Versatility key factor for Packers in draft at LB and S

Versatility will be what GM Brian Gutekunst looks for most when trying to address the safety and linebacker positions in the NFL draft.

Xavier McKinney will likely see the majority of his snaps played at the free safety position this season. That specific role is a very important part of the Jeff Hafley defense, and it is also where McKinney can make the biggest impact.

When filling that specific spot, the Packers will need a box safety to complement McKinney, and right now, there isn’t an obvious option for that role on the roster.

So naturally, a player who can handle those responsibilities, like Jaden Hicks from Washington State, who has spent a lot of time lining up in the box, would be a good fit for what the Packers need in those instances.

However, what Gutekunst wants to avoid is pigeonholing a player into a specific position. While this defense needs a box safety presence, more importantly, Gutekunst wants a player who can handle a variety of responsibilities.

At the NFL Combine, Gutekunst said he wanted the two safety spots and the nickel cornerback to be “interchangeable.” And while perhaps the bulk of McKinney’s snaps will come as the post safety, where he lines up each week will be dependent upon the opponent.

So if one game calls for McKinney to play more snaps closer to the line of scrimmage, the Packers need someone who they can trust to handle free safety role.

The same concept applies to the linebacker position. Looking at the current construction of the roster, one could say that the Packers need to find strong-side linebacker for Hafley’s 4-3 defense or an upgrade at middle linebacker.

But again, filling super-specific roles is not at the top of Gutekunst’s to-do list. As he noted recently at the NFL Owners’ Meetings, injuries happen, which means players need to be able to handle different responsibilities because they could change from week to week.

On top of that, this is a nickel league, as Gutekunst has mentioned several times, where 4-3 base defenses are the subpackages. So, trying to hyper-focus on a role that will only be on the field for 20 percent of the defensive snaps isn’t the prudent move.

“Quite frankly, for me,” said Gutekunst about the linebacker position, “and I’ve talked about this a lot, you’ve got to be very careful pigeonholing guys in positions that can only do certain skill sets.

“We have so many injuries in this game that he may be the strong-side linebacker today but he may be starting at Will or Mike for five or six games, he’s got to be able to do all of that. So from a personnel man’s perspective, I want those guys as versatile as can be so that when those things do pop up we don’t have to change the way we play.”

The good news for the Packers is that with five picks in the top 100 and 11 picks in total – tied for the most in the NFL – Gutekunst has the flexibility to take a patient approach and draft the right players at linebacker and safety who check these boxes, rather than feeling like they have to address a specific need at a certain point.

However, having said that, neither the linebacker nor safety classes are all that strong, and were two of the lower graded overall position groups from PFF. This, in turn, will make finding more immediate impact help at either position more difficult.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire