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Inbox: Run defense is all hands on deck

What’s more difficult to gauge is just how far they’ll fall

Packers' Defense
Packers' Defense

Andrew from Clearwater, FL

Now that the combine is over do we know who the Packers are picking in the draft? ;)

Let me check with Sam.

Robert from Georgetown, TX

Do the Packers use the franchise tag on anyone?

Not this year. They don't have a pending free agent at that type of pay grade.

Larry from Hudson, WI

Being one game and a few minutes away from the Super Bowl doesn't hurt when trying to retain or attract players, either. I'm interested in the new term "difference-maker" from a scout perspective. How many difference-makers are on the Packers' roster today?

From a scouting perspective, I'd say five: Jordan Love, Aaron Jones, Christian Watson, Rashan Gary and Jaire Alexander. The fact that three of those players missed a combined 24 games last season as the Packers went 9-8 speaks to how important their health will be in 2024. The other question is who else amongst the Packers' top young talent might rise to the level of difference-maker. To me, Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave have that potential on offense, as do Quay Walker and Lukas Van Ness on defense.

Sean from Boulder, CO

I agree wholly with the Walker comment from Jacob yesterday. I've always thought his best strengths are his speed and athleticism, while his biggest weakness was his inability to temper that strength and pick his moments to be more effective. Another player I am excited to see under Hafley is Alexander. He's likely going to play press more, but do you think he could evolve into the hybrid role that Woodson played? Seems he has the perfect blend of ability and mindset but hasn't yet had a chance.

If by hybrid role you mean the way Woodson roamed the line of scrimmage in the early years of Capers' defense here, I'm not so sure. Jaire is a cover guy first and foremost. I'd want to maximize that aspect, and his injury history suggests risking that if you're trying to make him some sort of hybrid defender.

Dale from Prescott, WI

What do you think of the possible new kickoff rule changes being considered? Seems too gimmicky to me.

I'm willing to try something new and keep adjusting as warranted.

Julian from Gastonia, NC

There should be an excellent DL prospect available in the first or second round, but I haven't seen many mocks showing the Packers choosing a DL that early. The team still has a long history of running hot and cold stopping the run. Stopping the run always comes first. Yes, I am concerned the team won't take a DL in the first two rounds. The chances of landing another Karl Brooks as late as the sixth round are possible but not very likely.

I'm not saying the Packers won't look to bolster the D-line some more, but that isn't the only unit charged with stopping the run. I thought the Packers had their best and deepest D-line in quite some time last season, actually. I'll refer you to a Gutekunst quote from Feb. 1, when he spoke with the media after the season ended: "I thought we played pretty consistent football in the front seven. I think the back end is probably where we weren't as consistent as we needed to be, and I'd like that to be shored up." As I noted at the time, when the GM is lauding the consistency on the front seven of a defense that allowed 200-plus rushing yards four times, he's indicting the secondary for poor run support. Run defense is all hands on deck.

Ray from Phoenix, AZ

Last year JL had several players join him for workouts prior to training camp. Do you think that will happen again? If so, does the NFL have a restriction on the number of players that can attend?

The last time we spoke to players, they indicated they'd do so again. There are no restrictions I'm aware of, other than the prohibition on any coaches being involved.

Glen from Henrietta, NY

Miiike! I'm still laughing that Sam asked you who the Packers should draft. With five of the top 100 picks would you say the top three positions the Pack will lean towards to be O-line, RB and safety? While many have them leaning towards a tackle, I also think that they'll consider a center too, trying to boost competition at all five OL positions.

In those first three rounds of the draft, the only positions that don't jump out at me as pressing needs for the roster, either for starting positions or important rotational depth, are quarterback, receiver and tight end. Anything else in the early rounds would not surprise me in the slightest.

Ken from Oceanport, NJ

If you feel the depth at the top of the draft means the Packers will get a good player at No. 25, why not trade up with extra second- and third-round picks to get another shot in the first round?

Depending on how the board looks, I'm not ruling it out. Or a move like Gutey made in '22, packaging two second-rounders for a pick at the top of the second (which turned out to be Watson).

Ben from Guffey, CO

Watching the highlights back, one thing that gets lost in Watson's injuries is I do believe he made a step forward in contested/deep catches that he was dropping in the beginning of his first season.

I thought he struggled in that area early on in Year 2 as well after missing the first three games. The first play in Detroit on Thanksgiving felt like a eureka moment in that regard, and he was a monster against the Lions and Chiefs until getting hurt again.

Dan from Morehead City, NC

I know you are no Russ Ball, but I hope you can help me with a couple cap clarifications. How is a bonus termed "not likely to be earned" determined? When are these paid if it is earned? If a group of players have NLTBE bonuses in their contracts and they all earn them and it pushes us over the cap, what happens? Also, will either of you be on the Tailgate Tour? If so, see you in Platteville.

Incentives are categorized as "likely" or "not likely" to be earned based on whether or not the player achieved it the previous season. LTBE incentives must count against the cap in the current year, and if they aren't achieved a cap credit is issued for the following year. NLTBE incentives don't count against the cap in the current year, but if they are earned that money gets charged to the cap the following year. Alas, I will not be on the Tailgate Tour, but it's cool there's a stop in my hometown again.

Jacob from Holmen, WI

Good morning, Mike. The Packers' offense is set to cook in 2024. The personnel ready to blossom has been well documented. Giving Love and company more opportunities via turnovers could put massive pressure on opponents early in games and drive more mistakes … see the Dallas game. Of your subjective changes for next year, it feels turnover margin is the driver for success and also the change in defensive scheme. Let the vision-based secondary prey on the mistakes pressure on the quarterback creates.

That all sounds great in theory, but you have to be able to get what you emphasize, and when it comes to forcing the issue on defense, how sound is the rest of the scheme when those risks are taken? I mentioned often over the last two years how the Packers were playing a defense designed to limit explosive plays, yet they remained among the league leaders in allowing them. That's not getting what you emphasize. Last season, the Packers allowed at least four plays of 20-plus yards in 11 of their 19 games, and when the opposing QBs in some of those games with that many big plays were Desmond Ridder, Tommy DeVito and Bryce Young, you're on your heels when you should be trying to dictate the action. Hafley spoke of his vision-based concepts as designed to generate immediate and multi-angled pursuit to the ball. That sounds to me like another way to limit big gains while trying to create more turnover opportunities. We'll see if he can get what he emphasizes.

Joe from Liberty Township, OH

With Mark Murphy's retirement a little over a year away, could you see a change in the Packers' front office structure when his replacement takes over? Brian Gutekunst has clearly proven himself. Could he receive a promotion and Matt LaFleur and Russ Ball report to him rather than the new president? That would re-establish the more traditional structure of the GM being in charge of all football operations.

That's going to be up to the new president/CEO. It wouldn't surprise me if the structure reverts to the prior format eventually, but that'll be the new big boss's call to make.

The Green Bay Packers hosted a literacy-themed event, "Timeout for Reading" at Lambeau Field on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Scott from Liberty Township, OH

Hi Mike, I have been reading a lot about how an elite Relative Athlietic Score (RAS) by recent Packer high-round draft picks has weighed favorably (and even heavily) to their selection. Does Spoffstradamus cross off players like Kamren Kinchens and Ennis Rakestraw off the Packers' top 100 board due to their low RAS at the combine? Side note, Frank Crum needs to be a Packer. His mop of mullet is spectacular!

Recent history certainly suggests low RAS scores will fall on the Packers' draft board. What's more difficult to gauge is just how far they'll fall.

Paul from Ledgeview, WI

Mike, is there a record of the 60 Packer candidates who participated in the formal prospect meetings during the combine?

A record? Yes. Do I have access to it? No.

George from North Mankato, MN

While I agree that usually a seventh-round pick commands a greater signing bonus than an undrafted free agent, that trend may be changing. Last year, the Vikings guaranteed over $300K to Andre Carter II and more than $200K to Ivan Pace Jr. What does the average seventh-round draft pick command? What is the biggest guarantee the Packers have doled out to an undrafted player in recent memory?

I don't know the answer to your last question, and the UDFA guarantees are changing the landscape a bit. They're a clever way around the per-team UDFA signing bonus caps, and they're in part a result of the expanded practice squads. Basically a $200K guarantee is what a player would make spending an entire season on the practice squad, and with 16 spots available (rather than the prior eight or 10), teams have been willing to, in effect, give away a spot or two there in order to entice a UDFA to take a crack at making their 53 rather than someone else's. If they believe the player at least will be on their practice squad, they aren't really out any money. Also, as for the Vikings last year, they drafted only six players, so they had more wiggle room financially as well as a strong belief those targeted UDFAs would make their roster.

Josh from Long Beach, CA

Six All-Pro seasons and a Super Bowl. Does Jason Kelce make the Hall of Fame? Super emotional speech from a guy with 13 seasons in probably one of the toughest cities to play.

Those six All-Pro selections are all first-team nods, too. Jason Kelce is a lock for the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot in five years.

Matt from Madison, WI

The last two draft classes had a lot of contributions in 2023. More so than Gutekunst's first five drafts. Did something change in the scouting or draft process two years ago? Has Gute just hit his stride in drafting? A little luck? Or do the draft classes look better because they got so much opportunity in 2023?

Gutekunst's answer to that question has been the latter, opportunity, and there's always a little luck involved, too.

Lynn from Butler, IN

Are you required to answer X number of questions every day?

Nice try. The first rule of Inbox remains sacred. Happy Tuesday.

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