This is the next in a series of articles providing an in-depth analysis of each position group on the Green Bay Packers for 2023. Today we will analyze the edge rushers. The grades will be for each unit as a whole, but we will give an analysis of each player, their strengths and weaknesses and where they stand heading into the offseason. Here are the grades for the Packers edge rushers in 2023. The marks are based on a combination of expectations and performance.
Final Grade for the Packers Starting Edge Rushers
Rashan Gary returned after suffering a knee injury last season that forced him to start training camp on the PUP list. He did start the regular season on time but was on a play count for the first half of the season. Despite the limitations, he got off to a solid start when he was on the field.
Down the stretch, Gary failed to record a sack in the final five regular-season games and the team’s two postseason contests, although he was still creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Gary finished the season with nine sacks, 22 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles and recovered a pair of them.
Hopefully, the Michigan alum comes back even stronger in 2024 as he returns to 100 percent health.
Veteran Preston Smith was a consistent force on the other side, and he picked up his play as the season progressed. He finished the year with eight sacks and 21 quarterback hits while forcing two fumbles and making four tackles for loss.
There are questions about Smith’s future with the Packers as his cap hit next season is presently scheduled to be a little more than $16.5 million. GM Brian Gutekunst may want to restructure Smith’s deal. The veteran’s consistency and leadership may be enough to have him return if he’s willing to rework his deal.
Final Grade for the Packers Primary Backup Edge Rushers
Second-year man Kingsley Enagbare played in all 17 games and started four. He recorded just two sacks and six quarterback hits while playing 41 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
Enagbare seemed more consistent but less dynamic than he was in his rookie season. He still needs some work at staying in position on running plays.
Unfortunately, Enagbare suffered a serious knee injury in the Packers playoff win over Dallas and may not be ready to start 2024 on time. Don’t be surprised to see him on the PUP list when training camp gets under way in July.
First round pick Lukas Van Ness showed flashes of the talent that caused Gutekunst to select him with the 13th overall pick out of Iowa. He recorded four sacks and 10 quarterback hits on the season while playing in all 17 games.
Van Ness played well against the run and got some pressure on the quarterback, but he needs to add more pass rush moves to his repertoire to become a regular contributor on the edge. He played 33 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in his first NFL season.
It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley utilizes Van Ness next season. If the Packers switch to a base 4-3 defense, Hafley could have Van Ness lined up at defensive end.
The Other Packers Edge Rushers
Undrafted free agent Brenton Cox made the team after showing promise in training camp. His talent is undeniable, but he went undrafted for off the field issues in college. Cox played in four games this season and was on the field for 13 total plays, four on defense and nine on special teams.
The Packers are hopeful his talent will lead him to a bigger role in his second NFL season now that he has one year under his belt.
Depth Edge Rushers
Keshawn Banks spent the season on the practice squad but was active for the final playoff game against San Francisco. The former San Diego State star will be back to compete for a roster spot in 2024.
Second-year man Arron Mosby spent the season on the Packers practice squad. In 2022, the Fresno State alum played in three games for the Carolina Panthers, but he was not elevated for any games by the Packers this season.
Kenneth Odumegwu spent the season on the practice squad as part of the NFL International Player Pathway program. It’s not yet clear if the Packers will bring back the Nigerian native as part of that program next season.
Final Grade for the Packers 2023 Edge Rushers
The pass rush was vital to the Packers defensive success this season. It was the key to the pass defense because in many games when there wasn’t enough pressure on the quarterback, Joe Barry’s passive schemes allowed the quarterback to complete too many passes to keep drives alive.
Gary and Smith make for a solid starting duo and Van Ness should progress in his second year. Don’t be surprised if the Packers look at add at this premium position this year even if Smith returns in 2024. More depth is needed here, and all NFL teams are always looking for another stud pass rusher.
If Hafley goes to a four-man front, the Packers may also draft an edge rusher who will line up with his hands in the dirt to fit that scheme.
FINAL GRADE: B-
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