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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.

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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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T.J. Watt was like a lot of people in Wisconsin on the night of April 27 when the Green Bay Packers were on the clock with the 29th pick in the NFL draft.

“I thought it was a legitimate possibility that I could go to Green Bay,” Watt said this week during a conference call with reporters. “But they didn’t want me.”

Instead, general manager Ted Thompson traded out of the first round, deciding there would be similar value early in the second round (where he took cornerback Kevin King at No. 33) and the chance to get a pass-rusher later (which he did with the other pick he acquired in the trade, a fourth-rounder that he used on Vince Biegel).

Like Watt, Biegel not only played at the University of Wisconsin but also grew up in the state. However, Watt would have been a wildly popular pick among the fan base considering the success his brother J.J. had both with the Badgers and in the NFL.

“I’m just happy the Pittsburgh Steelers called me next and they took me in with open arms,” said Watt, who came off the board at No. 30, “and I couldn’t be happier to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.”

While this game shouldn’t be a referendum on Thompson’s decision because Biegel will be making only his fourth appearance in a regular-season game following foot surgery in the offseason, it’s the first chance for the Packers and their fans to see what could have been had Thompson made the call for Watt.

In his first three games, Biegel has played a combined 41 snaps without a sack, while Watt has been one of the top rookie pass-rushers. In Week 1, he had two sacks and an interception, and he’s tied for third among all rookies with four sacks overall.

Like Biegel did earlier in the week, Watt downplayed this as neither a matchup against his former teammate nor a chance to stick to it to the Packers for not taking him.

“I view it just as any regular game for me,” Watt said. “Obviously being from Wisconsin and growing up a Packers fan for the majority of my youth — until J.J. got to the Texans, of course — I think people are trying to make this game seem like it’s a lot bigger to me than it is. But to be honest with you, I didn’t have high expectations or I didn’t really care where I ended up in the draft. I just wanted to end up with a good team and a great fit, and I’m glad that I ended up here in Pittsburgh. This is going to be just another game for me, and more importantly it’s another game at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation.”

While the Packers still don’t know what they have in Biegel, the Steelers couldn’t be happier with Watt.

“He’s a very low-maintenance young guy,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He learns lessons extremely quickly. He’s a guy who’s capable of learning from others’ mistakes. He himself doesn’t make mistakes twice. He’s diligent, he’s attentive. He’s a note taker, he’s very professional in his approach. I think all of those things set him up for the consistency in the play we’re getting.”

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The Green Bay Packers released defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois — again.It’s the second time this season they’ve let the ninth-year veteran go.

The first time came after he played just six snaps in the regular-season opener. They brought him back in Week 3.

On Wednesday, they released him again. Although they didn’t immediately replace him on the roster, they’re likely to fill his spot with rookie fourth-round outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who appears ready to come off the physically unable to perform list.

Biegel returned to practice on Oct. 18, the earliest possible date he could have taken the field after starting the season on PUP. It was the first time he was on the field since Packers rookie camp in May, when a recurring foot problem forced him to undergo a second surgery in less than year. Biegel first had surgery in the fall of 2016 during his senior season at Wisconsin.

The Packers hope Biegel can boost their pass rush, which has only seven sacks from their outside linebacker group (3.5 from Nick Perry, 2.5 from Clay Matthews and 1 from Ahmad Brooks).

Biegel would have to be activated or placed on injured reserve by the end of this week, when his three-week window to practice without counting against the roster ends.

“It’s like any player coming off whether it’s IR or PUP, there’s thresholds you have to jump over,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “I thought he did a nice job practicing going into the New Orleans game. He’s going to have an opportunity to compete, and then we’ll make the decision whether to bring him up to the 53, and then from that you make the decision on the 46.”

Francois signed a one-year, $2 million contract that included a $250,000 signing bonus during free agency this past offseason. When the Packers re-signed him, they gave him nearly the exact same contract minus the signing bonus. As a vested veteran, he’s eligible to claim the rest of his $1.25 million base salary as termination pay. Players are allowed to do that just once in their careers.

In all, Francois appeared in six games for the Packers and made just two tackles.

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Vince Biegel isn’t trying to make up for five missed months in just a couple of practices, and the Green Bay Packers don’t appear inclined to throw their 2017 fourth-round pick into action right away.

Biegel returned to practice this week — the earliest possible time for a player on the physically unable to perform list. It was the first time he put on a helmet and pads since he underwent foot surgery in May.

The Packers hope the outside linebacker from Wisconsin can help them at some point this season, but don’t expect it to be this week against the New Orleans Saints. Biegel could practice for three weeks before the Packers have to either activate him off PUP and add him to the roster or place him on injured reserve.

“I think that’s a coaches’ decision, whether they want to take the full three weeks with me,” Biegel said. “I’m mentally preparing to play this week. Now if they decide to activate me this week, that’s an upstairs decision. I’m going to continue to prepare like I have been these last six weeks. And over the six weeks I’ve been preparing to play against the Saints. Whether that’s this week or whether that after the bye week on Monday Night Football with Detroit, I’ll be ready for that moment.”

Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t sound inclined to throw Biegel into the mix this week.

“I think you have to look at the whole thing, the type of injury, what he’s gone through and what he’s done to this point,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I think it’s important to get on the field and practice and evaluate that, not only how he does in the football structure but how his body reacts through the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a normal process that all these guys go through when they first get on the field.”

Vince Biegel (45) practiced in pads for the first time in his NFL career. He remains on PUP but the fourth-round pick’s recovery from May foot surgery appears to be complete.

Before this week, Biegel had yet to practice with the full squad. He worked during the rookie camp in May before he experienced an issue with his right foot — the same foot that needed surgery last fall during his senior year with the Badgers.

“Obviously, a long way to go,” Biegel said. “I still have a long way to knock off the rust. But it really did feel good to be out there and have a healthy practice under my belt.”

The Packers picked Biegel at No. 108 overall — the first pick of the fourth round. It was a selection they acquired from the Browns when the Packers traded their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) to Cleveland. Many thought the Packers would use their first-round pick on Biegel’s former college teammate, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who ended up going one spot later to the Steelers. Watt has played in five of six games this season and has 3.0 sacks.

In bypassing Watt and trading their first-round pick, the Packers were able to get two players: cornerback Kevin King at No. 33 (with the second-round pick acquired from Cleveland) and Biegel. Only King has been able to make an impact this season, but Biegel is holding out hope that will change.

“That’s why they drafted me, to be an impact player, to make plays for this team,” Biegel said. “That’s the expectations I have for myself and that’s what I plan on doing moving forward. Obviously, I haven’t played football in six-plus months here, so being able to go out there, move around, work on some of my handwork and being able to knock off some of that rust is what it’s all about. It might not be this week, but I know as practice goes along I’m going to continue to get better and better as time goes on. I definitely have a long way to go, but I’m excited for that.”