback Fabian Moreau.
“(Jones) isn’t one of those guys that tested well and then you don’t see the athletic traits on the tape,” Gutekunst said. “He was a dynamic playmaker for them this year. We’re excited.”
Jones led strong safeties at the combine with 20 reps on the bench press. In another draft class, his broad jump of 11-0 might have led the safeties. In this bumper crop, it tied for second.
“He’s an explosive athlete,” said Gutekunst. “Very good tackler in space and in the box.
“He’s one of those guys they’ll drop in there and kind of play a ‘will’ linebacker. He’ll shoot the gap and take on the big guys inside. He has no problem doing that.”
In making the selection, the Packers certainly were more than just mindful that strong safety Morgan Burnett, 28, will be entering the final year of the four-year, $25.95 million extension that he signed in July 2013.
The number of veteran players to receive a third contract from the Packers is few and far between.
“It’s the way the game is going,” Gutekunst said. “You just don’t want to get outflanked. You’ve got to have guys that can run and chase.”
Adams (6-3½, 304) is a penetrating interior player who played mostly nose tackle at Auburn. His senior season was by his best.
His 40-yard dash time of 4.88 was second best among the top 12 defensive tackles.
In the base defense, Adams could play 5-technique, 3-technique and nose tackle. In sub, he would be an interior rusher with get-off that has been compared to former Packer Jerel Worthy’s when he was at Michigan State.
“Played with a lot more passion this year,” an NFL personnel man said this month. “He was a dog a couple years ago. Can be disruptive if you just say, ‘Go.’ Never going to be a dependable, consistent player because of lack of instincts and stiffness.”