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Packers hand Jeff Hafley two intriguing playmakers in second round

Edgerrin Cooper, Javon Bullard look to infuse speed and athleticism into new defensive scheme

S Javon Bullard, LB Edgerrin Cooper
S Javon Bullard, LB Edgerrin Cooper

GREEN BAY – With the Jeff Hafley era officially underway, the Packers grabbed two fast and aggressive SEC defenders in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday night.

Green Bay first drafted Texas A&M's All-American linebacker Edgerrin Cooper at No. 45 following a trade with the New Orleans Saints. In moving back four spots, the Packers gathered additional picks in the fifth (No. 168) and sixth round (No. 190) on Saturday.

Thirteen picks later, Green Bay dipped back into the University of Georgia pipeline and took defensive back Javon Bullard at No. 58.

As the Packers switch to a 4-3 base front, both inside linebacker and safety were considered positions of need entering this year's draft. In Cooper and Bullard, Green Bay adds an inside linebacker who ran a 4.51 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine and a safety clocked in the 4.4s.

"They bring a lot of speed," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said. "With Bullard, he's very versatile. He can play the nickel, he can play safety, he's done a lot of things. He's a big-time leader for that football team at Georgia, which has been very, very good.

"And then obviously, Cooper, the speed that he brings to the table at the linebacker position is rare. I think we got a lot faster, which I wanted to do this weekend."

Cooper was the first off-ball linebacker selected in this year's draft after a monumental redshirt junior season in which he became the first Texas A&M pure linebacker to earn consensus first-team All-America honors since Dat Nguyen in 1998.

Lauded for his athleticism and relentless sideline-to-sideline pursuit, Cooper was one of the most disruptive players in the country in 2023. He led the Aggies with 84 tackles and eight sacks and also paced the SEC with 17 tackles for loss.

A sharp spike in production caught the attention of the Packers, who talked to Cooper at his Texas A&M pro day and also brought him to Green Bay on an enlightening pre-draft visit for both sides.

"When I went to go visit them, I felt a lot of energy from them, from the coaches, the love and support from them," Cooper said. "I had an idea (of their interest) just talking to them. Sometimes you just know a person's really interested in you. That's the feeling that I got."

Bullard was the second safety prospect to be selected following a distinguished run at Georgia that saw the 5-foot-10, 198-pound defensive back capture two national titles and start both at nickel cornerback and safety.

While manning the slot, Bullard jumped on the scene during the 2022 national championship game when he caught two interceptions in Georgia's 59-6 thrashing of TCU. The performance earned him defensive MVP honors.

After sliding back to safety in 2023, Bullard set career highs in both tackles (56) and passes defensed (five) during his 12 starts. Looking to replenish the back end and build greater depth in the secondary, Green Bay felt Bullard's versatility separated him from his draft peers.

"He's a good football player," assistant director of scouting Patrick Moore said. "He's very smart, knows how to play, knows how to make plays. I don't think we took him with a specific spot in mind other than a good secondary player who can help us."

The Packers signed fifth-year veteran Xavier McKinney during free agency, but otherwise only return 2023 seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson Jr. and Zayne Anderson from last year's safety room.

Gutekunst said the team likely will start Bullard at safety but didn't rule out him playing in the slot based on his experience. As evident in his jubilant celebration with family and friends in Georgia, Bullard feels willing and able to play wherever Green Bay needs him.

"I believe versatility kind of stands me apart, but aside of that, just pure want-to," Bullard said. "I'm one of those players that's literally willing to do anything, whether that's special teams. I'll pour water in your cup if you want me to, man. I'm just a guy that loves the game and loves the environment and loves the joy that they bring each other."

Like Bullard, Cooper will have capable veterans to learn from in former first-round pick Quay Walker and fourth-year veteran Isaiah McDuffie, who were Green Bay's two leading tacklers in 2023.

The Packers don't plan on throwing any positional labels on their inside linebacker room, which also added third-round pick Ty'Ron Hopper and returns veterans Eric Wilson and Kristian Welch.

However, it is intriguing to think about the possibilities of using Cooper in tandem with Walker, the team's first-round pick out of Georgia two years ago who has several similar attributes as Cooper.

"That was something I always thought of, playing with another fast linebacker," Cooper said. "I feel like it will give us the defense, a bigger complement on our defense, being able to go sideline to sideline. Having two weapons on the field like that, I feel like could be very dangerous."


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