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Mel Kiper Jr. is right: the Green Bay Packers should address their pass rush in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

It’s why the ESPN draft analyst has the Packers taking defensive end Marcus Davenport of UT-San Antonio with their first-round pick, No. 14 overall, in his first mock draft of 2018.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who had 21.5 career sacks in college was the second pure pass rusher to come off Kiper’s board. The other, N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, went No. 3 to the Colts. Kiper also had a linebacker — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, who’s a potential pass rusher — at No. 12 to the Bengals.

Either way, the Packers would be getting one of the top pass rushers in the draft.

But they shouldn’t stop there. Not with how bereft they were of edge rushers this past season. They had only two players with more than five sacks, and none even came close to double digits. Clay Matthews led the team with 7.5, and Nick Perry had 7.

Matthews will turn 32 this offseason and is entering the final season of his contract. He underwent knee surgery already this offseason and missed two games in 2017 because of other injuries.

Perry, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal, couldn’t follow up his career-best season in 2016 (when he had 11 sacks). He reverted to his oft-injured ways, missing four games.

It’s why new general manager Brian Gutekunst might have to go all-in on pass rushers early in the draft, unless he’s able to find at least one impact rusher in free agency. His predecessor, Ted Thompson, ignored the position in free agency last year until he signed Ahmad Brooks (who had 1.5 sacks all season) at the end of the preseason. He waited until the fourth round of the draft to take an edge rusher, Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel, whose foot surgery last May all but ruined his rookie year.

It wouldn’t be an upset if Gutekunst drafted multiple pass rushers in this draft. He watched his old boss, Thompson, take defensive backs with his first two picks last year (cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones).

For what it’s worth, Kiper had the Packers taking running back Christian McCaffrey a year ago at this time in his first mock draft of 2017. McCaffrey ended up going much higher, at No. 8 overall to Carolina, and Kiper’s mocks will surely change as draft season progresses.

Fellow ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s first 2018 mock draft had the Packers taking a pass rusher, Boston College outside linebacker Harold Landry. Kiper had Landry at No. 25 to the Titans in his first mock.

Cheap White Corey Linsley Packers Jersey Sale Discount

Ted Thompson’s last acts as Green Bay Packers general manager — if he was actually still acting as GM and not just as a figure head — were to sign Davante Adams and Corey Linsley to contract extensions on the final weekend of the 2017 regular season.

It leaves new GM Brian Gutekunst without a must-sign player on his list of upcoming free agents.

Adams would have been one of the top receivers had he hit the open market. Instead, the Packers were able to retain him on a five-year, $58.9 million contract that made him the fourth-highest-paid receiver in the league.

In Linsley, the Packers made sure they retained their starting center — and the only player on the team who played in every snap on his side of the ball last season. He signed a three-year, $25.5 million extension.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Packers’ players who are headed for free agency when the new league year opens on March 14:

Offense

Unrestricted (Players with four or more accrued seasons)

  • Richard Rodgers: Tight end is a major need with or without Rodgers, who never quite took off after his Hail Mary catch against the Lions in 2015. That remains the only 100-yard receiving game of his career. He slipped behind Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks to start the season and even when Bennett was released, Rodgers’ productivity barely spiked. He had only two games this past season with more than one catch and missed the finale with a shoulder injury. The market could be light for the former third-round pick, so perhaps the Packers could get him back cheap for some depth. His salary last season was $1,797,000.
  • Jahri Evans: The 12th-year veteran was perhaps the surprise of last year’s free-agent class for the Packers. He played the first 912 snaps of the season before a knee injury kept him out of the final two games. Evans said late in the season that he wasn’t sure if he would play a 13th season. He will turn 35 in August. The Packers could slide Justin McCray or Lucas Patrick into the right guard spot if Evans isn’t back. He signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Packers last offseason.
  • Jeff Janis: His chance to contribute as a receiver is probably gone; he played just 50 snaps on offense last season and didn’t catch a pass until the second-to-last game of the year. But he’s become a valuable special-teams player.

Restricted (Players with three accrued seasons but not four; can be tendered by March 14 for the Packers to retain the right to match any offer from another team):

  • Ulrick John: The tackle was signed off Arizona’s practice squad on Sept. 26 after injuries to backups Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy and played just 40 snaps.

Exclusive rights (Players with fewer than three accrued seasons; must be offered minimum salary tenders by March 14 or they become street free agents): WR Geronimo Allison, QB Joe Callahan, WR Michael Clark, OL Adam Pankey

Defense

Unrestricted

  • Morgan Burnett: The veteran safety was No. 3 on the priority list behind Adams and Linsley, but he was a distant third. Yes, he’s versatile — having played everywhere from safety to slot cornerback to inside linebacker. But he’s also never been one to make a ton of splash plays. He has nine career interceptions in eight NFL seasons. He just turned 29 and hasn’t played a full season since 2012. He missed four games this past season because of two separate injuries (hamstring and groin). The Packers also have potential replacements in Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice. Burnett is at the end of a four-year, $24.75 million deal. There will be a market for Burnett, but it may not be at that same price. Given that new coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense can be complicated, Burnett might have more value to the Packers than to another team.
  • Ahmad Brooks: Essentially signed as a replacement for Julius Peppers, who left months earlier in free agency, but the former 49ers linebacker didn’t come close to replicating what Peppers did during his three years with the Packers and certainly couldn’t match the production Peppers had back in Carolina. For the same money — $3.5 million — the Packers got 1.5 sacks from Brooks and the Panthers got 11.0 from Peppers.
  • Quinton Dial: Like Brooks, Dial was a last-minute pickup right before the regular season started. He gave the Packers quality snaps along the defensive line to complement Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Dean Lowry. At just $775,001, he was a value signing who probably earned a little bit more in his next contract.
  • Davon House: After two seasons with the Jaguars, House returned to the Packers on a one-year, $2.8 million deal and played with the kind of toughness the Packers expected. He also served as a mentor to top draft pick Kevin King. A similar type of deal would make it worthwhile to bring him back. Like Burnett, House could be valuable in a scheme that favors veterans because of its complexity.
  • Demetri Goodson: Although he made it back to the active roster more than a year after a serious knee injury, he did not play a single snap in 2017, so it’s unknown what the fourth-year cornerback can do. He would be a minimum-salary-type signing.

Restricted

  • Joe Thomas: A year after he led the inside linebackers in snaps, he fell behind Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan on the depth chart. Injuries and the increased use of the “nitro” defensive package with a safety at inside linebacker also played a role.

Exclusive rights: CB Herb Waters, S Jermaine Whitehead

Specialists

Unrestricted

  • Brett Goode: The veteran long-snapper played in 10 games during two separate stints on the roster last season. His snaps have been on point for 10 seasons, but the Packers have seemed intent on trying to replace him in recent years, even though he’s on a minimum salary. The Packers signed another snapper, Zach Triner, to a futures deal and also could bring back Taybor Pepper, who finished the season on IR.

Restricted

  • Jake Schum: The punter in 2016 spent all of 2017 on injured reserve because of a back injury and probably won’t get a shot at the job after the solid year rookie Justin Vogel had.

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Their first four draft picks were designed to help the struggling defense, but the Green Bay Packers got their biggest rookie impact from two of the three running backs they selected on the final day.

Here’s a breakdown of the Packers’ 2017 draft class:

Grade: Below average.

Best rookie: Fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams was the workhorse running back, while fifth-rounder Aaron Jones provided the explosive change. Williams led the Packers in both carries (153) and rushing yards (556), but his average of 3.6 yards per carry suggests he’s more of a plodder. He also might be the more capable back in the passing game, both as a receiver and a blocker. Jones, despite a pair of knee injuries, showed more big-play ability. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry on just 81 attempts (448 yards) and matched Williams with four touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime against Tampa Bay to help the Packers stay alive in the playoff race at the time. Both had at least one 100-yard rushing game, and this duo looks more promising than opening-day starter Ty Montgomery as the future of the Packers’ backfield.

Most improved rookie: This one has to go to an undrafted rookie, punter Justin Vogel. He looked shaky in training camp but progressed as the season went along. He set the franchise record for net punting average (41.6), although a relatively mild weather season at home helped. Still, this spot should be solidified for next season.

Most disappointing rookie: Throughout the offseason practices, Josh Jones was seemingly around the ball at every turn. But the second-round pick couldn’t carry that over when it mattered. He bounced between safety and inside linebacker in the Packers’ nitro package, but other than the overtime interception in Cleveland that set up the game-winning score, he struggled in coverage most of the season. This was a classic case of a player who looked good in helmets and shorts but struggled when the pads came on. Top pick Kevin King also could be thrown into this category, but as cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said during the season, no one saw the real King because when he played, he was limited by a shoulder injury that eventually ended his season and required surgery.

Jury is still out on …: Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel. Both missed the early part of the season because of injuries. Adams, the third-round defensive tackle, broke his foot during the opening week of training camp and played in only one of the first seven games. Biegel, the fourth-round outside linebacker, had foot surgery in May and missed the entire offseason, training camp, the preseason and the first seven games of the regular season. The Packers hoped Adams would bolster their run defense and Biegel would provide some pass rush. Neither happened.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: The most promising undrafted rookie didn’t even see the field until Week 16. Receiver Michael Clark, a 6-foot-6 former college basketball player, caught four passes for 41 yards in the final two games combined. Yes, he struggled with drops, but his length and athletic ability make him a player to watch next summer after he has had a full year to refine his skills. Cornerback Lenzy Pipkins also looks like he might have potential.

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The Green Bay Packers are only halfway to fixing their problems on defense.

The decision to change coordinators was the first step. Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired Dom Capers after Sunday’s season-ending loss at Detroit.

Whether it was Capers, the revered Fritz Shurmur or the inventive Buddy Ryan, it might not have mattered who devised defensive game plans and called plays for the Packers. The resources weren’t there.

Like most things in the NFL, it comes down to playmakers.

And that’s where general manager Ted Thompson failed Capers. Yes, Thompson devoted draft pick after draft pick to the defensive side of the ball, yet a dearth of impact players still exists.

Despite what coaches will say, the NFL isn’t about depth. Teams can lose players in bunches, but as long as they have one or two more difference-makers than everyone else, it doesn’t matter.

Quickly scan the Packers’ defensive depth chart — and consider the players on injured reserve, too — and it explains why Capers’ unit ranked 22nd in the NFL this season and hasn’t been in the top 10 since the Super Bowl season of 2010.

That Super Bowl defense had impact players at every level. There was B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett on the front line, and Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop at linebacker. The secondary was loaded with talent — Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams and a young Sam Shields.

Like this season, that Super Bowl team faced injuries in mass quantities, but the injured-reserve list isn’t about numbers but rather names. There were so many playmakers on the 53-man roster that it didn’t matter who was on 15-man IR list.

That defense, also coordinated by Capers, ranked No. 5 overall and came up with key takeaways in every postseason game, including Collins’ interception return for a touchdown early and the Matthews/Pickett forced fumble late in the Super Bowl.

What did Capers have to work with this season?

The veterans among his group were an aged Matthews, who still plays with high energy but hasn’t been as effective; an oft-injured Nick Perry, who was a risk to re-sign last year in free agency; an inconsistent Mike Daniels up front and Morgan Burnett, who for all his versatility in the secondary is a jack of all trades but master of none.

The secondary was supposed to be built around Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2016. But he inexplicably regressed. Veteran cornerback Davon House provided the steady play the Packers expected when they signed him to a one-year deal in free agency, and he battled gallantly through injuries, but the young defensive backs were either too inconsistent (Damarious Randall and Josh Jones) or too injured (Kevin King and Quinten Rollins).

The best prospect Thompson acquired on defense is Kenny Clark, the 2016 first-round pick who finished the season strong with 4.5 sacks in the final five games.

It’s not like Thompson ignored that side of the ball and tried to load up with weapons for Aaron Rodgers, although perhaps that would have been a better roster-building strategy.

In his 13th draft as GM last year, Thompson used his first four picks on defensive players: King and Jones in the second round, defensive tackle Montravius Adams in the third and linebacker Vince Biegel in the fourth. King didn’t have an interception before he went on injured reserve in need of shoulder surgery, and Jones had just one. Adams and Biegel were non-factors after both suffered offseason foot injuries.

Assuming Clinton-Dix bounces back next season, it’s not a stretch to say he and Clark are the only two defensive picks in the past five drafts that could be considered young defensive playmakers.

As much as coaching has been to blame for the Packers’ defensive struggles, the shortcomings in personnel remain as big an issue — if not bigger — for a defense that’s now in transition.

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Cornerback Davon House could return to the Green Bay Packers before the season is over, despite the transverse process fracture in his back that he suffered during Sunday’s victory at Cleveland.

A source told ESPN that House does not need surgery and could return “sooner rather than later.”

The diagnosis of a fracture was first reported by the NFL Network.

House was a surprise starter Sunday after he was listed as doubtful because of a shoulder injury. He played 30 snaps before he was injured early in the fourth quarter. House slipped while in coverage against receiver Corey Coleman and was accidentally kicked by receiver Josh Gordon, who was running a crossing route.

House had to be carted off the field and appeared to be in considerable pain.

The Packers are dangerously thin at cornerback after losing top draft pick Kevin King for the season last week. King was placed on injured reserve and will undergo shoulder surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn labrum, an injury that dates to his college days at Washington and had been bothering him off and on since training camp this past summer.

Another one-time starting cornerback, Quinten Rollins, also is on injured reserve because of a torn Achilles.

Even with House, the Packers used safety Morgan Burnett as their slot cornerback in the nickel and dime packages and then played rookie Josh Jones in Burnett’s spot. Jones had the interception in overtime that set up the game-winning touchdown.

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Bring back Aaron Rodgers. This season can still be saved.

Miraculously. Unexpectedly. Extraordinarily.

And with a little — OK, a lot of — thanks to the winless Cleveland Browns.

Ten wins, which was Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s formula for getting into the playoffs, is still on the board. At 7-6 with three games to go — at Carolina, home against Minnesota and at Detroit — it’s not over yet.

All that’s left to find out is whether Rodgers’ surgically repaired right clavicle has mended. If so, this 27-21 comeback victory in overtime — the second straight week the Packers have won in sudden-death fashion — combined with the return of their two-time MVP quarterback could turn out to be a defining moment in a season that for most of Sunday looked like it would end up lost.

“The way we fought, these last two weeks … to get that overtime win last week and do that same thing is huge,” said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. “There’s your season right there.”

Of course, if the scan of Rodgers’ collarbone shows that the break suffered nearly two months ago hasn’t completely healed, then Sunday’s win could prove to be just an afterthought because it would seem unlikely that a Brett Hundley-led team could run the table.

Although after the way Hundley engineered a pair of second-half touchdown drives to rally the Packers from a 21-7 deficit to get to overtime, maybe it’s not as unfathomable as it sounds.

For much of the afternoon, this looked like it had the makings of one of the most humiliating losses since the 1997 Packers lost to the 0-10 Colts. That team, however, went to the Super Bowl. This one, however, still has so much more work to do to even make the playoffs.

But remember, Rodgers was playing at an MVP level before Anthony Barr changed the course of the Packers’ season with the hit that broke Rodgers’ right collarbone.

Rodgers had thrown 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and the Packers’ only loss in their first five games with him at the helm came at Atlanta.

“We love Aaron Rodgers, but I will not answer any questions about him today,” McCarthy said after the game. “This is about winning the game, and he’s still in the medical situation and as soon as we have the information we’ll try to get it to you.”

They still have all of their receivers, including Davante Adams, whose 1-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw sent the game into overtime and whose 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the extra session won it.

It was Hundley’s third win since Rodgers’ injury.

Now, they have a revamped running attack that, although it struggled for most of Sunday’s game, is just a week removed from a season-best 199-yard performance against the Buccaneers.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going forward,” said Hundley, who threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. “This team has a lot of fight, I’ll tell you that. We’re not out of this thing. We have a lot of fight in us. These two last games, we fought back. When we needed to execute, we executed. When our backs were against the wall, we came out swinging. We’ve done it for the last two weeks — came up short [against] the Steelers. This team has a lot of fight and it’s not over yet.”

The Browns gift-wrapped this one when their rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, threw one up for grabs in overtime with Matthews in his face. Rookie Josh Jones intercepted it, giving the Packers a short field to set up the game-winning score.

Of course, all the optimism over Rodgers’ return to practice last week and the face-saving overtime win over the Browns could be dashed if tests show Rodgers’ collarbone hasn’t completely mended.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Kevin King didn’t think his NFL debut would consist of only six snaps on defense. Even after his snap count increased by 40 in Week 2, he’s still not sure what will happen next.

The Green Bay Packers’ top draft pick should expect his role in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals — and beyond — to resemble the latter rather than the former.

The second-round cornerback put together a strong showing in Sunday’s 34-23 loss at the Atlanta Falcons. It was one of a couple of positive takeaways from an otherwise dispiriting loss for a defense that still hasn’t figured out how to slow down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

King didn’t start against the Falcons, but it would be a shock if he didn’t have that job going forward.

“If anything, he’s earned the right to potentially play more,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Smooth, confident athlete. He’s getting healthy and he looks comfortable out there. I like the progression that Kevin’s making.”

The 6-foot-3, long-armed, speedy cover man did exactly what the Packers hoped he would when they picked him at No. 33 overall in the draft. He ran with Jones, he broke up a pass and he tackled.

“I thought I was going to play a lot last week,” King said. “And next week I could play six snaps again, who knows? I didn’t come here to sit, so …”

The Packers turned to King before the first quarter was over. He replaced Damarious Randall at right cornerback. Randall returned late in the game after left cornerback Davon House sustained a quad injury. Randall and Quinten Rollins, the slot cornerback, both struggled. King, meanwhile, allowed just one completion — a 12-yard slant to Taylor Gabriel with 5:40 left in the game. He was targeted four other times, according to Pro Football Focus, and did not allow another completion.

“I thought Kevin did a good job,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I think he continues to grow, you know? We’re encouraged with his progress. He competes well. You saw him break up a couple balls on crossing routes. He’s not afraid to get up and challenge receivers, and I like his style of play.”

Injuries could determine some of what happens at cornerback. House said he does not believe his quad injury will be problematic; he likened it to a muscle cramp after the game. If that’s the case, then the Packers’ starting cornerback pairing likely will be House and King. McCarthy and Capers then will have to decide who to play in the slot between the struggling Randall and Rollins, or perhaps give rookie Lenzy Pipkins a shot. Pipkins, an undrafted free agent, has been inactive for the first two games.

Another second-round pick, safety Josh Jones, also saw his first extended action on defense after Kentrell Brice left Sunday’s game because of a groin injury.

“As we go along, you see these young guys [and] their reps increase based off of [them getting] more comfortable,” Capers said. “You want to be able to put them out there and have them have success. So I think Kevin, each step I think you’ll see him get more reps as we go along here. Josh Jones last night, I thought he went in and did a nice job. He played more snaps than what he’s played. Both of those guys, I think you’re going to see their reps increase.”

Said King: “I plan for a big role every week. I feel like I’m a starter whenever I step on the field.”