Jeff Hafley, the Green Bay Packers’ new defensive coordinator, will run a different defensive scheme than the previous regime. Some of the team’s biggest needs are in the secondary, and the Packers have amassed extra draft capital in the first four rounds. That sounds like a recipe for a heavy focus on the defense in the 2024 NFL Draft.
But not so fast, argument I just made! Although Green Bay’s offense ended the season hot, it could still use some work. Even after loading up on receiving threats in the past two drafts, Brian Gutekunst can still fine-tune the offense. The Packers can build up Hafley’s new defense while still taking a best-player-available approach and continually investing in their offense.
Gutekunst traditionally has struck a good balance between taking the best player available and drafting for need. The madman isn’t afraid to zig when expected to zag — most notably, of course, drafting quarterback Jordan Love over a receiver or linebacker in 2020.
Going into the 2023 draft, some of Green Bay’s biggest needs were at safety, tight end, and wide receiver. Gutekunst dove into tight end and receiver, but he didn’t reach for the sake of it. Instead of taking Jaxon Smith-Njigba, viewed as the draft’s top receiver, he took edge Lukas Van Ness and loaded up on receiving threats in later rounds. His only investment at safety came in the seventh round. Gutekunst wasn’t willing to reach for need in what was viewed as a weak safety class.
Expect a similar approach in 2024.
Green Bay’s most significant needs are arguably in the secondary. The team requires long-term solutions at cornerback and safety, and their new coordinator is a defensive back man. Experts view 2024 as a deep cornerback class, especially at the top, but less so for safety. They’ll probably draft a few weapons that fit the mold of their new defense.
Joe Barry’s defense was lackluster, and Jordan Love‘s offense ascended at the end of the season. But the draft shouldn’t — and won’t — exclusively focus on defense.
Green Bay’s offense ended the season strong, but they can improve in a few key areas.
The offensive line got off to a rocky start (again) as the offensive coaching staff needed to figure out their best five among a slew of injuries (yet again). But while the line improved in pass protection and run blocking, how many sure-fire starters are there?
Zach Tom and Elgton Jenkins are the only true locks. Green Bay’s brass is higher on Josh Myers than the fanbase is, but there is no guarantee he’ll get a second contract. Jon Runyan is a free agent, and while Sean Rhyan is the likely starter at right guard, I’d expect Gutekunst to invest in some mid-round interior offensive linemen.
And, of course, David Bakhtiari‘s status will be one of the team’s biggest storylines this offseason, even if Rasheed Walker has shown he can man the left tackle spot if needed. The Packers may also search for another long-term option to protect Love’s blindside, and experts consider 2024 a deep offensive line class.
The Packers also need to invest in their running back room. A.J. Dillon‘s contract is up, and while he had an excellent showing in the back half of the season, we don’t know if he’ll come back. Gutekunst expressed a strong desire to retain Aaron Jones, and it’s easy to see why. Even though he’s getting older and has dealt with frustrating injuries, he’s the best weapon on the offense and was a large part of their late-season success. But how much longer can they count on Jones? He’s the type of player who deserves a lifetime contract, but Father Time is undefeated. It’s worth looking for good, game-changing backs on rookie deals in this draft.
Green Bay got a lot from their rookie tight ends, a rarity at that position. Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft became valuable parts of the offense as receivers and blockers, and both rookies have different skill sets. But neither fit the H-back/fullback-type role Josiah Deguara was supposed to fill. We saw the Packers experience some success with Henry Pearson at fullback, so it’s definitely a role that can elevate the offense. With Deguara likely to depart in free agency, Gutekunst could take a crack at that role.
Finally, the Packers have taken six wide receivers in the last two drafts, and more look like stars than don’t. But taking a receiver isn’t out of the question this year. Eventually, the Packers will need to choose which receivers to pay, so having more options behind this year’s crop on a rookie deal will keep the cupboard stocked.
If Gutekunst can identify a wide receiver with a skillset the Packers don’t currently have, it’s worth pushing the button early. Having too many weapons is a good problem, and if the Packers think they can get someone who can bring more to the offense than Bo Melton and Malik Heath, they should, regardless of when it is.
The defense will look much different under Hafley, and the Packers will spend resources to get their new coordinator some long-term pieces. But the draft isn’t just about immediate need. We can’t guarantee the offense will take a jump next season, but the Packers have plenty of spots that can be improved in the short or long term. Therefore, Gutekunst will likely take a balanced approach once again.