The Green Bay Packers have many holes to fill before the start of the 2023 season and precious little cap space to fill it with. One of the biggest needs to fill is along the defensive line.
The position has been a problem area for the Packers for years now. The team has struggled to stop the run and has only gotten an inconsistent amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the defensive line.
The team has lost two key contributors over the course of this offseason. Dean Lowry started 12 games and appeared in 15 before he suffered a season-ending injury. He has signed with the division rival Minnesota Vikings.
Jarran Reed was one of the few interior defensive linemen to give the team occasional pass rush pressure. He started 14 games and played in all 17 while recording 2.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits. He has re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks, his first NFL team.
The Packers have only five interior defensive linemen on the present roster. Kenny Clark is the undisputed best defensive lineman on the team. He has been named to the Pro Bowl twice, after the 2019 and 2021 seasons. Clark can penetrate to stop the run and gets occasional pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He recorded four sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 2022 while starting all 17 games.
Clark has not always been consistent. He tends to struggle for part of the season and then usually finishes with strong play in December. The Packers would like more consistency from the former first-round pick out of UCLA.
There are two younger players with experience who the team is counting on to take on bigger roles and take a step forward in their development. The first is 2022 first round pick Devonte Wyatt. The former Georgia star didn’t see much action as a rookie. He played in 16 games but didn’t start any and played in only 23 percent of the defensive snaps.
Late in the season, Wyatt started to play more often and he showed flashes of the ability that made him a first-round pick. He finished the season with 1.5 sacks, three pressures and three quarterback hits in limited action. With the departure of Reed and Lowry, the Packers will expect Wyatt to step in and start in his second NFL season.
The other young player that is likely to step into a bigger role is T.J. Slaton. The Packers selected Slaton in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher and he has gradually seen more action as he adjusted to life in the NFL.
At 6’4” and 330 pounds, Slaton is a player who can clog up the middle of the line and occupy blockers. His addition is likely to allow Clark to move around to different spots on the line and not line up on the nose all the time.
The only other linemen on the roster are Jonathan Ford and Chris Slayton. Ford was a seventh round pick last season but never saw action in a regular season game. He was viewed as more of a special teams player than a big contributor on defense when he was drafted. Slayton was a seventh round pick by the New York Giants in 2019 who had some solid performances in the preseason but spent the regular season on the practice squad. He has yet to make his NFL debut.
The Packers are likely to add at least one defensive lineman in the upcoming NFL Draft. The team is unlikely to use an early pick at the position but should add a player or two for depth on day three.
They also should look to sign a veteran who can contribute to the defensive line rotation to add depth. The problem is the team doesn’t have much cap space to sign any big ticket free agents.
Right now, if injuries hit along the defensive line, the team does not have the depth or talent to withstand them. Bolstering this area of the roster is one of several imperatives facing GM Brian Gutekunst before the start of training camp.
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