How did Packers address needs in 2021 NFL draft?

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During the lead-up to the 2021 NFL draft, Packers Wire ranked the team’s needs by position, highlighting the areas of the roster general manager Brian Gutekunst might want to address over three days of acquiring players.

A year after planning for the future in a very obvious way, the Packers were surprisingly focused on filling in the cracks of the current roster entering this season, checking off positional needs one by one over nine total draft picks.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how the team attacked needs in the 2021 draft:

1. Cornerback: The Packers selected Eric Stokes in the first round and Shemar Jean-Charles in the fifth round, providing immediate competition for returning starters Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan and potential future starters opposite Jaire Alexander and in the slot. The Packers clearly saw cornerback as the top need and attacked it in this draft. This position will be competitive this summer and far more stable past 2021.

2. Offensive line: The Packers lost Corey Linsley, Rick Wagner and Lane Taylor this offseason, so Gutekunst drafted three offensive linemen for the second straight year. Josh Myers (second round) could immediately replace Linsley at center, Royce Newman (fourth round) provides much-needed depth at right tackle and Cole Van Lanen (sixth round) will get a chance to compete for a backup job at guard. Gutekunst wasn’t going to leave offensive line coach Adam Stenavich short-handed. Feeding the ascending young position coach with moldable players looks like a strong strategy for keeping the offensive line a strength long-term.

3. Defensive line: The class of defensive linemen wasn’t a strong one, so the Packers waited until Day 3 to add a big body up front on defense. Tedarrell Slaton might never be a three-down player, but he’s 330 pounds and surprisingly athletic, giving him a chance to eventually play a role as a two-gapping run-plugger. This underwhelming position group probably needed a bigger investment this offseason, but the Packers are bringing back their top four defensive linemen from 2020 and now Slaton can fill the Snacks Harrison role.

(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser, File)

4. Wide receiver: The Packers didn’t take a receiver in the first round, but help here through the draft finally arrived. Gutekunst traded up in the third round to get Amari Rodgers, providing the slot/gadget playmaker that Matt LaFleur’s diverse offense probably needs to operate at maximum capacity. It was a moderate surprise that the Packers didn’t take a receiver on Day 3, given the contract situation at the position after 2021,

5. Inside linebacker: With far more important needs to address, inside linebacker was mostly neglected again. Isaiah McDuffie can run and he flew around the field at Boston College, but the sixth-round pick probably isn’t a long-term answer here. However, he should give the special teams a boost. That’s still a win for a team that was so poor in the third phase in 2020.

6. Safety: The Packers didn’t draft a safety, but undrafted free agent Christian Uphoff might have a real chance to make the roster and be an option as the third safety, especially after Raven Greene signed in Tampa Bay. Uphoff was one of the best undrafted free agent safeties available, so this is a little bit like having a 10th draft pick.

7. Edge rusher: No pick here. This felt like a sneaky need, given the fact that Preston Smith probably won’t be on the roster in 2022, but the Packers never saw an opportunity to add to this room during the draft. It will be a strong position group in 2021, but an investment might be required in next year’s draft.

8. Running back: The Packers addressed this need as many expected them to – with a Day 3 pick. Smart. Seventh-round pick Kylin Hill is a talented tackle-breaker and could have Jamaal Williams-like versatility as a pro. Strong replacement option for cheap.

9. Tight end: No need for help here. The Packers love providing Matt LaFleur with tight ends, but this position group is at least five players deep with capable options entering 2021.

10. Specialists: A couple of long snappers were drafted, but not by the Packers. The roster already has two players at kicker, punter and long snapper, so using a draft pick on any of the three positions wasn’t required.

11. Quarterback: In hindsight, this position needed to be quite a ways up the list, given the Aaron Rodgers conflict. The Packers still didn’t draft a quarterback, and they’ve yet to sign an undrafted free agent. Two future additions here are likely.

Thoughts: The Packers spent their first seven picks on the top four positions in our rankings entering the draft. Almost methodically, Gutekunst went down the needs list and crossed off positions, adding strong competition at key positions and eliminating obvious areas of instability both in 2021 and 2022. There wasn’t much help for the defensive front, mostly because the early investments were focused so heavily on the top needs. Also, the class wasn’t particularly strong along the defensive line or inside linebacker, but it was at cornerback, offensive line and receiver, so the Packers made use. This was a draft class heavily influenced by need.

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